Hello from my study on the Acre,
It is hard to believe that Spring is here (and today certainly felt Spring-like) and we are almost a quarter of the way through this year. It seems like only a few weeks ago the semester began and the Christmas holidays were still visible in the rear-view mirror. When I was small, Christmas was certainly a time for dreams, and I do not think it is much different for children today, but as we plow our way through this incredibly unpredictable time the ability to dream, to hope is essential. I remember being much more of a dreamer when I was small. I am not sure of all the reasons for that, but I think it had much to do with wishing things were different. Perhaps not all that different from where we are now. We wonder and imagine what’s on the other side.Dreaming for me was always about options, possibilities, and as noted above, about hope. Hope is something I have referred to in past blogs. Though generally optimistic, I do have a melancholy bent to me. Moreover, I think this past year has been a time when optimism has probably been in short supply, even for the most polyannish of us. Sometimes lying awake, I wonder what the future will bring, not so much for me as someone who has lived a significant part of their life, but rather for many of my students. In our world of division, of profound changes, in a world where our understanding of faith (or perhaps more accurately, our appropriate practice of that faith) is decided by the few and questioned by many, or, more problematically and blindly followed by even many more, we are headed into the most apparent time of the Christian Church year for many, the time where many struggle to understand a faith that is based in love, a love demonstrated by the death of the Son of the Creator (and I realize some see Jesus as little more than a prototypical prophet, and not both human and divine). If the Christian understanding of Jesus as both/and is correct, there is an irony that many of our actions seem to destroy the very love that is foundational to Christian faith. Easter is a time where we are called to understand a God who seem determined to work against our legalities, our divisiveness, our frailty and reach into our brokenness and demonstrate an all encompassing love we too often fail to understand. What can we do to demonstrate that love? Perhaps when we choose to establish justice, practice acceptance, and provide care that goes beyond even our most fervent attempts? This Palm Sunday, I listened to two services, to two amazing sermons, and some incredible music. I thought profoundly about the idea of justice and acceptance in a world that seems too intent on mistreating the other, claiming their ways of boxing God in is the appropriate ways to believe or be faithful, and behaves in a manner that seems inherently contrary to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and ones neighbor as ones self.
This morning, in this little town of 12,000 or so, I witnessed first hand as two dear friends, one a colleague and their spouse, were subjected to a racist rant on our Main Street as someone literally came across the street toward where a group of us where sitting. He screamed Asian-centric vitriol at our group, but more specifically at my colleague and their spouse. After a couple asked him to leave, the offensive person stepped a few yards away and began again. At that point, I stood up and faced the person and asked them to leave. The disturbed, shocked, and hurt look on my colleague’s face is something I will not soon forget. I was embarrassed for them. It stuns me that people can be so juvenile, hateful, ludicrous, and while I am pretty sure the individual probably had some mental issues, that did not make the experience anymore acceptable. It seems that more and more the overpowering actuality of our divided, screw-you-if-you-are-not-white, discriminatory actions are now beyond commonplace, more apparent than I have ever realized. I dream of a world where we will accept others for their intelligence, their character, their goodness, and support them when they are hurting, struggling, or floundering. I dream of a world where the few do not hijack the Gospel realizing that the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus of the prophets, or the Jesus of the world oppressed by the Romans understood and preached a Gospel of humility, a Gospel of a loving, forgiving God, a Gospel that confronted and called out the inequities of society, healed those forgotten by society, and chose disciples who were not blessed with status or wealth. If one carefully considers the Jesus of the Gospels, that Jesus will make most of us uncomfortable. When we try to co-opt Jesus or the Gospel, as we are all too ready to do, the Grace of God is cheapened. There was nothing cheap or easy about the path Jesus was destined to follow. Taking on the powers of the day, be it the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or even his own disciples at time, Jesus was constantly trying to get them (and us) to see a world that was something very different than what it was. There is little changed today.
When the more conservative Americans want to pray for those who invaded the Capitol and call them Patriots, they distort the Gospel. Why might I argue this? While there are a multitude of reasons, I will suffice it to say this. You might remember the story where the Jewish Leaders came to Jesus and asked him whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asked them for a coin, and when the coin was produced, he asked whose image was on the coin? They noted, accurately, Caesar’s. He responded, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” This is a pretty accurate quote of Matthew 22, though I did not look it up. Storming the Capitol and entering is not patriotic. It is breaking the law. For me, it is that simple. I realize there are others who disagree, but to claim God’s providence or support of that is an abomination of the Gospel, and I am willing to sit down and have coffee or something on my porch with anyone who wants to debate that, and I will fix the coffee free of charge. But come prepared, for I will probably be tough to convince of anything other. As I listened to the Reverend Heidi Peterson this morning, she noted this also, but took it ever further. If the greatest of the commandments is to love your neighbor, and this is my paraphrase of her preaching today, and it was spot on, then all the things we do to disenfranchise the other (be it voting, owning a house, walking down the street) is against this commandment. When we can decide who can love whom, when we believe those who identify differently then we do are somehow wrong or less of a person, we distort the Gospel. The Gospel is not a conservative cookie-cutter just-follow-this and you’re alright. The Gospel of Jesus was not cookie-cutter; in fact, it was precisely the opposite. The Gospel of Jesus (the Good News) was not always good news to those who believed they had it figured out. Jesus questioned the appropriateness of the religious scholars’ practice in worship. He questioned their interpretation of the law. He questioned their heart and how their practices disenfranchised others. Those who want to use Scripture as a yardstick misunderstand the basic message of that very Scripture. If you want to understand the Bible (Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament) imagine it as an anthology that demonstrates an incredible love story between Creator and Created. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? What does it mean to love one’s neighbor as themselves? It seems simple, but it is anything but. We find it so much harder to love than criticize. Our anger compels our emotional and physical response much more often than our love does. This is the truth. How many times does your love for the other (a caring or compassionate love), and one who is not a spouse, decide your actions? How often does your anger or frustration with the other (and you can include spouse or significant other here) decide your facial expression, your tone, your body language with some almost immediacy? If you are like most humans (and like me), we reveal our frustration and anger much more quickly than we respond out of love or care. When we do, we break this commandment. It is that straightforward.
Our own Protestant theology (for those who are not Roman or Orthodox) struggles with the idea of loving God with such totality. However that command to love God in such a way permeates the Old Testament. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and therefore you shall love the Lord your God.” There is an all encompassing love that is necessary if you and God are to be one. It is a commitment that requires every ounce of who we are. Too often we forget the trinitarian aspect of this commandment. It requires both our mental and spiritual faculties be in the same place, and together this love cries out to our heart, our soul, and our mind. When they bind together in their own triune manner, we find out what it means to love and be loved. I dream of being such a loving person. As noted by Klaus Bockmuehl, a German theologian, too often we fail to understand the comprehensive requirement of such love. As he notes, the love we are affected by needs to be the love we have as an effect. It is both a verb and a noun. It is a state of being and a state of acting. Perhaps we too often (at least as Lutherans) believe in the grace of God, the forgiveness of God. But it reminds me of what I often asked by confirmation students once upon a time, or even my Bible as Literature students now. Do you do what you do so your parents will love you or because your parents love you? The same question could be asked, but instead of parent substitute the word God. We are dependent on the graciousness of God, but again, as Paul notes so well in Romans, we are also called to move beyond the evil we hate. We are to believe in the ideal that the love God gives is sufficient and we are called upon to love as God loves us. That does not mean it we are simply allowed to half-heartedly try, but instead we are called to love with all of our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual selves. That is much more work. And yet I dream of being that person.
Today’s experience with my friends, my colleagues, and with this sad, miserable, and, perhaps, mentally struggling person, reminded me of the pain that can occur when someone is treated in a manner that is discriminatory, a manner that is flat out hurtful, or a manner that demonstrates a profound lack of human respect. I wish that person no harm or ill will, but I am not sure I want to be in a position where I have to deal with that person again. I am grateful to my two female colleagues as well as one male colleague that asked him to leave. I am grateful for a call to the local police department and their response as they did find him down the street and probably had an interesting encounter of their own. I wish we could learn to be more accepting, more open, and simply try more intentionally to live that greatest of the commandments. I hope we can in this Holy Week try to be more intentionally holy, doing whatever that takes. I am reminded of the music of John Michael Talbot. I have used his work before, but I offer it again now. There are times I need to retreat to the quiet and think. There are times I need to believe in the possible. There are times I need to dream.
Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed Holy Week. To my Jewish friends, chag kasher v’same’ach.
4 thoughts on “Dreamers”
It is extremely sad to see that people can be so cruel especially in a place like Bloomsburg where it is stressed that everyone is treated equally. I feel so bad for your friends who were verbally attacked because no one should ever have to be treated like that or talked to in such a disrespectful way. That man is definitely not right in the head, and he better watch out because he might end up saying it to the wrong person some day. As someone who is more conservative, I also agree that storming the capital is not a patriotic act. I also believe that all of the riots that were happening during the Black Lives Matter protests were also not patriotic. Causing millions of dollars worth of damage or storming the capital are both unjust acts that should not be praised. As for what I believe the type of rhetorical strategy used in this blog was, I believe that you used Pathos. I think that you used Pathos to appeal to the emotions of your readers, especially with the story about your friends. I know that personally, that emotions that were evoked in me were anger and sadness because no person should ever be that disrespectful to another human being, and no one should ever have to be on the receiving end of that disrespect. It makes me sad to think about the emotions your friends were feeling and the embarrassment that they were likely feeling. I do not think that you just added all of the emotion invoking information about the Bible, Jesus, the New Testament, the Gospel, etc. just because Easter is coming up. I think that you included these to help to appeal to the emotions of the audience and to make them feel what you want them to feel. With that said, I appreciate that you told this story because it is really such an eye opener. You always hear stories about people being cruel to others because of their race, but you usually never have to experience it in person. I hope that your friends are doing okay after such a traumatic experience, and I do wish them the best. Have a wonderful Easter!
I am glad I am getting around to reading this post at the end of my busy week. I say this because this post deserves all the focus and attention, I could give it versus a quick glance and reply. I agree that it is especially important to highlight hope when it comes to the future. Intangible concepts like hopes, dreams, and love do tend to trigger emotion in many. In your post, these elements wrapped around an anecdote and rooted in religious connection is the recipe for pathos. I do also have moments where I lack hope after hearing stories like your colleague. It truly saddens me as I hear stories like his and his wife’s way more than I’d like to. For many, there is no debate there and gets a lot of people on an emotional level since they may know somebody who can relate, or they relate themselves. This goes into your connection to loving thy neighbor as thy self and God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. Drawing in the biblical aspect also in a way establishes credibility. You show a strong understanding of the word and the ability who quote and even teach on the subject in your Bible as Literature class. Speaking of the religious connection to this week, happy Easter! I also value and dream of being an upstanding person and putting out love before judgment or anger. This was an emotional topic that I feel isn’t talked about enough, so thank you. I get so carried away being a student and getting a job together that I sometimes don’t make time for personal reflection. That is what this blog post triggered in me and I am thankful for that!
Hello from the under depths of my workload. This week has been hectic and drainng. But this post has helped me to refocus my mind on the eternal, the things that truly last. We can spend our lives building our reputations, our careers, our goals and aspirations. But if that’s the only thing we focus on, then we have done ourselves a disservice. Like you mentioned in you post, the ties that bind are those forged in love and friendship. As humans, our deepest connections are the ones nurtured over time and with a lot of TLC. I think this ties into what you were expressing in the post about loving your neighbor as yourself. We like to think we are good people, that we’re unselfish and selfless. But you hit the nail right on the head. We turn so quickly on the ones we love the deepest, the ones we need the most. How backwards is that? I find myself becoming more short with my family and close friends more than I used to. It seems like we have quarintiened ourselves emotionally, as well as physically, now more than ever. This post convicted me of not loving those around me like a should. It reminded me that I am not the center of the universe and my problems do not take precedent over other people’s issues. This Easter weekend, I want to refocus my attention on pouring my love out and giving more of myself to the world around me. I am grateful for the wake up call.
I enjoyed reading this the evening before Easter Sunday. It is very eye-opening as I have been privileged enough to never face the daily struggles that your friends face and have not witnessed what you had that very day. I am religious and will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ at my church tomorrow along with many across the world. I too find it extremely disheartening when people do not follow through showing and acting in the love of Christ to other people. I have always strived to be different. I prioritize my whole life around how I choose to treat people. I want to walk into a room and start the healing process just by caring for them and showing them love with my words and attention. I have been able to be recognized for that and it warms my heart. I never want someone to feel judged or that I look at them differently when they are around me. I want them to feel the opportunity to open up and feel comfortable. I think a lot of people these days struggle to feel comfortable in the world we live in and that is heartbreaking to me. Yes, I have been extremely blessed in the life I was given and I understand that privilege and opportunity that so many people are not gifted with. If anything I think that should make me more caring as a person and show the love of God because I know many people who are not that way. I just want to thank you for sharing your experience and story and allowing me to think and ponder what is said here tonight before waking up and going to church tomorrow morning. Happy Easter!!