Easter (I know that my Redeemer lives!)

Sunday 12 April 2009

To be truthful, most days — maybe all days, actually — I go around thinking about and picturing Jesus as a pretty great guy. After all, he did a lot of great things and spoke some amazing words that resound very deeply within me. Jesus was the man who proclaimed forgiveness to the sinner and hope for the hopeless. He commanded us to give up all our earthly things and trust fully in God. Jesus said to be weak is to truly be strong, and to be poor is what allows us to actually be rich.

Jesus’ brand of justice was different than the way we think about it today: it was a justice where we all get what we need; it wasn’t about people getting “what’s coming to them,” or “what they deserve.” Christ preached reconciliation and redemption, not retribution and retaliation. Jesus gave the greatest commandment as such to love all as if they were no different than us. True love is grace — unconditional and without requirement or reservation.

But that view of Jesus falls short, because if that’s all that makes Jesus special, he’s hardly any better than others we might look up to, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., or maybe even someone you know living today. Looking at Jesus as “a pretty great guy” misses the point of what makes Jesus stand out in the first place: Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again, conquering death and the grave so all might live eternally.

Today, venturing to Easter services, hearing hymns of praise and the story of followers finding the empty tomb of Christ, was a good reminder to me of what sets Jesus apart, and why He is truly worthy of praise, honor, and adoration. It’s a fact of Christ I need to remember on a more regular basis — something I’ll have to work on.  For me, it’s surely the “great guy” stuff that draws me to Jesus, but what sets Him apart — and why I choose to follow — is what I, and millions around the world, celebrated today: I know that my Redeemer lives!

“I Know that My Redeemer Lives!” by: Samuel Medley (alt. for hymn)

I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my everliving head!

He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save;
He lives exalted, throned above;
He lives to rule his Church in love.

He lives to grant me rich supply;
He lives to guide me with his eye;
He lives to comfort me when faint;
He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessing to impart.

He lives to bless me with his love;
He lives to plead for me above;
He lives my hungry soul to feed;
He lives to help in time of need.

He lives, my kind, wise, heavenly friend;
He lives and loves me to the end;
He lives, and while he lives, I’ll sing;
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King!

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same;
What joy this blest assurance gives;
I know that my Redeemer lives!

O Little Town of Bethelehem…

Friday 26 December 2008

… How still we see thee lie!”

Or so the Christmas carol goes.  Unfortunately, Bethlehem is not the peaceful and quiet locale it likely was 2000 years ago.  To travel between Jerusalem to Bethlehem, you must pass through a checkpoint to get through “the separation/apartheid/annexation wall,” not the most peaceful experience in the world (especially if you’re a Palestinian entering Israel, which I might add, only a few lucky ones even have the ability to do so).  If you’re traveling from elsewhere in the West Bank, you’ll likely have your vehicle stopped at a checkpoint, too, and possibly stopped for hours, and if you’re truly unlucky, taken away to a jail somewhere.

The thought of Bethlehem, and thus Christmas, have had a different feeling for me this year since I traveled to the Holy Lands in the Spring.  When I sang the first hymn at our Christmas Eve service, I teared up to sing: “Oh, come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant! Oh come ye, oh, come ye to Bethlehem.” Amidst the reality that is the Israeli occupation of Palestine, it’s hard to think about being joyful and triumphant when traveling in the region.  Even though (at least most of the time) there are no Israeli soldiers stationed in Bethlehem, that doesn’t mean the occupation still isn’t felt in Bethlehem, and similar towns in the area.

Many who live in Bethlehem and used to work in Israel are no longer able to travel to Jerusalem since the wall construction began in 2002.  The town is nearly completely surrounded by the wall, and artisans and others have signified such reality by adding the wall to nativity scenes people set out at Christmas time.

As the world turns to think this season about the birth of Christ and the little town of his birth some 2000 year ago, let’s not forget the current reality for Palestinians living there — and remember, too, that the little baby born would have been a Palestinian himself.

perfection (or: blogging a Quaker meeting)

Sunday 23 November 2008

(A preemptive caveat: No, I’m not saying attending a Quaker meeting is to experience perfection.  Read on.)

For the 7-8 months I’ve been in DC over the course of the last 15, I’ve somewhat sporadically attended some Quaker meetings for worship held at the Friends Meeting of Washington.  If you’ve never been to a Quaker meeting for worship, there are both programed and unprogrammed meetings, and FMW is of the unprogrammed kind.  However, that doesn’t mean there is not attempted at structure, at least to a minimalistic point.  The idea for the meeting I’ve attended in DC is that it will run about an hour, with the first 20 minutes as a hoped for centering time for all people where no one really speaks.  After this time, children typically leave for a First Day (Sunday) School, and others continue waiting expectantly for the Spirit to move inside, which may then prompt them to speak to the larger community assembled called a “vocal ministry.”

Depending on the number assembled and movement of the Spirit, there might even be no one who speaks (as I experienced in a meeting I went to in Toledo, Ohio last fall where about 10 of us assembled) but at the meeting in DC, every visit has included at least two or three people giving a vocal ministry.  Today, I can’t say I kept track of speakers, but I think there were about seven or eight in total, which is a substantial total.  And while it may be hoped for that first 20 minutes be silent, vocal ministries began today after about 10, which I think is good, actually, as it gives the children a chance to hear them, too.

Being an unprogrammed meeting, there are no readings or even a topic set forth for meditation (though they do provide printed “queries” that can be a guide), so you never know what one might say.  Today, the first vocal ministry revolved around the idea of striving for but never attaining perfection and a realization that that itself is actually a positive thing, and his vocal ministry gave way to an hour spent meditating upon and hearing vocal ministries regarding the idea of perfection.

The next speaker shared a quote by Robert Browning: “What’s come to perfection perishes.”  Bringing in my own personal thoughts to this vocal ministry, I was turned to contemplate the idea that then possibly what perishes accomplishes perfection.

Many who shared vocal ministries today reaffirmed that, in a sustained way, at least, perfection is unattainable on earth.  However, one of the members who I find quite perceptive of the Spirit also spoke today, and she shared that she does, in fact, believe in perfection on earth, in those fleeting moments where we truly do love unconditionally, which may be easier for a child than an adult, where we love in the way that God loves us and wants us to love God.

She quoted Matthew 19:14: “But Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.’ ”

“When we are truly giving and receiving unconditional love from those around us,” she said (and I agree), “we are truly experiencing the kingdom of heaven here on earth.”

And if it’s possible for fleeting moments now, it then is not a large stretch for one to believe that after our hearts have stopped beating, we might then experience eternal and continuous unconditional love.  Let us all pray that such is so.

letting the questions fade away

Sunday 16 November 2008

“We are called to act with jutice,
we are called to love tenderly,
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.”

— David Hass (paraphrase of Micah 6:8)

Over the past month or so, I’ve been asked and asking myself questions about some of the particulars regarding my faith and faith in general.  Some have been small in magnitude, but others much greater, like, “Do you believe in an afterlife?” or “Is there a ‘god’ that created everything?”  Many times I try to duck these questions, especially when I’m asking them to myself, but if they come from someone else, it’s a bit more of a challenge.

Recently I was asked a tough question in a group discussion, and it’s one that I usually answer to myself, “It really doesn’t matter,” but this wasn’t sufficient for those collected, so I decided to verbalize the “if I have to say something” answer I usually refrain from in an attempt to avoid going deeper into what that means for me and my faith.  After I got it out, it was OK, because what I said was only the truth of what I feel deep down, an opportunity to be honest with myself in a way I usually avoid.

In the past few days, since verbalizing that uncomfortable answer, I’ve been contemplating what exactly it means that some of my personal beliefs might conflict with some seemingly significant (doctrinal?) pieces of the faith I claim when I call myself a Christian.  Am I really fooling myself and others?  Calling myself “Lutheran” anymore is probably a stretch and likely now more of a cultural connection for me than anything, but Christian?  Is that no longer true, too?

But singing the words from Micah 6:8 (above) this morning at a Christian (though non-Lutheran) service, I was reminded again that while there may be questions out there I answer differently than others who consider themselves Christian, and which might cause certain other Christians, if they knew my answers, to tell me I’m not, in fact, one of them, that doesn’t matter to me.

For me, being a Christian is all about following Christ, and following Christ to me means living a life full of love and grace, of kindness and hospitality, of justice and peace.  Does any of that have to do with being “saved” or believing God created the earth in a certain number of days or even believing in a “tangible” afterlife where people or souls or spirits or whatever spend eternity?

My “philosophy,” as someone termed it in a question to me last month, is simply one thing: love.  I believe following Christ — him bing for you the “Risen Lord” or just another great guy — is about the love.  I may not answer some questions of faith in a way you might expect or agree with, but I believe that following love and seeking, as much as is humanly possible, to be love is what makes me as much a Christian as those who sat humbly at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teachings and going forth to do likewise.

So instead of letting the questions I may answer “wrongly” or not have the answers to get in the way, I hold firm in that which I do know — God is Love, Christ is Love, and by putting Love above all other things, I truly am following The Way.

Peace and love as you discern how The Way might be calling you, too.