thinking theology

Archive for August, 2016

Honour and Blessedness

Have you ever noticed that when we are enjoying our lives, we often to refer to ourselves as blessed? And we rarely refer to ourselves as blessed when we are struggling or in conflict. Yet in Luke, Jesus says, Blessed are you who are poor, who are sad, who are mistreated or ill thought of. Alas for you who have had your time of happiness, who are well fed, who have status and a good reputation. (6:20-26) The socially disadvantaged are the invisible ghosts of any socio-economic system. They drift through our towns and cities virtually unnoticed, and are spoken of only in terms of shame or pity. By contrast, every magazine, news page, medium of publicity is focussed on the wealthy and famous. We record their lives and seek their autographs. They become icons for our social worship.

In Luke 14:7-14, we are invited to consider where we recognize our blessedness, wcommunity dinnerhere we seek status. The setting is the formal dinner party and it begins clearly as a kind of corporate dinner party. Consider the kinds of parties we host. The CEO invites the regional representatives. Who sits on either side of the president of the company? The janitor, his/her children’s nanny? Or a wedding party: Who sits at the head table? Drunken Uncle Horace? Aging and senile Great Aunt Harriet? We could go on and on with various examples of status at formal social engagements.

Initially in the Luke passage, there seems to be a common sense suggestion about how to gain status: ”When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”

But what is really being noted here has to do with people’s own social anxiety. In the community of the blessed, it just does not matter where you sit. Any dinner companion is the right companion. The guests who come are the right guests. No one is honoured more than another, because each one has a story, each one brings a gift, each one has a broken heart.  You might want to listen to the Amanda Marshall song, “Everybody’s Got a Story” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kZ-gG4r0zI) which is about resistance to being objectified.

At the banquet of the Lamb, it will be impossible to tell age, gender, or status, because we will be revealed just as people. So this parable is about how social categories separate us from one another. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then one of our lifetime struggles will be to see each person as we would like to be seen, not without flaws, but lovable anyway, not without a history, but as a living lesson on life. We are not called to pity or to the critique of others, but to healing, to hope, to solidarity in the family picture that is called humanity.

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Clear Blue Morning in the Country of Love

I want to begin this reflection on Hebrews 11:13-16 by listening to the Wailin’ Jennys singing The Light of a Clear Blue Morning. That image of awakening with the sun shining gently on our faces, with a light breeze, and a blue sky embracing all that we can see, is very dear to my heart. Whenever I awaken like that I feel that everything will ultimately be okay. When I am frightened by my own mortality, by anxiety about my family, by worry about the world, I remind myself that we are pilgrims on a journey, always heading to the light of a clear blue morning. We have experienced the peace and gentleness of that morning, and we know that in that morning is the truth of our connection to the Holy. At a recent wedding, a young woman sang In the Garden, about what it feels like to be in the presence of love fulfilled.

clear blue

That is not all life holds however. Jesus was born into the sacred story of the Jewish people, a narrative that included two significant ideas: exodus and exile. Walter Brueggemann speaks about the risky nature of faithfulness, a faithfulness that will challenge, will test, and has no guarantee of success in the lifetimes of the pilgrims. But exodus offers the possibility of moving from the real or metaphorical shackles of one life to the freedom and rebirth of another. Exodus promises that injustice can be redressed, pain can be healed, and reconciliation is possible.

Exile, on the other hand, is not a choice, but is the reality of the 60 million refugees worldwide. Exile demands either a return to one’s place of birth or, recreating a home in a new and often, challenging environment. Exile requires a faithful trust that the values of our lives, of our hopes and dreams, are not held in vain, but can be transplanted because it is in our hearts and minds that they are carried.

Both exodus and exile require community, require courage and vision, require memory of our stories and our narratives, require faith that there is a homeland, there will be a clear blue morning, that our lives have meaning and value.

For those of us who are Christians, we understand that following Jesus will, at various times, require us to be both faithful pilgrim and courageous refugee. We will be required to speak out of compassion when others choose judgement, mercy when others condemn, and tolerance beyond our own cultural vales. The cross demands that we be willing to give it all up, our certainty, our convictions, our privilege, and even our fears and doubts.

How can we choose such an audacious path? Jesus created a community for us, a community of equals, diverse, imperfect, but constantly evolving. We travel together in this community and sometimes we carry one another, and sometimes we speed along with the wind under our feet.

We are also given the narrative of the resurrection, the promise that we are never alone, never abandoned, no matter what experiences our life might try to teach us otherwise. Resurrection is not a faint idea, but a visceral hope, a reality that we live out again and again as the body of Christ, that appears differently in every age, and yet remains constant in its values of compassion, mercy, justice. We carry the resurrection in our hearts, on our hands in our broken and healing lives. We are the witnesses to that clear blue morning and we can see everything is going to be all right, everything is going to be okay.