thinking theology

Archive for October, 2016

Who Me? Luke 18:9-14

A banker and a representative for a repossession company were at church saying their prayers. The banker, who sat in a family pew, said, “Thank you that I am so good at what I do. I dress well. I pay my taxes. I am probably the biggest donor to this church. Everyone knows my worth to the community.”

The repo rep came late, hoping to arrive unnoticed. That person, prayed, “Forgive me for what I do to provide for my family. I hope no one will recognize me.”

As in this parable, our society tends to reward success and we tend to measure success by social acceptability, by possessions, or by status. There is huge pressure to save for a wealthy retirement or to work to gain prominence.

I have been thinking often lately about the point of being alive at all. Is it Monopoly to the death or The Wheel of Fortune? Is it about performance or productivity? Or is it about learning about what it means to be eternal participants?

If we are all part of the Divine Soul, then somehow we must affect that soul by the nature of our participation. If we want peace on earth, then our souls must learn peace. If we want compassion, then we must practice compassion, and so on. Life’s journey is not about becoming flawless, but about developing awareness of our connections to each other and how those connections affect the world.

The problem with the Pharisee in this text from Luke’s gospel (and our banker), is that they have bought into a system of rewards and punishments in which it possible to get a badge of merit or a shiny halo or whatever metaphor you like. The tax collector (and our repo caller) on the other hand, knows they are caught in an unjust and sinful system. The latter do not make excuses, but recognize both their entrapment and the harm it is causing themselves as well as others.

Our journey through life is a process of removing the blinders that hide us from our true selves; and because we are focussed on our own self-presentation, those blinders cause us to ignore the reality of others. Seeing clearly means acknowledging what we have done and left undone, but also accepting and celebrating the things we can and are doing, the gift that we have been given that becomes blessing for others.

We have an astonishingly brief time in this life to figure out the big questions, so why should we bother? For ourselves, it allows us to be forgiven for the places where we are still growing and changing. For others, it frees us to use our strengths and hopeful vision for the uplifting of others.

We like the tax collector and repo caller not so much for their humility as for their authenticity. A secret part of us longs to be the banker/Pharisee: beyond reproach, beyond accountability, above the common. That part, however, condemns us to isolation and to delusions about our own mortality, about our infinitesimal place in the universe, where we are mere motes of stardust.

We are creatures who will never cease to make mistakes because we are designed to learn and to be transformed. For my part, I think this is an eternal process as we move into the energy and creativity of the Holy One.

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Church of the Beatitudes

We believe in the Holy Spirit, that holy force impelling the poor to build a church of the beatitudes. We recognize one baptism in the blood of witnesses to truth; we confess our faith in the law of love. We wait for the resurrection of the people and joyfully praise our Lord, who has looked with favour upon the disinherited, those who have no bread, no home, and no land. Amen.
(Fray Guillermo Chavez, Ecuador “Iglesia Solidaria”, 1987)

What does it mean to be a church of the beatitudes? Beatitudes are spiritual directions that begin with the word, “Blessed”. Some modern translations say, “Congratulations”. Others say, “Happy”.

When we hear the Magnificat, Mary praising God for the coming of Jesus, we hear a prophetic message that the poor will be lifted up and the elite will be brought down. Depending on with whom you identify, this is either good or bad news. In Matthew, Jesus stands above the crowd like a new Moses. In Luke, Jesus stands amongst the crowd as the incarnate voice of the Holy One.

To be a church of the beatitudes, means assisting the poor to build a community of healing. You will notice this text does not say for any but the poor to build the church. That means those of us who would not be designated as the poor, are to be led by the poor, offering our support to their endeavours. When I was in El Salvador, a long time ago, I was impressed by the way small Anglican congregations came together in peace making. They worked at the task of turning enemies into friends, orphans into beloved children, soldiers into farmers. It required trust and risk.

If you travel to Chiapas in Mexico, you might be lucky enough to visit some of the Zapatista communities that have created homes in the wilderness and mountains. In those communities, they are off the grid. They use only green power in their hospital, their medical laboratory, their schools and their homes. They have several small industries also that manufacture clothes, tools, and other items. They accomplished this without any grants, or even support from the government; quite the opposite in fact.

Another example of people coming together is the fight of our first nations people to push the government to fulfill its promises about the sovereignty of treaty lands, protection for indigenous women, improved schools and communities. Many first nations are not waiting for the government, but others will have to demand their fair share of our wealth to survive.

So if we identify as the poor, we need to get to work, discovering what we need to move ahead. If we are not the poor, then we need to ask how we can help, without judgement, without prejudice, without criticism. Blessed are the poor is an absolute statement. It does not say, “And the well intentioned wealthy.”

For the church of the near future, we must ask ourselves where we are with the poor. With whom are we standing? What do they need from us? How can we be part of the company of the blessed?

A few week s ago, we heard the story of the rich man and the beggar. In death, the poor man received comfort, but the rich man experienced torment. Yet, even in the midst of that suffering, the rich man still expected the beggar to serve him. The rich man had never noticed the poor man in life, and in death, continued to see him as an object, a servant, not a person of dignity and worth.

To be a church of the beatitudes means to put service ahead of pride and solidarity ahead of judgement. To be a church of the beatitudes means to accept that we are moving into a future that we can neither see nor control. As the creed says the Holy Spirit will drive us into action and stir us up with joy and possibility.

Marge Piercy wrote a wonderful poem (The Low Road) about organizing for justice. Here is the end of it.

It goes on one at a time
It starts when you care to act,
it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
It starts when you say WE
and know who you mean,
and each day
You mean one more.