Friday, March 31, 2006

Resurrection? So What? Materially Present

Author, theologian, teacher and baseball fanatic Tex Sample, led our pilgrims through the daunting discussion of the Resurrection of Jesus. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Was Jesus' corpse raised? Was it a metaphorical resurrection? Was Jesus raised in the hearts of the disciples? Just what happened?

Tex offered two stories for possible consideration. There are two stories of tradition: the empty tomb tradition and the appearance tradition. The empty tomb tradition offers several possibilities including the corpsal resurrection of the body of Jesus. The appearance tradition includes Jesus appearing unexpectedly without explanation. Not as a ghost, or an appartion or simply in "the hearts of the disciples" but, as the mystery of the Presence.

Tex offered that through his research, as best as he can determine, no reputable and respected theologian suggests that Jesus' corpse was raised from the dead. They do offer a few possibilities. Tex suggested we consider the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' understanding. In Williams' book, The Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, he argues that Jesus Resurrection was a "material presence."

"The risen Christ is not a resuscitated human individual....but, an active and transforming presence never exhausted or assimilated....He never belongs to the past in the sense that what he does or is is over, completed and sealed off. And he does not act in the present simply by influence and is in confrontation with his presence that human lives are restored and reshaped." (Resurrection, Williams, page 55)

Jesus' material presence is still confronting us this very day continuing to transform our lives and challenging us to live into the radical hospitality of Jesus' invitation to the table; the Eucharist. Tex stated that the Eucharist is the most important thing in his life. It is the transformative call of the Eucharistic life of Jesus, his disciples and we as his followers that "moves" us into a community of radical forgiveness. "Thus to welcome or be welcomed by him at a meal on the further side of Calvary is the ultimate assurance of mercy and acceptance, of indestructible love." (Williams, 100) It is also the call of the Christian community to be Christ's active agents of love and forgiveness in a world of pain of suffering as Jesus taught in Matthew 25.

The Christian community is also, by virtue of the confrontation of Jesus' material presence, called to a voice for Jesus' message of peace, egalitarianism, and trust in God. This is a challenge for the Church in a capitalistic America. The question for the Church and the Christians within it is this, "how far have I (we) allowed Christ's questioning to transform my (our) life into compassion, and how far, therefore, I have allowed compassion in me to transform the world?" (Williams, 79)

Jesus' Resurrection is The call to live the transformed life found in the Presence of God. This life is lived as a Eucharistic life, broken and shared. It is to be given to feed all who come to the table. It is radical hospitality and forgiveness shared with those who are hungry, naked, thirsty, sick and in prison, and the stranger in our land.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Resurrection? So What? Politics?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Christ the Center, "What is the meaning of the empty tomb, before the news of the resurrection? Is it the deciding fact of Christology? Was it really empty? Is it the visible evidence, penetrating the incognito, of the Sonship of Jesus, open to everyone and therefore making faith superfluous? If it was not empty, is then Christ not risen and our faith futile? It looks as though our faith in the resurrection were bound up with the news of the empty tomb. Is our faith then ultimately only faith in the empty tomb? This is and remains a final stumbling block, which the believer in Christ must learn to live with in one way or another."

These were words written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pacifist, who would enter into a plot to attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler, for which he was eventually executed by the Nazis. To ask Bonhoeffer his own question, "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?" And what is the evidenced impact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in his life? The answer is found in his own actions. Bonhoeffer would attempt to become the "spoke in the wheel" of the government that was not practicing its obligation to be the protector and advocate of all its citizens, including the poor, the weak and the different.

The power of the empty tomb, the stumbling block over which all Christians must confront, is in its haunting way, the sustaniner of those called to be the "spoke in the wheel." The power of the empty tomb and the energy to be sustained as the spoke is found in the community of faith birthed from the empty tomb.

"We are to live together in ways that hallow the earth with peace and justice, and this power is not in the state, nor is it in money, nor does it come from the barrel of a gun. Rather, we are empowered to participate whenever we form into congregations that seek to hear and do torah (live Spirit led lives): individuals can and should resist injustice, but only in community can we do justice. In an unredeemed world, we are all refugees in need of congregational sanctuary." (Jim Corbett early leader of the Sanctuary Movement)

But what can I do against the machine of violence? Who am I to stop war? How can I stop poverty? How can I possibly be the spoke in the wheel of injustice?

Mike is a very good friend of mine. A few years ago he went up north to visit a good friend of his. While visiting, every morning, Mike's friend would get up and go the grocery store and buy two loaves of bread and a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly. He would come home and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He would load up the sandwiches in a cart and go down to a nearby bridge under which several homeless men lived. There he would hand out his sandwiches and then head home.

After Mike got back from his trip he was so moved by his friend's daily actions that he sent his friend some money "to help in his ministry." A week later Mike got an envelope back from his friend. In the envelope was Mike's check with the words "make your own damn sandwiches" written across its face.

Where ever I might find myself and what ever I might be doing, I am called to make my own damn sandwiches and be the spoke in the wheel where ever I am. Bonhoeffer could not act alone and it seems on the surface his actions did have good results. But, as Shelly told me, God holds me accountable for my actions, not the results That I have to leave up to God.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Share in this cup?

Every once in awhile I see something that burns a forever image in my soul. I saw that something last week in Taos, New Mexico. In a small gallery tucked away down a back alley rested a striking reminder of the sacrament of the Eucharistic Cup.

An artisan using wood as his medium created the image of beauty and pain. With a lathe he crafted a local piece of wood into a short, fat cup no tall than eight inches. More cup than chalice, the red wood was filled with knots and imperfections. Yet, the artist was able to smooth the rough service that made it gentle to the touch.

At the mouth of the cup he allowed the natural surface of the wood to emerge and protrude over the lip at least three inches. It was as if the cup was still attached to the rough wood from which it was birthed. Somehow the artist had blessed the possibility that the cup was cut from the Cross.

Under the lip from which no single person could easily drink a twist of brambles was wrapped around the cup. If I was drawn to drink from the cup my bottom lip would have to share the crown of thorns.

Down the side of the cup were two knots, broken and open to the boldness of the imagination. Dripping from each knot was one drop of the most red "blood." How could I even hold the cup without getting "blood" on my hands?

Could I share in this cup? Would I dare take a drink and risk getting blood on my hands? Is it possible that I would place the cup to my lips and wound my own flesh? An image seared into my soul to connect the Sunday chalice to the sufferings of my Lord.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Saying Goodbye to Lenny

Lenny was in his sixties, a gentle soul, who carried around a box of pencils so he could draw the same house over and over again. Lenny rarely spoke but always smiled. He went to Art Works everyday to spend time with his friends, who are mentally handicapped adults including my sister Dinah. Lenny was Dinah's "honey." Yesterday we gathered at Art Works to celebrate Lenny's life and acknowledge in our own way that Lenny had died.

All of Lenny's closest friends participated. One carried his drawings. Another brought his hat he wore on his daily walks. His picture was paraded for all to see; Lenny wore a very big smile in that picture. A favorite scripture was read, poems recited and songs sung. Lots of stories were told about Lenny.

Then came Dinah's turn. Dinah only has a few words more to say than Lenny. "My honey Lenny is gone. I love you. In my heart now." Death is hard and love is painful. Both mean letting go.

Abraham took his son Isaac on the longest walk of his life. Up the hill they went. Stopping at one point, the young Isaac questions his father Abraham. "We have the fire, the wood and the knife. But where is the lamb for slaughter?" All Abraham could muster was, "God will provide." The story tells us "So the two of them walked on together."

It seems that one of the hardest things in life is to keep on walking, even in the face of the greatest uncertainty. Dinah's heart is breaking. Her beloved Lenny is gone. Somehow, she has to keep on walking. But, we don't walk alone. We must walk on together.

The psalmist sung, "You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of life." In the presence of one another we can find the presence of God. As we walk along the path of life with Dinah we can only hold her hand and be present for her. In the walking we trust and hope God will provide.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Resurrection? So What? Fact or Fiction

Peregrini met to ponder the uncertainty of The Resurrection. Yes, that's right. The uncertainty of Jesus' resurrection. Was Jesus' corpse raised to experience the same heart pumping life after the crucifixion as he experienced before being hung on the cross?

The Rev. Dr. Vernon Meyer led our pilgrims along the possible path of adventure. What are the clues to answering the questions? How do we find the truth? Where do we find some absoluteness?

Paul and the writers of the gospels offer some direction. But, it seems their answers are only more questions. What are the common threads? The empty tomb. Is that all we are left with? Seems so. The empty tomb and some interesting experiences by a small number of eye witnesses who never actually wrote about what they saw. They only told others. So what do we make of it?

The real question is: "So what?" What difference does the empty tomb make in my life? These questions and many more will continue to be discussed next Wednesday, March 15, 7:00 pm at Fair Trade Cafe, 100 W. Roosevelt Phoenix, Arizona. All are welcome. Bring your questions. Answers are optional.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

We live in the wilderness

Tradition and cowboy lore have it that in 1867 Jack Swilling stopped to rest his horse near the White Tank Mountains. He looked over the desolate wilderness of the desert and saw great potential. Now 125 years later we call this place Phoenix. It's the six largest city in the US and home to millions of people. I live here. In the desert. I live in the wilderness and this is where life is for me.

Jesus was baptized. "And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the desert 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him."

I have found myself getting the metaphor of the wilderness confused with the painful living of life. As a Christian, I believe I live in the wilderness and this is where life is for me. I don't believe as a Christian I can separate the wilderness experience from life itself. The wild beasts AND the angels are both in the wilderness.

In the Christian experience of Lent we march the pilgrimage of the paschal mystery. Baptism to living the pilgrimage in the wilderness to the cross. Easter may be coming but life is in the wilderness.

Just a year ago I was working at a local parish. On Tuesday mornings the young adult moms gather for Bible study. At the conclusion of the study, Jen, just seven months pregnant went to the ladies room. Less than three minutes later another young mom followed. The second mom found Jen lying silently on the floor. Her face was already blue.

No amount of life saving cpr efforts by those with Jen nor the paramedics would bring her back to life. Her death was immediate and the cause is still uncertain. The paramedics rushed Jen to the local hospital. Every effort was made to save her unborn son. He lived six weeks. It was so tragic and seems so senseless.

Those, I believe, who are Christians are born by baptism into a called life. That life, is a life that is lived intentionally in the wilderness. It's lived in the wilderness because that's where life really happens. If we see "the wilderness" as just one or a series of those tough and hard experiences to go through, then we could lead ourselves to the conclusion that either God caused Jen and her son to die or that God didn't care enough to stop their death. I don't believe either thing.

What I am suggesting is a theology that says that God Incarnate came to live a vulnerable life among us; born of a woman, walking the dusty roads of life, sitting by the well thirsty, hungry sending the disciples off to buy food, raised by a widowed mom, mistrusted by his brothers and sisters, rejected by his own home town, betrayed with a kiss, abandoned by his closest friends, to die alone, naked and humiliated. God with us in the wilderness of life. Why do horrible things happen to good and innocent people? I don't know. But, I believe in a God who lives in the world, incognito in Jen and in her son and in you and me. And God understands living in the wilderness of life.

We live in the wilderness and this is where life is for us. And God is with us.

Friday, March 03, 2006

God? Six Feet Under?

God? Six Feet Under? Ah yes, we took a pilgrimage down the path of death. Ten brave souls ventured into the uncertainty and deep questions of death. Stories were told and a few tears were shed.

What does intimacy look like in death? We shared moments of being present with a friend and loved one as they took their last breath; holding their hands, kissing their face, lying with them in bed. How has this effected our intimacy with the living? How has this shaped our being present to our own selves?

Can God tolerate death? Where is God in death? Is there hope? Are we just a brain that sends electrical impulses and chemicals throughout our fragile bodies? Is there a soul? We surfaced all the questions but the last - maybe that will be a future topic for another Peregrini?

Death is a powerful subject. We rarely "want" to think about much less talk about death. Yet, death is all around us. It is part of life. The world actually needs the cyclical nature of birth, life and death. What is it that keeps us from reflecting about our own death? Fear of the unknown. Lonliness. The frustration of not having done everything we wanted to do. The despair of not having lived a life of purpose. Not having left something of value behind. All these were points of stress for us in the conversation about death.

If you have some comments about death please join in the conversation. Peregrini never really ends.