15 June 2018

bread and circuses

Panem et circenses, or maybe “bread and circuses.”  We Americans are distracted.  We react; we don’t listen.

We react to the latest outrage.  We don’t bother to actually learn.  We point fingers.  We get into mindless debates on Facebook.

Did we care in the first place—or have we become exhausted from caring—about the latest action, assertion, or attitude from our leader(s)?  What once would have been a disgrace is now the “new normal.”

It’s not like we don’t care.  We especially care when a celebrity does something that “blows up the internet.”  And we do read.  Just don’t ask us to read something taking over fifteen minutes.  (Yikes, fifteen minutes!)

Okay, I’m already getting bored.  Let’s get back to those bread and circuses.

27 May 2018

in the evening

Last month, I quoted something from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season.  Actually, that’s a special book for me.  I got a copy of it many years ago, and later gave it to Banu, the one who was to be my wife!

It’s a truly wonderful work, filled with heart and wisdom.  Here is the way L’Engle finishes her book (with a nod to St. John of the Cross “in the evening”):

“We have much to be judged on when [Christ] comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are symptoms of our illness, and the result of our failures in love.  In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, and not one of us is going to come off very well, and were it not for my absolute faith in the loving forgiveness of my Lord I could not call on him to come.”

At various times, I’ve seen tee shirts and stickers commenting on the Lord’s return.  “Jesus is coming back, and boy, is he going to be p*ssed off!”  Remove love from the equation, and I suppose that might be a possibility.

Still, L’Engle concludes, “But his love is greater than all our hate, and he will not rest until Judas has turned to him, until Satan has turned to him, until the dark has turned to him; until we can all, all of us without exception, freely return his look of love with love in our own eyes and hearts.  And then, healed, whole, complete but not finished, we will know the joy of being co-creators with the one to whom we call.”

St. Paul says God has given Jesus the name above all names, so “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  Maybe he really means it.

Imagine joining every creature—every creature—in “freely [returning] his look of love with love in our own eyes and hearts.”  And when all is said and done, we will be “healed, whole, complete but not finished.”  We will not be finished: love always makes room for more love.

“Amen.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

23 April 2018

purity of heart and Hitler

In a recent sermon, I spoke about hospitality.  I commented on a line from the Rule of Benedict: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.”  I said, “Every time we encounter someone, there’s the invitation to welcome them as Christ…  No matter who is standing in front of us, the point is to remember that it’s Christ we’re serving.”  (Mind you, I didn’t claim by any stretch of the imagine that’s an easy thing to do!)

There’s something in Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season I find quite powerful.  It’s in the chapter “Lion and Lamb,” where she’s going through the Beatitudes of Jesus.  On purity of heart, she reminds us of the scriptural witness that the impure of heart cannot see God and live.  Here’s what she says:

“It is one of the burdens of living in a fallen world that each generation has its war.  For Hugh [her husband] and me it is World War II, and in one of the stories coming from this war I find my image of that purity of heart which allows a human being to see God and live.

“This story concerns a Lutheran pastor in Germany who could not reconcile his religion with the Third Reich, which pretended to protect the religious establishment as long as those who belonged to it were pure Aryan (forget that Jesus was a Jew) and were willing to heil Hitler.  This pastor had met with Hitler, who liked him, and wanted to give him preferment.  But the choice was as cut and dried for the pastor as it was for those first Christians when they were asked to burn a pinch of incense to the divinity of the emperor.  And he did not have celibacy to make his choice easier.  He had a wife and children and he loved his family and he did not take lightly his responsibility to them.

“But he could not betray everything he believed, everything that he stood for in his ministry; he could not burn that pinch of incense.

“He and his wife and children were sent to a concentration camp, and the wife and children died there.  Like Anne Frank’s father, he was the only one left.

“When it was all over, when Hitler’s megalomaniac kingdom had fallen, and the world was trying to put itself back together and return to everyday living, it was remembered that he had seen Hitler.  Someone asked him curiously, ‘What did Hitler look like?’

“He replied quietly, ‘Like Jesus Christ.’

“And that is what it is like to be pure in heart and to see God.”

Are we able to do that, even for someone who cuts us off in traffic?  Remind yourself that they look like Jesus Christ!