There’s a longstanding maxim amongst Christians that the Holy Land is likened to the fifth gospel. The place seems to have a persona of its own, one rich with history and memory that is intensely palpable. The land seems to remember its ancient identity. In a tangible, tactile way, it portrays the geography, history, theology, politics, religious tensions, and social milieu of the land in which Christ himself lived – the very land that Moses laid eyes on in this week’s lectionary passage from Deuteronomy.
Judaism holds that the greatest prophet to ever have been alive was Moses, for he was able to see God face-to-face. Midrashic tradition says that it was God own self who buried Moses, taking his life gently and peacefully with a single kiss – an act of pure love for God’s dear friend. Joshua, then, was instructed to complete the Torah as a way to spare Moses the pain of having to write of his own impending death.
Ethan Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Villanova University, writes in his essay, “This Is the Land,” that every time he reads these passages aloud and thinks of the Rabbinic interpretation, he weeps. “I weep,” he says, “for Moses, who did not get to see the fruit of his life’s work—and I weep for God, who had to say goodbye to the only human being who ever truly knew him.”
On today’s Revised Common Lectionary gospel text (Matthew 22:15-22):
In the ancient Near East (which, remember, is the context in which the Bible is written), every major god or deity had its own image, or cult statue, that was set up somewhere in the temple that had been dedicated to that god. This is what scripture is referring to when it talks about a “graven image.” It was widely accepted that, in order to communicate with a particular god or goddess, one could do so through the image, or statue. These images were believed to mediate the presence and power of the various deities on earth.
Besides these graven images, those living in the ancient Near East also held that kings were the primary image – the living image – of god on earth. The idea is that a king was the foremost mediator of the presence and will of the gods from heaven to those living on earth. As such, the king also served a priestly function, in that the king of any nation, big or small, also held the title of high priest for whatever the national religion happened to be. There was no distinction between the sacred and secular roles; as king, a ruler would embody both simultaneously.
The Bible, then, was written within this very real, historical context – but it also turns many of the beliefs of its day on its head. For example, instead of there being many gods or goddesses, it proclaims only one true God, YHWH, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and God is not contained in a statue, or image, that’s made by human hands. Yet what is perhaps most radical is scripture’s assertion that it isn’t just royalty – kings and priests – that manifest God’s presence on earth. The opening chapters of Genesis instead declare a new truth: that the entire human race mediates the image of God. Young or old, male or female, all skin colors and languages and socioeconomic class – each and every single person bears the image of God and, thereby, declares God in the world, situation, and experiences in which he or she lives.
This background is crucial if we really want to understand this somewhat strange gospel text for the week. When the Pharisees bring Jesus the coin that is used for tax that has the head of the emperor on it they are, in essence, bringing him a graven image, one that is meant to communicate the authority and power of the emperor in the land. Jesus knows they’re not really concerned about taxes; this has nothing to do with money. It has to do with religion, and power – and Jesus is having none of it. ‘Go ahead,’ Jesus is essentially saying. ‘Give your money to the emperor. That’s not what God, the true God, is concerned about. God cares more about your hearts, your lifestyles, how you carry that divine image in and through you than God cares about a coin.’ He is making the claim that this is all temporary, really. Things like graven images are futile because they’re not real, and the day will come when all will be awakened to that fact.
What is real, though, is the image of God – the living image, in the face of every man, woman, and child throughout the world. This past week, we (the collective we) have been flooded with photos and videos of the horrors taking place in modern Israel/Palestine. There have been gruesome photos and videos of image-bearers, both Israeli and Palestinian, being subjected to unspeakable violence and dehumanization. The international community, one could argue, has known about the pressure cooker that is Gaza for decades. Over the years, civilians living in the walled-off section of the country have experienced terror, bloodshed, and dehumanization under conditions that the UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 has called “apartheid.” They are not nameless, faceless, graven images; these are living and breathing human beings who carry the divine image with them. Furthermore, it has only been ninety years – less than a century! – since the beginning of the Holocaust, the inhumane and evil systematic extermination of approximately six million Jews. They were not nameless, faceless, graven images; they were living and breathing human beings who carried the divine image with them, and their genocide has had far-reaching effects on the Jewish community even today, with antisemitism contributing to the oppression of Jews worldwide.
We, as a species, have a terrible tendency to place our trust in the wrong images or, even worse, to willingly choose them. Images of money, power, politics, security, strategy, authority, success, and control have become our gods, and we have forsaken the very face of God in the human beings we see before us. We have dehumanized Palestinian residents of Gaza, assigning them images of our choosing: savages. Animals. Barely human. And we have dehumanized Jews as well, assigning them current images based on antisemitic tropes like greedy or disloyal, while Nazi Germany used images like rats, dirty, and impure. Yet every single image we place upon others, besides that of a beloved child of God, is wrong. To quote St. Catherine of Siena, “The soul is in God, and God is in the soul. God is closer to us than water is to a fish.” If we want to see God, we can do so simply by looking in the mirror. Yet let us not forget that when we turn on the news and see a wailing Palestinian or Israel, fraught with suffering and fear, we see God, too.
Whenever I look down at my arm and see this olive branch, I pray for peace in the Holy Land. This symbol of peace was tattooed on me on my last night in Jerusalem by Razzouk Tattoo, the oldest tattoo shop in the world. Tattooing has been in the Razzouk family for 700 years — first in Egypt, then coming with them to Palestine five centuries ago. Wassim, who tattooed me, is the 27th generation in his family to carry on the tradition.
Thinking about the Old City of Jerusalem, with its cobble-stoned streets sectioned into the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter.
Thinking about the generous hospitality of my Israeli hosts.
Thinking about the Palestinian Christians I met in Beit-Jala, and how we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together in both Arabic and English.
Thinking about Mahmoud, who graciously hosted our group of nearly 50 at his restaurant in Samaria, Palestine.
Thinking of the Catholic nuns I saw praying the rosary at Jacob’s Well in Nablus.
Thinking about the Separation Wall in the West Bank, and how the Israeli side had been painted to look like a landscape while the Palestinian side displayed artwork calling for liberation, and a painting of George Floyd.
Thinking of the gentle way Muslims would drop to their knees when the call to prayer came on.
Thinking about driving past the barbed wires just north of Gaza, and about the one time Israeli soldiers stopped our tour bus because of our Arab driver, only to wave us on once they boarded and saw all the passengers.
Thinking about the Palestinians I saw lined up at the wall, waiting for an Israeli business man to pick them out of a line-up so they could cross the border and go work for a day’s wages.
Thinking of the tears I cried when we visited Yad-Vashem and I gazed upon the millions of artifacts in glass cases that once belonged to Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Thinking about the soldier holding a machine gun two feet away from where we disembarked in Bethlehem.
Thinking about the Armenian friend who was shut out of his family’s home once Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and how he had to fight for nearly a decade to gain Israeli citizenship because he’s Christian, not Jewish.
Thinking of the Israeli boat captain who proudly sang his national anthem and flew his flag when we sailed on the Sea of Galilee.
Thinking of the friendly “Shalom!”s exchanged between I and two Hebrew boys carrying a plastic slide, and the grinning faces of the Palestinian children vying to sell our tour group olive oil soap.
Thinking of the news that 47 families (500+ people) were wiped out from the civil registry in Gaza this week. Completely erased — entire generations, just gone.
In a land so full of history, where people feel such deep pride over their ancestries and languages and stories and their faith, 47 families were eliminated in the blink of any eye.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
يا إلهي، ارحمك.
يا رب، ارحم.
I have to be honest: for a long time, I wasn’t even sure I was going to post this. I’m feeling lots of big, complicated feelings about it all, and it feels risky to let you in amidst the rawness of it. But the more I thought about it, I’ve realized one thing I’ve always strived to do in this space is show up — not in spite of the mess but in the middle of it. And this particular situation already feels like it’s taken enough of my power away, so maybe this is my way of taking it back and choosing to tell the truth about the holy and the hard and everything in between.
So, now that that’s out of the way:
Trigger warning: pregnancy, infertility, chronic illness…
I’m one of those women who was lucky enough to get pregnant quickly. I was 31 when I conceived Atticus. I was overall pretty healthy, he was my first pregnancy, and it was a dream. Labor and delivery were traumatic, which you may know something of if you’ve read my memoir, and nothing about it went according to plan, but pregnancy? I absolutely loved every second of my pregnancy and always expected we’d do it again.
Of course, I also never imagined that adoption was going to be part of my story. But when Atticus was only a year old, we found ourselves beginning the long process of bringing home a preteen from Liberia who was going blind, a girl I’d known for almost a decade and watched grow up when I lived in her country. And when she finally joined our family, over two years later, we turned all our attention to raising her, to parenting two very different children who were now out of birth order, coming from different cultures and countries and circumstances and with vastly different needs.
And I will admit: we were not fully prepared for the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual toll parenting a child with severe trauma takes. We thought we were, but we had no idea. Learning how to mother her became my sole focus. I was lost in it, wondering why it was so hard, what I was doing wrong, how could I help someone who refused to let me in. And just when I thought we were making progress and taking a step forward, it’d all fall apart again and we’d end up taking three steps back.
And then age 40 started approaching — quickly. I realized if I wanted to try to have another baby, time was of the essence. We were finally coming out of the fog of the last several years, finally able to see beyond just the next step just in front of us. We were ready.
But my body is different now. There are new pains, new symptoms. There are doctors visits and blood work and scans and medications. We thought it was just a digestive illness was, and then came another. Endometriosis. (With fibroids on top of it all.)
And with that comes negative pregnancy test after negative pregnancy test. They call it secondary infertility, I’m told.
The thought I may not be able to have more children, through no choice of my own, feels like a hard and bitter bit that’s been shoved in my mouth. Then, other times, everything loosens a little, and I feel like I can maybe breathe again, because I see the two incredible little (and not-so-little!) people I’ve been lucky enough to make a family with. Both of those things are true at the same time.
So please, PLEASE stop asking womxn when they’re going to have babies, or when they’re going to start a family, or if they’re going to have any more. Because chances are, you have no idea whatsoever what’s going on behind closed doors.
And for those of you living a story that you’d never have written for yourself: I see you. I see the fear, the anxiety, the disappointment, the pain. I see the exuberant hope and the tremendous pain of hopes dashed. I see the questioning, the blaming, the bitterness, the way joy is sometimes a choice we have to make over and over again, each and every day.
You don’t need to pretend with me. Part of why I chose to write about this is because I’m so tired of feeling alone in all of it. Perhaps you know that feeling, too. I don’t have much to offer you besides a tight hug, the medicine of being listened to, and maybe, just maybe, a little song from one of my favorite ancient prophets, Isaiah. For a brief moment we have felt abandoned, but everlasting kindness — even if we can’t see it yet — is our home.
I grew up the oldest daughter with three siblings, and the four of us were constantly squabbling when we were younger about how we wanted everything to be equal and balanced. If one of us got a glass of chocolate milk, we all wanted a glass of chocolate milk – and no one had better get even a drop more than the others! Like with all siblings, there was jealousy and competition and a fair amount of sibling rivalry.
We see this exact same dynamic play out in the story of Jacob and Esau, told in Genesis 25:19-34. From the very outset, we see the conflict between the two brothers, noted in how they “struggled against each other” in their mother, Rebecca’s, womb. Even at their birth, Jacob grasped Esau’s heel, trying to force his way out of the womb first. Later, as young men, Esau foolishly gives his birthright over to Jacob for a bowl of stew. While Esau is criticized in rabbinic literature giving up his birthright much too readily, it is also true that Jacob knew his brother was famished and used that opportunity to exploit Esau, thereby procuring what he wanted. Later, the brothers’ mother encourages Jacob to disguise himself as Esau to steal Esau’s blessing from their father, thereby confirming his name’s meaning of “trickster.”
Yet it is Jacob, not Esau, who ends up as the hero of the faith, one through whom YHWH further establishes the Israelite people. It is Jacob who ends up with divine blessing in spite of his deceit. How do we reconcile that tension? And perhaps a question that hits a bit closer to home: how do we, individually and collectively, act like Jacob the trickster? What are the “birthrights” we have procured for ourselves through less-than-honest means?
The United States, less than two weeks ago, proudly celebrated its 247th birthday. There were flags and fireworks and cries of “God Bless America!” all across the country. The United States surely is blessed; it is the world’s richest nation, leading the pack with a whopping $106.0 trillion of global wealth, and makes up nearly a quarter of the world’s economy. It has a strong military and more natural resources, like navigable waterways and ports, than the rest of the world combined. To many, the United States is the hero of the story.
However, we would do well to remember how exactly it is that we got here. Though specific population estimates vary, “the Americas were home to tens of millions of people before the arrival of Columbus. Indigenous American societies ranged from small hunter-gatherer groups to large, technologically advanced polities. … Many indigenous cultures had advanced mathematics and architecture, sophisticated food systems, and a detailed understanding of their surrounding environment.” These Indigenous peoples were beloved by God, part of our human family. As Europeans began their colonization of the New World, they shaped virtually every aspect of the land and its people, including goods and ideas but also disease and genocide. As the demand for labor to cultivate America’s cash crops grew, so did racial and religious segmentation, giving birth to the era of slavery. Slavery, particularly the cotton slavery that existed from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the Civil War, was a business with the sole focus of maximizing profits. Enslaved people – our brothers and sisters in the family of God — became machines that fueled the business, propelling the United States forward.
Yes, America is most assuredly blessed – but look at the cost. Look at what we did to our siblings to get here. We, as present-day Americans, are reaping the benefits of a “birthright” that we stole. I am not suggesting at all that America ought not to be celebrated, but what I am saying is let’s at least be honest and tell the whole story. We will never be able to move forward as a country if we’re not honest about our past.
Yet this is not only an American “problem.” Other worldly superpowers are engaging in the same kind of behavior by going after what they want by any means necessary. Russia continues its attack on Ukraine, threatening their country and their sovereignty, in an effort to amass more land for itself and deny Ukraine its statehood. Modern-day Israel is engaged in a brutal, bloody, decades-long conflict with Palestine over territorial claims. Nations rage against nations; brothers rage against brothers. All of it begs the question, “What belongs to who? Is it right to enjoy the fruit of what we have never harvested? And why do we, as a species, have such a hard time keeping our hands off what isn’t ours to begin with?”
Power – the promise of blessing – always carries with it the potential to corrupt. Jacob so desperately wanted the birthright and blessing of his brother because it carried with it the power and privileges that were awarded to first-born sons in the Ancient Near East. His crafty use of deception got him what he wanted, yes, but at what cost? In later chapters of Genesis, as Jacob and Esau’s story unfolds, we learn that Jacob flees in terror, essentially living most of his life as a fugitive from his family. We know that it was God’s plan for Jacob to succeed Isaac, but Jacob used deception, theft, and his own abilities to secure the rights he coveted rather than trusting in YHWH to keep the promise. As a result, the family went through a deep, painful alienation that lasted for years. Jacob believed in God’s promise, but he failed to live in faith in light of the promise. The blessings were meant to be gifts to be received, not plunder to be stolen. As such, Jacob’s signature moment in his story comes during his wrestling match with the mysterious stranger revealed to be none other than God (Gen. 32-24-30). Instead of craftily procuring the blessing, Jacob is forced to call out in his weakness for it – something he had never before done. But it was there that God blessed him.
What blessings might we unexpectedly find if we dropped it all, our hunger for power and privilege, fortune and fame, a legacy and lineage, the false gods of consumption and consumerism? What would happen if we, like the later chapters of Jacob’s life, confessed our wrongs and repented of them, trying to make things right wherever we could? A recent article I read reported that a Dutch museum has begun the process of repatriating nearly 500 objects looted during colonial times back to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In a statement released by the Dutch Secretary of State, the nation acknowledged that it was giving back “objects that should have never been brought to the Netherlands.” In the United States, the National African-American Reparations Commission was formed in 2015 with a “common commitment to fight for reparatory justice, compensation and restoration of African American communities that were plundered by the historical crimes of slavery, segregation and colonialism and that continue to be victimized by the legacies of slavery and American apartheid.”
As Christ-followers, we are tasked with joining him in his ministry of reconciliation and restoration. We cannot do this if we’re unwilling to do the work of closely examining where the cracks are, though. We can’t repair what we’re too stubborn to admit is broken.
But there is hope. As Christians, our hope is in our God who faithfully redeems all things. Though Jacob’s story begins with trickery and deceit, it ends with honor. May it be so for our individual and collective stories as well.
The Bible just might be the most dangerous book in the world.
Every week, people read from and interpret it in front of huge audiences all across the country — no, all across the world. And how we behave, what we say, the decisions we make, the candidates we vote for, the policies we enact, the purchases we make, the conversations we have, the doors we open (and the doors we close), the invitations we extend, the prayers we pray — all of those things depend, largely, on how this book is translated to us by the person preaching from it. Every time we read it, we do so through the lens of our own experiences, our own theology and yes, even our own prejudices.
I’ve heard some people say the Bible is a love letter from God. These days, it’s used more as weapon.
Except I’m reading that Jesus came because God so loved the world. He came to save it, not condemn it.
My friend Kate recently posted an excerpt of what we, as Presbyterians in the PC (USA), believe. As she reminds us, this is the official policy and position of our church:
Affirming and Celebrating the Full Dignity and Humanity of People of All Gender Identities
Standing in the conviction that all people are created in the image of God and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for all people, the 223rd General Assembly (2018) affirms its commitment to the full welcome, acceptance, and inclusion of transgender people, people who identify as gender non-binary, and people of all gender identities within the full life of the church and the world. The assembly affirms the full dignity and the full humanity of transgender people, their full inclusion in all human rights, and their giftedness for service. The assembly affirms the church’s obligation to stand for the right of people of all gender identities to live free from discrimination, violence, and every form of injustice.
Making these affirmations, the assembly acknowledges that the church has fallen short of these commitments and obligations. In the world and in the church, transgender people too often experience and suffer discrimination and violence. The church has failed to understand fully and to celebrate adequately the full spectrum of gender embodied in God’s creation. As a result, we have participated in systemic and targeted discrimination against transgender people, and we have been complicit in violence against them. The assembly affirms the scriptural obligation to work for justice for all God’s children, and particularly here to work for justice for people of all gender identities. We have fallen short of this obligation, and—by the grace of God—commit ourselves to do better.
These affirmations and this commitment are rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the breadth of Scripture, and in the Reformed Tradition. Scripture affirms that all people are created in the image of God. In God’s creation, we see and experience God’s image expressed across a broad and life-giving expression of gender. Honoring the breadth and variety of our gender identities and expressions is one of the ways we can come to an even deeper understanding of who we are created to be in relationship to God and each other. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospel, and the Reformed Tradition affirm the dignity and worth of all people and call on individuals and communities to work for the well-being and protection of all people. Because we recognize that people of all gender identities are created equally in the image of God, we also recognize that we share a mutual obligation to stand for the right of all people and all gender identities and gender expressions to live free from discrimination and from violence. The image of God expansively and specifically includes people of all gender identities including transgender, cisgender, gender non-binary people, and people of all gender expressions.
This is the church I am a part of. This is the church I will, inshallah, help lead. One that doesn’t draw borders and build walls, hell-bent on drawing distinctions of race and gender and sexuality and ethnicity and language and religious practice. One that sees the big, wide welcome of God as one that embraces, not shuns, that celebrates, not shames.
This is not to say I’ll always get it right. This is not to say that, for all my questioning and poring over the original text and considering it from every angle, that I’ve landed on the one true and correct interpretation. But it is to say that I believe God is infinitely more concerned with how I treat other people than whether I’ve got my theology all figured out. On whether I approach scripture with an honest and teachable heart instead of twisting it to fit my own agenda. On taking a stand for welcome and not exclusion. On not labeling as profane what God has already called clean (Acts 10:15).
Jesus told his disciples we’d be known by our love — not by keeping score of what we consider to be someone else’s sin.
The hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ+ community and humanity’s feeble attempts to legalize its own discrimination are not born from the Spirit of God. They are rotten fruit that yield from diseased trees, trees of exclusion, misappropriation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and humankind’s need for control. And it’s high time the Church starts calling it out for what it is.
To my friends and family in the queer community, especially those who are trans, let me be clear about one thing: I love you. God loves you. Full stop.
I’m sorry that people in the Church and even the institutional Church as a whole hurt you, shamed you, made you feel less than or like something was wrong with you. Those voices are not God’s. God rejoices over you with songs of celebration, and Jesus’ banner over you is love.
ps: For anyone who wants to disagree with me about LGBTQ+ rights, in and out of the Church, I am happy to have a conversation with you and share why I, as a Christian, am fully affirming. I will not, however, have that conversation in an argumentative comments section.
The lectionary text for this coming Sunday details Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain while Peter, John, and James witness this event. Peter, who has just confessed his belief that Jesus is the Christ, comes up with the idea to build tents up there on the mountain — you can tell how eager he is to stay in the middle of that glory, how he wants to hold on to it for as long as he can. I think we’re all like that with God, really. We get glimpses and we try to bottle it all up for ourselves. It’s almost like we think that if we have God over here, with us, on our side, then we have ownership of Him. We have validation that our faith is the correct faith, so we try to contain it, and in doing so, we take away anyone else’s chance to experience the divine for themselves.
I think that’s part of the reason why the moment is interrupted, why Peter is jolted back to reality. We can’t stay on our mountaintops forever. My spiritual director recently reminded me that life happens in the middle parts; that’s the sweet spot. Yes, we have these incredible, indescribable moments of joy sometimes and yes, we even have deep, dark valleys of pain and grief. But the bulk of what Mary Oliver calls our “one precious life?” It happens in the middle. In the ordinary, the routine. The mundane. That’s what matters.
But I also think God needed Peter and the disciples to see that staying on the mountain is not kingdom-work. Attempting to settle down and isolate as if they had this whole faith-walk thing figured out was not an option in God’s eyes. The work isn’t on the mountain. People aren’t on the mountain. Setting prisoners free and doing justice and proclaiming the wide welcome of God can’t happen on the mountain. The disciples needed to get out there and do the work.
And so do we. Which is why I have some (ok, a lot) of pretty complicated thoughts about #Asbury. I do not doubt God is there. I do not doubt that people are having real, transformational experiences with Her. But I fear it’s almost turned into just another mountain, one not everyone has access to. I fear it’s become another human attempt to bottle up the goodness of God for a certain group of people instead of taking it outside those four walls for all — and I do mean all. I fear it’s become a “come and see” moment when really, I think the Lord is always urging us to “go and show.” I read someone commenting that if we hide ourselves away in a room for days and aren’t going out to care for the most vulnerable of God’s beloveds, then what you are experiencing isn’t actually revival. It’s an upper room moment at best. A mountain-top moment at best.
Food for thought, I guess.
One of my tattoos is of a communion table — a tipped over cup of wine, water, and a loaf of wheat because I imagine the feast of the Lord to be simple, maybe a bit messy, but extraordinary nonetheless.
Today, in Israel, we gathered as a group to have communion together on the Mount of Beatitudes, and when I tell you I sobbed? I SOBBBBED. A group of over 40 of us, all ages and stages of life, from North America and Europe and the Caribbean and a stateless Arminian man who calls Israel home — we all came to the table. We all tasted and saw that the Lord is good. And I cried because it was beautiful, because the very real presence of Christ was in the wheat and wine but also in the wind coming off the sea, in the dirt of the very paths my feet have walked today. And that makes me remember all the more how important an incarnational faith is, how my God is a God who had meat and bones and probably had sore feet after all the walking like I do, who got hungry and tired like I am, who laughed and loved and prayed just like me. Jesus the man came more alive to me today than ever in such an embodied, tactile, tangible, accessible way.
And I also cried because this is what the kingdom of God is like. It is every nation and language and tribe. It is broken people who don’t try to put on appearances but come to the feast because we are hungry and desire our fill. It is sunlight and breeze, sand and grass, in the movement of God at creation that we see still today. It is nearness to God when we mourn, when we make peace, when we show mercy. It is ordinary and holy and community and simple and sacred. I cried because today’s versions of Christianity have diverged so far from this vision in so many ways, and we argue about what elements are appropriate and who can actually partake while all the while Jesus calls to us, “Come! I’ve prepared a place for you, and my welcome is wide — bring everyone!”
I cried, and it was happy, and it was sad, and I am forever changed.
The lectionary reading from Luke yesterday was a strange one. There’s a wealthy, powerful man who lives in luxury, and a poor beggar named Lazarus who lies outside his gates. They both die, and while Lazarus is comforted by Abraham, the ancestor of our faith, the rich man is tormented. In his suffering, he calls out to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus back to earth to go warn the rich man’s brothers so they do not end up at the same fate. And Abraham answers, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
I am continually disappointed by the number of Christians in this country who have bowed to the gods of guns, violent nationalism, capitalism, and power (particularly at the expense of others, usually marginalized.) I’m reading the same scriptures they supposedly are, and nowhere in them is this idolatry condoned. But what, then, do our prophets actually say? Do not turn away the needy (Amos 5:12). Do not oppress the foreigner, orphan, or widow (Jer. 7:5-7). Work for the renewal of creation (Is. 65:17-25) and equity for the poor (Is. 11:4). Show mercy to one another (Zech. 7:9-10). I could go on and on…
As I read about Lazarus and the rich man yesterday, it struck me that there are so, so many who are like the rich man’s brothers, who refuse to listen to the words of Moses and the prophets. They’ve become the caricature of those Jesus addresses in Matthew 13, whose hearts are calloused & whose eyes cannot see the Way. They’ve “refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing” (Zech. 7:11).
& I, quite frankly, have grown weary, and I find myself siding with Abraham — if people can’t even heed the Law and the Prophets, how can they truly obey the Resurrected One? Then I remember Jesus’ words to his disciples, that if they enter a place where peace is not offered to them, they are simply to shake the very dust from their feet and continue on.
It can be exhausting to be a person of faith in this country these days. Perhaps today, you simply need to hear someone say it’s ok to shake the dust and move on.
The other day, I caught a bad case of The Comparison Bug when it comes to my running. I started worrying about things like pace and progress, even though I know that I’m forever a member of the Slow Running Club. So, I reached out to some of my Orange Crush teammates, and through their wisdom and encouragement, I realized once again what I do is enough. I am enough, and I don’t need to strive and work myself to the bone to prove my worth. In that moment, I needed them to remind me of that.
In church on Sunday, my husband reminded us all that we — the collective we — are not a machine. We are not cogs and gears and wheels and wires. We are a body, interdependent and mutual; we give and take; we need and rely on one another because, in the end, we belong to each other. We all have our own part to play, and our parts are not meant to mimic anyone else’s. They are unique and distinctive — but not meant to stand alone. Not either/or. Both/and.
So, I guess that’s why I’m simply baffled by the behavior of some who call themselves Christians this week in the conversations about debt forgiveness. If we are a body, don’t we want all the parts of ourselves to be healthy & whole so we, as an organism, can flourish? It doesn’t matter if you don’t have loans or you paid them off — your brother or sister or neighbor or coworker does. Our sacred text is, quite literally, full of examples of how the forgiveness of debts is holy. Of how much we’ve been given out of an abundance of grace. There is enough to go around, enough for all of us — more than enough, really. But there are people who need us to help them get it. Perhaps our problem is that we started looking at ourselves as a machine instead of a body. When a machine breaks, we throw out whatever part stopped working. But not so with a body. When part of a body is hurt, the rest of the body compensates for it until it heals. It releases extra white blood cells to fight infection. It uses pain signals to alert your brain. Monocytes activate to control inflammation. Parts work harder not because they have to but because they’re taking extra care of what has become weak. Isn’t that a better — whole-r — way to live?