Our Separated Humanity

I found today extremely sad.  Yes, to the point of tears sad.  When I turned on the news this morning and heard of the shooting in Las Vegas and then saw some of the footage, I simply found myself in tears.  I was in disbelief, as if something like this just shouldn’t be happening.  And yet it was.  Again.  Not that I was the least bit surprised because I wasn’t.  Violence is the way of life here in Baltimore and other metropolitan areas but also around the globe, but for whatever reason it just struck me today, as if caught off guard.

I happened to catch a former FBI agent speaking on the broadcast, long before much was known about the shooter, other than the fact that he was a male, age 64.  My immediate thought was questioning how someone could reach that age and still harboring so much that he’s willing to take the lives of so many people so callously.  But the expert when on to speak about where he shot them from, the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, and the significance of the place of power, atop the people, paradoxically, though, magnifying the powerlessness.  I hadn’t thought of that as he tries to get into the mind of this guy.  More than 1200 feet separated himself from the crowd below, amplifying the casualty as bullets reigned down.

More times I can count I have written on this blog about the God problem we have, and I do still believe that to be true.  We find ourselves clinging to so many false gods that have taken the place of God, of mystery, that we find ourselves wandering aimlessly in a darkened world and country.  It’s all true if we could be aware enough in our lives to begin to see that we too are a part of the problem, not just the other that we have demonized.  Thinking about this guy, though, I began to think, as much as we have a God problem, possibly even more striking is the human problem that exists in this land.

There he was, some 32 floors off the ground and entirely separated from humanity below.  Unable to see the trauma being inflicted.  Unable to see the tears nor hear the screams that we’ve had to listen to repetitively through the media.  Now, granted, these are all signs of someone who was experiencing severe psychological problems in his life, seeming to be entirely separated from humanity.  However, the slow process of attaching ourselves to our gods has a similar impact on our own lives.

Think about it.  The more the demand for certainty in our lives and the attachment to the illusion of “being right”, the less capable we have become of empathizing and sympathizing with our fellow brothers and sisters and a whole lot less space for God.  It becomes entirely about having the winning argument, as I’m sure we will witness one again when it comes to the use of guns in our society, and less about the impact so much of what we are doing has upon humanity.  The problem is that we cling so tightly to our certainty that our own eyes become clouded from seeing the tears and pain of the other nor hearing the scream and cry for help as pain reigns down and is reigned down by my own inability to love and to walk this journey with the other.

I can never fully put myself in the place of another human being.  Their story is their story just as mine is mine.  I have suffered greatly in my own life, gradually learning to release the hold of certainty in my own life and through process, trust in faith, in the unseen, in the unknown, making space not only for God but for the other and their story and to hold it as treasure.  We have put ourselves in so many losing situations.  We cling to our symbols, to our institutions, our belongings, our own lives, as if that’s all that matters.  As if that’s all that matters and we can’t care about anything else.  We have a human problem and a God problem who ever so mightily is trying to break through our own lives and to free us from ourselves.  Ourselves.  We cling so tightly and before you know it, we too find ourselves separated from humanity, the humanity of the other and our own, unable to stand with, kneel beside, listen with love, see with care, all because of this distance we have put between ourselves, creating a tension, that, although painful, hopefully leads one day to a new day, a new beginning, a re-creation of our humanity.

It’s a sad day.  It’s been sad days, weeks, months, years, of being torn apart by so much that just doesn’t matter and yet we cling.  We cling to our ideology.  We cling to our certainty.  We cling to a flag.  We cling to a nation that was.  We cling to our guns.  We cling to our rights.  We cling.  It’s what we humans often do best, cling.  Somehow thinking we can’t live without any of it.  Somehow thinking that it’s eternal and never-changing.  We cling to our false gods that over time divide, leaving a gaping hole of pain in the soul of me, you, and a nation, that can only be filled with a God who’s love surpasses all and fulfills all, a God so often unseen and yet so present, gently opening our eyes and hearts to the other and their story.  A story you don’t know.  A story we mustn’t judge.  A story that is unfolding.  A story we must learn to care about in order to understand and in order to close the gap of our own humanity.  It’s the story of the Christ. 

It’s was an extremely sad day but a day in which we are once again invited to enter into the mystery of our own lives, feel the pain of the other, and together we learn to find true freedom from what binds and hurts our hearts and souls as a nation because in the end the story is the same.  It’s a sad day when we can no longer weep for all humanity who suffers because of our inability to put ourselves in their place beyond our symbols and institutions.  The more I am freed of my own gods of judgment, condemnation, and fear, I find myself trusting in all I can trust in, a God who doesn’t reign bullets nor insults down upon humanity but rather love, understanding, and forgiveness. 

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Humble Service

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; ICor 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

One thing that Pope Francis reminds us of all the time is our gospel mandate to serve the poor. He says we are a “Church that is poor for the poor.” Certainly there is a superficial element to it when it comes to material goods and the greed, as he often says that accompanies it in the Western World, but there’s also a deeper meaning to it and a deeper longing that it often comes from deep within us, a place of poverty that yearns for us to be. Our avoidance of it so often in our lives leads us to where we do find ourselves in the world with countries like our own about accumulating while others lack beyond our imagination. It says something about our own poverty and what it is we are being invited into on this three day retreat and how we use the symbols that are a part of these days to lead us there.

On this first night, we hear a familiar gospel from John of the washing of the disciples feet as he too leads them to a place of poverty within themselves in what appears to be a rather uncomfortable position for them. The first symbol we encounter in the passage is Jesus disrobing. For the disciples of that time, something like that would have been scandalous, accompanied by the fact that the leader of this movement will then go on to wash their feet; unheard of. But as this liturgy goes on this evening we will do the same thing to this altar. Before we leave we will leave this space in a rather unusual place. None of us would do it if we were expecting guests in our own homes; we’d want it to look the best and for everyone to see what we’re about. We move away from that place of poverty within ourselves and put on a show. But the service that Jesus mandates this evening is quite the opposite. Disrobing, the stripping of the altar, the bending down, the place of humility calls the disciples and us to a different kind of service.

We are often much more comfortable with the service that we can do indirectly. There’s no harm in it all, but a Church that is poor and for the poor demands something different from each of us, to go out and within to where we are most uncomfortable, most vulnerable, and allow ourselves to be exposed as Jesus does and as we will do to this space as the evening wears on and in turn allow ourselves to be changed. John’s Gospel is predominantly about conversion of heart and it’s done by being led to those vulnerable places in our lives, humbling us, bending down, disrobing, allowing ourselves to be exposed, not to change the other but to allow our own hearts to be changed. We heard that in the weeks leading up to this point with the Woman at the Well, The Blind Man, and the Raising of Lazarus.

It was a concern for Paul as well as we are invited into Corinth today. Paul was aware even at this point that the poor were being separated from the community celebration of breaking bread. The community began to become elitist and separating itself from anyone that it deemed worthy to participate. If they were allowed it was at a different time than everyone else. In many ways, to eat the scraps left over. There was a disconnect in the mandate of the gospel to serve. Although John doesn’t come out of this community, he does originate from one of Paul’s communities and in many ways takes it all a step further. Paul lays the groundwork for this theological basis for what’s going on and then John puts skin to it and makes it real, bringing it down to earth and what it means to serve on a deeper level. It is obvious that Paul and John knew and had allowed themselves to be taken to that place of poverty within themselves and their lives are changed for ever, while remaining connected to their larger story of faith.

That’s what we hear in the first reading today from Exodus and the Passover celebration. Our Jewish brothers and sisters just a few days ago told this very story around their tables. They tell the story not to take them backwards to that place, but rather as a reminder of their story and their own journey, as a people and community, to that place of great struggle and poverty in their lives. They mustn’t ever forget who they are and where they had come from and so the telling of the story and the participation in the great symbols of the faith lead them to a place of change in their own hearts.

These days are filled with many symbols as our the readings we are invited to enter into this day. Some would say that John’s story of the washing of the disciples feet was one used in early baptisms, connecting what it was all about and the service that was being demanded of them. It throws everything off kilter from the other gospels because it’s out of order, happening not during the Passover, that somehow this Christ was breaking through even at this very moment, from the depths of their being, that place of poverty within.

The challenge for us to allow all the symbols to speak to us and to lead us to that place of conversion in our lives. It may be the bending down, the washing of feet, the humbling movement, the stripping of the altar, disrobing as Jesus does. Which of the symbols makes us most uncomfortable? That’s so often the place that God is trying to break through in our lives. This isn’t just about Holy Thursday and all we have made it out to be over the years. Rather, for John, it’s already about Easter. Lent has ended and we enter into the great feast. John is going to ask how we make resurrection a part of our lives in this moment, and this evening it comes in the form of humbling service from that place of poverty within. We are a Church that is poor for the poor, but maybe in ways we don’t always expect. Allow the symbols to speak and to change what it is we hold onto in our lives, now being washed away in the humble giving of Jesus, and as Peter eventually teaches us today, through our humble reception of that giving. That’s the point of change, the point of conversion in our lives.

The Remembered Pain of Love

Exodus 12: 1-8, 11-14; ICor 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-15

“It is the Passover of the Lord.” We hear that line in this evening’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. In just a few chapters, which we’ll hear at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, the Israelites will embark on one of the greatest, wildest, and toughest journey’s yet as they find themselves in exile and moving to and through the Red Sea. But tonight, it’s the Passover of the Lord. Splatting of blood on doorposts. Sacrificing the lamb. The telling of their story, our story of passing through.

Yet, so often, it seems to be, that the motivation of people Israel has more to do with survival and living, getting by, than anything else. In the larger scheme of their story and our story, it’s no wonder. On this night in the marking of Passover, blood splattered on doorposts, is a reminder of how much death and suffering has haunted their lives and they must never forget. But as it is for all of us, it’s easy to get stuck right there, victims of our own suffering and never passing through; through exodus, through Red Sea, through the Cross. We learn to survive, to just get by in life, just as they so often did. But tonight they remember their larger story and how they must remain connected to the larger story lest they fall prey to victimhood in their own lives. It’s not about stopping there, in their own suffering, learning to survive, it’s about passing through. For them and us, to the Promised Land, to the eternal life promised.

But Scripture and these stories of salvation history must be viewed in their entirety. There is a progression of the human person and people Israel. There’s a set-up that takes place between the old way, a life about survival, and a new way that Jesus teaches, shows, and lives. A movement in motivation and intent that is no longer based on survival and living in the past and viewing life from that lens. Rather, a life rooted and motivated in and led by love. We too can become “stuck” in survival mode, rooted not in love, but so often in fear and pain.

Jesus shows us that in tonight’s gospel from John, in one that we are all familiar with, the washing of the disciples feet. There are no signs of the splattering of blood, nor even of breaking of bread as we hear from Paul this evening. No, rather, in this movement beyond movements, Jesus moves to a vulnerable place, takes off the outer garments, as we will do to this altar as we conclude this evening, no longer motivated by survival but rather in and through love from Love himself. Just think about what it must have been like. Even if they didn’t know crucifixion was about to take place, there was still a building of tension, wary disciples, fearful, missing the point, and yet, Jesus stoops down, becomes vulnerable to them, and washes their feet. One who will betray. One who will deny. Many who will run. Yet, it never stops Jesus from this act of love.

It is the Passover of the Lord. Do this in remembrance of me. Now we don’t splatter blood or sacrifice lambs, but the passover is us as well. In these days when we remember the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, it is the mystery that we too are invited into in these days and in our lives. “Do this” is even more than breaking bread and pouring wine, lest we separate what we do hear from our daily lives. Throughout our lives we face great suffering beyond the physical pain that we often face. Sometimes the greatest of suffering that Jesus teaches us is letting go of ourselves, our own ego, that often stands in the way of us passing through. Even up to the point when the Israelites were passing through the Red Sea, they were holding onto what no longer was. They had to let go and trust in order to pass through and continue the journey to the Promised Land. It is only by and through Love that they pass through, not free of suffering and loss, but movement to a deeper love.

As we enter into these days of Passion, Death and Resurrection, we pray we may consistently place our lives in the hands of Love so that we may be transformed and hearts changed into love. Do this in remembrance of me. As we pass through, remembering the passion of our Lord and the passion we share it, we enter with hope knowing that life awaits. We, like the Israelites and the larger story we share in, can move beyond our own survival and even the life we want, to a life of love so that all we do is motivated by and lived through Love. We now await that great act of love of the one who’s passion we remember…

May It Be Done To Me

Exodus 20: 1-17; ICor 1: 22-25; John 2: 13-25

“We proclaim Christ crucified.” These are the words we hear from this very short passage from Saint Paul today in his letter to the Corinthians, and in a set of readings that are quite difficult to preach on, I am reminded of how Paul consistently, in these same words, is always moving communities to their own connection to the larger story and how we are all a part of Christ crucified. He uses those two words so frequently in his letters that it’s obvious that he believes it, has experienced it, lives it, and knows it in the depths of his being, and sees it as the connection that we all share as people and in the sharing of the suffering of the world, in and through Christ crucified.

It’s unfortunate because we have a tendency as believers, as Christians, to so often limit the great Mystery to something that has been done for us. Christ died for us, for our sins, for our salvation and so on, but that understanding also feeds into our own culture of entitlement that someone frees me of the responsibility of my own life and my connection to the larger people of Christ crucified and not always needing to grow up, mature, seek conversion in my life and in deepening my faith. But Paul comes at it in a different way. He understands the Mystery in its totality as not just something that is done for us, as gift as that is, but it is an ongoing invitation from God to be done to us. Remember the prayer of Mary from the beginning of the story to the prayer of Jesus in the Garden near the end of us ministry is the same prayer for us today, “May it be done to me…” To remain connected to that larger story, we must accept it as the daily reality as Paul did in his own life and not grow stagnant, even if that’s where we like to be at times.

As people, we do try to limit the Mystery at times in our lives and box God in to our image. Quite honestly, we can spend our entire lives simply trying to fulfill the Ten Commandments, the Ten Words that we hear in today’s First Reading from Exodus. Of course, we know them. We learn them from the time we are little kids and are ingrained within us. However, they can become an idol in and of themselves. But as we age and mature, we learn it’s not the fulfillment and fullness of God or this Great Mystery. What happens when we begin to see that we can’t live up to that constant expectation, when we begin to fail at the Ten Words, when we can’t force others to live up to them, as Jesus often confronted the Pharisees on and we will hear throughout John’s Gospel in the upcoming weeks. We can grow bitter and angry, holding grudges and resentment, or Christ crucified. At that very moment, when we can’t do it and our prayer becomes their prayer, may it be done to me, we find ourselves pushing against the Cross and experiencing Christ crucified; not merely a historical event, but a lived reality in our lives even to this day. We proclaim Christ crucified; that’s our connection to the larger story of life and our point of intersection and relationship with the sufferings of the world.

Now if you read Paul’s letter to Corinth you will find that he’s just getting started in this letter. As the letter progresses he too will begin to name the many idols that existed in that community and how they were used to divide people into their own camps rather than seeking unity within the themselves and with one another. Over and over again Paul will proclaim Christ crucified to the community, a stumbling block to Jews, just as much as it can be for us. We don’t want to go to that place; we’d much prefer to cling to something that was rather than embrace the life that God desires for us and how God’s love will be manifested in the world. Can we even begin to utter those words of Mary and Jesus, “May it be done to me…”. It must have been a prayer held deeply within Paul and will eventually lead to his own death, eternally connecting him to Christ crucified in his people.

The Gospel is a tough one. It’s another story that we are quite familiar with, the cleansing of the Temple. John places it at the beginning of his Gospel to set the tone for what is about to come, but it doesn’t make it any easier to hear or reflect upon. But using that same reality of idols in our lives, does not the Temple, or the Church in our case, at times become that same idol for us? It so often was for the people in the time of Jesus, certainly for the Pharisees that saw it as the be all and end all, often forgetting the greater gift, the larger story, even of their own Exodus, and even beyond the time of Jesus, missing the point of who and whose they are and what and who they are called to be in life. Both the Pharisees and the money changers and sellers were taking advantage of people so often manipulating them to believe that they were gods themselves and what they had the people needed.

The season provides us the opportunity to look upon and seek conversion from the many idols we hold onto in our own lives, the things we feel we can’t live without, even if it’s our thoughts, the way we do things, or whatever it may be, to be cleansed in order to get to the place where with all will the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Jesus may be ours, to be done to us. Yes, we can be thankful and grateful for what has been done for us, but it isn’t just about something in the past. God invites us into a moment of grace right now, and as Paul would so often say, the place you find the grace is the place you least expect it, in Christ crucified, at the Cross. We pray for the grace to make our prayer today, “May it be done to me…”.