Friday, April 18, 2014

Keep Hope Alive

There was once a tree in a garden full of life.  The bright greens, greens, and purples of spring growth were all around, and the birds sang from tree to tree.  There was one exception, though.  In the far corner a tree stood by itself.  Dead leaves from the fall still clung stubbornly to the branches, and its starkness compared to the vibrancy of the surrounding trees seemed to point to death.   A bronze marker at the base of the tree revealed the sad irony that this tree had been planted in someone's memory, and its seeming decline was another cruel twist of grief.  

A sight like that could make you sigh in hopelessness.  It could make you want to cut the tree down in surrender, another reminder of our mortality.  But if you stopped for a minute to look up, to look past the dried and twisted leaves, you might be surprised by something.  Could those be the buds of tiny new growth?  Are the bits of green new leaves emerging among the dying one?  It seems that some trees hold on to their dead leaves all through the fall and winter until the new spring growth pushes them out.

There are signs of life all around.  Although we may feel withered and dry, we are called to remember the cycle of life.  Yes, death will come for us all, but there is so much more.  Life calls us now, and it calls us again and again from our darkness, from our hiding places, from our refusal to let go of all that holds us back.

This is the message of Good Friday.  Though things seem hopeless, there is light to guide us through, and lessons to be learned in the dark.  Though we grieve, we also rejoice that we could love so deeply.  Though we are confused and feel abandoned, we keep walking through the uncertainty and find that there is meaning and purpose in the journey.  What can we know of light without the dark?

As you carrying your own cross this week, may you hold on to the Easter hope thought weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When a sanctuary becomes a battleground

In this moment, I don't know which is more painful--the grief of walking away, or the continued pain of staying.  It's like a bad relationship where you continue to hang on, hoping you can change the situation or the person, but knowing in your heart that things seldom change in the ways you want them to.  It's hard not to look back as we contemplate walking away, afraid that we might return, or that I might just turn to a pillar of salt on the spot.  Although I believe in resurrection, sometimes things just have to die in order for something new to be born.

As much as I've fought to stay, to heal, the place that once was a sanctuary is now a place of accusation and suspicion.  I'm tired of pointing fingers and I'm tired of the blame game.  I'm tired of my own responsibility in it and how it is provoking the bitterness that I thought I had buried forever.

When I dream now, it is of gathering with friends, and the laughter and deep reflection that comes from authentic and unplanned times of sharing.  It's about finding connection again, with God and others, without submitting to the rituals of "this is how we've always done it."  I want to be moved by the power of relationships and the vulnerability of uniting in our struggles.  I long to dig deep and find meaning without drawn out discussions over policy and meetings about programs.  I want to shed this exhaustion and frustration and get back to the love that first drew me in.

I catch glimpses of how it used to be, back in the honeymoon stage where everyone was on their best behavior.  There are moments now when we can remember and share, and the defenses come down, and the urge to fight or leave is exchanged for a desire to have a seat and stick it out.  We can acknowledge that we are all hurting, that we have been both victims and accomplices, and that we want to make something beautiful out of this mess.  It seems only appropriate as we walk through Holy Week and admit that we are broken, grieving sinners in need of salvation.  We can simultaneously hold the very real threat of death with the hope of the resurrection.

I want to believe in resurrection.  After all, isn't that the gospel my faith is built upon?  I long to understand what Jesus was talking about when he told of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days.  What does his death have to teach us about the many deaths we experience?  Shouldn't church be the primary place we practice the art of creating new life out of what appears to be dying?

I my unbelief.

I don't know where we will end up on this journey, but I know it look different than where we started.  We'll keep walking, one step at a time, and put our trust in a God who became human in all its messiness and pain.  Jesus lived as an example of divine love and grace, was put to death, and then rose again to make a new way for us all.  When we reach the empty tomb on Easter, may what we find be a joyful sign that love has won out over death once again.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why I Believe in the Resurrection

As I plan for Easter, resurrection has been on my mind, particularly after reading NPR's piece on Bart Ehrman's new book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.  Ehrman is a historian has a religious background but is now agnostic.  He is interested in the parts of religion that can be evaluated from a historical perspective.  He discredits resurrection, along with other miracles, as they cannot by proven.  He is not alone.  Along with many scholars, some progressive Christians question the validity of the resurrection story.  But there is something powerful in this gospel that keeps us hanging on, as it is the essential crux of our faith.  What is the point of Jesus' death if we can't look beyond it to the victory of "O Death, where is thy sting?"  And how do we make sense of the many deaths in our own lives without holding on to the hope of something beyond it?  After all, we see resurrection all the time, in the changing of seasons and the life cycle of a butterfly.  We see it in the way life reorganizes itself, and in the dawn that always follows the darkness.  Diana Butler Bass tells a story of visiting a liberal Episcopal church one Easter and hearing a parishoner ask the bishop, “Bishop Corrigan, do you believe in the resurrection?”, with the assumption being that surely he could not.  The bishop responded firmly and without pause, “Yes, I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”

Don't we witness resurrection every day?

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

We all long for resurrection:

-from the winter chill and darkness that still sneak in
-from the fear of change and the fear that things will remain the same
-from our relentless work ethic that pushes us to exhaustion; that makes busyness a status symbol and rest a tool of the lazy
-from our reluctance to accept accountability and our ease at pointing blame
-from the critics that overpower the small voice telling us that we are beloved, that we are enough.

But resurrection is possible.

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

John 11:38–45

Many believed, but not all.  They were all witnesses to a something that defied explanation.  Some were moved, just as we are when we:

-see our connectedness through shared stories
-understand that hope is greater than fear, and love wins out over hate
-take a difficult step and the earth holds steady beneath us
-embrace our humanity, in all its strengths and weaknesses
-believe there is more than we can ever understand, and find that freeing

I believe in the resurrection.  I've seen it too many times not to.