"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Friday, April 14, 2006 Station IX - Jesus Falls for the Third Time
In the numerology of scripture, three is an important number. Something done three times raises it to its utmost. It's why we say "Holy, Holy Holy" in the Sanctus -- it takes holiness and raises it to its highest level. It's also why 666 is the sign of the beast in Revelation (seven is the number of perfection, so you take the number that is less than perfection and raise it to it's highest level -- 666 -- bingo! The antiChrist!).
When Jesus fell once, I talked about failure. When Jesus fell twice, I talked about persistence.
Jesus falling a third time is about total devastation.
A question I get all the time is why I am so concerned about poverty in the developing world when we have poverty here at home. Doesn't that "count"?
I understand the question, but it also saddens and just plain annoys me. Because it represents two key misconceptions.
The first is that it's an either/or situation. Why in a nation of such overabundance and overprivilege do we have to choose between healing poverty at home and healing poverty abroad? Why is this not the no-brainer both/and of all time? Why? Because we live with such a twisted and selective definition of scarcity that we can find money in appropriations bills for wars without end but when it comes to education and poverty we dole it out with an eyedropper.
The second is that in this country we have no clue what extreme poverty really is.
Extreme in America is a marketing gimmick. It's skateboarders who swig Mountain Dew and Red Bull and populate latenight on ESPN2. In terms of poverty, with the exception of the devastation left by Katrina and life on certain Native reservations, we have no concept of what extreme is at all.
Extreme poverty is utter devastation. It is having absolutely no hope of even making it to a subsistance level without some assistance. Even Jesus had Simon to help him carry the cross part of the way -- these people have nothing.
Jesus falling the third time is the face of Christ in the children of Northern Uganda, who flee nightly for their lives lest they be captured and sentenced to a life of kill-or-be-killed. It is the face of Christ in the people of Darfur, who sit starving in virtual concentration camps waiting for bands of janjaweed to come and rape and murder them. It is the face of Christ on the people of the Congo, where the tales are so terrible and the cover of darkness so great that the reports of what horrendous evil takes place there are sketchy at best.
Jesus falling for the third time is the kind of devastation where any reasonable person would have given up hope. And yet in Jesus, we have the embodiment of hope. And that is who we are to be as Christ's Body on earth - -the embodiment of hope in unity with the utterly hopeless.
Christianity in America has become a consumer religion ... and the church has become just another purveyor of goods and services -- in this case spiritual goods and services. Churches advertise and market themselves about what they can do for their parishioners ... what people will "find for themselves and their families" there. There is an entire consulting industry that tells churches how to market themselves.
Problem is, in any competitive marketplace, you are more likely to tell prospective customers exactly what they want to hear and less likely to tell them anything that will be disturbing. And that's what American suburban Christianity has become. Perhaps spiritually, we have fallen for the third time as well.
What would it look like if we got up? What would it look like if we asked ourselves not how church feeds us or makes us feel better ... but how being a part of Christ's body changes us, challenges us -- transforms us into the embodiment of hope, not just or even primarily for ourselves, but for the hopeless, the devastated, those so low they cannot go lower.
I think we'd look a lot different as a church. A lot less marketable. A lot scarier.
... and a lot more like Jesus.
Station X -- Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
If you go into a church that has an actual crucifix instead of just a cross (the difference being Jesus' likeness actually being up there), chances are he's wearing a nice little loincloth to "preserve his modesty" (not to mention a belief that some parts of the body aren't to be displayed in public!).
Of course, this shield is for us, not for Christ. Jesus was naked on the cross. Ultimately vulnerable. Ultimately humiliated.
This is the last stage before crucifixion, before death -- vulnerability and humiliation.
Arguably the most vulnerable and humiliated people on the planet are refugees - for they do not even have the mental and spiritual security of feeling at home -- even if home is a place they do not own and can never hope to.
Being refugees is what makes the tragedy of the lives of those being raped and murdered in Darfur and fleeing across the border to Chad even more stark. Being a refugee is about having nothing -- not even the sense of control that comes from feeling at home in your surroundings. It is being naked and staring up at the cross.
I got an email this morning from Stephanie Rhodes, who is spending a semester in the occupied territories of Palestine. Here's what she wrote:
Here's a link to the website (www.lajee.org) for a center at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. It's a really bad situation in that they're surrounded by the wall; there are constant incursions by soldiers; and there's soon to be a new Israeli settlement going up just outside the camp. Anyway, one of my friends here, a British photographer named Rich Wiles, is desperately trying to set up some kind of "twinning" arrangement between the camp and a city, organization, whatever in the West.
Can you think of anyone who would be interested in getting behind this?
The children of Aida have no control. They are pawns at best and targets at worst. Like all refugees, they have no home, no freedom from anxiety. They are virtual prisoners. And in the midst of it, there are people who are trying to bring a sense of hope. There are people who are trying to give Jesus back his clothes so he can stand with dignity.
When Jesus talked about clothing the naked as a way of serving him, he wasn't just talking about meeting a level of Maslow's hierarchy. He was talking about what we say in our baptismal covenant -- respecting the dignity of every human being. You can't respect dignity without working to restore dignity where it has been taken away.
It's Good Friday -- the day Jesus hung naked on the cross. What are you doing today to bring dignity to those who have been stripped? What can you do for the children of Aida?
| Mike at 4/14/2006 08:55:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."