"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
Nick Kristoff, who recently won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the genocide in Darfur, wrote this column for yesterday's New York Times. It includes good practical suggestions and talking points for calling your Senators and Representatives -- as well as a couple good weblinks.
Those of us who want a more forceful response to genocide in Darfur should be sobered by Osama bin Laden's latest tape.
In that tape, released on Sunday, Osama rails against the agreement that ended Sudan's civil war with its Christian and animist south and accuses the U.S. of plotting to dispatch "Crusader troops" to occupy Darfur "and steal its oil wealth under the pretext of peacekeeping." Osama calls on good Muslims to go to Sudan and stockpile land mines and rocket-propelled grenades in preparation for "a long-term war" against U.N. peacekeepers and other infidels.
Osama's tape underscores the fact that a tougher approach carries real risks. It's easy for us in the peanut gallery to call for a U.N. force, but what happens when jihadis start shooting down the U.N. helicopters?
So with a major rally planned for Sunday to call for action to stop the slaughter in Darfur, let's look at what specific actions the U.S. should take. One reader, William in Scottsdale, Ariz., wrote to me to say that he had called Senator John McCain's office to demand more action on Darfur. "The lady on the phone asked me for suggestions," he said — and William was short on suggestions.
The first step to stop the killing is to dispatch a robust U.N. peacekeeping force of at least 20,000 well-equipped and mobile troops. But because of precisely the nationalistic sensitivities that Osama is trying to stir, it shouldn't have U.S. ground troops. Instead, it should be made up mostly of Turks, Jordanians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other Muslims, and smaller numbers of European and Asian troops. The U.S. can supply airlifts, and NATO can provide a short-term bridging force if necessary.
Second, the U.S. and France should enforce a no-fly zone from the French air base in Abéché, Chad. American military planners say this is practicable, particularly if it simply involves destroying Sudanese aircraft on the ground after they have attacked civilians.
Granted, these approaches carry real risks. After we shoot up a Sudanese military plane, Sudan may orchestrate a "spontaneous" popular riot that will involve lynching a few U.S. aid workers — or journalists.
But remember that the Sudanese government is hanging on by its fingernails. It is deeply unpopular, and when it tried to organize demonstrations against the Danish cartoons, they were a flop.
The coming issue of Foreign Policy magazine publishes a Failed States Index in which Sudan is ranked the single most unstable country in the entire world. If we apply enough pressure, Sudan's leaders will back down in Darfur — just as they did when they signed a peace deal to end the war with southern Sudan.
A no-fly zone and a U.N. force are among the ways we can apply pressure, but another essential element is public diplomacy. We should respond to Osama by shining a spotlight on the Muslim victims of Darfur (many Arabs have instinctively sided with Sudan's rulers and have no idea that nearly all of the victims of the genocide are Muslim).
The White House can invite survivors for a photo-op so they themselves can recount, in Arabic, how their children were beheaded and their mosques destroyed. We can release atrocity photos, like one I have from an African Union archive of the body of a 2-year-old boy whose face was beaten into mush. President Bush can make a major speech about Darfur, while sending Condi Rice and a planeload of television journalists to a refugee camp in Chad to meet orphans.
Madeleine Albright helped end the horrors of Sierra Leone simply by going there and being photographed with maimed children. Those searing photos put Sierra Leone on the global agenda, and policy makers hammered out solutions. Granted, it's the fault of the "CBS Evening News" that it gave Darfur's genocide only 2 minutes of coverage in all of last year (compared with the 36 minutes that it gave the Michael Jackson trial), but the administration can help when we in the media world drop the ball.
The U.S. could organize a summit meeting in Europe or the Arab world to call attention to Darfur, we could appoint a presidential envoy like Colin Powell, and we could make the issue much more prominent in our relations with countries like Egypt, Qatar, Jordan and China.
Americans often ask what they can do about Darfur. These are the kinds of ideas they can urge on the White House and their members of Congress — or on embassies like Egypt's. Many other ideas are at savedarfur.org and at genocideintervention.net.
When Darfur first came to public attention, there were 70,000 dead. Now there are perhaps 300,000, maybe 400,000. Soon there may be 1 million. If we don't act now, when will we?
I got two emails yesterday that were urging me to sign some of these ubquitous internet petitions that are out there. The first was against John Kerry being the democratic nominee in 2008, which was nice enough (I didn't want him to be the nominee in 2004, so I certainly don't want him in '08), except the grounds were that because he was Roman Catholic, electing him would be tantamount to setting up a theocracy, which is unconstitutional. (A student of history would know something about the discussions that happened around JFK's election .... or maybe even someone who saw the first season of The West Wing ... but that probably expects too much).
The other was about a House bill (235) that would change the IRS guidelines to allow for endorsements of candidates for electoral offices from the pulpit. There's reasonable arguments on both sides for this -- only he framed it by saying that church's should lose their tax-exempt status if they engage in any political activity.
One of the things I am just sick of is the complete misunderstanding of the separation of Church and State as put forth in the First Amendment. So here's what I wrote back to this person. Lawyers (Ian O., Rand, others) who read this -- and everyone else (I know Ian K. and Wells will have opinions), let me know if my argument would be thrown out of court.
I imagine that what sparks this in you is not wanting the "religious right" or the Roman Catholic Church to impose their views on the country. That's great ... neither do I. But the answer to that has nothing to do with religion.
The First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." It also says after that, "or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
The First Amendment prevents an OFFICIAL establishment of a state religion. Religion can exist (and, in fact, atheism being a fairly foreign concept in the 18th century, it was assumed by the founders that it would exist and that people and governments would be shaped by it), but the government cannot tell an individual WHICH religion they have to practice or, in fact, if they have to practice any religion at all.
The first part of the first amendment is there to prevent the government from mandating what someone can and cannot believe. All belief systems should enjoy equal protection and access under the law -- so far as the practice of those belief systems doesn't infringe on the constitutional rights of others (in which case the problem would be the infringement of the practice, not the belief system itself).
It really is about "preventing theocracy" -- having a religion that is one with the state that the people are mandated to believe and follow as such.
That is the LIMIT of the first part of the first amendment.
The problem with the two emails you sent out is that they have nothing to do with the first amendment. Neither one of them is trying to establish a state religion. Both are trying to restrict speech on the grounds that it is based on religious thought -- which I would argue is actually a violation of the first amendment.
Ideas are ideas. Some ideas find their foundation in religious beliefs. Others find their foundation in other systems or are just plucked out of the air. The free expression of ALL ideas (again, assuming they do not cause a "clear and present danger" -- like shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre) is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The problem is, what you are saying is that ideas that are based on religious principles are not OK and ideas that are not based on religious principles are OK. That's unconstitutional -- and should be. Religious ideas should get no advantage in the marketplace of ideas over non-religious ideas, but they should get as much power as all others. You cannot discriminate against an idea just because its foundation is religious.
As far as churches losing their tax-exempt status if they "get directly involved in politics" you run into a whole bunch of problems.
First of all, how do you define "getting directly involved in politics" -- strictly speaking, any activity that involves more than one person is political. Churches have been the driving force behind some wonderful social change in our country. Your description of this bill would have stripped all the churches of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of their tax-exempt status for participating in the civil rights movement. It would strip all the churches that I work with that lobby for increased government attention to eradicating global poverty and acheiving the Millennium Development Goals of that status as well. Both of those are intensely political acts.
Churches enjoy a tax-exempt status because the people have decided that they -- like other nonprofit entities that enjoy the same status -- provide a valuable public service and do not exist for their own profit. If you want to argue that no churches should have tax-exempt status, go ahead ... and you actually might be able to make a decent argument there. But you can't have participating in political activity be the yardstick.
I sense the problem is that you don't like two things.
1) You don't like the ideas that some religiously-motivated people are putting forward.
2) You don't like the idea that a religious group is making laws.
Well, on No. 1 ... do what you do whenever you don't like ideas that are being put forward. Refute them. Present better ideas. Campaign and argue about why your ideas are superior. Persuade and lead. That's what democracy in this republic is supposed to be about. But don't attack them on the grounds that they are religious -- because that makes as much sense constitutionally as attacking yours on the grounds that they are not.
On 2) -- power is held by groups and always has been. Unless you have a dictatorship, the majority will rule, and that means groups and coalitions will make and interpret the laws. Now you can call the "organization behind the powerbrokers" the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, The Roman Catholic Church or the Flat Earth Society. It doesn't matter. If they campaign effectively enough and get enough seats in Congress and put someone in the White House who puts people on the federal bench -- they get to make and interpret the laws (assuming those laws fall within the Constitution).
Do you think the Democratic Party or the Republican Party doesn't tell its membership how to vote? What do you think Whips do in the House and the Senate? There is no difference between someone being persuaded by their Party how to vote and someone being persuaded by their church how to vote except -- here it comes -- that one has a religious foundation and one does not. And you cannot discriminate against a person or organization on the basis of religion because of ... The First Amendment!
I know I've gone on about this for awhile, but I think the emails you're sending out are dangerous (not that you don't have a right to send them -- the First Amendment cuts all sorts of ways!) because they are rooted in a widespread misunderstanding of the First Amendment and the separation of Church and State in particular.
| Mike at 4/24/2006 02:06:00 PM
Monday, April 17, 2006 Becca Stevens Online!
Many of you have heard me rave about Becca Stevens and the amazing ministry at Magdalene House in Nashville. For the past three years, Wash. U. ECM students have gone down there to work, to be with the women and to be with Becca and her husband, Marcus.
I'm listening to one from March 19 right now and it is incredible.
You can listen to the whole service or you can just skip to the sermon. (But the whole service is great!).
| Mike at 4/17/2006 02:32:00 PM
Friday, April 14, 2006 Stations 11 & 12 -Jesus is Crucified and Dies on the Cross
Pain and death are abstracts to most of us. The times we deal with them for real stand out and mark us. Real pain. Real death. These are exceptions to the rule of our lives.
A child has died since I started writing this. More than one 5 ... maybe 10. And it is not uncommon -- nor is it abstract. I can write until my fingers bleed and quote statistics until all the numbers are used up and none of it will communicate the reality.
And that's what the cross is.
Jesus' crucifixion has become a theological point ... something about which people argue meaning. But that's not what it was at the time. It was a common event. A common execution of a common criminal who ended up being not-so-common after all. It was pain and death in a world where pain and death were all too much a part of everyday life -- a small occupied backwater of the Roman Empire where the people of Israel were treated scarcely like people at all.
When did we make the transition from being people of the crucifixion to people who mused about crucifixion? Probably about the same time that Christianity ascended to the halls of power. Tom Friedman says America's problem with the Arab world is that an addict will never tell the truth to his pusher. That's the problem with Christianity in the halls of power. Any faith that is borne out of siding with the oppressed over the oppressor can't exist with integrity as the faith of the oppressor. And yet for most of its existence in the Western world, that's what Christianity -- or some pale derrivative of it -- has done.
One Good Friday in seminary a friend of mine, Christine McSpadden, showed me some papers that she said she brought out every Good Friday. They were medical descriptions with drawings of what the crucifixion actually was -- what actually happened to Jesus' body. She said it was helpful for her to meditate on those because it became a little less abstract. I don't know if that's the answer -- the gore of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ didn't seem to do much to help identify Christ more with the oppressed of the world -- but at least the intention is in the right direction.
It doesn't matter what I write in this space. Because in the end what I write will just be words and they will have no connection in reality to what this day is about -- which is pain and death and Christ being in the middle of it suffering and dying.
Maybe what we need is fewer words. Fewer thoughts. Fewer ideas.
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
Thursday, April 13, 2006 Station VII - Jesus Falls for the Second Time
Remember that you are dust ... and to dust you shall return.
We began Lent with these words. A reminder of our own mortality. No matter what happens. No matter how high we soar or how low we sink, we all return to the same place -- dust.
It's a reminder that is meant to humble us. A reminder that the proper response to the maxim "The one who dies with the most toys wins" is "Wins what?" In the end, we're all worm food.
But the inevitability can lead to resignation, too. Jesus might never be quoted more out of context than when he said "The poor will always be with you." People have used it as an excuse to do nothing. And why not? It certainly seems like no matter what we do all those words are true. No matter how much we labor, the poor are still with us and in the end we're all just dust.
As Homer said to Bart: "Son, you tried and you failed. The moral is -- never try."
Jesus fell for the second time. The second fall is not about failure but about persistence -- about remaining faithful no matter how difficult or hopeless. Falling and getting up. Falling and getting up. Persistence in faith and action even with the crowd jeering and all looking lost.
ee cummings said (quoted famously by Dr. Johnny Fever) "the intelligent man always follows the lost cause, realizing that all others are merely effects."
The poor have always been with us. No matter what we do it always seems so. Eradicating poverty seems like the ultimate lost cause. But Jesus' witness and cummings' words are true -- not only because we have hope that causes once lost are not always lost but because something happens to the quality of our spirit when we follow it with persistence and faithfulness.
We follow Matthew 25. We seek to meet Christ and to serve Christ in the poor, the sick, the weak and the lonely because it is what we are called to do and because of who we become when we dedicate ourselves to the cause.
And we fail. We fail repeatedly and miserably. And every time we do, we pick ourselves up again and keep walking.
We do it because we believe -- and because it is the persistence, the faithfulness, the following of the lost cause, if you will, wherein lies the prize.
Station VIII - Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
"Large numbers of people followed him, and women too, who moaned and lamented for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For the days will surely come when people will say; Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never nursed.' then they will begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us' to the hills, Cover us!' For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23)
Don't weep for me, weep for you.
One of the most used approaches to engaging people with extreme poverty is what I call the Sally Struthers approach. It's the late-night infomercial with sad children with distended bellies and flies circling about their lips and Sally Struthers bemoaning how terrible it is and won't you please send money to help.
It's not that it isn't terrible. It's not that on some level it's very important for people to see how terrible it is. But we shouldn't help out of a sense of guilt or out of a sense of repulsion. We should help out of a sense of how we are bound together -- out of a sense of the deep joy, the deep experience of life in Christ that comes from solidarity with the poor.
Sabina Alkire, the amazing priest-economist who co-authored What Can One Person Do: Faith to Heal a Broken World, says:
"The alleviation of material suffering in the world and the spiritual renewal of the church go hand in hand."
Sabina is right. Sabina understands Jesus words. The extreme poverty of the developing world is also the extreme poverty of the developed world. They are inextricably related. Because as we allow -- and even cause and perpetuate -- extreme poverty in places like Sudan and Tanzania and Nicaragua and Pakistan we deeply impoverish ourselves as well.
We impoverish ourselves because the only way to perpetuate systems of extreme poverty is to distance ourselves from their victims. We cannot leave people in poverty if we believe that they and we are one. So as the poor suffer materially, we suffer spiritually. We suffer the spiritual poverty that Mother Teresa said was far more profound than the material poverty she saw in Calcutta -- the poverty of lonliness, the poverty of disconnection.
Jesus weeps for Jerusalem and urges the women to do the same because he knows the poverty of spirit of those who would crucify him has the depth and pain of his own suffering. As his followers, we seek him and serve him in the poorest of the poor not because he told us to, not out of fear that "Jesus is coming, look busy." but because our need of them is every bit as profound as their need of us.
Because we live in a culture where we are addicted to all sorts of anesthesias and amusements and outcroppings of our wealth that attempt to dull the pain of disconnection -- but that at the same time remove us further and further from the cure to what ails us ... each other.
So if you see Sally Struthers on late night TV with lots of sad eyed children, I'm not saying don't give (though you can probably find a lot better place to give than whomever is doing those infomercials). Give -- of your money, of your time, of yourself -- not because you weep for them but because of your need of them. Give because of your own poverty, and you will find solidarity and hope with theirs.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006 Station V - Simon carries the cross
Simon of Cyrene tends to be a romantic figure -- the man who swooped in and lifted the cross from Christ's shoulders for a time to save him at least for a time from the burden. It's a beautiful romantic image, and one that is open to all sorts of reflections about if or how we could shoulder Christ's burdens on that road.
Problem is ... that's not the way it happened. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke at least) tell of Simon -- but of how he was compelled by the Roman soldiers to bear Jesus' cross.
Simon was not a faithful follower carrying a burden that was an honor. He was just some guy a long, long way from home (Cyrene was in Northern Libya) who had the rotten luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or was he?
Compulsion usually isn't fun. And in the quirky, self-aggrandizing way we have written our national story, compulsion -- being forced to do something you don't want to do -- often seems unAmerican and anathema. That's because too often we confuse freedom with license ... a confusion that too easily lets us feel self-righteous resisting the opportunities for greatness that compulsion sometimes holds.
Because it's not just Roman soldiers and strong-armed police officers who compel us. Compulsion is a condition of the heart and spirit as well. Compulsion can happen when we have seen, experienced, heard and felt things that will not let us rest. Things that haunt us. Things that make us give up that which we hold dear ... that compel us to do that which we would dearly rather not.
And sometimes, those are our moments of greatness.
In the bubble of middle-class-and-up American life, it's easy to live in a world of our own construction where real compulsion never enters in. We shut out those disturbing things that might make us re-evaluate and change, that might compel us to sacrifice and labor for other than our own gain.
But when we get out of that bubble, even a little, and let the world into our hearts, compulsion enters in and with it the opportunity for greatness.
Flying back from Ghana, I remember taking a stroll up and down the airplane aisle over the North Atlantic and realizing that I had a choice. I could either go back into my bubble when I got back to America or I could try to continue to live outside it. I could take the experience I had and the people I'd met and turn them into vacation slides ... or I could let them shape my life.
That choice was no choice. If I were to honor not just what I had seen but the people I had called sister, brother and friend. If I were to honor them and live a life not just as a Christian but as a human being with any sense of integrity and decency, I was compelled to change my life, to spend my time differently. To take the tiny bit I was just beginning to learn ... and learn more ... and share.
If there was one moment that set me on the road to where I am now -- as imperfectly as I have followed that path -- it was that one. It was not what I wanted. Barring that feeling of compulsion, I can't imagine it's what I would have done. But that feeling of compulsion was there. And it was what I had to do. And in doing it, God has gifted me with more joy that I could have possibly imagined.
I can't imagine Simon was that thrilled carrying the cross that day. More likely, he cursed his rotten luck and probably said more than a few choice words under his breath to God that day.
But if he was even a little bit open to it, I wonder if he didn't take something away from the experience. If being compelled to carry another's burden even for a little while didn't shape him in some quietly profound.
We'll never know, of course, but I wonder. Because the heart of compulsion is losing control. And when we give up control -- amazing things can happen.
Station VI - Veronica wipes the face of Christ
In Simon, we have someone whose scriptural portrayal the Church romanticizes. In Veronica, we have someone whom scripture doesn't mention at all.
The tale of Veronica wiping Jesus' tears is the stuff of legend -- of a 17th-century Roman Catholic encyclopedia of saints, to be precise. Veronica offers Jesus a kerchief to wipe his face, he takes it, and when he hands it back to her it bears the imprint of his face.
The closest pop culture cognate to this event is when the coiner of "Have a Nice Day" offers Forrest Gump a T-shirt to wipe the mud off his face and when it is returned it bears the ubiquitous "smiley face" on it.
I don't have a lot of time for stories like Veronica's. To me, they cheapen the stark and powerful and even tragically beautiful nature of reality with cheap sentimentality.
I used to go to a lectionary Bible study group every Tuesday afternoon at St. Mark's. I should still go ... it's still on my calendar every week ... but it just keeps getting squeezed out (says unfortunate things about my priorities). Years ago in some conversation during that group, Dan Handschy, the uberintelligent rector of Advent Church in Crestwood started talking about the dangers of romanticizing poverty.
And this part stuck with me. He started talking about not how painful poverty was. Not about how tragic or bad poverty was. But about what just a huge pain in the ass poverty was. He talked about a woman who had to catch three different buses just to get to a job that didn't even pay her enough to subsist and how because the city transit system was so bad, the buses didn't run on time and she wasted a lot of her day just sitting at bus stops.
When we think of poverty, the images that most often come to mind are beggars or people who are just abjectly starving in place. But that's not the face of most poverty. Most poverty is people who are working really, really hard to get by -- only EVERYTHING is a thousand times more difficult than it is for me. The simplest tasks -- getting water, going to school, feeling safe -- might not be impossible, but they take amounts of energy that we can't possibly imagine.
My guess is that there never was a Veronica. And I think the Way of the Cross is a lot better without her. Because I'll be there wasn't anyone there to wipe his face. I'll bet the sweat and tears got in his eyes and they stung and there was nothing anybody did about it. I'll bet there were a ton of little things that lots of people could have done to make even that hideous journey a little easier and I'll bet not one person did them.
Monday, April 10, 2006 Station III - Jesus falls for the first time
Jesus falling isn't just about him being tired and beaten. It's about failure and humiliation. About not being able to complete a task. Not being able to do it.
What does it matter? The die is cast. Jesus is on his way to die. What does it matter if he can carry the cross the whole way. But even the condemned have pride. The last thing you hold onto is the ability to walk to your execution with your head held high. Even though it's the end, how you approach it is your last bit of control.
It's Prince Richard's response to Prince Geoffery in A Lion in Winter.
"As if it matters how a man falls down."
"When the fall is all that's left, it matters a great deal.
On the walk to Golgotha, we remember that we are the Body of Christ. What happens to him happens to us and vice versa. And so his falling is not an ancillary detail -- it's critical.
Christ failed. Christ fell. Even he -- he tried to carry this weight but he could not.
I wonder what he thought, I wonder what he felt as he tumbled down that first time. As he felt the shame. As even how he died was wrested from his control.
In our culture, we're taught to fear failure. It's one of the most dangerous things we're taught. Because fear of failure keeps us on safe ground. And great things never happen there.
Jeffrey Sachs says that this is the first moment in human history when we can end extreme poverty. That for the first time ever, we have the combination of the resources, the technology and the delivery systems to get the job done.
But there's no guarantee. In fact, if you think the statistics on how many small businesses fail in their first year are sobering ... you should take a look at how many well-meaning start-up nonprofits never see three equinoxes.
Sachs is right ... we CAN do this. But we can also fail. And the best of us do it all the time.
But if that makes us stop trying, then we are not followers of the one who fell. If that makes us step far back from the edge to the safe ground where little is ventured and even less is gained, then I don't see how we can claim to be Christians at all.
Jesus fell. Jesus failed. And in so doing, he sanctified failure for all of us. We should not fear it nor let it make us timid but boldly charge into its breach trusting that even the most spectacular of failures are redeemable.
What matters is not whether we stand or fall -- but if falling is all that's left.... well then, HOW we fall matters greatly.
Station IV -- Jesus meets his mother
I'm not sure there's anything worse than outliving your children.
When we visited Southern Sudan, we sat with members of the Mothers' Union in Lui. Wherever you go in Africa, you can bet that some of the most amazing and strongest people you will meet will be members of mother's unions. They have seen it all. They have endured it all.
Yesterday, I told you about Mama Jennifer, who starved herself so her grandchild might eat. Her story is not unique. As the women in the Lui Mothers' Union introduced themselves every single one of them had lost a child to illness or war. Every one had outlived a child.
It's the part of the "every three seconds a child dies" that we might not often think about.
That every three second, a sword pierces the heart of a mother.
I cannot imagine what that pain is like. The closest I've ever come is when I buried Julia McNeely, who just felt like a daughter to me. Even now as I type this, the tears come. And yet even though I have come to know, love and respect Leine McNeely, I cannot know what her pain must be -- or how she like the mothers of Lui have found the amazing strength to go on.
Every three seconds, a mother's heart breaks in ways that can never fully be repaired. It should be a cacophany of shattering that horrifies us, awaken us, and calls us to action. But it doesn't.
Instead it is a silent sobbing that the world ignores.
Jesus met his mother on that road. A brief moment. Maybe a glance. Maybe even an embrace before he was torn from her forever.
This week, I'll be participating in what is known as a "grid blog" -- a group of people blogging on the same topic ... in this case the Way of the Cross. You can check out other folks who are doing this here. Thanks to Bob Carlton for putting this all together.
For me, it's a chance to take the work I've been doing for the past 3 months ... and really the past three years ... and try to express it in the framework of the via dolorosa. It's a challenge ... two reflections a day for a week ... but one I think I need to do whether anyone reads it or not.
Knowing me, the reflections probably won't be brief -- then again, who knows. Maybe I'll surprise myself. I welcome your comments and whatever you think, I hope this in some way contributes to a more blessed and reflective Holy Week for you.
Since it's after midnight, I'm technically starting a day late (according to the calendar Bob has devised). I'll be posting at night at the end of each day, so most of you will be reading things a day after.
Station I – Jesus is condemned to death
“While (Pontius Pilate) was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’” – Matthew 27:19
The beginning of the end is knowing the truth … and doing nothing.
Pilate’s sin was not malice but cowardly inaction. He didn’t want to condemn Jesus. He hoped the crowd would give him an out – but instead they chose Barabbas. He pleaded with them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But in the end, the voices of the crowd, those closest to him and his own fear won out.
And so the beginning of the end happened not with a grand pronouncement and not with fiery wrath, but with resignation, with washing of hands, and with the lie that kills:
“I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”
Of course, history found Pilate guilty, not innocent. No one knows what Pilate’s wife really dreamed, but Dorothy Sayers, in her play, The Man Born To Be King, mused that she heard the words “suffered under Pontius Pilate” said by millions of people over thousands of years in overlapping refrain.
Two chapters earlier, Matthew places some amazing words on Jesus’ lips.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Every three seconds Christ is condemned to death. Every three seconds, Christ is crucified again. It is an ending that happens not with explosions, grand pronouncements in the halls of leadership and the fiery rhetoric of war but with indifference and resignation … with cameras trained in any direction but there … with the turning of heads, the washing of hands and rationalizations and lies that kill.
Time gives us moments that are great hinges, upon which the entire course of history rests. Pilate stood at such a moment and so do we. But this isn’t just about avoiding Pilate’s fate. It’s about grasping our highest destiny.
This moment is about 2,000 years later finally getting it right. About hearing the conscienceless voices of the market and self-interest that call for the crucifixions to continue and shouting above them – that no child of God is expendable, that the bloodletting must stop … at last … and that it will stop with us.
It is the difference between Pilate’s wife’s dream and God’s dream … the missio dei. The difference between the castigation of future generations and the transforming glory of God lived through our lives.
We know the truth. Children are dying every minute of every day. And we know how to stop it.
But now the question rests on you:
What will you do?
Station II – The Cross is Laid Upon Him
I’ve never had to carry wood.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve lugged wood around a Habitat for Humanity site and I’ve carried a cross around in Good Friday services that Cori Hatcher and Stephanie Rhodes designed and I’ve brought an armful of firewood in from the back porch. But I’ve never really had to carry wood.
This hit home traveling through the Western Region of Ghana and through Southern Sudan. People – mostly women – walking for miles carrying huge amounts of wood on their head so they could have fires to cook, fires to boil water so it won’t kill them.
They walk tall, proudly even though they certainly have every reason to slump over, beaten down by life. They bear burdens my small shoulders will never know – not just the weight of the wood but the weight of unimaginable decisions that are part of their everyday life.
The group that just came back from Lui noticed that Mama Jennifer, one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever met, was looking quite thin. When they asked, they discovered that her daughter had had a baby and, food being scarce, the food went to the mother and child. Mama Jennifer went hungry.
She didn’t tell anyone this of course. It was up to others to share this news – and not with wonder or amazement or even a sense of scandal, but with plain matter-of-factness. Of course this is what happened. Of course that is what she did.
Bearing a cross has always been a metaphor for me. “We all have our crosses to bear,” we say … usually talking about enduring an insipid coworker or some minor physical setback. I doubt it’s a metaphor I’ll ever use for myself again.
The art you see for the second station of the cross usually shows Jesus, bloody and beaten, tired and stumbling as the heavy beam is lashed to his back. But that’s not the image in my mind.
The picture in my mind is Mama Jennifer and the countless other amazing women of Ghana and Southern Sudan whom I passed on the road. Bearing their wooden burden silently and proudly. Singing of God’s grace and power and of how gifted their lives are.
And as I try to walk Christ’s way with him this Holy Week I wonder how I might ease that burden just a little. How I might shoulder some of that myself. A truck. A bicycle. A bore-well so water doesn’t have to be boiled.
I’ve never had to carry wood. I’ve never known that burden.
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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."