Hope and Suffering

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“You totally (should) become his nature, deny his being apart from you; you should be he himself, not Christians, but Christ, otherwise you will be no use to the coming god.”
—C. G. Jung, The Red Book, p. 137.

“No one can be spared the way of Christ, since this way leads to what is to come. You should all become Christs, says C. G. Jung, in his Answer to Job. He goes on to explain in the divine indwelling of the Holy Spirit in humanity, “a christification of the many arises.” One of the great and simple prayers is “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them in them the fire of your love.” When we ask for the indwelling third person of the Trinity, we also ask for the rest of the “family,” for the three are fellow travelers. The Father and the Son aren’t separate entities, even when the Spirit proceeds from the two, just as the Father and the Spirit aren’t off somewhere distant when the Son is suffering on the cross.

In the season of Lent, many people begin with ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance and fasting for the forty days before Easter. Some give up bacon, others give up alcohol, and some give up social media. Perhaps this is our idea of suffering today, since most of us have our needs for shelter, food, and security met. Modern people tend to suffer emotionally instead, so this may be why we fast from social media. Unfortunately, we don’t have much deep Christian teaching around suffering, mostly because it’s not a happy subject. Nobody likes a downer sermon. Bible studies on Job and the prophets are unpopular too. We don’t like seeing our faces in a BCE Mirror.

I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

Who wants to suffer today? No one! Most of the Christian teaching around the cross concerns a variation on the substitution theory, or Jesus takes on our suffering so we no longer have to endure the agony ourselves. Of course, when we meet trouble in our daily life, we then call into question either the effectiveness of this work on the cross or our faith in his work on our behalf. Did Christ die for everyone else, but not for me? Are there other works besides my faith in Christ necessary for my salvation? Do I need to be a better person to earn my freedom from suffering?

If we understood the nature of the earthbound Christ life, rather than the resurrected Christ life, we’d grasp the essential nature of suffering bound up into this life of flesh and spirit. Christ knew hunger, thirst, loneliness, temptation, disappointments, weariness, rejection, and pain. Worst of all, he tasted the emptiness of death before he knew the fullness of the resurrection.

Should we protect our children from suffering? If we mean, should we do our best to feed, clothe, and shelter them, the answer is yes, of course! If we mean, do we protect them from the logical consequences of their acts, I’d say, most likely no. If a child won’t do their own homework, they should get the logical results for their refusal. Physical punishment isn’t a logical result. Poor grades, limits on sports or activities, or staying after school are consequences in line with the poor behavior. Small sufferings now will avoid larger sufferings later. (If they want to jump out of a third story window, that’s another matter. Put some locks on that, parents!)

Of course, to even call these “suffering” shows how far our modern world has moved from the ancient world. Sufferings once were the lot of slaves, who had no authority over their own lives, and could be bought and sold like cattle. They had no agency or control over their fortunes or lots in life. We modern folk are different, unless we buy into the idea we’re rudderless ships upon a stormy ocean. Then we’re merely chaff tossed about by external forces, so we might as well be slaves to our environment.

If we held the whole nature of Christ within us, we’d know both the Christ of suffering and the resurrected Christ of glory. While we ourselves have not yet ascended, we do hold fast to his promise,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

If we live with hope, we can rejoice, and be patient in suffering, while we persevere in prayer.
~~ Romans 12:12

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The Spa Life and Righteousness

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As a gal who loves her spa days, few and far between though they are, I enjoy the pampering these small forays into indulgence involve. The friendly staff, the luxurious soft robes, the warm scented tubs, the cold needled showers, and even the brief stints in the steam box. Most of all, I live for the white terrycloth towels soaked in the hot spring waters, but cooled enough to put onto tender human flesh. The attendant who wraps my knees and back also puts an ice cold towel on my face before she leaves me alone to the quiet. Then I succumb to the ecstasy of this melting experience for about fifteen minutes.

Afterward, she wraps me back into my white robe to walk me over to the massage therapy room. She walks, but I sort of flow, for my feet don’t really feel connected to my legs or knees or hips. The heat can make a person feel giddy for a time, or perhaps the lack of pain is such a relief, I feel euphoric.

DeLee—Christ Blessing the World

I notice the other women waiting for their massages have similar beatific smiles on their faces. The magic of the spa day outing is at work. After our massages, we seem to glow from the inside out. This effect lasts for a few hours at best, until the experience wears off, and we return to normal. I understand now why my grandparents would come to Hot Springs for “the waters” on their vacations. They did the baths daily, for their supposedly medicinal cure, even if it served to merely relax then and distress them. “Take as needed” is a medical prescription we can all understand.

This brings me to my real subject: Faith and Righteousness. Of late in the public realm we’ve been treated to curious definitions of faith and righteousness by groups in powerful places and those who want to ascend to positions of power. “I go to church” is their definition of faith and “I got into the best college and law school “ has been their definition of righteousness. Evidently attendance in these places didn’t include a passing acquaintance with the dictionary or intensive study, much less convincing evidence.

Imputed righteousness and the Faith of Acceptance

Righteousness and faith for the average church going person is like the robe I wear at the spa for a while. I don’t own it, but I use it. It belongs to Christ, who imputes his right relationship with God to me while I wear it. I accept this idea by faith—the faith Christ had in God’s love for humankind as well as Christ’s faith God would raise him from the dead. I don’t own this faith with any depth of conviction, so my outward life isn’t changed in any way from a nonbeliever ‘s life.

As the writer of Ephesians says in 5:12-14–

For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Imparted righteousness and the Faith of Assurance

One day we wake from our sleep and come to the conviction our surface appearances have failed us. We see our outward professions of faith and righteousness are a mere mask for the carefully constructed False Self we’ve been presenting to the world. We see our own righteousness is weak beside the true righteousness of Christ. We no longer see our Self, but Christ. We depend only on Christ, and not on any strength of our own Self.

When we cast aside this False Self, we can finally “buy the robe of Christ,” which he purchased with his own life, death, and resurrection. We buy into the whole life of Christ when we let our False Self die, and let our New/True Self rise with Christ. We can wear this robe of righteousness everywhere we go, for it changes us from within. The evidence shows on the outside by our words, deeds, and temperament. Our attitude changes our behavior and the consequences follow suit. The inner person shows through in the outer person, for better or worse, depending on whether we merely borrow or buy the robe of Christ.

The question for all of us remains: Do we trust our goodness to our ethnicity, our deeds, our social status, our religious heritage, our political group, our wealth, our zip code, our strength, our beauty, or any other transient thing? Or do we trust the unchanging and eternal love of God in Christ Jesus, who gave his son so all of creation could be redeemed to its original perfection?

DeLee—Christ, The Good Shepherd Saves All the Lost

John Wesley has a famous sermon called “The Almost Christian.” He suggests we need to go farther and become an “Altogether Christian.”

You can read his sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741 at the link below:

https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-2-The-Almost-Christian

A FATAL DISEASE 

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“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor…” 
~~ St. Theresa (Mother Theresa)

The biggest disease today isn’t covered by any medical plan–it is the lack of concern for the weak and vulnerable among us. The only medicine for this is a change of heart, so we begin to consider the needs of the poor, the disabled, and the ill as equal to the healthy, the rich, and those who can work. 

This medicine is a living faith, not a dead assent to beliefs! Can we look on the face of our brothers and sisters and see the face of God!?! Can we see the wounds of Christ needing to be healed!?! If we see only the money and the tax ramifications of the plans currently proposed by congress, we have a dead faith, for we aren’t working to care for the “least of these, my brothers and sisters, who are the Christ” we meet daily as we go about our journey. 

If our Sunday words are only for ourselves and not for the world also, if our Sunday words are only for our lives and not for the lives of others, and if our Sunday words are only for our lives, but don’t translate to our politics, we cannot say that we are living a fully Christian life. 

What is the medicine for this? Repentance and restitution. We must make a change in the way we live, the way we think, and in all the ways we act: our uses of money, our treatment of people, and our lifestyle choices. All must be governed by God’s all encompassing love. If God’s love flows into our hearts, let this same generous love flow out unimpeded. 

“Love one another, as I have loved you.” –John 15:12

Hunger Games and Religious Famine

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two trees “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.”             ~~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 

I spent two days last week listening to my favorite seminary professor, friend, bog Irishman and mentor, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology. I was his research assistant one year, which is actually a glorified title for travel/booking agent, secretary, and general flunky.  Since I also was his alter ego for his correspondence, I learned to “channel my inner Abraham.” Fifteen years later, I can still easily pierce through his Irish dialect, which for others is as heavy as a stout pair of brogues handed down from their granddaddy’s closet.  “Faith” for Billy has three syllables, just as the Holy Trinity has three persons.

Billy is a resident alien in these parts, since he is an Irish citizen, but even if he were a naturalized American citizen, my guess is he wouldn’t consider himself a citizen of this world, for as a Christian “our citizenship is from heaven, and it is from there we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

In this world we have many nations, both rich and poor. In these, there are rich who live in the poorest nations and very poor people who live in the rich nations such as our own. I speak here only of economics, for some of those who are financially poor are richer spiritually than those who have great wealth, for they understand their lives depend upon God’s providence and mercy, and not on their own strength and position for gain.

Those who are caught up in the spirit of this world are beset by the cares of this world and focus on these problems. They see no hope for change, no way out of the status quo. They are “hopeless” people, for the spirit of the world can’t offer hope, but only more of the same. This is why “the Hunger Games” and its dystopian view of the future has captured the attention of our youth. They see it as a possible future, for they live without hope. Their generation’s symbol is the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11/01.

As I was chatting with my Walgreen’s photo clerk the other day, she said, “Your parents fought to make the world safe for democracy, and people your age put a man on the moon. Our generation hadn’t seen anything grand or positive happen. We’ve been at war most of our lives, mostly “against something”, but never “for anything.” It’s like we have lost our will to do any great deeds as a country. We can’t even be “for peace, for ecological sanity or for whatever!” The spirit of this world is negativity in all its aspects.

Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own” (John 15:19). Those who walk on another path don’t belong to the spirit of this world, even though they live in this world, for they have received the Spirit of God. This isn’t some special gift, reserved only for a few extraordinary persons, but it’s the gift of God to each and every believer! How are we to know God if we aren’t joined to him in a spiritual manner? We aren’t able to use our minds alone, for “no human mind can grasp this, and who can comprehend his ways?” Our mind is part of this world, but not part of the spiritual world (Ecclesiastes 16:20).

Once we have our own experiences with God, we can test them against the experiences of the saints of the church (tradition), the witness of Scripture, and the reason of our minds. We will never understand God with our minds only, but we will also never understand God only by our human experience or by the tradition of others either, or just by reading about God from the Bible.  Because God is a personal God, whom we know as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we need to experience God in relationship, for our spirit communicates with God’s Holy Spirit. When we experience God, we experience hope, life, and love.

We aren’t able to hear the sounds of hopelessness in the world unless we too have also known no hope. When I met this worker at the photo counter, we got into this discussion because another customer was admiring my iPhone 4S photos and compared them to my  35mm Minolta black body camera photos. Because there’s nothing automatic on my 40 year old camera, I have to think and compose my photo before I shoot.  She particularly admires the two trees winter stark against a blue sky. This photo was one of a series I took of trees that stood naked, ready to bloom once spring began, I was reading Brian D. McLauren’s Naked Spirituality at the time. It reminded her of the Twin Towers in New York City, the symbol of her generation’s loss and communal grief. She is my daughter’s age, part of Gen Y or the “Millenniums.” They are the first Internet generation, so technology is a necessity in their life. They may be wired into the world, but they have no intelligible vocabulary or theological framework from which to make a coherent and positive sense of the world.

They are “Saturday’s children, but they aren’t in Sunday School,” for as a group, these young people are deeply suspicious of tradition.  I suspect that even if they were in a church they would find that the gospel there has been watered down to what Billy Abraham calls a “civil religion” or “God, the flag, private enterprise, and the fourth of July.” Upon finding this worldly gospel within the church, they would turn and leave, and rightly so, for why get out of bed early on Sunday if they aren’t going to hear a different message from the world they are in the other six days of the week? They are hungry, but they aren’t finding nourishment in our “fast food churches” these days.

To make coherent sense of this world, we have to have a worldview that is focused on God, for only then will we understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. Our primary gift is “prophecy, in proportion to faith” (Romans 12:6). This isn’t some two bit foretelling of the future, but a vigorous listening to God’s word, an active calling of God’s people back to God’s love, and the announcing of God’s judgment if we fail to return or God’s mercy if we repent and return.

Too often we have made the gospel a cheap one-armed bandit, putting our quarters in and hoping for the three cherries to hit the jackpot of prosperity. Other times we have made the good news a shackle to bind people by laws and restrictions instead of freeing tem to become fully human and fully holy in the grace of God. We who claim the name of Christ have failed to articulate the good news so that our children and grandchildren can hear us! Why is that? Could it be that we actually practice a less robust religion, the civil religion in which we nod to the flag, to the country, to the rule of law, and to a creator God, but we do not give our whole lives over to the one Lord who can transform all that we are into more than we can ever imagine!  Our children deserve the Bread of Life!

“I Can Only Imagine” is a wonderful song—you can download it from iTunes if you don’t already have it. Although it’s about “heaven,” it could be about the new creation. Imagine your vision of a better world: describe it in positive terms rather than negative ones (we are at peace, rather than there is no war). If your idea is that all will have enough to eat, find a food pantry or soup kitchen and volunteer for a day to put a face on hunger in this present world. Make a difference in the part of the world in which you live. This is hands on spirituality or the spirituality of praxis.

As a creative project, write a poem or story, photograph, or place colors on a canvas about your experience. If you are photoing people, ask permission first, for not everyone wants their image used. Colors tell the story of your experience. You don’t have to make a realistic image, but your colors and shapes/lines should reflect your inner emotions. This may be harder than it sounds.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia