Saturday, September 21, 2013

when relationships fall apart

Most of us experience our relationship with God through our relationships with other humans.

Particularly through the relationships closest to us - a partner, a parent, a best friend. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. It is through our spouse, our family members, our closest friends, that we share intimate love. We depend on each other to understand - and even love - ourselves.

Covenant relationships - where we both commit to care for each other - can be great windows into our faith with God.

But what happens when they fall short or worse, fall apart? What happens when a parent ISN'T God-like in the way they love you? Or a partner diminishes your self worth.... Or a best friend closes you out...

Then these relationships are no longer helpful windows through which to experience and know God. Often in ministry, I have to remind myself and those I care for that human relationships are flawed. That though our faith may be built upon close, intimate relationships, it must be more. Because God is more. God accepts us, loves us unconditionally, and will never EVER leave us alone.

Humans aren't perfect and therefore our relationships with one another aren't perfect. We will make mistakes, we will hurt each other, we will create wounds for each other that sometimes feel too deep to heal. And though we certainly will make mistakes and create wounds in our relationship with God, God will be our rock. God will grant forgiveness and radical love.

Prayers for all those mending relationship wounds. It's really hard, but trust me, God is still there.

Monday, September 9, 2013

church for the broken

I used to think what brought a church together was a communal belief system. We gather on Sundays for worship because we can recite the same prayers and creed. To some extent it is cultural, but also choice.

Now, I think what brings people together to "be church" is a common brokenness. A shared sense of emptiness, a recognition of the hurt in our world, and a hope for something better. As I get to know the people in my church, we do not all ascribe to the same beliefs. The diversity among us is a blessing, actually. Our diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs keep the conversation active and fun. What we share in common is our experience of the brokenness in ourselves and in the world around us. As we come together, we find hope in God and in one another for a world beyond our human experience. One in which healing, reconciliation, justice, peace and love are all possible. Wholeness made a reality.

At first it sounded bizarre to claim that our church was a place for the broken and yet as I think about Jesus on the cross.... brokenness is a huge part of our faith story. It is from this common place of brokenness that new life emerges - resurrection is made possible. Hope again feels real.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is Jesus the ONLY way?

I've been asked by some of you to blog about our last doubts and stouts gathering where we engaged the question - Is Jesus the only way?

It was a really fruitful discussion and not a topic we all agreed on. Some decided a definitive "Yes," others "No," and many stuck in the middle very aware of all that is at risk by claiming a definitive answer either way.

At stake for us in saying "Yes, Jesus is the only way" to eternal salvation and peace is 4/5 of the world's population. What about those who haven't heard Jesus' name? What about people devout in other faith traditions? We sacrifice important interfaith dialogue and working together for peace and justice in the world around us. We limit God's freedom to speak in different ways to different people. Sometimes, safety is at stake by making this claim. We've been violent with one another over this issue by not being tolerant of other faith traditions.

At stake for us in saying "No, Jesus is not the only way" is the costliness of the cross. Various faith traditions allow space to reach out to God, yet Christianity is unique in that we believe that God actively reached out to us by coming to us in the form of a human and giving the greatest gift of sacrifice so that we might know God. If we don't claim Christ as unique and essential to our faith, why practice Christianity over any other religion? Do we take the cross in vain when we say that it is not essential for knowing God? Perhaps our scripture is at stake when we say that Jesus is not the only way.

Rev. Susan M. Strouse gives us some historical and literary context for the gospel of John in her article "Is Jesus the Only Way?" She reminds us that John 14:6 was not written as an answer to a 21st century question about other religions. It was written to help those early Christians - and us, too - not to fear what comes after death.

One suggestion brought up in our conversation is the metaphor of God as a large being, say an elephant, and we are situated around the elephant such that we are all seeing a different view. Those of us facing its front may describe it's trunk, those from the side, it's belly, those in the back, it's tail. God's allowed to be complex :)

Another suggestion was to think about who Jesus is for us - what Jesus stands for - and to try substituting a different word. It was suggested that sometimes our words get in our own way of hearing and understanding one another's experience or belief. So, if we believe that Jesus is truth, light, peace, forgiveness, justice, love, reconciliation....we can say "It is through truth/light/peace/forgiveness/justice/love/reconciliation that you come to God/heaven/true peace/eternal life.

The push back here is that Jesus made it so that there is nothing WE can do to enter God's presence. It is a gift. The language substitutions make it seem like we have to live in truth, light, peace, forgiveness, peace...etc. I get it. I also think it wouldn't be bad (and Jesus would even love it) if we lived that way.

Needless to say this remains a complex issue with no simple answers. Living in the 21st century, experiencing Christianity as a world religion and seeing that we create violence and war over these questions...I think it's important that we seek space for safe conversation, understanding, and tolerance even when we disagree.

We need to claim our faith on our own and not apologize for what we believe. And at the same time we need to be very careful not to play God and use scripture as a weapon to hurt others.