In the Spring and in the Fall, I get at least one mental health weekend. Time to get out into the woods, camp, hunt, relax. I plan to not look at any watch from the time I leave tomorrow until I come back (except for an alarm clock so we can get up an out in the morning). Then if things work out and we get to shoot a turkey or two, life is even better. This week has creeped along but tomorrow is the day!
So why exactly do we have zero relations and a trade embargo with Cuba? It is because they are a communist regime? So why do we have trade with China? Why did we trade with the U.S.S.R.? And what exactly is the embargo supposed to do, cripple them economically so that they repent of their ways and become a democracy? Well that obviously hasn’t happened, while they are not rich they haven’t yet crumbled. I don’t understand our double speak…no Cuba…Yes China. It just isn’t the same world we live in, compared to the world that existed when all this embargo and the other restrictions were first enacted.
If you haven’t yet read her article that appeared in the New York Times, you can follow this link to the Article: This I Believe.
While this might sound strange, I don’t think she is confused. I think that the days when one faith system will meet all our needs are diminishing. Another point to consider is that as we develop, first tolerance, then appreciation (as Janine pointed out in our conversation yesterday) for other faith systems and religions, if we truly come to appreciate what they offer to humanity, I think we may even be tempted to embrace elements of those faith systems and import them into our way of encountering God. I for example have developed an appreciation for Buddhism and Taoism, as well as Native American spirituality. I know that some of the elements from those systems of thinking have influenced me and my spirituality, and they continue to: I have a copy of the Tao Te Chi next to my bed on the nightstand. The Jewish faith is another very natural and familiar faith with great storehouses of insight and very applicable traditions. Seder meals are great! In culture that is transitioning to the openness the postmodern view point, the lines of demarcation can blur. This is part of what I hear Rollins speaking to in the chapters 4 & 5 of his book “How (Not) to speak of God.” That doesn’t mean that I am not a Christian, that I do not find my identity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It rather means that I see similarities of contribution from all the worlds religions with what I know of Jesus and that I can appreciate them and benefit from them in my own spirituality.
I read the above named article last night and found it very interesting. I can’t say that I am afraid of that to which the article points, but rather feel a part of that shift in our cultural perspective. I found many points in the article interesting, on which I plan to blog further, but for now I would like to focus on one comment from the article. This comment comes from Albert Mohler Jr., who is somewhat of the test case for the religious perspective in the article…he is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I grew up as a member of that denomination and originally was ordained through that home church. His comment was in reference to what he calls the advent of “post-Christian” culture. There were recent surveys that demonstrated a doubling of people claiming no religious affiliation of any sort and an increase of folks who see themselves as more broadly spiritual. This group troubles him greatly in that they are self-described as very spiritual but not “religious.”
The article defines as follows: “Religion…shall mean for us the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they consider the divine.” Now this definition was not a Quote of Mr. Mohler but of William James (author of “The Varieties of Religous Experience”).
Regarding this shift of opinion Mohler says, “The post-Christian narrative is radically different; it offers spirituality, however defined, without binding authority…it is based on an understanding of history that presumes a less tolerant past and a more tolerant future, with the present as an important transitional step.”
The above italicized and bolded portion of Mr. Mohler’s article is a point on which I would like to comment and question. If God truly exists, is not he not our binding authority in a fundamental way, more so than the church in all its magisterial authority has ever really held. So are we upset that no human source or human interpretation of holy writ holds sway and trump on existential experience of the “spiritual but non-religious” culture that seems to be emerging? That doesn’t seem to be anything new…the difference is that those with dissenting perspectives are not executed for their “heresy” in our western society, as they used to be. In reality, hasn’t the “binding authority” of church and religious structures always claimed more authority than it really had? Has not spiritual experience always extended itself beyond the bounds of religion? This is so precisely because such reality belongs in the realm of existence and cannot be objectified. In the same way that a human life cannot be objectified even with the most exhaustive recording of events, spirituality cannot be contained in a theological system, there will always be events, feelings, doubt, belief, interpersonal experiences, supernatural experiences that exceed the objectification of doctrine, and subsequently exceeds the binding authority of religious thought.
Now I understand Mr. Mohler’s concern from the vantage point that such a spiritual freedom cannot be controlled and contained; and if you truly believe that your sub-group of a particular religion has the whole and complete truth (in actuality has interpreted the world and Scripture truthfully), then to have culture decline to value that perspective would indeed be troubling. To put it another way, I understand that to feel that you have the ability and place to speak definitively about faith and morality, only to discover that what you thought was a universal truth is, in actuality, a personally held truth, would undermine the framework through which you interpret the world.
I for one am optimistic of the current spiritual and theological atmosphere hoping that honest dialogue about our beliefs and the limitations of that knowing will continue to be possible and hopefully will produce an authentic tolerance and even a genuine acceptance and appreciation for differing perspectives. And while the diversity of opinion may limit our ability to speak definitively, it will not limit our ability to mutually speak of God in meaningful ways.
This morning my daughter was playing with a little John Wayne ornament of mine, which has four recordings of lines from John Wayne movies. If you don’t know, I am a big John Wayne fan. I was struck by one of the comments that my daughter played this morning. It comes from the movie “The Shootist,” which is one of my top three favorite John Wayne movies. In the movie a young Ron Howard is getting a shooting lesson from Wayne’s Character, J. B. Books. After the shots are fired, the young man comments that he was almost as accurate as Books. Wondering, the young man asks how he was able to kill so many people, implying that he was no better a shot. Books Reply is significant. “Friend there’snobody up there shooting back at you, it isn’t always being fast or even accurate that counts, It’s being willing.”
That can be said about many of life’s ventures…often it isn’t about prowess but that we are willing to attempt, which also necessitates being willing to not come out on top. Being willing doesn’t promise success but with reservation comes hesitation and often that is enough time to lose. Books, Wayne’s Character, goes on to tell the boy that most men will hesitate, but he won’t.
Yesterday our church, like many churches, celebrated what has come to be called Passion Sunday. The idea of “Passion Sunday” has come about to replace “Palm Sunday,” because of the drop off of attendance to Holy Week services where the passion narrative is read and remembered. By having “Passion Sunday”, no matter whether folks attend mid-week worship, if they attend on Sundays they will hear the passion narrative proclaimed before coming to celebrate the resurrection on Easter.
Anyway, that bit of liturgical explanation is not what I wanted to talk about. Rather the topic of this posting is “abandonment.” Yesterday as we read the passion narrative from St. Mark’s Gospel, the last words that we hear Jesus uttering are “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani” which the narrator translates for us as “my God, my God, Why have you Forsaken me?” We’ve all heard these words before but it was this Sunday that they resounded in my ears and heart more so than previously.
Our pastor commented on these words as Jesus feeling that he had seemingly been abandoned , but commenting that he wasn’t and that we never are. Now I understand the theology of that sentiment and the comfort we as Christians derive from that hope, that no matter what, we are never abandoned. After the service at church, I briefly commented to my pastor that I wasn’t so sure that was accurate. At this point we haven’t yet had the opportunity to discuss this further, but I also haven’t stopped thinking about that reality.
What was Jesus saying on the cross when he uttered his last words in Mark’s Gospel (and Matthew’s version too)? Now our theological affirmation that Jesus was not abandoned, stems from the belief that God resurrected him and exalted him, thus he was not completely and permanently abandoned. Also Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, says that Jesus was not left or abandoned to Hades, but was resurrected. Understanding how central the resurrection of Jesus is to our Christian faith, I likewise understand the insistence that Jesus was not abandoned by God. The objective interpretation of the passion and any abandonment of Jesus comes from Sunday, not Friday.
I wonder, though, is abandonment really an objective reality or much more profoundly a subjective one? Does it make us feel better to believe that Jesus wasn’t abandoned to the cross and death? Does such an interpretation do justice to the accounts we have of Jesus on the cross? Is the abandonment felt in his dying negated in the resurrection or does affirming the abandonment rather make the passion and subsequently the resurrection all that more meaningful? Ultimately is abandonment determined objectively or is it better understood as a subjective reality?
When I think back to times that I have felt abandoned, and even when that feeling lead to the presence and comfort of those who love me (hence not permanently abandoned) the outcome did not negate the reality of being abandoned, I still felt the reality and the pain of abandonment. Now Jesus was feeling abandoned and indeed he was not rescued…he died alone on a Roman Cross. Now the truth is that God resurrected him but that wasn’t until Sunday, the cross was happening on Friday and he lay in the tomb all of Saturday too.
I think Jesus was abandoned to death for a time and then in the plan of the Father was resurrected, glorified and exalted; but to interpret the passion by the resurrection seems to me to rob it of a very significant human experience. We all from time to time feel it, hurt from it, are marked by abandonment. Some of us live with it all of our lives, for some of us that sense and pain of abandonment lies at the core of our being, regardless of whether there is a alternate interpretation of our circumstance. I for one have always resonated with Jesus because he was abandoned. As a person who is adopted, who has searched unsuccessfully to connect with that “absent” part of myself, who has always felt that abandonment profoundly, even though my birth mother probably did what she did out of love. I, for one, would prefer to not summarize the passion by the resurrection and choose rather to appreciate that profound sense of abandonment that Jesus must have known.
Now I know that some will say that I am interpreting Jesus’ passion through my own experience. I would answer, who of us doesn’t do this? Is not our experiences part of the framework through which we understand Jesus: his life, death and resurrection. But you will have to wrestle this out and come to your best understanding of the significance of these important last words of Jesus: “Eloi, Eloi Lama Sabachthani.”