Sunday, September 23, 2012

Talking helps

If a brother or sister in Christ has the courage to name racism as a continuing wound in our life together, that should be enough of an opening for more, not less, conversation.   

While it may hurt to have these accusations pointed in our direction, and some may get "sick and tired" hearing charges of bigotry, just think of those who have to live with it every day of their lives.

In the long run, it's so much more helpful to talk with each other than to throw names at each other. It would also allow us to see each other better, without the kind of hindrances Jesus mentioned in Matthew 7: 5. 


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Time to Quit Tossing the Labels Around

You would think that among Christians, it would be enough to be called by the name of Christ. The name assumes a spirit of generosity that too many of us Christians reject in favor of other names like orthodox, progressive, contemplative, confessing, liberal, reform, conservative, Bible believing, fundamentalist, emergent, evangelical, etc., etc, etc.!

I know, the genius of our growth is how we can divide and multiply. Jesus is incarnated in any and all cultures. So we've also come up with lots of proper pronouns to delineate our historic differences, like Independents, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, Protestants, Nondenominational, and so on.

There's no use pretending a unity that isn't there, but isn't it enough challenge just to be known as a follower of Jesus, enough blessing to be one of Christ's own, enough grace to be made in God's image and in God' love? Why isn't this better than any confining label?

The great preacher and United Methodist Bishop, Emerson Colaw correctly stated that continued use of labels among Christians is inaccurate, because there's little agreement on what any label actually means. Many of these labels are theological flavors of the moment, about belonging, or about power over others. Labels rarely tell us anything about someone's integrity or lack of it. What can a label possibly say about a person's spiritual health or disease? Whether I've been living in light or darkness?

We find an infinite number of ways to make it all about ourselves. Dropping labels would mean that we no longer have them to hide behind. It would also mean doing the hard work of study, prayer, and self examination, being open to uncovering wisdom in new and different places, and being more faithful as a result of our searching and finding. This isn't about picking and choosing. It is about surrendering our fascination with labels to Christ. "Christian" makes it more about Jesus Christ, not ourselves.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reviewing We Were Least of These

Elaine Heath's We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with Survivors of Sexual Abuse is her recent book, published in 2011. The McCreeless Associate Professor of Evangelism and director of the Center for Missional Wisdom at Perkins, Heath explains how the church and its Story can be heard and explored in a healing way by survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Her telling of the Christian Story is authentic mainly because it is done by a survivor, in the presence of the estimated 1 in 3 woman and 1 in 6 men who are also survivors of sexual abuse.

Naming survivors as the least of these is key to the entire study, the hermeneutic Heath applies to the many Bible stories she re-presents and retells in the rest of the book. The words themselves are of course from Jesus' parable in Matthew 25: "We were the least of these, all of us who suffered abuse, neglect, violence of every kind. Jesus was with us; Jesus was in us; Jesus is for us." p.9

Heath's choice of texts, from both the Old and New Testaments, the familiar to the rarely read, is helpful. Included is the Fall narrative in Genesis 1-3 , Esther, the story of Jabez in I Chronicles 4, Psalms of lament, Mary and Judas (John 12:1-11), and the restoration of the "unclean" woman and man of Luke 8.

Heath explores the story of Israel in the wilderness. Why was their journey so frustratingly long? Its length was meant to give former slaves a safe distance from both their former life in Egypt as well as protection from the armies of the Philistines. So, too, survivors, need to relearn healthy boundaries, both safe and protected, that abuse destroys. Moreover, recovery requires healing, and healing isn't instantaneous. Survivors into their 60's and beyond may wonder when they will ever be healed. The good news is that, according to Heath, healing continues. Moving like spirals, we experience deeper levels throughout our lifetimes.

Judges 19 (the Levite's Concubine), tells of the complete rupture of systems and people who are supposed to provide safety and sanctuary. It's what happens when systems like churches and universities live without a conscience, or rather, adopt the sick conscience of the surrounding culture. The story is about the complete failure of keeping covenant at many levels and in many people, including a man of the priestly tribe, a family of origin, and the community at large.

Instead of perpetuating this violence, the people of God will learn to rewrite the story in our life together. In that story, we will no longer excuse or cover up or allow sexual violence: "..the survivor who leaves the abusive relationship will be offered refuge and healing love by her family of origin...They will not hand the survivor over to further abuse... Clergy leaders "will discern the evil of giving primacy to institutions when those institutions become agents of death that violate the sanctity of human life." pp. 46-47

Much of Heath's book would come under the rule, "First, do no harm." That is, "rightly divide the word" so you don't end up using the texts of Scripture to contribute to the pain of others. For example, clinging only to a punitive atonement theory with its angry God, is one example of doing harm. It can "contribute to a damaging interpretation of salvation that drives survivors...away from God and the church." p. 131 Atonement is real. Atonement comes in the form of Emmanuel, God with us, not God against us. Atonement is the healing of wounds, and the making of all things new.

The book includes an outline for a weekend retreat in Appendix 1, and a definition of sexual abuse in Appendix 2. Every chapter ends with a helpful reflection for survivors, for those who companion them, plus suggested exercises, activities, even movies.

Oldies but Goodies