Bringing it all back home...

Last night we watched Joan Osborne rock the Infinity Hall in in tiny Norfolk, CT with her smoldering set of soul/blues songs.  Her new CD is called Bring It On Home ~ and that's what she did with each song ~ brought us to a place deep in our center that aches and needs to be nourished and loved. For me the blues unlocks that center better than most other types of music so I was grateful that not only did her cracker-jack band rock the shit out each song, but that together they gave us all a chance to go deeper within because of the tunes.

Yesterday, Fr. Richard Rohr spoke of this going deeper when he wrote about suffering:

Do you realize with what  difficulty surrender will come to a fixing, managing mentality? There's nothing  in that psyche prepared to understand the spiritual wisdom of surrender. All of  the great world religions teach surrender. Yet most of us, until we go through  “the hole in our soul,” don't think surrender is really necessary. At least  that's how it is for those of us in developed countries. The poor, on the other  hand, seem to understand limitation at a very early age. They cannot avoid or  deny the hole in reality and in their own soul.

The  developing world faces its limitation through a breakdown in the  social-economic system, and any access to basic justice. But we, in the  so-called developed world, have to face our limitations, it seems, on the  inside. That's our “liberation theology.” We must recognize our own poor man,  our own abused woman, the oppressed part of ourselves that we hate, that we  deny, that we're afraid of. That's the hole in our soul. This is our way through—maybe the only way, says the  crucified Jesus.

I think that is one of the reasons why the blues speaks to so many of us western affluent folk:  we need to be set free from our inner oppression. And the blues puts us in touch with our inner hurts in ways that many traditional worship liturgies do not.  Two nights ago, during a supper conversation with some dear colleagues, someone said, "I don't know why we keep doing this f****n crazy job?"  We then all added in our own shocking, funny, sad and wounded stories about how we too have been hurt and dismissed while serving a church as a pastor. And after a long pregnant pause, someone concluded, "I guess that's just how it goes for those of in the helping professions."

Now I couldn't put my finger on it then, but something felt wrong with that summary - it seemed something trivial and incomplete - so I kept my mouth shut. But while driving home from last night's blues-fest, I got it:  we are NOT in the helping professions!  We are not nurses or social workers or psychiatric counselors:  we are pastors called to shepherd folk deeper into the Body of Christ. And the only authentic way into this community is through the Cross.  The upside-down, embarrassing, cruel and absurd Cross that God uses to change hatred into compassion and death into resurrection life.
So, speaking from the perspective of the "helping professions" - or any other traditional career - being a pastor and serving the church DOES look f****n crazy.  Because it is - it doesn't make sense - and it never will.  Once again the words I've been pondering this Lent from the Apostle Paul seem the best to describe what is really taking place in ministry to and within the Body of Christ.

The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It's written,

I'll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I'll expose so-called experts as crackpots.


So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn't God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

(NOTE:  Please remember that Paul is speaking in a context where some of those in the Jewish tradition are challenging him and some in the Greek pagan world are offering up their philosophies to counter his words about the Cross.  This is not - and never should be - construed to be a diatribe about God's first covenant with Israel.) 

While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God's ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so tinny, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can't begin to compete with God's "weakness."


Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God."

Onward to the absurdity of Palm Sunday/April Fool's Day!  Rohr adds these important and clarifying insights:

This common phrase used by Christians, and first used in the letters of Paul, has caused a lot of confusion. It is as if our sinfulness caused him to be killed and his dying caused God to love us. It leaves us very guilty, usually grateful, but not really empowered or transformed. Redemption is something we "watch" more than participate in.
The Western mind prefers to interpret things "instrumentally" that is, in terms of cause and effect This is what Scholastic philosophy called an "efficient cause", but it is not really helpful in understanding spiritual things. It is too linear, mechanical, and never gets close to the multilayered mystery of any event, least of all something as profound as this. Redemption becomes a kind of heavenly transaction between Jesus and God but we are not really in on the deal. It happened then but not also now. I might be grateful but I am not really engaged.
So try this: "Christ died for our sins" means that he died in solidarity with-- and in loving communion with--all human failure, mistakes, and absurdity--and thus made them non-absurd! ("With our sins" might be the more helpful preposition than "for our sins".) All human suffering and even our failures can henceforth be seen as part of the entire mystery of transformation into God. Thus he rightly renamed ("redeemed"?) the dark side of everything, which is what always discourages and defeats us. Now we can be both grateful and highly motivated. Life and death are both good! We are now participants instead of spectators. We are still very grateful but now gratitude is the very ground floor of our universe, because nothiing, absolutely nothing is wasted in the Divine Economy of Grace. All of your life and all of your dyings are indeed part of the deal!
"Let me tell you a secret: "We are not going to die, but we will all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51)

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