Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Living and Loving through Unfairness

In Jean Vanier’s wonderful book, Becoming Human, he quotes the African-American writer Patricia Raybon about how the oppression she experienced in the United States had taught her to hate white people. She writes:

 “I hated them because they have lynched and lied and jailed and poisoned and neglected and discarded and excluded and exploited countless cultures and communities with such blatant intent or indifference as to humanly defy belief or understanding.”

But then she goes on to talk about how she came to recognize that her hatred, no matter how justified, was eating away her identity and self-respect. It blinded her to the gestures of hospitality and friendship a white girl in high school offered her. She realized that instead of waiting for whites to repent of the atrocities they had inflicted on blacks and ask forgiveness, she needed to ask forgiveness for her own hatred, for her inability to see a white person as a person and not just as part of a race of oppressors.

Only forgiveness can break cycles of hate and resentment. But forgiveness can be a very difficult process, especially when there is no repentance or acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrators and oppressors.

But without forgiveness, there is no fullness of life. We can become our own oppressors when we carry around bitterness and resentment. Resentment poisons our own soul as well as the relationships we have with the people who respect and love us. For our own inner peace and wholeness, and for the development of flourishing relationships, we must come to a place of forgiveness.

This, I think, is true of life in general: we must forgive the world for being what it is and we may even need to forgive God for God’s part in the evolution of life on this planet. Life is not fair. Some folks have it much harder than other folks. And this has absolutely nothing to do with personal worth or value.

It would be easy for those who experience the unfairness of life to become bitter, resentful, and angry. And some do become cynical and hardened. But there are others who are able to transcend their circumstances and become generous, gracious, and joyful people, even while having to cope with life’s lack of justice.  

What makes the difference? I think that the resources of faith and hope play a major role. The quality of spirituality we pursue and develop has much to do with how we respond to life’s unfairness. Jesus encountered a landslide of injustice that swept him up on a cross, rejected, hated, and crucified by the powers that be. But he refused to allow his circumstances to diminish his worth and sense of who he was.

Jesus did not become bitter. Even when he was in agony in Gethsemane as he contemplated his fate, he resolved to do the will of God and be faithful to God’s cause to the end. The intimate relationship with God he had nurtured sustained and empowered him. He was still able to love.

John’s Gospel puts it this way: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13:1b). I hope that the quality of our relationship with God supplies us with the resources we need to continue to love, to work for peace and restorative justice, to be grateful, generous, and joyful, even when we are bombarded by the injustices of life. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easter Anticipates the Triumph of Love

Through Lent and Holy Week we have walked with Jesus to the cross. Our participation in Jesus’ death is one way through which his death has healing and redeeming efficacy. We too must die to our ego-driven self if we are to experience new life (John 12:24–25).

The Passion story compels us, to not only identify with Jesus, but with all those who acted upon or in connection with Jesus. In so doing, we see our part in the crucifixion. Our shocking complicity in evil is exposed. Against this backdrop appears the shocking revelation of God’s love. Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (12:32). In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “lifting up” includes both the cross and the resurrection.

As the risen, cosmic Christ, the Spirit of God is at work wooing, drawing, nudging, and mysteriously persuading all of us into healthy divine-human relationship. On Good Friday we mourn Jesus’ death and our participation in his crucifixion. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus coming back into the world that rejected and crucified him.

The amazing thing about the gospel of the risen Christ is that it means that God continues to love the world and pursue the world, even when the world responds in horrific ways to the truth and goodness of God. But God must work in subversive ways. Easter was not a public, spectacular event. Only a few people witnessed the risen Christ. God has to get to us through the back door. 

We couldn’t handle the truth that Jesus brought us, so we crucified him. We haven’t evolved much since then. Still today, we struggle with the truth that was incarnated in Jesus. But God does not give up on us. The hidden, subversive Christ is at work. The living Christ works through diverse mediators, persons, and experiences to draw us into a transformative relationship. The living Christ is not limited by time and space, nor by creeds and dogma, and is always breaking into our consciousness in fresh, unexpected ways.

The resurrection of Jesus is a foretaste and pledge of the triumph of love. God will never give up on the world. God will never give up on us, no matter how far we stray or how cynical we become. We may have to live through some “hells” before we get a taste of “heaven.” We may have to live with the consequences of our selfishness before we come to the place where we can “die” to the egotism of the small self and embrace the largeness and goodness of the Christ self, but that’s okay.

John’s Gospel says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (1:11). But God still “so loves the world.” John’s Gospel bears witness to a great truth: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (13:1b). And now that he is lifted up through death and resurrection, the cosmic Christ will continue to draw, through any means available, all people into the circle of God’s love, until there is no one left on the outside. Then will “the gates of Hades” be overcome and the Beloved Community complete.