Dispatch from Tanzania
I'm sure many of you have been reading the news about the Primate's meeting in Tanzania. The American Church has been asked to refrain from blessing a certain group of people, ordaining them as Priests or consecrating them as Bishops. I hope the irony of this is not lost on you. We are told that the Primates went to a former slave market in Zanzibar and there repented of the church's complicity in the Slave trade. The silence of the church in those many years was deafening. And now finally we repent!
It seems to me many ears are deafened again to the cry for justice. Can you imagine Jesus singling out any group of outcasts for exclusion from the blessing of the church? Can you imagine Jesus telling any group of people; "I will not bless YOU!" It is unthinkable to me! What are these Primates thinking about? I am convinced that at some future time another group of Primates will gather in Tanzania to repent of this action. The word "Primate" is an unfortunate name for leaders of the church in this context. It makes them seem somewhat sub-human. God have mercy on us! It is thus we tread the wilderness road of Lent.
Too often they, like the rest of us, are found to have clay feet, and a fatal flaw that is exploited through notoriety and self-indulgence. And so for them and for us all our true vulnerability becomes more apparent. When Jesus entered the wilderness he was very vulnerable indeed.
In fact the Galilean Idol was vulnerable not just in the wilderness. He was vulnerable throughout his life. When he healed, he could feel power "go out" from him even when a woman would touch but the hem of his garment. He refused to send them all away but broke bread, said the blessing, and gave them as much as their hearts and souls desired until there were baskets of scraps gathered up that numbered as many as his disciples. He healed them. He taught them. He fed them with every word that comes from the mouth of God. And if they found themselves at wits end, or maimed, or leprous, or outcast from the temple because they were of ill repute, he found a way to bring them closer to God. Even the rich tax collector found repose in his company.
This Galilean Idol was no ordinary example of a cult of personality. He was the perfect image of God made flesh. He was unafraid of the wilderness. He entered the wilds of his own deepest doubts and despairs with courage and profound honesty. He wanted to feed the hungry. But taught us to share and to live by the word of God. He wanted to impose peace in the midst of warfare and could have dispersed the Roman Legions with a wave of his hand. But he taught us not to worship Caesar's way but God's. We're still awkwardly avoiding that lesson. He wanted us to know him as the living God, but he chose instead to die on the cross, alone and accused of a capital crime. The instrument then of a shameful death became the vehicle though which he forgave us our sins and gave us eternal life.
This Galilean Idol did not want us to worship him; he wanted us to worship God alone. He avoided attention, and went to lonely places where he could pray. But the multitudes sought him out because he satisfied the deepest longing of the human soul... not for sex, money, or power; but for love, forgiveness, and eternal life.
It is interesting to me that the old virtues that our faith traditions used to teach with authority were poverty, chastity, and obedience. They are still the ideal of the monastic communities of Francis, Benedict, and Ignatius.
We are now in our own wilderness and we are being called to face our own deepest doubts and despairs with God's own courage and profound honesty. It is an anxious time where depression is the modern epidemic. And yet we have everything we could ask for. We have ample supplies of sex, money, and power concentrated as never before in the Euro/American West. And yet we ache for something more; or is it something else?
The tragic figures of Anna Nicole Smith and all the others point out to us that something is very wrong with the modern psyche. Wouldn't it be interesting if something as old and as ordinary as Lent could put us back in touch with the truth about us?
Ash Wednesday in the liturgical churches calls us to mark the foreheads of the faithful the burned ash of last year's palms; not to make a "show of our religion" but as a reminder of our mortality. Somewhere between the polarities of sex, money, and power on the one hand and poverty, chastity, and obedience on the other, is Christian stewardship. We all have these superb gifts from God. Let's return them to God and share them with one another as God intended. Those of us who can walk the way of the cross will find it none other than the way of life and peace. Won't you look with me to the Galilean Idol who is no idol at all? Won't you look to the face of Jesus and gaze into the heart of the love of God and don't be afraid any more. He will walk with us, and be our companion along the way. He will guide us as surely as day follows night unto the wellsprings of God's everlasting day.