Monday, April 30, 2018

Bullies and Name Calling

Of Bullies and Name Calling

When I was in grade five at the old Charlton School in Somerville, a schoolyard bully used to call me names. I tried to avoid him. His name was Brian. He followed me home from school at lunchtime, and picked on me. He walked behind me, pushing me around, and stepping on my shoe heels forcing me to stop and put my shoes back on.

I complained to my grandmother about all this and she tried to comfort me and encouraged me to avoid Brian. No use, the bullying continued. I came home crying one day not knowing what to do. My grandmother, brandishing her wooden spoon, finally said; “Buddy Bresnahan!” When your elders use your last name you know you’d better listen up. “The next time Brian picks on you, I want you to tell him to stop and if he doesn’t, I want you to haul off and hit him as hard as you can.” Geez, that didn’t sound like Ma. But then she said; “If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re not getting lunch.” 

That got my attention! Sure enough next day, Brian pushed me around and stepped on my shoes and called me names one last time. I warned him. He laughed at me and kept it up. I wheeled around and unleashed a left hook that caught him square on his right chin and sent him flying. I don’t think he was expecting that and I surprised myself at my pugilistic skill. Brian never picked on me again. More importantly, I had lunch that day.

We live in a time of bullying and name calling. We call each other conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, foreigners and much, much more. We do so as if we were enemies to one another; a divided nation.

Speaking of names, In today’s lesson from Acts we have someone called an “Ethiopian Eunuch”. Imagine! Here the church in Jerusalem is trying to settle the question of whether you had to be a practicing Jew before you could be a Christian, and Philip comes back to HQ with the news. I can imagine Peter and Paul saying; “You baptized a what?” Here’s a man who is neither Jew nor Greek. Not only is he very black, he is also from Africa, and his gender identity? That certainly must have raised a few eyebrows. We don’t know his name, but we do know we was “An Ethiopian Eunuch”. That fact challenged the church to think about the inclusion/exclusion question right then and there. Thank God the church settled on the idea that no matter who you are; Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female or eunuch or whatever…we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~para. Galatians 3:28

There is name calling in the church too. Think of it; the Episcopal Church. We use terms like the following to describe each other’s theological predispositions, we are; 
Anglo Catholics
Social Activists
These terms can divide us as individuals or as congregations. But what if we look behind our labels? Perhaps we can see something that unites rather than divides. Perhaps if we look at Jesus; the way, the truth and the life…

Alow me to point to the reality that lives behind these names we call each other. I believe that each label represents an integral component of the personhood of Jesus. If we believe that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” as our collect says he is, and further if we believe that Jesus is the way to eternal life, it behooves us to look behind our labels and see if Jesus is there with us. And if Jesus is there, so too is God.

For instance, Jesus was a traditionalist. He was a practicing Jew. He lived the Law and said so in the Sermon on the Mount; “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law.” ~Matthew 5:17. He recited the Psalms every day of his life. He often found himself in the synagogue and loved to debate matters of the law and the prophets with the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Often those debates also generated controversy. That’s just the way things are among rabbis and clergy. Having just returned from our annual Clergy Conference, I can attest to this!

Jesus was an intellectual. He thought critically about the Law and the Prophets. He was the Teacher, a Rabbi. His sermon on the Mount in Matthew or the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, are creative, brilliant, and tersely stated principles of enduring theological principle. His parables compel us to search our souls with questions that plumb the depths of who we are with each other and with God. He makes us think!

Jesus was an Evangelical. He called us to repent and to be born anew to a living hope. He expected us to live into a metamorphosis from an old way of living in sin and self will, to a new life loving God, neighbor and self.

Jesus was an Anglo Catholic.. On the hillsides of Galilee he fed them with the Bread of heaven. At supper with his friends he took bread, said the blessing, he broke the bread and gave it to them saying; Take, eat, this is my Body. Likewise after supper, he took the cup. The mystery of the Presence of Jesus continues to this very day as we replicate and rehearse this sacred sacrament!

Jesus was a Charismatic. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and filled others likewise. At his Baptism in the River Jordan, in his Temptation in the Wilderness, at his Transfiguration, at his trial, Death and Resurrection the Holy Spirit moved within him and we beheld his Glory. And finally on Pentecost, he breathed upon us and filled us with the Spirit that enables us to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and in all languages.

And finally Jesus was a Social Activist. He healed the sick, fed the poor, ate with prostitutes, and reached out to the rejected; lepers and outcasts alike. He expects us to do likewise. He said: “Peter do you love me? When Jesus asked the question the third time, Peter was hurt. Then Jesus said; Peter, feed my lambs! ~para John 21. 

Take a comprehensive look at Jesus. If we look behind the labels we use; if we look behind the names we call each other, we will see one another as created in the image of God. This is because we see God through Jesus. If we are Traditionalists we honor what has been handed down to us from the ancients. If we are Intellectuals we dare to Reason and think critically. If we are Evangelicals we will realize that we need to change fundamentally from the old self of willful disobedience to a whole new self of renewal. If we are Anglo Catholics we recognize that life is a Mystery and we honor Jesus and one another in our sacramental life. If we are Charismatics the Holy Spirit is alive and well within us, and brings us peace, equips us with gifts for ministry in the world, and grants us the Wisdom from on High to use those gifts skillfully. And finally if we are Social Activists we search diligently for Justice. We are relentless when we see suffering or injustice. We organize our lives and our congregations around suffering and injustice until we see the social order comply with God’s will; namely to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. ~Micah 6:8

This is what it means to abide in Christ as Jesus abides in us. This is what it means for us to bear much fruit as today’s Gospel requires. He is the Vine, we are the branches. 

Therefore my friends, my dear friends when we call out the name “Jesus” we are not playing a game of theological triumphalism or exclusive bullying as if Jesus is the only way to God and everyone else is doomed. Not at all! We proclaim that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life because we believe in justice, spirituality, the mystery of life, the need to change our violent ways, the need to think and recognize that truth is truth, and finally we honor all human traditions that  point to God.

As Christians we love one another because God is love. We are not bullies or name callers. Unfortunately history is marred with dreadful religious and racial violence. Someday I hope to go to Montgomery, Alabama to see the recently opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Our history is marred not only by slavery and oppression, but by lynchings. God help us! Whether we are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Christian, Atheists, Agnostics, Black or White, we are all capable of excusing violence in the Name of what we believe in. This only leads to violence and violence begets violence. 

Years after my famous punch, my friend Brian said that we needed to finish our “fight”. I told him there was no fight. He had put me in a position where I had to defend myself. I did that. Whatever conflict there had been was now over. He grudgingly admitted that. Ultimately Brian and I became very good friends for a very long time. That’s how things should be among us, my dear friends, since “God is Love.”

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The way to God. We believe that Jesus is the example, par excellence, of the Love of God made flesh and blood. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” ~lesson from 1 John.

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul


Br. Barry Kevin said...

Fr. Paul, I so enjoy reading your thoughts. With God's help, may I put your thoughts into practice.

Yours in Christ,
Br. Barry Kevin

"Fr. Paul" Bresnahan said...

Hi Brother Barry Kevin...I so look forward to seeing you at Gathering