We live in a society driven by justice and vengeance rather than forgiveness. A forgiveness-free society.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, the cries for justice and vengeance against the Tsarnaev brothers are vitriolic. For many, nothing less than the death penalty will satisfy. We cannot stomach the thought of forgiving someone who has so wronged and wounded us. It is easier to end a life than to imagine reconciliation.
Our neighborhood just recognized the 98th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. The street we lived on was tagged by a local gang, which is not uncommon, but the night before the commemoration the tagging was filled with hate and anger at another ethnic group – an anger that has been building and growing for nearly a century. Yes, there have been terrible atrocities committed. Yes, there is a righteous anger in the face of horrific injustice.
But is there not room for forgiveness?
We prefer an eye for an eye and a life for a life over the gospel’s mandate to forgive in light of our own experience of forgiveness.
The heroes of the stories celebrated in our culture are driven by revenge and violence, not by the call to turn the other cheek. Our heroes would be unrecognizable to generation’s past. They are not heroes in the traditional sense, they are antiheroes. Dexter, Don Draper, and all twenty-seven characters in the Game of Thrones.
Our (anti)heroes are committed to and driven by anger, revenge, loathing, and a twisted, selfish sense of justice.
As the church, we are not called into this story of violence, justice, or revenge.
We’re called to a story of forgiveness. In a forgiveness-free society which celebrates the antihero, forgiveness is the most powerful story we can tell.
This is the second part of a short series of posts on shame, blame, and the urgency of forgiveness based on a teaching I gave at Kairos Hollywood. The third post will be up in the next couple of days.
Here are three things I loved about Rob Bell’s latest, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.
Rob Bell is a gifted writer. You may hate all the margin space in the book. You may hate the
And I get it. But a Rob Bell book is not a Amish romance or a Christian inspiration or a dense work of theology. It’s a Rob Bell book. He writes like he speaks and he speaks more like a poet than a professor. And it’s actually rather beautiful if you sit with it a while.
We’re made of dust and we come from the stars. (Kindle location 664)
I move more slowly than I used to because I don’t want to miss anything. I find more and more beauty and meaning in everyday, average moments that I would have missed before. I need fewer answers because I see more. (Kindle location 1528)
At times, it felt like the words of the book broke out into prayer. And maybe they did. I found the book prayerful and encouraging of a prayerful posture. Whatever qualms you have about Rob Bell, and I’m sure you have some, Rob affirms a God who is at work in this world – in individuals, in systems, in communities, etc. A Resurrected God. Living, moving, breathing, acting.
And an active, breathing, moving, living and resurrected God is a God worth talking and praying to.
God is in the best,
and also in the worst.
God is in the presence,
and also in the absence,
God is in the power,
and also in the powerlessness.
God is there, too. (Kindle location 1738)
Because there’s always something more,
depth and fullness and life,
all of it a gift from the God who is with us. (Kindle location 1528)
This is where people get antsy. “He’s too positive.” “He doesn’t believe in judgment.” “He’s a softie-liberal neo-orthodox cotton-headed ninnymuggins.”
Sure, I understand what you’re saying. But good news is supposed to sound like good news to those who recognize a need for good news. And how we frame the story has an awful lot to do with whether the news sounds good or bad. To a great many people who ‘have ears to hear,’ the old ways we have framed the good news do not sound so good anymore. There’s all kinds of creative work to be done thinking theologically and communicatively about the gospel and the language we choose to use when we talk about God and the gospel.
[Jesus] is living, breathing evidence that God wants everybody, everyone, to be rescued, renewed, and reconciled to ourselves, our neighbors, our world, and God. (Kindle location 1720)
Gospel is grace, and grace is a gift. You don’t earn a gift; you simply receive it. You don’t make it happen; you wake up to what has already happened. (Kindle location 1644)
The peace we are offered is not a peace that is free from tragedy, illness, bankruptcy, divorce, depression, or heartache. It is a peace rooted in the trust that the life Jesus gives us is deeper, wider, stronger, and more enduring than whatever our current circumstances are, because all we see is not all there is and the last word about us and our struggle has not yet been spoken. (Kindle location 1779)
So there it is.
Have you read the book?
What say you?
In the enneagram personality system (the only personality indicator I find useful and helpful, especially in a pastoral/spiritual setting), there are nine personality types which describe the various assumptions and ways of being we have as we move through this world. Each of the nine types have different tendencies, spanning from healthy and self-aware to unhealthy and destructive. Among the nine types, there are two broad categories people fall into that characterize how we react when something goes wrong.
When something’s not as it should be, half of us will assume you personally are at fault, you are to blame. In some way or another, all of the problems you see when you look out at the world lie within you. When things hit rock bottom, your tendency is towards shame, self-destruction and self-harm. (This is typical of Enneagram #s 2, 4, 5, 6, 7.)
If you are part of the other half, when looking out at the world, you will find fault not in yourself, but in the world. From this vantage point, your life is put together, orderly, and healthy while the rest of the world is terribly broken and depraved. The problem is ”out there” as opposed to within. When things hit rock bottom, your tendency is towards blame and the destruction of others around you. (This is typical of Enneagram #s 1, 3, 8.)
Which type of person are you?
When something goes wrong, do you heap guilt upon yourself leading to shame or do you find others at fault, leading to blame?
This is the first part of a short series of posts on shame, blame, and the urgency of forgiveness based on a teaching I gave at Kairos Hollywood. The second post will be up in the next couple of days.
I am a terrible gardener but, infrequently, I will be able to pull something up from the ground a few months after I planted it and eat it. That’s an amazing feeling.
We use the word grounding to talk about the times in life when we feel stable and situated, and gardening is a grounding and patience-building practice for me. There’s something to be said about putting in hours of labor knowing that you will not be able to eat that tiny carrot for a month or two (if it grows at all), and that it will be 50-65 days before you can spit any seeds out of your little watermelon. And chances are your broccoli will just not grow but you will water it anyway.
You can’t garden if you’re not committed to a place and connected to the earth around you. You can’t garden if you don’t have enough margin in your life to get your fingernails dirty and notice that, since the ladybugs made a home on a neighboring plant, the aphids haven’t been devouring your bok choy.
Wendell Berry writes this:
The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.
Here’s what I planted:
- After weeding the garden plot and turning the soil, I left some of our resilient green onions and rainbow chard from seasons past in the ground to see how they’ll do this year.
- Pickling cucumbers which should sprout in the next week or two and be ready to pickle in two months.
- Easter Egg Radishes which should sprout in the next week or two and be ready to harvest in a month.
- Cal Dulce Watermelon which should sprout in the next week or two and be ready to eat in 3 months!
- A whole pallet planter dedicated to lettuces. I planted four varieties (Oakleaf, Simpson, Red Romaine, and Bibb Butterhead) which should sprout in 2-3 weeks and be ready to pick for salads in 40-60 days.
- Some new succulents in an old cinder block I found in the corner of our garden.
- I sowed a bunch of Mission Bell California Poppy seeds for a splash of color in a half-buried a wooden crate.
- Giant autumn sunflowers in our front yard (because Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne are correct that the most boring front yard is one with grass and rosebushes…which is a perfectly boring description of our current front yard)
I posted briefly about this on Facebook yesterday and got quite a few comments. Here’s a few more comments about the book, some of which were posted on Facebook.
I just finished reading Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing (Oxford University Press, 2013). Fascinating book, surveying the usage of the language considered obscene, vulgar, and profane throughout history (primarily in North America with a bit of Greco-Roman history thrown in).
The author traces the lineage of the two main categories of obscenities: the holy (words connected to the sacred/divine, swearing oaths, etc.) and, well, the excremental (words connected to bodily functions and activities).
A few things you might want to know.
(1) Obscenities are stored in a different part of your brain than normal speech. You swear from your limbic system (connected to emotions) rather than your cerebral cortex (where most of our language is stored).
(2) Swearing has been scientifically shown to help people cope with pain and discomfort. You can withstand more pain if you swear. Move aside, Advil.
(3) There is an ongoing pendulum swing regarding which category of swearing is “the worst.” In some cultures, the holy/religious language is seen as the ultimate in offensive language. For others (like 21st century American culture), “holy obscenities” are not nearly as offensive as vulgar language connected to our human bodies and actions. Mohr suggests our culture’s next move may be to normalize words connected with the “human” and, again, find the greatest offense in those connected with the holy. This is, I think, a fascinating hypothesis given the trends towards increased marginalization and individualization of religion in North America. It will be interesting to see how the sociological/demographic shift away from organized religion will affect our cultural linguistics.
(4) In this “brief history of swearing,” nearly an entire chapter is dedicated to the Christian practice of Eucharist (which I happen to be writing a large project on for a doctoral class – so this was research!) and, specifically, how the perceived/actual presence of the divine in the midst of our humanity can create heightened reactions to the use of language. People were killed because of the ways they spoke of the Eucharist, which were perceived as profane and obscene in the eyes of the religious majorities and power-brokers.
(3) This book was (not surprisingly) rather crude – not for the faint of heart or for those who read on their Kindle with a large font on an airplane with people sitting right next to you looking over your shoulder!
I’m caught up in a story that is bigger than myself. I know that and I love that. But the questions that surface and are surfacing are confusing – like a thick mist or dense fog that drifts over mountains and sits still in a valley.
But God is in the midst of the mist. Perhaps, like the ancient stories, God still is revealed in clouds. God is the mist. The vapor. The elements that we experience in the real stuff of creation.
If God is the mist and the fog, then God is present in the confusion. Does God cause the confusion?
I believe Jesus is clarity, but can God be confusion?
Is there such a thing as a Holy Disorientation, a Sacred Confusion?
One of the most amazing feelings I have ever experienced is not knowing which way is up and which way is down. Feeling this is humbling and terrifying and excruciatingly breath-taking.
I’ve only ever experienced this underwater. When you surf (and surf as poorly as I do), you can often get thrown underwater by an indescribably powerful wave into the wash machine of the ocean surf. The sheer force of the water is pushing on you in all directions. If the wave is big enough, your lungs will start to burn as you exhaust all remaining oxygen available to your body.
When you scuba dive, you can find yourself so deep underwater that you can lose track of the surface. You literally don’t know which way is up. There is sunlight visible in the water – but it is a confusing and disorienting prismatic sunlight. You see the sun but you don’t know from which direction the sunlight is being sourced. You start swimming and making your way up – or at least you hope it’s up.
There’s similarity in these two scenarios. In the midst of the wash machine, in the midst of the sixty-feet-below-the-surface-and-don’t-know-which-way-is-up experience the only way to live and find life is to remain calm.
Experience the confusion. Don’t panic. Calm down.
Remember to breathe.
And listen to your breath. And remember that breath is a gift. And allow your breath to be a reminder that God is present in the mist and in the confusion.
And wait. Disorientation lasts for a season. It does not last forever. The wave will subside. You’ll find your way to the surface.
Breathe and wait. And experience God in the midst of it all.
The quote above comes from the essay American Imagination and the Civil War where Wendell Berry writes of the commodification of our land and natural resources – the soil, the trees, the grass, the air. Berry argues we can no longer afford to take these resources for granted because they are already being taken (sold, destroyed, bulldozed, pillaged).
Berry says “no place is free of the threat implied by phrases [like growth, industry, capital, etc.].”
He writes “nothing now exists that is so valuable as whatever theoretically might replace it.”
In other words, we will destroy anything and everything in the name of progress, mobility, and change.
I am grateful for Berry’s prophetic call to care for our land and resist commodification in the name of progress. His work has been a major influence on my thinking about place, land, creation, and the role of humanity in the midst of it all.
At the risk of detracting from his intentions here, reading this essay also led me to think about community and relationships. Just as heartbreak is inevitable for those who care for a plot of land, so is it inevitable for those who care about and commit to a place – a neighborhood – a community. Berry’s words can be read as a prophetic statement against the transiency of our communities and relational life together.
If you commit to a place or a neighborhood or a community, your heart will be broken. It is easier to leave than to be left, and those who commit to a place are the ones who are left over and over again.
But brace yourself for the heartache, because I believe it’s worth staying.
If you can’t commit for a lifetime, at least commit for a few years. Tell people you’re committed to your neighborhood and invite them to do the same.
Dig in your heels. Make a life for yourself in a particular place. Find, create, and root your family in a neighborhood.