Reflexión: El Camino Más Fácil y Difícil

“Perdona siempre a tus enemigos; nada les molesta tanto”.
– Oscar Wilde

“El débil nunca puede perdonar. El perdón es el atributo de los fuertes.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, todos los hombres son hermanos: reflexiones autobiográficas

“Errar es humano, perdonar es divino.”
– Alexander Pope, Ensayo sobre la crítica

“El perdón no es un acto de vez en cuando, es una actitud constante.”
– Martin Luther King hijo.

“El perdón es el nombre del amor practicado entre las personas que aman el mal. La dura verdad es que todas las personas aman mal. Necesitamos perdonar y ser perdonados todos los días, cada hora y cada vez. Esa es la gran obra de amor entre la comunidad del débil que es la familia humana “.
– Henri Nouwen J. M.

“El odio no cesa por el odio, pero sólo por el amor; esta es la regla eterna “.
– Gautama Buda, El Dhammapada: los dichos de Buda

“Porque si perdonáis a otros sus ofensas, también os perdonará a vosotros vuestro Padre celestial. Pero si no perdonáis a otros sus ofensas, tampoco vuestro Padre os perdonará a vosotros las vuestras.” – Mateo 6:14-15

perdon

Lo más fácil sería olvidarse o vengarse de alguien que te ha hecho daño o que te ha ofendido gravemente, pero aquellas opciones no remedian el dolor que llevamos en las profundidades de nuestro ser. Olvidarse o vengarse no puede remediar nuestras lágrimas negras, no puede quitar nuestra indignación y no puede prevenirnos de guardar rencor. Sin embargo, aunque lográsemos nuestra venganza o se nos olvidara la situación nunca sería suficiente en erradicar los dolorosos sentimientos que están dentro de nuestros corazones.

En la búsqueda de nuestra venganza o en nuestro deseo de olvidar nos encontraremos que siempre querremos más venganza y aprenderemos que olvidarse es un cuento de hadas. Por consecuencias de nuestra incapacidad de vengarnos u olvidarnos, nuestros sentimientos nos hacen esclavos y nos encadenan hasta nuestra muerte. En nuestra esclavitud nos convertimos en personas pesimistas, que odian, egoístas, que no confían, que aman poco, frías, cerradas, solitarias, que disfrutan poco, detestables y sin esperanza.

Entonces, ¿cómo nos podemos desencadenar? Nos desencadenamos por el camino del perdón.

El camino del perdón es dejar de ser controlado por los sentimientos que nos esclavizan. Aún más, el camino del perdón es dejar de ser controlado por el rencor, el odio, el dolor, el olvido y la venganza. El camino del perdón no es algo que hacemos porque nos gusta, pero es algo que hacemos para liberarnos de nuestra esclavitud. El perdón nos libra, así que podemos disfrutar, gozar y saborear completamente nuestras relaciones con los demás. El perdón es el comienzo de un largo proceso.

El camino del perdón es la vía difícil porque el perdón no es arraigado en la venganza ni en el olvido. En olvidarnos de nuestros sufrimientos no nos enfrentamos a nuestro dolor profundo sino huimos de los sentimientos que nos esclavizan. En vengarnos no nos enfrentamos con nuestro daño tampoco, más bien, agrandamos nuestra hambre para más y más venganza, o sea, un apetito que nunca será satisfecho. En contraste al camino fácil, el camino difícil nos empuja a enfrentar nuestros sentimientos de rencor, odio, indignación y venganza y nos muestra como recibir nuestra liberación. El camino difícil nos muestra que la liberación debe de venir desde una posición de debilidad (el perdón) en vez de poder (la venganza, el olvido). El camino del perdón es más de dos palabras: “Te perdono”, pero es un esfuerzo de nuestro ser hacia la liberación de nuestra esclavitud. En el camino difícil encontraremos la paz. Sí, este camino es difícil pero no imposible. Este camino es difícil porque tenemos que dejar de ser controlado por nuestro justificado dolor profundo para recibir la paz y la liberación.

Paz,

Following Jesus the Human One

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And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Is Jesus of Nazareth God? Traditionally, many Christian`s have often answered this question in the affirmative suggesting that Jesus is in essence God. However, is it correct to suggest that Jesus in essence is  literally God? In my understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission I do not equate Jesus to God – in the sense that Jesus is literally God, rather Jesus is the archetypal Human One who taught and is teaching us what it means to be human. In suggesting that Jesus is God, the writers of the gospels are making theological statement about their experiences with Jesus the Human One pre-Easter and post-Easter.

In saying that Jesus is God the writers of the gospels are communicating to their readers this truth,namely, that in and through the person of Jesus, God is definitively and decisively revealed and experienced.

According to Jesus, being human is intimately related to God and the way that we live in relation with our neighbors both near and far. The way of God (the kingdom message) that Jesus proclaimed was rooted in peace, justice, compassion, humility and it was this message in a violent, unjust, uncompassionate and arrogant world that Jesus’ disciples trusted and hoped. To put it in another way, it was precisely Jesus’ proclamation of God’s way (kingdom) that permitted Jesus’ disciples to have hope for a present where in which peace, justice, compassion and humility would reign. Nevertheless, in rejecting the presumption that Jesus is God – in God’s essence – I do not reject the reality that the Human One is the revealer of Godself. Thus, speaking about Jesus in my perspective is to speak about how God has revealed Godself in Jesus – the Human One.

What does one make of the God-language applied to Jesus in the gospel of John? Was the writer of the gospel of John equating Jesus with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Was the writer of the gospel of John proposing that Jesus – in his essence – is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Hagar and Ishmael? Or was the writer of John’s gospel using God-language to highlight something different about the person of Jesus?

It seems to me that the Jewish monotheistic writer of John’s gospel did not assume Jesus’ divinity, rather the writer of John used God-language in order to highlight God’s nearness (immanence) in Jesus’ person. In using the term Word (Logos), the writer seems to be making use of a familiar way to speak about God, precisely, a way that sought to understand Jesus’ mission in terms of a Word/Wisdom dynamic.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[1]

Envisioning Jesus in terms of Wisdom/Word is not uncommon to Judaism. In Judaism, especially in Second Temple Judaism the Wisdom/Word of God were personified concepts that were often used to creatively and figuratively speak about God’s actions in the world. Even more interesting, Wisdom/Word categories were concepts used by Israel to talk about God’s nearness to humanity without infringing upon God’s ‘transcendence’.[2] For example, in Proverbs 1-9 Word/Wisdom is portrayed as an attractive and persuasive woman – particularly “Word/Wisdom claims to have been created at or as the beginning of creation, and to have been the companion of God in his creative acts, ‘like a master worker (or a little child)’ (8:22, 30).” Even more, in the book of Sirach Word/Wisdom also praises herself and is described a fashioner of all things (Sir. 24:1-5).[3] In attributing God-language to concepts, such as, Wisdom/Word, Israel was enabled to figuratively speak about how God interacted (and is interacting) with the creation. As one writer comments,

Israel did not insist that the only way to envisage God’s interaction with his creation and with his people was by was by confessionally affirming the oneness of God. Israel in her language about God was more adventurous and liberal (or liberating) in their poetic and metaphorical God-talk. Their understanding of how God acted gave rise to imagery and symbols that at times may seem grotesque, but that together expressed the diverse reality of Israel’s experience of God’s acting on their behalf…Wisdom was not regarded as a ‘semi-divine’ intermediary, but was a way of speaking of God’s activity in creation and salvation.[4]

Thus, in identifying Jesus with God’s Word/Wisdom, the writer of John’s gospel is not suggesting that Jesus is God, rather the writer is suggesting that in the Human One God has come near.

What about Jesus’ uniqueness? How is Jesus unique if he is not God? Traditionally, Jesus’ uniqueness would be understood in terms of divinity. However, while believing in Jesus’ uniqueness, I do not assume that Jesus is God.

The writers of the gospels seem to suggest Jesus’ uniqueness arises from his function as the Jewish Messiah (Son of God). Thus, in contrast to the viewpoint that supposes  Jesus’ divinity, the writers of the synoptic gospels seem to posit that Jesus’ uniqueness flows from his function as the Christ (the Messiah, Beloved, Son of God, the Anointed One).

The writers of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) appear deeply concerned with ‘re-presenting’ Jesus in light of the broader scheme of Israel’s story.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” – Mark 1:1-3

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. – Luke 1:32-36

According to the gospel writers (and the disciples), Jesus is the realization of Israel’s hopes in God to establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice on earth. Thus, the gospel writers seem to understand Jesus’ uniqueness to flow from his ‘choseness’, namely, his ‘choseness’ as God’s Messiah (God’s Beloved, King, Anointed) through whom God has inaugurated the kingdom of Godself.

How does one participate in this way of God (in the kingdom) proclaimed by Jesus? Participation in the way of Jesus demands conversion. In using the word conversion, I do not mean conversion to a particular religion but I mean converting oneself to the way of God that was lived and proclaimed by Jesus.

The way of God is the way of compassion, love, peace, righteousness (justice), humility, virtue (goodness; blamelessness) and it is rooted trusting God. The way of God is a way that stands in solidarity with poor, hurting, suffering ostracized, marginalized and the dehumanized. The way of God proclaimed in Jesus’ person is a way that seeks the healing and restoration of humanity and it is a way open to all people of all colors, religions, orientations and genders – the way of blessedness proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew and Luke. However, in the same manner that God’s way demands conversion it also demands a continual position of repentance from unjust, violent, arrogant, hateful and uncompassionate ways. In participating in the way of God we become people of God’s kingdom – a reality of justice and peace. Even more, in participating in the way of God we become participators with God bringing the Kingdom of Godself into our present reality.

Understanding Jesus through this lens does not place a gulf between humanity and Jesus, it provides us with one to look to in times of weaknesses, doubt, despair and struggle.

In encountering Jesus, we encounter one who has lived and experienced life just as we have, yet in discovering Jesus we find strength to hope in God as he did throughout his life. In Jesus we are provided with the energy to hope in our acts of compassion, justice, peace, kindness, love, mercy and solidarity towards our neighbors and we are given the stamina to hope in God’s restorative plan for the world – a plan that is brought about through our participation with God.

The peace of God be with you.

—–

[1] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. John 1

[2] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? : The New Testament Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). (Kindle Edition)

[3] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[4] Ibid. (Kindle Edition)

[5] Oxford University Press. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books : New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Matthew 1.

Reflection: A Postscript After Christmas

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According to the Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “a parable is usually a fictitious short story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.” Take for example Jesus and his parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:2-37), in telling the Good Samaritan parable Jesus does not aim to tell the legal expert a history, rather the story about the Good Samaritan is told in order to provide an instructive response to the legal expert’s question: “And who is my neighbor?” Whether or not the story is true or fictitious is not of the stories concern, rather the concern of the story lies in what it seeks to teach, namely, that even the enemy, impure, despised and the foreigner is neighbor to the legal expert. In light of what has been said above about the function and nature of parables, we now turn our focus to the birth narratives found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Not unlike the Good Samaritan Parable (Lk. 10:2-37), the birth narratives found in Matthew and Luke seem to function in a similar parabolic way. The goal of these birth narratives is not to primarily record history ‘as is’ (though we find history in these stories), rather the writers of Matthew and Luke seem to be using the birth narratives as a means to communicate Jesus’ identity and mission. Put more simply, in the birth narratives the writers of Matthew and Luke are deeply concerned with making sense of (or interpreting) the extraordinary Jesus who they came to know, hear, touch and experience in relation to the Jewish hopes of liberation, independence, peace, justice and vindication. Therefore, in reading the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke we discover a hopeful, challenging, daring and scandalous claim about Jesus, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

Lest we be tempted to misinterpret or take lightly the claim that Matthew and Luke make about Jesus being the Messiah, a few words must be said about what messiah means. According to Jewish thought, the term messiah has nothing to do with divinity, rather the title had everything to do with kingship. In its early usage, the term messiah or anointed one (mashiakh) often served as a title given to kings and priests (though once it seems to refer to Israel itself). Nevertheless, in the wake of the Babylonian exile – which meant the rupture of the Israelite kingdom – the title messiah came to be loosely related to the restoration of the Israelite kingdom. In light of over 500 years of exile, occupation and severe suffering and oppression under foreign rulers and empires, developments concerning a messiah (God’s anointed, elected king) developed. According to the Jews, the God of their ancestors would send the messiah (God’s anointed, elected king) to liberate, vindicate, to establish peace, to establish justice and to establish God’s kingdom for Israel on earth beginning in the land that was presently occupied by a non-Jewish entity – the Romans. For the Jews, this messiah was the hope of Israel. Moreover, in claiming that Jesus is the Messiah the writers of Matthew and Luke boldly proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth is the hope of Israel.

While such a claim about Jesus’ identity may have been hopeful for some people, for others the claim that Jesus of Nazareth, that is, the illegitimate son of Mary is the messiah was scandalous. In reading the birth narratives, such a claim is deeply scandalous because Mary bears a son out of wedlock. Such an event is so deeply scandalous that even Joseph – Mary’s fiancé – initially decided to call off the engagement (Matt. 1:18-25) because of Mary’s illegitinate son. Even more, this event is so intensely scandalous, that even after Jesus’ birth people still wondered and questioned: “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin (Mk 6:3).” Nevertheless, what is truly scandalous about this story is the fact that the God of Israel’s ancestors decided to bless a poor woman from Nazareth that most people would have thought to condemn. To put it in another way, the God of Israel’s ancestors chose to anoint Mary’s poor illegitimate son as the messiah.

While the claim made about Jesus’ identity in the birth narratives may have been hopeful for some and scandalous for others, to certain ears the claims made by the gospel of Matthew and Luke were outright treasonous. Living underneath Roman rule, one would expect to find titles, such as, son of the Most High, God’s Son and Christ (the messiah) to be attributed to Caesar Augustus, for it was assumed that Caesar Augustus was the incarnate Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the world, God incarnate of the Roman Empire. However, in reading the birth narratives we are immediately taken aback to discover that Caesar merely plays a footnote in the saga concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than hailing Caesar as God’s King, the writers of the birth narratives audaciously hail Jesus as God’s King – God’s Messiah, Lord, Liberator, Redeemer and Savior of the world. In ascribing these titles to Jesus, we discover a weighty renunciation of Caesar and his imperial gospel.

In contrast to Caesar and the content of his imperial gospel which was religion, war, victory and peace, the content of Jesus’ gospel is about the end of evil, oppression, violence and injustice. The content of Jesus’ gospel is about hope, non-violence, freedom, justice and peace. To put it in another way, the content Jesus’ gospel is about the making right of all things broken in the world; it is about the reconciliation and restoration of all things. Thus, in beholding Jesus we witness the beginning of God’s making right of all things. More simply, God through the person of Jesus is not merely announcing the making right of all things, but God in effect has began the making right of all things. Nevertheless, the making right of all things does not end with Jesus but the mission of Jesus is – a mission that brought peace and justice to the marginalized, destitute, poor, disenfranchised, hated and despised – continued by his disciples.

What then do the Christmas stories teach us? The Christmas stories teach us that God’s making right of all things has began in the person of Jesus the Christ. The Christmas story calls for people to reject the doctrine of empire – injustice, violence, racism, nationalism, hate, marginalization, exclusion, war, etc. – and it calls for us to participate with God and God’s Messiah in the kingdom project of justice and peace a present reality.

 

Reflection: The Table and Her Scandalous Embrace

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And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”[1]

As I venture to reflect upon the word table, perhaps some readers of this article may find this topic to be quite odd, for the table in many of our mindsets has little to no importance (at least in the west). Yes, it may be true that most holidays, parties and festivals are celebrated around a table, however, the table in our mindset is often a symbol of nothing more than a mere means to an end. Put more simply, when we gather together at the table eating is merely eating, drinking is simply drinking and remembering is only remembering.

However, as I reflect upon the table amidst my Chinese context, the table becomes much more than eating, drinking, celebrating and remembering, rather the table becomes the powerful instrument of inclusion through which one finds herself brought into intimate familial relationships. To put it more simply, the table in a real and sacramental sense becomes the space where one finds that she is accepted and included into a community of people. Thus, the table in a Chinese sense is the means by which individuals are made aware of the familial relationship they share with sisters and brothers.

Not unlike the Chinese table, in my African-American heritage the table has functioned in much of the same way.  Historically, the African-American table has served as the place where family got together to maintain, nourish and grow  familial bonds. As my father comments: “Our African American table is the place where stories are shared, jokes are told and predecessors are remembered.” Thus, individuals discover that they belong to a family and a precious history at the African-American table.

However, in pondering upon the African-American table, I am reminded of how the table has often functioned as a tool of exclusion over and against an instrument of inclusion throughout American society. Seen from the eyes of my ebony skinned history, the table has often operated as a constant reminder of my inhumanity and lack of worth. Such a view of the table can be found in the words of Langston Hughes as he describes his experience as a black man excluded from the American table:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.[2]

Nevertheless, as I think about the concept of table, I cannot help but be drawn to think about the table from my own Christian standpoint. From a Christian perspective, the table of Jesus challenges our notions of us and them (or who is in and out) by welcoming all. Even more, Jesus’ table practices powerfully exposes all the exclusive tables in our own lives by providing seats for all people.

Perhaps this is the reason why the table of Jesus is so controversial, particularly because it welcomes, embraces and calls all people worthy. As seen in the ministry of Jesus,  the table is the place of transformation, liberation, restoration and reconciliation.  The table is the space where the orphan is given a home, the dehumanized discovers her humanity, the outcasts find their welcome, the poor are made rich, the sick are healed, the weak are made strong, and the tyrants are forgiven.

Thus, at the table of Jesus one is confronted with this challenging truth: ‘that all are welcomed and forgiven in Christ’. The truth discovered at the table of Jesus is a challenging one, for it proclaims that all people – irrespective of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, political or religious bent etc. – have a seat at the transformative, reconciling, liberating, restorative and gracious table of Jesus Christ.

[1] Mark 2:15-17

[2] I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes

Reflection: The Generous Melody of Grace and its Non-Christian Singers

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“I,” she [the Spirit] opened her hands to include Jesus and Papa, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active and moving. I am a being verb. And as my very essence is a verb, I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs such as confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing, and on and on. Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules. Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless ‘I am’ there are no verbs and verbs are what makes the universe alive”

– Paul Young (The Shack)

Ericka was a devout Christian who had a transformative encounter with God through Jesus firsthand. Such a transformative encounter influenced Ericka so deeply that for her there was no doubt in her mind that the God of Israel was the God of the universe. Nevertheless, while Erika had no doubt of her experience with the Blessed Loving Presence that pervades the universe. Erika could not make sense of those genuine transformative encounters had by non-religious and religious persons (but not Christian). In numerous encounters with many non-Christian persons, Erika could not seem to synthesize her theology and the realities that she faced on a daily basis with genuinely transformed people. From these real encounters with her Muslim friends, Hindu neighbors, Atheist/Agnostic friends and Buddhist students, Ericka discerned something profoundly transformative that drew them away from themselves to a reality beyond themselves – to a reality that propelled them to love their neighbor (even if she is the enemy) at all cost. For these reasons, Erika found herself at a crucial intersection in her Christian faith. Even more, she found herself in a situation that demanded her to make sense of the religious experiences genuinely shared by the religious other. Here then is the question: “How will Ericka make sense of these sincere religious encounters?”

In reflecting upon the story above, I believe that Ericka’s confusion would be clarified by a richer understanding of the Spirit’s ministry (God’s Presence) in the world. Contrary to what is often assumed in Christian preaching and ministry, the work of the Spirit is not limited to any words that we speak nor to any of our actions, rather the Spirit’s touch extends beyond the ministry of Christians in the world offering grace and life to all of creation. Such statements do not deny the ‘particularity’ of Jesus – language that I believe to be fundamental to the Christian identity – rather they seek to highlight the ministry of the Spirit alongside the ministry of Jesus. As Clark Pinnock writes in his book Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit:

Viewing Jesus’ incarnation as an event in the history of the Spirit lets us consider particularity in the context of universality. The mystery of God was uniquely and unsurpassably revealed in Jesus (particularity), but this happened with the aid of the Spirit, who had always been working in creation and history before that time (universality). God sent Jesus in ‘the fullness of time’ to a world being prepared by the Spirit (Gal. 4.4). What God was aiming to reveal in Jesus was long in preparation, and Jesus came as a fulfilment to a process in which the Spirit had been a central player (Pinnock; 197-198)

Consequently, the Spirit’s offer of grace and our participation in this grace is not a reality that was initiated in Jesus, rather the Spirit’s offering of grace is a reality “as broad as history itself” (Pinnock; 197). In the person of Jesus we discover that grace reaches its culmination and high point – but not its beginning (Pinnock; 198). Thus, in turning our attention to the Spirit, we learn of the life-giving ministry through the Spirit that has never ceased to be absent in history. Even more, in light of Spirit’s ministry we should not be surprised to see fruits of the Spirit’s ministry even amidst people whose talk about God is different than our Christian talk about God. “It has always been possible to cast oneself at the mercy of God, even if one’s theology is conceptually incomplete. An incomplete knowing of the Giver of Life does not disqualify one from receiving the gift of life (Pinnock; 198-199).

Do not those holy persons in the Hebrew Scriptures like Enoch, Melchizedek, and Job – persons who experienced salvation/liberation apart from the religion of Israel – critique any of our attempts to confine the Spirit of the living God? Are not those holy individuals assumed to have known God? Do not those holy persons warn us against limiting the Spirit’s ministry to the preaching of the word, giving of the sacraments or a set of theological presuppositions? Such holy persons warn us against putting limits to the life-giving and life-sustaining Spirit of God. More pointedly, these holy persons caution us against trying to possess God, for the God of Israel is not an object to be possessed. Believing in the particular truth of Christianity, namely, that Jesus is the definitive revelation of Godself does not negate the universal ministry of the Spirit who is operative in world (which is inclusive of the sphere of religion) offering liberating grace to persons inside and outside the Christianity community. One writer comments that,

There is grace in general revelation and special revelation, and both are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God reaches out to persons in a multiplicity of ways, thanks to the prevenience of the Spirt. God loves the world, and the Spirit works in the world that it may ultimately align itself with Christ. Granted, such a goal can take time to achieve. Yet instead of saying there is no salvation outside the Christian community, let us simply say there is no salvation outside grace, or only finally outside of Christ (Pinnock; 194).

Consequently, Erika need not turn inwardly – limiting God’s action in the world to the Christian community – nor does she need to relativize the particular claims of her Christian faith. In her encounters with persons whose lives bear the marks of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), Ericka is able to discern these transformative movements of the Spirit using her own Christian grammar. Put in another way,

The gospel story helps us discern movements of the Spirit. From this narrative we learn the pattern of God’s ways. So wherever we see the traces of Jesus in the world and people opening up to his ideals, we know we are in the presence of Spirit. Wherever, for example, we find self-sacrificing love, care about community, longings for justice, wherever people love one another, care for the sick, make peace not war, wherever there is beauty and concord, generosity and forgiveness, the cup of water, we know the Spirit of Jesus is present. Other spirits do not promote broken and contrite hearts. Such things tell us where the brothers and sisters of Jesus indwelt by the Spirit are (Pinnock; 208-209)

Thus, I cannot help but welcome the persons embraced by the Spirit (whether Christian or not) as my sisters and brothers when their lives are reflective of the life-giving Spirit. Because of the Spirit, everyone (in whatever context, state of life, religion, etc.) has the possibility of encountering Godself – life is intrinsically sacramental at its core (a means of grace). Consequently, at every moment, humankind finds itself being called beyond themselves to participate in something greater than themselves – a reality that demands conversion and a deeper participation in this beautiful reality at every step of the journey. More pointedly, humankind is called to participate in a reality that is permeated by the generous Spirit who welcomes persons to partake in her radical offer of grace.

Grace and Religion

If it is true that God is gracing the world by way of the Spirit, then it would seem inconsistent to exclude the Spirit from the sphere of religion. Again such an assertion does not diminish faith in Jesus Christ – the decisive revelation of God – but it opens the Christian tradition up, allowing it to be enriched by other religious traditions in dialogue that is mutual, respectful and reciprocal. Nevertheless, the Christian response to the religions should be a both a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the present. “On the one hand, we should accept any spiritual depth and truth in them. On the other hand, we must reject darkness and error and at the very least see other faiths as insufficient apart from fulfillment in Christ. The key is to hold fast to two truths: the universal operations of grace and the uniqueness of its manifestation in Jesus Christ” (Pinnock; 202).

However, my provisional ‘yes’ and ‘no’ does not obscure my envisioning of a permanent ‘yes’ in the future. In light of how the God of Israel has been acting in history to restore, renew, reconcile and redeem all creation, namely, every aspect of creation (not fragments). I posit that religion and its systems in the new creation – the goal to which all creation is going – will undergo a reframing in Jesus by the power of the Spirit. However, such a reframing would not force religions to lose their particular distinctiveness. Analogous to the situation of the first followers of Jesus who saw their Jewishness reframed (reinterpreted but not destroyed or made irrelevant) in light of Jesus, I envision a reframing of other religions in light of Jesus as well. As mentioned above, such a reframing does not do away with religious distinctiveness, rather it reframes religious distinctiveness in light of God’s action in Jesus through the power of the Spirit.

In sum, answering Erika’s question in light of the Spirit’s ministry establishes grounds for understanding how Christianity can interact with the religious and non-religious experiences of the religious other – an interaction that does not sacrifice the uniqueness of Christianity and the religious other. Thus, let Christians be fervent in our ministry to the world as we proclaim the kingdom of God in our words and deeds. However, let us be humble to recognize the Spirit of Truth wherever way it may be blowing. As John’s gospel reminds us in Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus: “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8). Thus, the melody of grace sung by Christians is not solely a tune sung by the Christian chorus, rather it is a melody that many un-Christians sing through the power of the life-giving Spirit.

A Queer Reflection From the Margins: A Love That Dare Not Speak its Name…

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Introduction

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Anyone may come there for there is no cost. Rich man or poor man, bonded or free. The ground was level that day at Calvary.[1]

Currently, the Christian community finds herself at a crucial juncture in the road concerning non-issues/issues arising from the LGBT members within her congregations. While a small amount of Christian communities have provided refuge of inclusion, acceptance and love to LGBT members, historically the Christian community’s attitude towards members of the LGBT community has been one of contingent acceptance, that is, full inclusion on the basis that one does not act upon her desires and vows to a life of celibacy. For these Christian communities, error is not be found in one’s particular orientation (whether a person was born a particular way or not), but error is to be located in the particular act of sex. Thus, practicing LGBT members cannot be included into the life and ministry of the Christian community.

Nevertheless, as I have reflected, prayed and dialogued with sisters and brothers on these particular non-issues/issues I have found myself making a hermeneutical decision (an interpretive choice) contrary to those of my sisters and brothers that support a traditionalist interpretation. In reflecting on the LGBT issues within context of the Christian family, I posit that the predominant attitude of contingent acceptance is flawed and unacceptable. Even more, I suggest that the traditionalist paradigm promotes a double standard towards LGBT members within the body of Christ. Thus, in this brief reflection my chief aim is not to say something new – although what I say may be new and uncomfortable for some – but my intention is to briefly reflect on the LGBT situation in light of the claims made by the traditionalists in my Christian family. Hence, in opposition to my traditionalist sisters and brothers, I posit that the exclusion of LGBT members from the Christian community’s life and ministry as unacceptable.

Sexuality after the ‘Primordial Fall’ in Eden

Often, I feel that discussions concerning homosexuality in the Christian community begin with unchecked presuppositions that frequently (if not always) envision heterosexuality as something innocent while homosexuality and bisexuality is representative of a sexuality that is non-ideal. Nevertheless, I find such assumptions false because human beings live in a non-ideal world where there is no sexuality – whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual – that is innocent. In fact, in a Genesis 3 world (a non-ideal world) all sexuality is not ideal. As ethicist David P. Gushee comments,

Traditionalist often speak as if heterosexual people’s sexuality is innocent while gay and lesbian people’s sexuality is broken/damaged/ sinful. Revisionist often speak as if everyone’s sexuality is innocent. I am suggesting that in Genesis 3 perspective, no one’s sexuality is innocent.[2]

From a Christian perspective, Genesis 3 presents its readers with a striking realism about their present situation, namely, that the world that they inhabit is not God’s ideal. More strikingly, readers of Genesis 3 discover a world where all planetary and human life has undergone a type of primordial fall that has affected the entirety of creation and its ability to be all that God has intended it be.  Hence, if Christians were to take seriously the fact that they live in a non-ideal world, then non-ideal sexuality – heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual –  becomes a natural manifestation of the world’s ‘non-idealness’. Nevertheless, the question that arises from this reasoning is this: How should the Christian ethic respond to all non- ideal humans who have non-ideal sexualities – heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual?

At this point, many traditionalists will answer the question above by suggesting that heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals conform their sexuality to the pattern set forth in the creation stories (Genesis 1-2).  According to the traditionalist reasoning, God established ‘covenanted monogamous heterosexuality’ as the pattern for Christian sexuality in Genesis 1-2. As result of the traditionalist premise, traditionalists conclude that any divergent understanding of sexuality is in conflict with Scripture. However, in contrast to the traditionalist position, I hold all appeals to Genesis 1-2 as suspect due to the fact that human beings inhabit a Genesis 3 context – a context where all sexuality is not ideal. Thus, I posit that ethics from a Genesis 3 situation does a better job at coping with the reality of real human beings in a real messy non-ideal world.

The concept of persons not meeting God’s ideal is a reality present throughout the entire body of Scripture. For example, a non-ideal found in Scripture is polygamy, yet in Scripture our Jewish ancestors openly practiced polygamy in its pages. Should we say that our ancestors and their families were not blessed by God even though the Scriptures says they were? Another example can be gleaned from the practice of divorce and remarriage cautiously approved of by many in the Christian community. From Jesus, we clearly learn that divorce does not follow God’s ideal, yet within the Christian community divorce is permitted in certain serious situations. Are we willing to say that the divorced are not blessed by God? Are we willing to say that remarried persons are not blessed by God? If not, why be so liberal with divorce, remarriage, and polygamy and so conservative towards the full inclusion of covenanted practicing LGBT members within our congregations? If congregations bless divorces, remarried  persons, and polygamy in the Scriptures, what is to stop our communities from creating space for the full inclusion of covenanted practicing LGBT members within the Christian community? It seems to me that the traditionalist reasoning upholds a discriminatory double-standard  in its practice towards its LGBT members. For example,

  • To the divorcees, most Christians say, “Come be pastor, a leader with the youth or lead the music…”
  • To the polygamous in Scripture, most Christians say, “that was back then and not now….”

However,

  • To the lesbian, some Christians say, “Sit in the back row and do not say a word to anyone…”
  • To the gay male, some Christians say change…even though the gay male confesses, “I can’t even if I try…”
  • To the bisexual, some Christians say, “You just want it all don’t you?!?”
  • To the transgender little boy who believes she’s a girl some Christians say, “You are quite a strange thing!!!”
  • To the intersex girl some Christians say, “My Lord, that is quite odd!!!”

Nevertheless, over and against these remarks I find Jesus – the revealer of the God of Israel – welcoming these people with open arms, in the same manner that he has welcomed the tax collector, the destitute, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute and all those who have found themselves on the margins of religious, social, economic and political society. In contrast to the cookie cutter traditionalist paradigm for sexuality, I posit that a Genesis 3 ethic assumes, recognizes the messiness of a non-ideal world. A Genesis 3 ethic recognizes that all sexuality, albeit, homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual is not ideal.  Thus, in reference to LGBT members and heterosexual members, I propose the concept of covenant. “The Christian marital covenantal ethic rules out all non-marital sex, infidelity, abandonment and divorce (with the exception to certain situations), making celibacy the only alternative to management.”[5] In closing, I am reminded of a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he comments:

God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.[6]

From a Christian perspective, I find that such a statement profoundly captures a striking realism, namely, that the present world we inhabit is not representative of God´s ideal for creation – nor are human beings representative of God’s ideal. Rather, by God’s grace we can only try to be the best that we can be. Nevertheless, though the world we inhabit fails to meet God’s ideal, the redeeming, reconciling and unfathomable love of God still chooses to embrace the world in all its imperfection. Therefore, in opposition to my traditionalist sisters and brothers, I posit that the exclusion of LGBT members from the Christian community’s life and ministry as unacceptable.


Final Thoughts: I recognize that in writing this reflection some gracious, loving and God-fearing sisters and brothers will disagree with my conclusions on this subject. However, in our disagreements let us always remember Jesus, the one that unites us together in all our Christian differences. As that old Latin phrase once said, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things charity.” Also, it should be noted that this reflection is not exhaustive. This approach is representative of one of two approaches that I have taken concerning the LGBT community and their full inclusion into the ministry of the Christian Church.


Prayer: O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may we with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[1] A Christian hymn entitled “The Ground is Level”

[2] Gushee, David P., Brian D. McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, and Matthew Vines. Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church. Canton, MI: David Crumm Media, LLC, 2014. (Kindle Edition; 1467)

[3] Ibid. 1467 (Kindle Edition)

[4] Ibid. 1397 (Kindle Edition)

[5] Ibid. 1525 (Kindle Edition)

[6]  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. New York: Macmillan, 1955 p. 84-85