It is amazing what people will talk themselves into. I’ve felt pretty speechless over the last few weeks. Struggling to find the perfect analogy, I remember reading Plato’s allegory of the cave, which in a nutshell tells the story of prisoners in a dark cave all chained with a fire behind them that reflects on the cave wall in front of them. Also behind the prisoners are prison masters waving puppets to create shadows on the wall. To the prisoners this is their reality, the shadows define their reality. Lets say one escapes and turns to see the puppet masters making the shadows on the wall and realizes that the world they’ve known is an illusion, and also sees an exit that leads outside. The world is blinding bright and beautiful, and for few minutes the light blinds them.. When the now freed person goes back inside to free the other prisoners and tell them about the true world out side, the freed person can no longer see in the darkness and the prisoners become afraid that the freed person can no longer see, so the keep their chains and shadows out of fear, regardless of how beautiful the description of the outside world, or the explanation that they are just being manipulated. In truth? That is how I feel much of the time. I feel like the person who has escaped. I see things the way I do, not because I am better or smarter, but because I recognized chains that held me, and once freed actually turned around and challenged my perspective and moved outside to another world view.
How do you convince people that what they believe to be true may be nothing more than an illusion held and rooted in shadow and the machinations of others defining their reality? You can’t. What you can do, like Jesus did, is calm fears, challenge weaknesses, show them hope (many in the miracles he performed) and promise a greater life and future, teach people to pray for God’s ample help to assist you in moving out into the light. And still so many people are rooted into always staying, believing what they are looking at without question. What is most disturbing are those charlatans who having heard the escaped prisoner’s story, pretend that they’ve been unchained and gone outside and twist and turn the message to suit their own ills and pressure those stuck in shadow that the message of the outside is wrong and not to listen. There are plenty out there who stand in the name of life, who are more concerned with control, political will and power. It makes me angry and sick to my stomach listening to their self righteous blather., and how many believe that they are telling the truth.
So, who do you believe? Well, perhaps its time to get up off your butt and turn around to see what’s behind you, what you’re rooted in and get some new information on your own. Going outside your comfort zone and chucking what you’ve always thought you knew for something completely new is scary, It’s scary because it requires us to use our own eyes and ears instead of staring at shadows in the darkness created by someone else. The light may be bright and painful at first, but the reality is so much better. I’d rather learn to see in bright light than suffer in the shadows.
Today is Good Friday, and I’m reminded that to Christians, it is the holiest time of the year. It is the day that traditionally, the crucifixion narrative is read. Beyond the obvious, that is, that it is a horrific way to die, it is the hatred and fear of the mob who stood against him that frightened me the most about this story. What was it that could turn a crowd, who just days before were singing songs of adulation and waving palm fronds in his wake as he entered Jerusalem? Was it the machinations of the church leaders and Romans who turned the public against the one who had healed and supported, taught and fed them during his short ministry? I often asked myself the question, “Would I have been like them, or like Peter who denied him three times?” Perhaps it is because of the grace I have been given that I see and understand the reasons why mob rule is so dangerous, and the horror and evil that individuals en mass are capable of when fueled with angry rhetoric (especially if the source is religious). All of us are susceptible, and if you think you’re exempt and never worried about how you would respond to mob anger, I don’t think you’re being totally honest with yourself.
So with Jesus’ great sacrifice, where are the effects of this super power we celebrate on Easter Sunday? Is the extent of it held in the future promise of eternal life? Or is there a mechanism we gain to transform the world around us in the moment? I continually struggle with what makes me, as a Christian, so different than other humans, religious or not. What makes me visibly different? I truly believe, that with seeing and hearing through the gospel message I am meant to, challenged to, radiate heaven in a way that shows I fully understand what Easter means: that they will know I am his disciple because of how I love. We understand Jesus sacrifice because we are gifted with holding the Kingdom of God within us…
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.”
This is where it gets tricky for me. There is so much noise and dissonance from churches around the world that not only contradict the idea that “the Kingdom of God is within” and what it is supposed to look like, but actually subvert it by redefining what heaven is through exclusive and authoritarian methods, not unlike those in power did at the time Jesus was crucified. The corruption that often lies hidden behind the righteous in power is why I continue to look to how Jesus radiated the Kingdom…extending mercy, the relinquishment of earthly power, the focus on those in need, loving your neighbor and enemy, loving God more than money, and kind civil rhetoric. That isn’t the rhythm of many professed Christians who radiate superiority, judgement, and yes, mob anger and hatred, the kinds of behaviors that Jesus deplored in his day. I think of Jesus’ quiet power standing broken and beaten in front of Pontius Pilate, refusing to be bated and justify his questions and ignorant assumptions, his quiet strength in carrying the cross and his mercy once on the cross to those criminals beside him. That is how in the worst of circumstances we radiate heaven.
Like any superpower, grace must be continually exercised, and expressed. Jesus made clear the road to heaven was to treat others as if they were indeed him. He also promised that he will come again and until then we must radiate the Kingdom of Heaven like children do or never expect to exist there. Beyond righteous behavior, we must be willing to sell all we have and follow him, and when we feel unworthy, be reminded that what is impossible for humans is forever possible with God.
Sometimes I think of that moment in the story of Adam and Eve, when they both become aware of good and evil and what that must have felt like. Their sense of innocence was gone and they were keenly aware that they are naked, exposed, and were immersed in a world of sin. And then, I remember a line from the Easter liturgy that says: “Oh happy fault of Adam which gained for us so great a Savior” So, while none of us ate a bite of that damn apple, sin is in the world, its consequences glaringly apparent (at least to those who aren’t blind, metaphorically speaking). The good news is that we are not without hope, without help, without guidance; we were blessed with such a Savior. Which is why I’m confounded to think that there are those who think that sin isn’t their problem and that if they simply sanitize what they see and hear in the world then some how that becomes an acceptable response in dealing with its ugliness. Sin is here, that ship has sailed. It’s presence and legacy is unavoidable and is something we all have to deal with, even our youngest and most innocent. With the interconnections and expanse of social media, we are literally running out of places to sweep things we don’t want to see and hear under the rug. I also am acutely aware that one person’s definition of what is unconscionable is vastly different than another’s. And while accepting the gift of grace by following Christ has opened my eyes and ears, it doesn’t make me any less of a sinner or any less susceptible to its temptations. I think the Gospels lay out pretty clear criteria on how to go about dealing with sin. There is a clear conversation, though, about why Jesus teaches the way he does through parables:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.”But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it
Jesus used story telling as a mechanism to teach us about sin, love, sacrifice, and who God is. It is clear from Jesus’ perspective that many people wouldn’t get it, because they refused to be open to it, even the Pharisees. So from where I stand, I do not believe that book burning, or banning is the answer. I must admit, on a list of banned books, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Wrinkle in Time” are why I am a reader…and I read them when I was 11…and was not tainted by them in any way shape or form. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about the horrors of the world without needing direct experience in how to face or understand those horrors. I also learned a lot about standing in someone else’s shoes and more often than not I was left hopeful. Sometimes, though, I learned very hard lessons about myself, that changed the way I moved and behaved in the world. Regardless of the discomfort one may feel reading a book like “Lord of the Flies”, which I hated and yet still learned a great deal about bullies and the nature of power, I learned about sin and what havoc it can create in this world, and what can happen even in the most unexpected circumstances. I think books like the ones I mentioned are necessary, not as an approval of, but as an awareness of the destruction that evil and sin have brought into the world without having to have first hand experience. Utilizing our eyes and ears and exercising what hopefully are evolving ethics and humanity in a safe environment are a way to contain the sin that need not be perpetuated as an inevitable result of being human.
I am in no way saying that any parents don’t have the right to guide their child’s education, but I am clearly saying that burning books or banning them in righteous indignation could also mean that you are afraid to see and hear uncomfortable truths about the world. Sin affects not just those who commit bad acts, but those who are victims of it as well. And most importantly ignorance of the sin is never an excuse to say you can never be responsible for it. I’m not saying this cavalierly at all. Reading a book like “Schindler’s List” was devastating for me, but knowing atrocities like the holocaust happened, opened my eyes and ears to a kind of hatred that designates a whole people as unworthy. That’s why there are those out there who would have you believe that none of these atrocities are real, and to block that knowledge so ignorance may abound and the sin can continue. I have also spent much of my lifetime working among righteous Christians who were wonderful reflections of Christ and at the same time, in the same environment Christians who were the worst kind of sinners. Hypocrisy abounds among those who believe they are above the decay of sin and refuse to acknowledge their own sin and portray themselves like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Claiming moral superiority about how to address the nature of sin is the kind of hubris that Jesus despised. He hated the kind of hypocrisy that existed in the temple at the time of those who proclaimed a moral superiority but spent much less time living as God expected all of us to. You don’t have to like a book to appreciate it and understand its value, or believe that the very act of reading a banned book is a tacit approval of its content. There are many great books that simply depict, honestly, albeit sometimes harshly, and horrifically the character of our sinful world…but to pretend that somehow you and yours simply by the act of knowing about a sin, will be tainted by it somehow suggests you can remain free from its corruption magically in the first place. Like I said at the beginning, that ship has sailed. We are in the same boat. I will leave you with the man born blind who Jesus healed, and was booted out of the temple for being a sinner. Thinking you see, doesn’t necessarily make it so
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, ” Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he”. He said, ” I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. Then Jesus said, “I came to this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind”. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have not sin; but now your are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.
Faith unchallenged is dead, and so it goes with institutions. A while back I wrote a post about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and breaking from that idea resulted in seeing human institutions for what they are…human. If the “whole” remains static, held in place by those who refuse to challenge, move, evolve and then impede any moving “part” from functioning to keep the “whole” great…then its time to do one of two things: 1) remember what the function of the “whole” is supposed to be and work to change and or remove any parts that impede its function, or 2) Decide the “whole” no longer represents you as a “part”, and find another “whole” that does. I tend to choose the first option over and over because at heart I’m a fighter and feel so much more effective and powerful as a part of a greater “whole”, many of whom have truly maintained a strong presence and were created by incredible individuals.
I think the greatest blindness people have regarding institutions and the bubble they create is that we hold them as sacrosanct…and above reproach. If you challenge the church your commitment to the church and its authority is questioned, regardless of any atrocity witnessed, whether its abuse, embezzlement or any other infraction that has been committed and seen by eyes and ears of one of it’s “parts”. If you challenge a law that is rooted in draconian ideas or in practice is on its face is immoral, often your patriotism or citizenry is questioned. And so prevalent today, when a political structure no longer represents the ideals it was founded upon, and challenge the road being followed, you are often called a traitor and punished for it.
No institution is above reproach, be it the church, the police, or our political structures. We were given eyes to see and ears to hear for a reason, to keep the whole true to its foundation, keep the moving parts functional and to participate actively to keep correcting when they go astray. An institution founded in love or freedom, safety of the public, or liberty and the pursuit of happiness must be measured in great part in whether the sum of its parts is successful in its chosen endeavor. If not, the “whole” itself must shift. That’s simply how evolution works. Those that refuse to see and hear the flaws in any institution because in their mind they are beyond challenge or reproach, are the greatest sickness any institution can face.
Before I offend…I am aware of the visceral reaction this word causes, and at this point in the game of my life, I I don’t really mind. I could have used a euphemism like, “awareness” or “evolved” but I really think that to move beyond our own personal bubbles and being uncomfortable is essential in coming together as a people, so I don’t think I want to mince words. I absolutely believe that I am still stuck in the groggy bit between waking and sleeping, so I have a way to go before I am fully awake, or “woke”. Not because I don’t want to be, but because of the singularly small perimeters of my solitary life. I am, to use the modern vernacular, a cisgender, white, educated, Midwestern woman…I guess you could say that by nature I am pretty vanilla. And yet, regardless of the privilege of that status, I am very aware that I am so much more than that and have the scars to prove it.
For me, I am not offended by the phrase “woke” whether its used as a description or an epithet. I am only interested in what it means to me, and what has been part of my journey over the last seven years…to put into practice what God called from the heavens when Jesus was baptized, “This is my beloved, my son…listen to him.” So I have tried, sometimes harder than other times, to take the conversations, parables, teachings and actions of Jesus in a way that keeps pushing me outside of my bubble and become fully awake:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
I can’t comment on anyone else’s “wokeness”, except, according to Jesus anyway, that some absolutely won’t get it, he’s made that very clear. The stepping outside of one’s bubble to really see and really hear is just too uncomfortable and threatening for some so they vilify anyone else who does. I am of the “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of evolution and when I jumped on this train I did so willingly with utmost faith and the promise that I would absolutely go where God put me and keep walking regardless of the discomfort (even though now its with a gimp instead of a dance…see original post of starting this journey, “dancing naked before the Lord”). The sad truth after all this time? You can never un-see or un-hear those painful moments that pull you out of your comfortable slumber to witness the harsh realities (and some beautiful ones too) that are out there in this world. And it has changed me and moved me beyond so many people who are happy with the bubble they are in, because I know I can’t go back to whatever it was that I thought I knew before. I just don’t have anything to say to them any more (nor they to me if I’m being honest).
I used to think that what I wrote on this journey might…I don’t know, help others in some way. I don’t think about that much anymore, because the only thing I’m sure of is what I, myself, have learned…and its been a lot, with so much more to come. So this year is dedicated to seeing and hearing beyond the bubble and by listening more to God’s beloved.