Which way?

EDIT Yo Soy El CaminoRecently I listened to a podcast from The Commonwealth Club that truly captivated my mind and spirit. In this particular episode, Krista Tippett, the host of On Being was interviewed by Rev. Alan Jones. It was spectacular, so much so that I am on my second listen.

There are so many things that I am pondering about this episode, but the entire undercurrent for me is questioning who we are and where we are headed as a people. This has been on my mind already because I have been so deeply unhappy about our political situation at large. The program got me thinking further about which way I think we are headed.

One of the topics addressed by Tippett was the development of inner and outer lives, and how material wealth and poverty drive those lives – or don’t drive them. Of course, the cultivation of inner lives is not something truly valued in our American culture. I suppose that is why we value Continue reading

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Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

“I’m not idealistic about any kind of human project. I try and always keep that in check. I’m completely idealistic about God’s ability to redeem our stuff and our mistakes, but I think if we aren’t open about the fact that we’ve made them, that can be a barrier to experiencing that forgiveness and that redemption and that grace.

So I think in a way what might sound sort of cynical about, you know, don’t trust us, don’t be idealistic about this community or about me, to me that just opens a door for grace in a sense. Because what I say to people, I mean, I literally say that as our welcome to house brunches — like, I’m glad you love it here, but like at some point, I will disappoint you or the church will let you down. Please decide on this side of that happening if, after it happens, you will still stick around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that God’s grace comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And it’s too beautiful to miss. Don’t miss it.” –Nadia Bolz-Weber, from On Being with Krista Tippett 10/24/14

If you are not familiar with Nadia Bolz-Weber is, this is a good time to go find out. A quick check of your google machine will Continue reading

Taking a leap of doubt

doubtPoor doubt, I feel kind of sorry for it. Doubt takes such a beating in our culture, and I think that is rather unfortunate. Where would faith be, if not for doubt? Like night and day, like good and evil, like joy and sorrow… well, like so many other opposite points, the space between them is where all the real action is found. How can we so carelessly toss doubt aside, as if it negates everything? For me, the deepest anchors of faith are not dropped in surety and certitude, but deep in the ocean of doubt.

Is our faith more about making leaps of doubt, rather than leaps of faith alone? Can one exist without the other?

Somewhere around 2005 I heard a radio program on the topic of doubt and I was hooked on doubt as a topic to explore. “A History of Doubt” first aired on what was then called “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett,” in 2003.  Tippett’s program, and now podcast, is know known as “On Being,” and  “A History of Doubt” continues to find an audience. The program features Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has made doubt a field of study and exploration.

Today’s Gospel, one of the most familiar, even to those who do not follow the Gospel, is about “doubting Thomas.”  When I was a kid, I used to think badly of Thomas. Was my point of view informed by my faith education? Probably. I don’t have any specific recollection of hearing this – or any other Gospel – as a child, but my “religious instruction” classes, I do remember. Please know that I was spared any “mean” priests or nuns, so none of this is couched in that. What I do remember is that we were instructed that is that doubt was the opposite of faith. It seemed reasonable enough to me, so I went along with it… when I was 10.

Today I have no such vision. What about you? I can only speak for myself when I say that my faith, something that is so real, so powerful, at the heart of my being, is infused with the on-going scent of doubt. Are you shocked or scandalized to hear this?

Not too long ago, I wrote about our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, calling him a dangerous man. One of the images that I was holding at that point, was that of the certitude of some of the Pharisees who not only doubted Jesus, but who used that doubt to plot the death of Jesus.

This is one of the challenges of doubt, at least from where I am. Perhaps it is not doubt that comes first, but what comes first is a certain “knowing.” Doesn’t such certitude, such absolutism, say that there is little room for God?  What does such certainty do, when God in fact, can never conform to our limited capacity for knowing God?

So what does this have to do with today’s Gospel? Thomas certainly knew Jesus, didn’t he? But did Thomas know Christ? No – not until that moment of encounter. Go ahead, says Jesus, stick your hand in there, this is for real.

Crooked Kisses and Other WoundsHere is something that I have no doubt of… If Jesus were standing before me, I might faint before I stuck my hand inside of his wound! And perhaps this is where this Gospel leads us to…

What are we so sure of? Do we really love Jesus as much as we say that we do? I mean really, think about it… are you ready to thrust your hand deep into the wound of anyone, even those you love most? Isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do?

imagesLoving Jesus with such hard-core certitude and thinking about how that smarty pants Thomas should have thought twice before questioning God is one thing. It would seem that another way of seeing this is that Thomas offers us a gift… Jesus asks us to enter into the wounds of all. I’m sorry, but that makes me queasy when I think of physical wounds, and overwhelmed when I think of all the other wounds, the ones we can’t see, but that are present in all of us. Thomas, seemingly undaunted, leads the way.

Suddenly certainty has dispersed like fog in the midday sun. We can be so “certain” of so many things, but can we place ourselves inside of the bloody wound? And how can we live Christian lives of sacrifice and service unless we do precisely that – literally and figuratively?

This is where Thomas leads me, and I am grateful to him, and to God, for bringing me to this place where I shrink back, recoiling perhaps in utter horror. Listen, I am VERY squeamish, the thought of such things sends me reeling. Now I can castigate myself for this, or I can see it as an invitation to change.

And is that not what our faith really is, our belief in the Risen Lord? This faith centers around a Triune God, always inviting us, always challenging us, but always welcoming us, to a kind of transformation. That transformation also means moving from doubt to faith, and the constant criss-cross of that territory, for the whole of our lives.

Doubt is nothing to be feared; I believe that doubt is to be befriended. In fact, maybe what we are called to are not only “leaps of faith,” but also of the aforementioned, “leaps of doubt.” Doubt can act as our greatest guide, the very force that leads us into the wounds of Christ and the on-going transformation that follows.  I never doubt that is the way of the Lord, and I never doubt how hard it is to follow and believe in God, living as a Christian. This is no one-time decision, made in certitude and lived in certitude; it is an invitation into the mystery of our faith, a life lived in Christ Jesus.  To do that we must follow and follow and follow…

search_of_certainty1Every day, in one fashion or another, propelled by my doubts, I seek to live more deeply in my faith.  Yes, a good leap of doubt, taken with a heart of faith, can bring us, like it brought Thomas, closer to the Lord, without a doubt.

Vulgarem panem, sacri panis – ordinary bread, sacred bread

1147637_Plate_with_lace_border_25_cm_5110bd238b2abOh, those special, special dishes, the fine china. You know, the kind that only comes out on special occasions, right? If you happen to own some Royal Copenhagen china, you know about the special.  You see, this Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica is the world’s most expensive china, with one place setting costing almost $7000! If I had that china, I would be afraid to touch it, let alone use it!

I had the privilege of meeting Greg Boyle in LA, October 2010.

I had the privilege of meeting Greg Boyle in LA, October 2010.

Recently I heard Gregory Boyle SJ, a Jesuit priest renown for his work with gang members in Los Angeles at Homeboy Industries; he was being interviewed by Krista Tippett  for her radio program, On Being. (Here is a link to the page for that program and the podcast.) Fr. Greg was talking about some of his “homies,” as he calls them, having a meal together. Seven former gang rivals, sitting around a one kitchen, watching a turkey cook on Christmas (yes, I know – wrong holiday!), that they could share. And you can be assured that there was no Flora Danica in that household! Who knows, they might have eaten off of mismatched cheap dishes, or even paper plates. Yet, the meal they shared was very sacred.

the-last-supper-master-of-portilloThis absurd pairing of opposites such as $7000 for one place setting, and a bunch of reformed gang members eating turkey together, reminded me of what we are doing as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. The sacred or sacri, and the ordinary, or vulgarem. Just hearing the Latin word for ordinary makes me recoil. But why? Are sacred and ordinary simply opposites that are mutually exclusive?

I was thinking about this most precious of all meals, the most special, and the most sacred meal of the sacri panis, or sacred bread that is the Body of Christ that we partake of at Eucharist. Something else that Fr. Boyle said was on my mind as I pondered. He was discussing that turkey dinner when he said:

“… I think we’re afraid of the incarnation and part of it, the fear that drives us is that we have to have our sacred in a certain way. It has to be gold-plated and cost of millions and cast of thousands or something, I don’t know. So we’ve wrestled the cup out of Jesus’ hand and we’ve replaced it with a chalice because who doesn’t know that a chalice is more sacred than a cup, never mind that Jesus didn’t use a chalice?

So what could be more sacred than seven orphans, enemies, rivals, sitting in a kitchen waiting for a turkey to be done? Jesus doesn’t lose any sleep that we will forget that the Eucharist is sacred. He is anxious that we might forget that it’s ordinary, that it’s a meal shared among friends. And that’s the incarnation, I think.”

I’m not sure if Jesus loses any sleep or not, and I do believe that the Eucharist is absolutely sacred. And I also believe that if we decouple the sacred from the ordinary entirely, what we end up with is Flora Danica china, to be used, if we are rich enough to have it, maybe once a year.

What we find in this mass that recalls the institution of the Eucharist, is something supremely sacred… and remarkably ordinary. In John’s Gospel that we hear on Thursday night, we hear about a Jesus who knew that things were going to happen. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine.

What we also find is tying a towel around his waist, and bending low to wash the feet of his disciples. He was aware. Jesus, fully divine, but also at this moment, fully human.

Sacri. Vulgarem. Sacred. Ordinary.

At the end of the footwashing, when Jesus is dressed again, and reclining at table, he reminds the apostles that:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

So what are we to do? Fall down to worship Jesus? Remember his holiness and his might and power? Or do we serve him by serving others?

Perhaps it is important to pause here and consider three things…

First of all, let us consider Jesus as sacred. Lord of Lord, King of Kings. He is our everything, our Alpha and our Omega. He is the Lord on High, without equal, Jesus Christ is God. And God is very sacred.

When we think of God, of Jesus, as our King, however, we might we well reminded that this is not the kingship of any earthly monarchy, as we know it, but something new and different. Our reverence to God is essential; how we express that may not be the same cowering homage that earthly monarchs demand.

Power can be wielded as a force that cripples, or as a force that serves. In the case of Jesus, with his towel around his waist, this force is powerful; it is love in action.
What is the Eucharist if not love in action?

Two – we might want to spend some time with ordinary Jesus. This Lord and King who gets down on his hands and knees to wash our filthy feet. At this time, he is a man, and a most remarkable one. He comes to clean our feet.

jesus-washing-peters-feet-by-sieger-koderHave you ever had your feet washed on Holy Thursday? This is no trip to the manicure/pedicure salon, I can assure you. While it can be a very nice thing, the pedicure is very ordinary – or vulgarem. Foot washing on Holy Thursday is the opposite – it is sacred.

500x335xFeet.jpg.pagespeed.ic.6exvq7rjYPI can recall many instances of getting my feet washed on Holy Thursday where I felt uncomfortable and disarmed in ways I still have trouble describing. It brought to mind memories to mind of extravagant gifts of kindness received from others. The kind of gifts that on the surface prompt us to want to “make good,” and repay in some fashion.

Yet, our fully human Jesus, who has offered this gift, asks us to mirror both his humanity and divinity, by not simply returning it to him as obsequious homage, but by living in the same way. Jesus is not looking for ordinary – or vulgarem – repayment.

3696balanceThird, we are offered chance to reflect on how lopsided our love of Christ can be; too focused on service alone, and not enough intimate contact with Jesus. Conversely we can spend too much time on our knees and not enough time being kind to one another.
How do we respond, living in the holy tension of service and love, love and service? If we do not worship Christ in our hearts, if we do not receive him in the Sacred Bread that is Eucharist, how are we fed for the journey?

It is this mix of sacred and ordinary, contemplative and active, the reception of gift balanced by the giving of gift, which is the challenge of this night -and of our Christian lives. Referring back to what I said above about repayment, Jesus is not seeking this. No, we are to be transformed in a most sacred manner, and then to go transform others, as we are continually retransformed ourselves.

HolyThursday2011_5This bread that we eat, this ordinary bread or vulgarem panem, sacred bread or sacri panem. It is in the intersection of sacred and ordinary that we meet Christ our Lord – and one another. This blog is called “there will be bread,” for a reason… a very important reason.

Please, let us eat together, living in love and service, in ways that are completely ordinary, and always very sacred. Sacred and ordinary are not mutually exclusive, but that are all about mutuality, as Jesus models for us.

Please, let us eat together, not just on this special and sacred night, but for every ordinary day, sharing our vulgarem panem, our sacri panis, and our lives.