I had the chance to preach yesterday at my Madison church, Lake Edge Lutheran. Yes, I’m Episcopal. But we’re officially friends. Which is convenient, since I’m married to a Lutheran PK. The local background you need for this one is that in March, an unarmed black teenager named Tony Robinson was fatally shot by a police officer. The DA announced on Tuesday that there would be no charges. You can listen to the audio on the church website, or read the manuscript below.
This, a repost of sorts from eight years and two blogs ago, is the sermon that I preached at my grandmother’s funeral (July 11, 2007). I used a lot of the same images in a discernment paper recently, so it’s been on my mind. And since I haven’t had time to write any new posts of late…
I’ve gotten some push back on Facebook to my last post, seemingly from some people who hear me saying something rather different from what I mean to be saying. In particular, it seems that my language connotes something different to people whose frame of reference is some of the cruder versions of substitutionary atonement than it does to me. I understand how people who have been hurt by human abuse of the idea of divine anger might not find my affirmation of God’s anger helpful. As I told the person who challenged me on a friend’s wall: if this is not the time for you to be thinking about reclaiming divine anger, please don’t give the matter another thought. In fact, go read some Julian of Norwich!
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” -Romans 1:18
The first post I wrote for this blog was about love and anger. I stand by everything I said in that post, but I’ve learned more since then. I wrote that I believe God is leading me to be more attentive to my anger, and often to let it go. Like the feelings associated with my depression, sometimes my anger is just a wave on the surface of my being. It comes and goes. I acknowledge it, but shouldn’t chase it. It doesn’t touch the deepest part of me, what the Hebrew writers called the heart.
But sometimes it does.
“Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33)
Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness are perhaps the most difficult bit to chew in the New Testament. After calling what he took to be Christianity’s teachings on sexuality its most unpopular, C.S. Lewis repented in a later chapter and wondered if it might be the commandment to forgive instead. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful possibilities afforded by Jesus, and also one of the most abused. And on the face of it, it is possibly incoherent. Can there really be an obligation to forgive? Is that what Jesus said or meant?
Now this is interesting. A new theory–the plausibility of which I am not in a position to assess–suggests that there was no Big Bang. The universe is spatially finite, but temporally infinite. So there was no “beginning” to the universe:
“In cosmological terms, the scientists explain that the quantum corrections can be thought of as a cosmological constant term (without the need for dark energy) and a radiation term. These terms keep the Universe at a finite size, and therefore give it an infinite age. The terms also make predictions that agree closely with current observations of the cosmological constant and density of the Universe.”
Of course, if I understand relativity correctly (my main sources being Star Trek and Wikipedia), it is also perfectly possible that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe in any absolute sense, only of space and time as we know them. So what physics calls “the universe” may be simply one event within a macro-universe or multiverse. Like I said, I don’t pretend to understand any of it. I just think it’s cool.
But what does it mean for Christian faith?
Having just learned of Duke University’s cowardly and ill-considered decision to rescind its invitation to its Muslim student group to broadcast the Friday call to prayer from its chapeltower, and especially after reading Franklin Graham’s foolish comments, I wish I could tell you that these people are not true Christians. Unfortunately, I cannot. To be sure, their actions in no way embody the teachings of Jesus or follow from our doctrines. No, this is not what being a Christian means.
“Let everyone be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” -James 1:19
“In your anger, do not sin.” -Psalm 4:4
Anger is a tricky emotion, and it is one of the things were the direction I have felt called to go is not one that I would counsel for other people. When I first started doing something like centering prayer, one of the first things I noticed is that I was more aware of my anger, and especially more aware of it as it was arising. I usually realized that I had a choice to make concerning it right after I had made that choice, usually the choice of getting angry. I get angry at other people while driving, I get angry at politicians and pundits, I get angry with my family, and I get especially angry with people on the internet. It’s something I may struggle with in my blogging.
Anger is not bad, by any means. Like all emotions, it is morally neutral in and of itself, and it can express love. But it can also hinder the expression of love. It can explode, it can boil, it can seethe. It can turn into hatred of other people, or subtly sabotage relationships.
A few weeks ago, I was inspired to take up the practice of praying the Rosary. Part of me still cringes at the thought of it and feels a bit dirty, especially during the Salve regina and while reflecting on the last two glorious mysteries. But I can tell that it’s bearing fruit, so I’ll keep at it. “Wisdom is justified by all her children.” I used to have some rather common Protestant misconceptions about the practice. I thought that it was a rather legalistic way of ingratiating oneself to Jesus through his mother. To be fair, I have heard it said by some that Mary is somehow closer to us and more compassionate toward us than Jesus because she was just fully human, not also fully divine. That makes it sound like Marian devotion is necessary to supply some defect in the Incarnation, a heretical belief in all three branches of Christianity.