Tag Archives: suffering

Is it worth it?

Sermon from October 21, 2008
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
Principal texts: Job 38:1-7; Mark 10:35-45

Let the little children come...

Me, at the pulpit with my son, who ran up while I was preaching

Even though the other disciples were annoyed with James and John’s request, it’s important to remember that at the time they made it, they were committed. They were all in, and there was probably no going back. It reminds me of a movie from my youth. Any of you remember Jerry Maguire? Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, and Cuba Gooding Jr.? It was about a sports agent’s quixotic quest for meaning, love, and some modicum of success. It was a silly movie that knew it was silly, but it was also strangely touching. Anyway, after the title character, played by Tom Cruise sort of quits and is sort of fired from his job at a successful firm, he gives this impassioned speech about how he is going to start his own company that will be more devoted to people than profits, and he hopes that half the room is going follow him out. Alas, only one nobody employ is particularly stirred by the theatrics, Renee Zellweger’s character, Dorothy. In this painfully awkward scene right after they’ve walked out, there’s no going back. But it starts to become clear that he has no real plan, and Dorothy needs to ask him a few logistical questions, such as whether the new company will have dental insurance.

James and John seem a bit like Renee Zellweger’s character here. Or at least that’s one aspect of what’s going on. They would probably have some explaining to do if they went back to the family’s fishing operation. Or at any rate, they can’t unsee what they’ve seen. But things are getting harder, and Jesus has been talking weird of late. He has said that he is going to be handed over and killed, and that anyone who wants to be his disciple has to follow him. So while it’s possible to see this episode as a power play, an attempt at a backroom deal, I’m inclined to take a gentler view of it. After having now been through a lot with Jesus, and with promises of greater difficulties on the horizon, perhaps they are asking him for something pretty understandable, to which most of us can relate. “Jesus, you’ve just said that nobody is going to get rich off of this venture. You’ve said that any houses and fields that do come our way will come with persecutions. Your talking an awful lot about death and rejection.” Maybe in asking Jesus to promise that they will be enthroned next to him, what they’re really hoping for is a promise that there will be an enthronement at all. That this whole venture they’ve given their lives to for the last year or so really is going somewhere. “Jesus, can you at least promise that it’s going to be worth it?” Continue reading

The Gospel and Gun Violence: A Lenten Meditation

DWh3fOcXUAAtty8A chaplain’s life is measured in vigil candles.

I wrote these words when it came time to return to the University of Chicago Divinity School to think more deeply about religion and violence. The year was 2002 and the last time I had pulled the box of candles off the shelf in my office in Memorial Church was the evening of September 11, 2001. 

Continue reading

On not Imagining Redemption

Jacob's Ladder by William Blake, sort of how I try (not) to imagine redemption

Blake, Jacob’s Ladder. Like the redemption you can’t imagine, you can’t see where the ladder is going.

All the “me toos” on Facebook remind me of certain aspects of Judaism I admire and sometimes envy, particularly the willingness to let evil and suffering just be evil and horrible without trying to fit it into a narrative of redemption, or at least not any redemption that one presumes to be able to imagine yet. Because there is nothing good, beautiful, or redemptive about any of this.

It takes a very appealing sort of courage and hope to live with evil that is just evil, and still say baruch atta adonai. I think this is why, for example, there’s never been much enthusiasm for rebuilding the temple, quite apart from the practical difficulties that would attend such a project. Until the Messiah comes, rabbinical Judaism doesn’t presume to know what a redeemed world would look like (and the Messiah could probably rebuild the temple without destroying the dome) [Jewish friends: please feel very welcome to offer correction to this characterization of your religion, should you find it warranted]. Continue reading

Processing Palestine

A mural in Beit Sahour, the village of the shepherds in the nativity story.

A mural in Beit Sahour, the village of the shepherds in the nativity story.

I think I’ve been here long enough now to write something. Take it for what it is: the experience of a privileged outsider who does not speak for Palestinians.

I’ve spent the last month in Palestine. Specifically in Bethlehem, which is in Area A of the West Bank. Area A means that it is under Palestinian control (Area B is under Palestinian civil government but Israeli military control. Area C, which comprises about 60%–and which includes all the major roads between cities–is under Israeli military control). The occupation is brutal.

Continue reading

Facing the Monster

Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_ChurchI learned of the dreadful massacre at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina while lying on a sleeping bag on the floor of my empty apartment.  This is the very church of Denmark Vesey (1767-1822), a former slave who bought his freedom.  He attempted to organize what might have become one of the largest slave revolts of the U.S. antebellum era.  Those who recruited black soldiers to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War invoked the name of Denmark Vesey.

Continue reading