13 January 2013

Draft: Eureka–I have found it

The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hides and for joy therefore goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.

Eureka. I have found it.

I have found it in movement, in traveling through a sky as the sun sets and the stars wheel forth from their daytime hiding places, or in traveling along the trite journey of this life.

I have found it in stillness, in the echoes of Beethoven’s joy on a piano, in the peace that comes with Earl Grey in the afternoon.

I have found it in reading, in the stories and the writings of martyrs who died because they found it, or in the carefully chosen thoughts inscripted on the first page of a book from my mother who's always prayed that I'd find it.

I have found it in buses I rode in projects in tired old towns, riding with kids who came to our church youth programs probably wanting candy more than they wanted to hear about values and God, but we knew we were making a difference.

I have found it in a coffee shop in the university district as I sought advice from a dear pastoral sage, and I found the edge to go a thousand miles chasing a dream.

I have found it in a simple hidden café along a Midwestern road, where every Friday afternoon I wrote ideas and sought refuge from a school where nobody knew my name, but the waitresses here did.

I have found it in the homes of students I tutored - homes of single parents and of immigrant families, moms who worked hard to see their children succeed, and I was there to help where they couldn't.

I have found it in the vegetarian meatloaf my mother makes nearly every Sabbath eve, except it's horrid when I try to make it - so I ask for the mercy of the Chef Upstairs, that I may be found at least faithful to the recipe; this isn't just any Special-K loaf – it itself represents the shalom of the Shabbat for me.

I have found it in the smiles of street urchins - you know, the kids you meet on mission trips; they follow you around and it’s like you're Jesus on the mount, and they don't have much but you see they are richer than you.

I have found it in the rain, as it splatters on your head but you don't care because you've solved some great world crisis, or you've fallen in love, but neither of those things have happened to me, still I've found it in the rain on my head anyways.

I have found it in the gracefulness of my aging and slowing grandmother whose eyes twinkle with consistency, not knowing if there'll be tomorrow, but knowing there'll be that morning.

I have found it sitting in a train passing through the heart of rural America, the blue sky and wispy clouds above me, fields and farm houses passing by, and the steady peace rhythm of the tracks below; and in this fifty-hour long cathartic journey I thought long and hard about my life and my future, and though I didn't get answers, I found peace.

I have found it in my blue necktie, when a local person whom I don't know sees me wearing it on a Saturday afternoon, and contextually figures I'm an Adventist, asking me, "Are you working today?" and I say, "No. I'm not a minister just yet," but I am delighted knowing I look like I fit the role.

I have found it in the words of a president who said we find ourselves in this crisis because of our collective failure to make hard choices, but we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of rebuilding (in our case, not America, rather) the kingdom of God.

But there are times when it seems I have lost it

I have lost sight of it when I see a dark growing chasm between conservatives and liberals, as fundamentalists work to marginalize outsiders and those who think differently.

I have lost sight of it when believers make the grave error of entwining nationalism and faith, undermining the cultural transcendence of the kingdom; or when preachers confuse prosperity and power with the gospel, destructing the integrity of the image of the suffering God.

I have lost it when I see Christians submitting to antipathy and exclusion, clinging to guns and the myth of redemptive violence, and failing to heed the prophets' calls to beat swords into plowshares, to seek justice and champion the oppressed, or to love our neighbor.

But then I find it again

I find it again when I wearily walk home from school at night along a quiet broken road, and in that great Adventist posture I look up into the sky, straining my eyes to see where I know someday I will see Jesus, and I ask him, "How much longer?"

And I find it again – when he responds.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they have found it.

Suffer the little children to come unto me, for they have found it.

Take up your cross and follow me, and you will find it.

Seek, and it shall be found.

Manila, Philippines

09 January 2013

Fragmentation from freedom

     The fragmentation of Christendom into five new denominations a week is an inevitable product of the Reformation and the works of Tyndale, Wycliffe, and the New International Version translators. If Scripture is meant for all and capable of being understood by any, we become free to believe our varying interpretations. And though the last five-hundred years have been a democratization of dogma, it by no means has cultivated harmony and tolerance in Christianity. We think only we ourselves are right; the other Christians are wrong. But for us Protestants, if we think the Reformation was a good thing, that grace against legalism and the open availability of the Bible are good things - then shouldn't we ought to accept diversity in opinions and ideas as good? That we can disagree with earthly authorities, with our brethren, with priests and theologians and not fear burning at the stake? That we can believe differently - but together - and be welcome to be part of a community of faith - shouldn't we embrace this inevitability of reform?

UPDATE 31 March 2013: I have been thinking more about this, and I realize that Christianity fragments into five new denominations a week because we try to apply pre-Reformation papal authority in a post-Reformation context. Why don't separatists and believers who believe differently just stay in a faith community or join a pre-existing denomination? There could be a number of logistical reasons, but one large factor could be that a church won't allow people to think differently or hold different beliefs. A post-Reformation church continues to implement pre-Reformation papal authority, and so a miniature Reformation happens over and over again when Christendom gets five new denominations a week. The apostle Paul did not envision this. Martin Luther probably didn't either. Unity does not mean conformity. It means diversity and equality and tolerance. 

Manila, Philippines

01 January 2013

A Franciscan Benediction

     Why exactly this is a Franciscan benediction, I do not know. This prayer has untraceable origins, but it does exude Franciscan themes of social justice and a commitment to progress and peace. It speaks to the hushed aspirations of our generation.

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.