Soozi Ford, our volunteer IM chaplain, has invited area directors to speak at our Wednesday morning worship times during this season of Lent; and she has suggested the overall theme of “discipleship in community” – our essential need for, and the benefits we derive from authentic engagement in community; to dovetail with the discussion we are beginning this Friday, of Greg Mamula’s book, Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship.
You will note that Lent does not officially begin until next Wednesday, March 2nd; however, in asking me to kick off these meditations on the last Wednesday in February, we are highlighting Black History Month. So, today I add to the theme, Black History, and the struggle for racial justice in these United States of America.
Then of the Season of Lent – the season of the church year, following the Season of the Epiphany, when we remember God’s love poured out through Jesus Christ on the cross – Jesus’ death; His defeat over Satan, sin, and death; and His resurrection that brings us Eternal Life. The season has a penitential character, a solemn nature to it: to help us remember to be repentant and to remind us of our sinfulness and mortality.
Combining three powerful, expansive themes!
Where do I begin?
I have settled on this idea: “The More Things Seem to Change: My Lenten Lament.”
This is a personal lament, rooted in reflection on personal experience. I offer it in prayer that it will stir and bless.
Lately, I have been beset by an unshakable feeling of our need for penitence; an overwhelming sense of the persistence and repetition of generational sins — way beyond “the third and fourth generation” as repeatedly referenced in the Old Testament. (See Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9).
Unresolved conflicts disrupt the affairs of nations, plunging our world into the looming destruction of war. Unresolved conflicts fracture our interpersonal relationships and break our hearts. Hatred and rancor in the public square are matched with pride and lies in private practice.
There is a part of us that thinks we humans should know better, and act like we know; but everywhere we look, it’s like déjà vu all over again: We keep returning to wallow in the mud; still having to fight battles we thought were already won!
The more things seem to change, . . .
How can it be that Amir Locke, a young black man, was shot to death just three weeks ago by Minneapolis police when executing another no-knock warrant? We thought and prayed that the death of Breonna Taylor would demonstrate the heightened risk and danger of such warrants! And in Minneapolis, really?
How is it that in 2022 in the United States of America, a great battle is enjoined over the roll back of voting rights!
That “social media” is becoming or has become the channels through which the fabric of society is being unraveled as conspiracy theories and outright lies hold sway; that it is possible to have lots of “friends” whom you do not know and to fight epic battles with “enemies” of your choosing!
How is it that in February of 2022 there are humans who would choose the unimaginable sufferings of war as a means to whatever ends they hold sacrosanct?
Of late, I am more profoundly aware of the dualities; and they are bothersome to me:
On one day, I would rejoice in the Psalmist’s declaration that we humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation – made “a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor.” (Ps. 8:5). And we, followers of Jesus Christ, would go even further, to celebrate that we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9). And it seems that before the day is over, I am forced to agree with the prophet Jeremiah that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jeremiah 17:9). And I go to bed with this passage from Proverbs 6 echoing within my spirit: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
I appreciate that we have Black History Month; but I wish that we did not need it! That the full history and contributions of Blacks in this country (and indeed from around the world) would be acknowledged and celebrated seamlessly in the unscripted fabric of life in America. Likewise for all ethnicities and cultures.
While decrying “White Privilege” in America and the world, I was recently convicted of how many of us are immersed in the pursuit of other kinds of privilege; and how, if we stop long enough to become aware of our privilege, how easy it is for us to try to justify our having it. To paraphrase the prophet Isaiah, “ . . . I am a man of privilege; and I live among a people of privilege, . . .” (Isa. 6:5)
Even when reading in the Bible, the story of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of the itinerant Teacher from Nazareth now stands in stark contrast to, and in judgment of, the triumphant Old Testament narratives legitimizing privilege and dominion!
Even as I appreciate and anticipate learning and growing from Greg’s analogy of “life at the table,” I am also concerned about whose table it is. Who is welcomed at “our” table; and who is excluded?
O how I celebrate the high calling so inspiringly proclaimed in our Board’s Resolution on Racial Justice! Now we live into the realization that transformation will be painful . . . and costly – in this case I do mean financially costly. I pray that we will put our money where our words are!
The more things seem to change, . . .
The first chapter of the book of Jeremiah recounts the destruction and anguish of Jerusalem at the Babylonian exile. Increasingly I feel like the prophet Jeremiah when he said, “This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. . . .” (v.16)
Today, at the co-opted beginning of our Season of Lent – extending our wilderness experience by another seven days! – I join the exiles from Jerusalem, lay aside my drum, and weep by the rivers of Babylon. (Ps. 137:1)
I acknowledge my complicity in hindering the fuller expression of God’s kingdom when I live in ways to maintain my privilege and comforts at the expense of others.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139: 23-24)
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? . . . I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” (Ps. 130: 1-3, 5-6)