Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Love or Defensive Living?

Last evening as it was getting dark, my husband and I were walking back from taking our dog for his evening stroll to the apartment where we've been living the last few months. This neighborhood is predominantly black and lower income. There was a new truck, an ice cream truck parked in the church parking lot we passed. As we returned an SUV had pulled up next to it, and a man was inside the ice cream truck moving around. We glanced over curiously, and the man immediately came out of the ice cream truck and emphatically said, "That's my truck!" We were a bit taken aback, but smiled and said, "That's cool, we just hadn't seen it here before." He launched into a lengthy explanation of how he usually parks it here at the church in the summer for the kids, but he was helping the church take down their old air conditioners from the roof, so he hadn't gotten to it until now. We smiled and agreed it was good for the kids not to have to walk far on the busy roads to get an ice cream, and mentioned that we'd visited the church a couple of weeks previously. He invited us to make sure we go meet the bishop and his wife at the church.


As we walked away, I realized that his primary response was indicative of just how incredibly sensitive and defensive blacks feel daily simply for having different skin color than the majority. We, too, have experienced gatherings where we were subjected to intensified criticism, scrutiny and judgment regarding the different choices we make every day; perhaps those experiences helped us feel more keenly his sense that all white folk default to suspicion of blacks.


Racism isn't an old problem (Scot posted a blog at Jesus Creed today from recent history); it's an ongoing, perennially human problem given the reactions we experience here. It seems one reason we have been so warmly received in this neighborhood may be simply because we respond with the love of Christ to those whom we meet, not with default suspicion or self-protectiveness. We've prayed with them, cried with them, spoken of our trials together, and worshiped with them. I needed to be reminded how precious the gift of welcome and acceptance is to all of us. They don't want to lose touch with us, even though we're moving closer to my husband's office this weekend. We feel very humbled by their caring.


For those folks with pick-up trucks, you know how often you get hit for help moving furniture. Imagine the sense of blessing we felt when one of our older neighbors offered to help us move furniture with his pick-up truck this weekend. His offer was completely spontaneous & unsolicited.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Parables, Greek Myths, Fables & Fairy Tales

Scot McKnight has been blogging about Klyne Snodgrass' book on Parables at Jesus Creed. Scot's series is entitled, "Imagine a World."

Some thoughts came to mind, today, about where we dwell mentally and how those beliefs affect our interactions with others. Do we dwell among the people who populate Jesus' parables or among those who populate the semi-magical, often base and vindictive, partially human, partially divine characters of mythology, fairy tales, fables, stereotypes and archetypes?
The other day I was listening to an NPR story while I was driving about some day camps thematically centered on a series of novels by Rick Riordan. The novels are founded in Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, the gods are distorted reflections of humans with inhuman powers. They are replete with human frailties and are endowed with abnormal or non-human appearances and powers. They react out of petty and base desires as well as magical aspects of a pseudo-divinity. As I listened, I appreciated the focus on learning about mythology, yet simultaneously I wondered what these children may be absorbing about the identities of gods and humans.
I suspect that the reason such myths are "so enduring", as NPR's Margot Adler described it, is because they tell truths about where we naturally dwell. That very reason can also be the problem because people are never fully human and the gods are never fully divine in myths and archetypes. The gods are brought down to our base level, and the gods never demand that we rise above our own interests. The risk there is that we see others through the distorted lenses of caricature, where humanity isn't fully human. It's much easier to demean a caricature than it is to face someone such as ourselves. (Have you ever tried, politely, to catch the eye of a rude driver? Have you ever tried to correct someone else's false beliefs about you or anyone else? [Consider Obama & the conspiracy theories about his religion, citizenship by birth, etc.!]) Furthermore, when we dwell too long among the inhumans, what is human within us and within others may be swept away in the alienation that grows and spreads between us like the mountainside chasms that form from rushing flood waters.
The gods of myths and fables, the archetypes and stereotypes of literature and psychology become categories into which humans may be slotted and behind which the doors can be locked. Those gods too often justify and serve our selfish interests, choices and ambitions. The false worship and idolatry described in the Bible resides where we refuse to face truth about ourselves, the reality of the world around us, the humanity we share, the outcomes & affects of our choices, and the call to be genuinely human with every single person we encounter. The "white-washed sepulchers" of today may be those who've wrapped themselves in the pretentious garments of professional accomplishment, education, wealth, status, gender, race, "religion", ethnicity, family, titles and circles of influence to distance themselves from the "others" – the poor, the oppressed, the small, the weak, the enemies, or the ones whom they despise or disdain for any reason. Sometimes they may say the right things, but we've been warned, "do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." (Matt. 23:3-12)
Parables differ from myths, fables and stereotypes in that, as Scot puts it, they imagine a world where God is, where Jesus is, where the reign of God exists in the fullness of shalom – a completeness of love, safety, peace, justice and forgiveness. People in the parables are fully human, loving, hateful, wonderful, flawed, glorious, imperfect, generous, selfish, angry, injured, arrogant, repentant, broken, yet also healing and being healed. The parables' God lovingly reaches out to unlock the doors with love, forgiveness, justice, grace and mercy. The doors are many: of debt (Matt. 18), of physical injury and xenophobia (Luke 10), of foolishness and self-righteousness (Luke 15), of humility and arrogance (Luke 18), among others. Every one of us is locked in and judged by others were it not for God's freeing touch. The parables truthfully expose the humanity in ourselves and others – while we may recognize others, we should also see ourselves in each of them. We never become caricatures imprisoned by God's judgment, but we always remain truly, honestly human, with sinfulness and hopefulness, meanness and generosity. God's mercy and grace are always extended to us with the power to set us free. This God judges every person with justice, not out of fickle and selfish motives, but with true justice that knows the depth of our hearts. Jesus describes the Father who yearns to teach us how to be humbly & lovingly "I-Thou" (cf. Martin Buber) to one another. It's tough love! Scot considers Klyne's thoughts on the parable of the debtors: "God stunningly forgives us of staggering debt, and God disapproves of those who fail to live out graciousness and forgiveness toward others. …As Klyne Snodgrass puts it: 'The kingdom comes with limitless grace in the midst of an evil world, but with it comes limitless demand.' (72)."
The parables call us to leave the masks behind which so many of us hide and the caricatures we make of our enemies. The parables encourage us to risk being honest, vulnerable, flawed, loving and always reaching for better than this present condition. "Limitless demand" is a tall order, but God did not leave us without grace and strength to make that journey.
Let us dwell among those who encourage us to love others as God loves us, looking to the interests of others as does the God of the parables, and not among the false gods of the stereotypes, myths and fables. This true God loves humanity steadfastly, in the Word full of grace & truth. Let us leave behind our self-deceptions, demonizations & objectification of others, and seek the shalom of all. When we use twisted methods to justify and perpetuate our false beliefs, self-serving interests, lies and harm, we break shalom. As Scot wrote about David in Psalm 28, "David's enemies are those who say they want peace (shalom) but what they really want is evil (which means the shattering of shalom)."
"So, let us learn to re-imagine our world and learn to re-imagine it as a world shaped and governed by a good God, the Father, who loves us, who cares for us, and wants to provide for us. Let us go to that God." ~ Scot McKnight

Final Note: As I was writing this blog, Jay Phelan posted his. If I'm not as clear about my thoughts as could be, his words may be clearer!