A New Year’s reflection from Rachel Held Evans: 2016 and the Risk of Birth
An excerpt …
For me, the dissonance of this strange year is compounded by the fact that motherhood turned my bleeding heart into a hemorrhage. It’s as though I’ve become porous, my skin absorbing the pain of others, particularly other mamas and babies. (Speaking of which, why did all the good shows this year involve children in peril? I’m looking at you, “Stranger Things”!) Every night, as I nurse my boy in that cozy armchair in his nursery, I think of the Syrian mama nursing her baby in a raft adrift in the Mediterranean Sea. I think of the shell-shocked boy from Aleppo. I think of how every Latino kid taunted by classmates, every soldier sent to war, every autistic kid who will lose his therapy when ACA is repealed, every black man shot by police is somebody else’s baby boy, somebody else’s most important person in the world. I still, almost every day, think of Sandy Hook.
“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin,” writes Frederick Buechner. “It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”
Motherhood invited me into other people’s skin in a way I’ve never experienced before. So my joy is big and real and consuming, but also incomplete. I am overwhelmed by the conviction that every mother should be able to feed her baby like this, in safety and contentedness, and I am haunted by the reality that this is still far from the case.
In 2016, I became more aware than ever of the darkness around us, and more invested than ever in lighting the path.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in another season of Lent. This banner will hang in our sanctuary tonight as begin our Lent together with an evensong service, Marty Haugen’s Holden Evening Prayer, and it will remained displayed throughout the season.
I very much like the artistry of the banner: the twisting, sharp-edged, thorny strands winding around and overlapping the cross; the cross itself placed starkly and simply in the foreground; and the path, the path receding into the distance at the upper right corner of the banner.
It speaks of pain and of suffering, the cross and thorny strands draw the eye first. And the cross stands at the head of the path. You cannot take the path without going through the cross!
But the path does not end at the cross. The cross stands at its beginning. You must go through the cross, you must pass through suffering, but the path leads somewhere else, to the place of hope, to the place of life, to the place where the One who hung from the cross now is, a place not yet seen, but surely promised!
N. T. Wright is right! The separation of religion from “real life,” the separation of faith from politics, from the push and pull of the everyday decisions that impact the lives of persons and communities of persons, is artificial and contrary to the “way” to which Jesus calls his followers. Faith is not just about “then,” but about now, not just about “there,” but about here. Hope is not just about “waiting it out” until we go to “a better place,” but about believing God can and will make this world a better place, with us and through us. The following quote comes from an interview Wright did last year with Christianity Today. You can read the transcript of the entire interview here.
For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human beings and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.
The longer that I’ve gone on as a New Testament scholar and wrestled with what the early Christians were actually talking about, the more it’s been borne in on me that that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ for themselves, with working for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That has always been at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, and how we’ve managed for years to say the Lord’s Prayer without realizing that Jesus really meant it is very curious. Our Western culture since the 18th century has made a virtue of separating out religion from real life, or faith from politics. When I lecture about this, people will pop up and say, “Surely Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world.” And the answer is no, what Jesus said in John 18 is, “My kingdom is not from this world.” That’s ek tou kosmoutoutou. It’s quite clear in the text that Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t start with this world. It isn’t a worldly kingdom, but it is for this world. It’s from somewhere else, but it’s for this world.
I think the opposite of hope is not despair, but resignation.
no hope, just emptiness, care-lessness …
I think the opposite of love is not hatred, but apathy.
no love, just indifference, care-lessness …
Could it be that the opposite of peace is not conflict, but contentment?
no longing for peace, just settling for the status quo, care-lessness?