Some Facts About the West Bank:
Some Facts About the West Bank:
TIME magazine’s pronouncement of Pope Francis as “Person of the Year,” coming as it does after yesterday’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela, has sparked some thoughts on the making of these two great persons. What unites them? A surprising number of things, maybe, but one quality in particular stands out.
Humility, in a willingness to be treated as any other prisoner on Robbins Island, despite one’s political credentials, is the same disposition that motivates the most powerful figure in contemporary Christianity to eschew the traditional papal mode of transport—a shiny, spanking new Mercedes Benz—in favor of a 1984 Renault 4 economy car with over 186,000 miles to its name. Humility that accepts a sentence of life imprisonment with an almost cheerful resolve, including the capacity to forgive and befriend one’s captors. Humility that foreswears temptations to hold on to power—and instead gives that power away. Humility that goes out into the streets where the poor are, finding there the wealth of God’s kingdom.
Such humility doesn’t just grow on trees: I don’t see it often in today’s public figures or in the recesses of my own heart. But such humility seems in keeping with the pattern of One who, thinking equality with the Father not to be grasped, took on human flesh, humbling Himself on a cross (Philippians 2).
There may be plenty of other similarities between Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis; but this one, humility, seems to live up to its name: it is, I suspect, the single, most important defining mark of human greatness—and the easiest to overlook. But, what do you think? Are there other commonalities that unite these two men in greatness?
If you’re tuning in for the first time at this intersection between faith and God for anyone converted, unconverted or under conversion…we’re in the middle of an Advent series exploring “holy space.” You’re invited to share your own experiences of the Holy, and I’ll republish your reflections at the end of the week. In the meantime, photojournalist Katie Archibald-Woodward is taking us through the Holy Land with some of her own reflections on the holy moments she found there…
I sit down with Aseel Bannoura. Her face is cheerful, her eyes are bright, her words are astoundingly articulate. Her eloquent English allows her to be perfectly frank with me as I start to ask her questions. Her frankness alone takes me by surprise, but even more striking is the lack of bitterness or anger in her tone. She just tells it to me straight. Even with a whiff of humor now and then. For more, see Katie’s blog.
The Avett Brothers’ album Magpie and the Dandelion has been accompanying me throughout the week, and the song “Souls Like The Wheels” has stuck with me. Here is lead singer Seth Avett performing the tune for all restless souls on the journey of learning to live and forgive through life’s hurts and obstacles:
I wish I’d had more experiences, well, any experiences, talking with Jewish Israelis about the occupation while visiting the Holy Land these two times. My goal this recent visit was to learn more about the occupation overall. I wanted to hear personal stories from Israelis and Palestinians: Christians, Muslims and Jews. For more see Katie’s blog.
[Apologies for the delay in posts: technical difficulties on the heels of travel and Thanksgiving have kept me away. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Tomorrow, our series "Holy Space" recommences with photojournalist Katie Archibald-Woodward.]
This past weekend I turned 38. With the advent of the late thirties, birthdays increasingly come with a tinge of mortality and a twang of melancholy when before they never did.
And there are those things I just find hard to understand about growing older….
…like how it is you can still get those juicy zits decades after you thought teenage acne was thankfully over
…or how it is that your hair starts stubbornly sprouting in places you never thought it could
…or why, when time, still measured in the same increments now seems to speed by rather than slowly meander.
But this last fact imbues the aging process with a certain sacred blessedness, too. Time in both its essence and its parts becomes so much more treasured: I want more of it, as much of it as I can fit in a day; and I find myself wanting to stop its passage more often these days or to bundle up moments.
And, laughter is more poignantly lovely—often filtered through the quirky remarks of my children. Like yesterday, when my 4-year-old stood at the front of a long line of pharmacy customers holding a musical Spongebob Squarepants card and giggling loudly whenever Spongebob began to shake: “Look, Mommy, Spongebob is tooting!,” she exclaimed loudly, in a continuation of a newfound obsession with potty humor. Or, when a few hours later my son explained rain on a bleak winter day as “God sweating.” (The imagery is rich on so many levels, right? God at the gym, lifting dumbbells, or on the Stairmaster.)
These things that are passing away I want to hold on to maybe stubbornly—in spite of Jesus’ admonition not to grieve such things. What happens to such things when God is making all things new?, I wonder.
With time, too, the embodied presence of persons is entrusted with holiness. A voice on the telephone. An embrace. A handshake. Even a brief exchange with a stranger at the grocery store. These are mystical visions of sorts themselves, as Marilynne Robinson writes in Gilead, when she realizes “there is nothing more astonishing than a human face…It has something to do with incarnation…Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and loneliness of it.”
The claim itself—of a face or person in front of me— is now stronger as I grow older. And this is a beautiful thing. Such things should not pass away, I protest, but if they must, then may they be hallowed and wonderful in their passage into all things new.
Maybe this passage and our realization of it are one aspect of sanctification.
While in the West Bank I had the incredible opportunity to meet up with one of my dear friends who I made while studying at The Ecumenical Institute for the World Council of Churches at Bossey in Switzerland. Ashraf Tannous is now a Lutheran pastor and headmaster of sorts at the Evangelical Lutheran Church and School established in 1901 in Beit Sahor (“Shepherd’s Fields”). For more reflections, see Katie’s blog.
As a former Episcopalian with great affection for Anglicanism, I’m taking a little break from our regular Tuesday and Thursday series on holy space with photojournalist Katie Archibald-Woodward to get on my soap box and give thanks for yesterday’s overwhelming support shown yesterday by the Church of England’s General Synod in favor of the ordination of women bishops. It was far too long in coming, but here a version of Neil Armstrong’s legendary exclamation on the moon may be apropos: “That’s one small step for the church, one giant leap forward for humankind.” A church that learns to take her women’s contributions and leadership as seriously as the man’s next to her will be a church that is better equipped to serve her world, and for that I’m very grateful.
A friend the other day remarked that a female Episcopal priest who habitually wears her dog collar out and about our neighborhood prefers that she be called “Father.” I was amused and a bit saddened. Since when, after all, should women have to become men in order to serve in leadership? Why, in the church at least, must women called to ministry and leadership often feel compelled to erase or even deny their gender? A sad phenomenon. Maybe yesterday’s vote is one more sign that some day, maybe when my daughter is a grown woman, women in the priesthood won’t have to feel uncomfortable being called “Mother.”
On another note, I’m updating my speaking and book tour schedule for next year. If you and your church would like a guest visit, let me know!
I can’t connect here. The “site” of your birth is just a shrine to me. It’s hard for me to come and give thanks to you here. I find I just come to consume, to get my picture and go. It makes me feel terrible. For more reflection, see Katie’s blog.
The American Academy of Religion (AAR) is in Baltimore this year: at this time last year I was courting publishers for Grace Sticks; this time I’ll be working on a publicity plan for the book. In the meantime, here is a short interview with yours truly that publicist Caitlin Mackenzie (Wipf and Stock) helped put together as part of a press kit, and apologies for a couple glitches in the formatting which I’m working to rectify with Beliefnet:
What first compelled you to write Grace Sticks?
I wanted to write a spiritual memoir that could belong to a bigger, more light-hearted conversation about who God is in Jesus and what it might mean to say that Jesus is “The Way, The Truth and The Life.” And I wanted that conversation to be accessible to everyone, not just to folks in the church but to people who live in my downtown neighborhood, the “spiritual-but-not-religious” types and the so-called Nones (many of them my generation and younger). Many of these folks have heard a version of “The Way, the Truth and the Life” that, as I say in the book’s dedication, made them feel “more lost, swindled and less alive.” My hope was that for those inclined to write Christianity off as judgmental, close-minded, and backwards, Grace Sticks would offer a fresh look at the depth of meaning, truth and life there.
Why did you choose to tell your story in bumper stickers of all things?
Bumper stickers are often silly, stupid, frivolous—you name it—and I wanted this to be a light-hearted book. There is, I think, a preconception among non-Christians and nonreligious types that is not entirely unfounded—namely, that Christians take themselves way too seriously. But I believe humor and laughter are central to the good news that God loves us: because God takes us seriously, we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. And when we can talk about our deepest beliefs in the context of laughter, these things seem less divisive and threatening to discuss. I also wanted to find an easy, accessible language in which to converse about faith matters that would be familiar to more readers than traditionally theological, “churchy” language.
You say in your introduction that Grace Sticks is for “restless souls”? Who qualifies as a restless soul?
I am for one. By “restless souls” I have in mind really anyone, whether in the church or out, searching for more meaning, more truth, and more life than what they’ve found so far. The expression “restless souls” comes from religion professor Leigh E. Schmidt (formerly at Princeton now at Washington University in St. Louis) and his book Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, insofar as “restless souls” describes the quintessentially American quest for the More still not found (to recall another great mind, Bono). I broaden Schmidt’s definition a bit by including in that definition all of us who remain in the church, but restlessly. If in America bigger is better with respect to cars, houses, and just about anything else, I’m guessing it’s also true that in America we tend to want more for ourselves spiritually; and many of us are looking for more and patching together our own, very individualized brands of spirituality—for better or worse.
You say you wanted to write a light-hearted book, but you take on some pretty serious issues like suffering and the absence of hope. Why?
Yes, when my husband read the first draft, he exclaimed that it was “really dark.” By the third draft I had managed to tone down the dark parts a bit more . . . but as story and as a drawing board for a conversation about the grace of God, my life, much like many others, has had its share of pain and difficulty. I couldn’t leave those parts out; they belong to the narrative of the grace of God in my life as much as the silliness and laughter do.
Some readers may see your appeal to these restless souls as inherently anti-church. What would you say to them?
“I don’t have a problem with God, it’s His fan club I can’t stand” (a bumper sticker in my neighborhood) is the title of my chapter on the church, and it’s there because that bumper sticker resonates for me. I sympathize with the Anne Rices and Bonos of the world who either have left the church totally or maintained their Christian faith despite feeling uncomfortable being around other Christians. I count myself in the latter category. I attend worship services and even occasionally preach and lead worship in them; but across the course of my life I’ve also seen and experienced the dark underside of the church. And I think the church does a disservice to itself when it ignores the reality that so many people are leaving church and not looking back or never even darkening the doors of a church building. The church needs to find ways to engage these people rather than pretend they’re not there; hopefully Grace Sticks will help with this endeavor.
What main idea do you want your readers to walk away with after having read Grace Sticks?
I want readers to walk away with a deeper, more grace-filled appreciation for what it means that Jesus is “The Way, The Truth and The Life” (if Jesus really is who he says he is in the New Testament); and with the assurance that if they’re hungering for more meaning, more truth and more life, they’re headed in the right direction. And I hope readers will keep hungering for More, laughing along the way and holding their views lightly as they do, because as I say in the introduction, there really is as much grace to be found in the journeying itself.
Holy Space 10: The West Bank
posted 1:36:07am Dec. 13, 2013 | read full post »
What Unites Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis in Greatness?
posted 6:42:14pm Dec. 11, 2013 | read full post »
Holy Space 10: Aseel Bannoura
posted 3:05:09pm Dec. 10, 2013 | read full post »
Musical Mental Health Break: "Souls Like The Wheels"
posted 5:40:02pm Dec. 07, 2013 | read full post »
Holy Space 9: The Peace of Jerusalem
posted 10:12:26pm Dec. 05, 2013 | read full post »