Monday, May 28, 2012

[denying status boundaries]

From Richard Beck's book, unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality.
Given all this, and combined with the central place of table fellowship in Jesus’ ministry, it is not surprising that hospitality was a defining feature and virtue of the early church (cf. Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37; I Tim 3:2, 5:10; I Pet 4:9; Titus 1:8; Rom 12:13, 15:7). As Christine Pohl notes in her book Making Room, these practices continued to be a distinctive feature of Christian communities during the first centuries of the church:
Hospitality to needy strangers distinguished the early church from its surrounding environment. Noted as exceptional by Christians and non-Christians alike, offering care to strangers became one of the distinguishing marks of the authenticity of the Christian gospel and of the church. Writing from the first five centuries demonstrate the importance of hospitality in defining the church as a universal community, in denying the significance of the status boundaries and distinctions of the larger society, in recognizing the value of every person, and in providing practical care for the poor, stranger, and sick.
Given the impact of sociomoral disgust upon human affairs, it is not surprising that the act of hospitality is fundamentally an act of human recognition and embrace. If exclusion is fundamentally dehumanizing, hospitality acts to restore full human status to the marginalized and outcast. As Pohl writes:
For much of human history, Christians addressed concerns about recognition and human dignity within their discussion and practices of hospitality. Especially in relation to strangers, hospitality was the basic category for dealing with the importance of transcending social differences and breaking social boundaries that excluded certain categories or kinds of persons … Hospitality resists boundaries that endanger persons by denying their humanness.
Beck, pp. 122-123 (Pohl quotes from Making Room, pp. 33, 62, 64)
And a quote from Henri Nouwen to wrap it up:
“Hospitality means the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

two-faced jesus

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:1-10 NIV

Can you imagine Jesus pretending to be nice to someone? Or having dinner with someone for show? Would Jesus decline to have dinner with someone because they are part of the "wrong crowd"?

How often do we do things for show? Or just to look good to our friends? Whom do we avoid?

What prevents us from truly and freely loving people just as they are?

That Jesus, a rabbi, would choose to go be the guest of a tax collector, is highly significant and breaks the social stigma of the day. The next post, with a quote from Richard Beck's book, explores the significance of hospitality in the early church.

Monday, May 21, 2012

ecclesia in the field

This is the second cartoon in the ecclesia series. Not as graphic as the first one, but still exploring the body of Christ and how ecclesia (the church) responds to unwholeness (a.k.a., being divided or broken).

What kinds of things cause destruction in the body of Christ?

What kinds of responses have you heard when faced with separation between different parts of the body of Christ?

Friday, May 18, 2012

[outside the moral circle]

From Richard Beck's book, unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality.
But what about those people on the outside of the moral circle? Those we identify as strangers? People on the outside of the moral circle are treated instrumentally, as tools to accomplish our goals in the world. In Kantian language, people inside the moral circle are treated as ends in themselves while people on the outside of the moral circle are treated as means to our ends. We treat those inside the moral circle with love, affection, and mercy, and those outside the moral circle with indifference, hostility, or pragmatism. And all this flows naturally from a simple psychological mechanism: Are you identified as “family”? Once the identification is made (or not), life inside and outside the circle flows easily and reflexively.


Does humanity end at the edge of the moral circle? That is, is the way we treat people outside the moral circle symptomatic of something darker and more sinister? Do we see outsiders as less than human?

The phenomenon of seeing people as less than human is called infrahumanization. Historically, infrahumanization occurs when one group of people comes to believe that another group of people does not possess some vital and defining human quality such as intellect or certain moral sensibilities. These infrahumans might be human from a biological perspective, but they are believed to lack some moral or psychological attribute that makes them fully human, on par with the "superior” group.

Beck, pp. 101-102
In Jesus' day, lepers were seen as less than human. So were Samaritans and Gentiles. Whom do we think of as less than human today?

See the untouchable jesus cartoon in the previous post.

Monday, May 14, 2012

untouchable jesus

From the gospel of Matthew:
When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Matthew 8:1-3 NIV.

Cartoon aside, here's what Richard Beck in unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality says about what the true Jesus did:
What is intriguing about this story is the sequence. Jesus touches the leper first. Then the command “Be clean!” is offered. That is, Jesus’ first move is into ritual defilement. By first touching the leper, Jesus intentionally and willfully seeks contamination, standing in solidarity with the unclean. This is striking because the expected sequence would be initial purification followed by contact. Jesus, surprisingly for the onlookers, does the opposite. Contact occurs first. Purification follows solidarity. And one can only wonder how various Christian communities approach this sequence in their own missional endeavors.
Beck, p. 76
Beck then goes on to discuss how the writer of Mark gives us several examples of how Jesus overturns the traditions of his day: when Jesus heals an “unclean” man in the synagogue, and then when he heals a leper after touching him first. Beck then comments,
… in this healing Jesus reverses the directionality and power of pollution (the attribution of negativity dominance). Rather than the unclean polluting the clean, we see, in Jesus’ touch, the clean making the polluted clean. Here, in Jesus, we see a reversal, a positive contamination. Contact cleanses rather than pollutes….
Soon after these events, in a parallel to Matthew 9, Jesus is found admitting “unclean” persons—tax collectors and sinners—to the sociomoral space of table-fellowship.
Beck, p. 81
Contrast Jesus' actions with what you see in church. Are "unclean" persons welcomed? How are those who are different treated? Are we willing to love and accept others where they are at?

Friday, May 11, 2012

go and sin no more

The story of the woman caught in adultery is amazing at many levels, from the trap the teachers of the law and Pharisees were trying to set to Jesus' way of exposing them:
At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 8:1-11 , NIV
But today, instead of seeing how life-giving this encounter is (literally and spirit-ually for the woman), some Christians have taken the phrase "go and sin no more" as the new golden rule. This is how it works: they identify people as sinners, and they apply the rule.

But Jesus said this once to one person, in a passage which is not found in the earliest manuscripts.  As someone named candeux said in a blog comment, "For one thing, we rarely read of Jesus calling individuals to repentance. In the case of prostitutes, I wonder if he recognized that these women were not choosing to be prostitutes because they were sex-starved but because they were forced into it for economic reasons (probably because they were unsuitable for marriage for one reason or another) and thus were in need of love and care more than they were in need of repentance." (comment source)

He saw, and sees, each person for who they are and where they are at. But many churches seem to have trouble with that, and I wonder if Jesus today might use the phrase one more time, addressing the church and its actions and attitudes toward lgbt people:

May 25th postscript: I also recommend checking out Richard Beck's post with accompanying comments on the topic of "Go and sin no more."

Monday, May 07, 2012

[why would I ever go there?]

grace: visual edition is an amazing book which combines the writings of Philip Yancey in his book What's so Amazing about Grace with great visuals. Here's one story which will give you a taste of the book and which also ties in with the theme of this blog:
"A prostitute came to me in wretched strait, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me that she had been renting out her daughter—two years old!—to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit.

I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable—I'm required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman. At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help.
I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face.

'Church!' she cried. 'why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They'd just make me feel worse.'"

What struck me about my friend's story is that women much like this prostitute fled toward Jesus, not away from him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift?

Evidently the down-and-out, who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome among his followers. What has happened?
Yancey, p. 21

Friday, May 04, 2012

defining love

Brian, in a comment at Bridging the Gap, says:
I'm reminded of one of my favorite lines from Ellen Degeneres. She was musing about the weird habit some people have of saying something insulting and then saying "just kidding" as if that somehow erases the insult. "You don't know how to kid properly," she quips, "we should both be laughing."

Sometimes I want to yell at the church, "You don't know how to love properly. We should both be feeling the love!"
Brian at conversations-on-generous-spaciousness March 24, 2012 12:03 PM
Who defines love? Just the person claiming to be loving? Or do those who are apparently being loved have a say?