Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘journey’

Communal Seeing

Luke 24:13-16; 30-35

Image result for seeingOkay, let’s be clear here. If you identify as a Western Christian, you’re just a couple of weeks removed from April Fools’ Day—I mean, Easter. The dyed eggs are old and crusty, you’ve finished all the jelly beans, and Peeps are on sale at the grocery store.

And yet, the story in the NT Gospels is stuck on that first day of the week, you know that day when Mary Magdalene and others found a cave-tomb empty and told other disciples who didn’t believe a word of it. People are still lost in the story, mourning the death of their teacher and friend, Jesus of Nazareth. Some are locked behind closed doors for fear of the Romans or the Sanhedrin. Pretty much everyone [besides the women in the story] is befuddled, sad, confused, and lost.

And why is that? Well, think about it. Imagine you have been following a teacher or a mentor for a considerable amount of time. This teacher spoke to you in a way that moved you to action, filled you with confidence and love and encouraged you to live a full life.

You were changed by this teacher.

And you had such plans. Such plans you had. You would conquer the evil and injustice, make things right, restore harmony to creation!

Image result for superhero justice

And now your teacher is dead. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. Nowhere to be felt.

The dream is over.

For those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, they had found a purpose. Prior to meeting and following Jesus, they had been asking those questions that humans often ask—existential questions that are quite annoying because they never have an answer. It’s like what Peter Rollins discusses in his book The Idolatry of God. He labels these questions as existential grievances that occupy the human heart.

Question one: why does the universe exist?

Question two: what is our role within this universe?

Those who followed Jesus most certainly were asking these questions—both of themselves and of Jesus. But in following Jesus, they embarked on a journey towards Jerusalem–a purposeful one that involved justice-seeking, forgiveness, healing, and hope. This had meaning for them.

But…things went sour in Jerusalem. And once Jesus was dead, they had the same questions. Why does the universe exist? What is my role in it?

And so, it’s no surprise, is it—that in this chapter of the story, on a road to a town called Emmaus, that ex-followers of Jesus are still mourning and wondering whether there is any purpose left and if the world really should exist at all. Neither is it surprise that all of a sudden, Jesus [although the resurrected Jesus] starts walking with them and they have no clue. They are still living in their existential crises and do not recognize Jesus at all.

I would argue that it’s because they were stuck in the old paradigms. After all, those two existential questions are circular, aren’t they? I don’t know the reason the universe exists off the top of my head. And day by day I’m still trying to figure out my place in it.

Image result for existential questionsIt’s easy to get stuck in the cycle, stuck in the fixated dreams that the Emmaus walkers had for themselves and for Jesus and now it was all gone. They felt like they had nothing left; they had no purpose. So of course they wouldn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus.

And a quick word about this whole resurrected Jesus business. I’ve gone on record to say that I don’t think it’s really, really important for you to believe or not to believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead in bodily form. There’s a lot of history behind the Gospel stories about that, and certainly a LOT of interpretations over the centuries. They are all guesses.

So instead of running around in circles or taking a polarized view of resurrection, i.e. he fully resurrected or he didn’t at all—I find much more meaning in viewing the Gospels as unique stories and voices that are not necessarily trying to prove something physical or scientific. Instead, the Gospels on the whole present the resurrection of Jesus as both mystical and spiritual in nature. The focus is less on the physical body and more on what the people seeing Jesus need to see, need to touch, need to hear. But as always, don’t take it from me. Think critically and decide for yourself.

And now, back to story…

Eventually the ex-followers of Jesus made it to a village where they needed to stop for the night. They invited the stranger walking with them to come and stay. Then they sat down at the table to eat and then…they finally saw Jesus’ resurrected form. After seeing, they changed direction completely [I guess Emmaus didn’t have much to offer] and headed right back to Jerusalem. The existential, circular questions were irrelevant now. They had found purpose, a reason for being.

And they found it in community.

They didn’t find the comfort and peace they were looking for by getting their existential questions answered. They didn’t get to lean on their limited and nostalgic view of Jesus; they couldn’t see the world [or themselves] in the same way. They were pushed back to Jerusalem, the place of death and betrayal and cowardice and hopelessness and injustice.

Because that’s real. That’s life.

There were no tidy answers to make them feel better or any spiritual experience that would ease their doubts. Like Thomas the twin, who doubted freely that Jesus could be alive after dying, the Emmaus road walkers were given an opportunity—to be resurrected. To start anew. And the way to do that was in community.

For when we are in authentic community, i.e. with people who accept us as we are—flaws, scars, craziness, and all—when we are with such people, our existential questions become less important and we stop running around in circles seeking meaning and purpose. In community, around a table even—our eyes open. We see new life—in ourselves, in others, in the world. We notice the possibility of change. But at the same time, we don’t ignore the pain, the suffering, injustice, the mourning, the lack of hope.

In community we hold all of those things together and embrace them all.
We become lovers of doubt and we embrace new questions.
We become students of people’s lives and explorers of new ways to show love and compassion, new paradigms with which to tackle the injustices all around.
And we do this in community.

I’m interested, friends: how has community helped you to find purpose?

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Not Looking Back: How Do We Move Forward?

Luke 9:51-62

journeyhobbitAs a kid, I read The Hobbit numerous times. I’ve reread it as an adult, too. There are many reasons why I like it—the good storytelling, the characters, creatures, languages, and cultures. The overarching theme, though, is what always draws me in. Bilbo Baggins, the little Hobbit with the hairy feet, is the protagonist. And he’s joined by others who are pulled from their comfortable or seemingly routine lives into an adventure they could never have imagined. Elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, ghost kings, giant spiders, and oh yes, a dragon that talks.

Bilbo, at nearly every step of his journey, is reluctant to move forward.

He resists. From time to time, he looks back at his once-comfortable, mundane life in his hobbit hole called Bag End in the village of Hobbiton. He misses his plates and forks, his full pantry, his wine, ale, food, and pipe. But those moments of looking back don’t last long. Bilbo must keep moving forward on his journey towards the Misty Mountain. And even at the end of his story [at least the end of the book], it is obvious that Bilbo cannot go back to his old life. Sure, his hobbit hole will still be there, but he is forever changed. He is not the same Hobbit that a bunch of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf met some time ago. Since leaving Hobbiton, Bilbo can never go back. The Hobbit lifts up these themes: giving up control; taking risks; Compassionate, loving, reckless abandon.

Let’s take a closer look at another story about the journey, in Luke’s Gospel. Like Bilbo, Jesus of Nazareth sets out on a new journey. He is no longer in Galilee. Now, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. This is a new trajectory, a new journey, and one that will be paved with many adventures, much risk, and great danger. By this point, people are taking notice of this Jesus. So he sends messengers ahead to check things out, as they near Jerusalem and approach a village of Samaritans. Remember that Samaritans and Jews did not like each other. They were close in culture and religion, but a violent past had caused both parties to be resentful of each other. So it is no surprise that the Samaritans in this particular village on the way to Jerusalem blocked Jesus and co. Anything to do with Jerusalem was anti-Samaritan, as far as they were concerned.

Then James and John, part of Jesus’ entourage, figured it was time to bring down the hammer on the Samaritans. Why not? Jesus was like Elijah the prophet to them and they remembered an old story in the Hebrew Scriptures about getting rid of people who resisted Yahweh’s work. So they asked Jesus if it would be appropriate for them to command fire to come down and consume the Samaritans.

Really?

If there ever was a moment when I thought that Jesus’ disciples were totally lost, this is it. Are you kidding? It turns my stomach. Obviously, Jesus rebukes them, but still. What in the world were those disciples thinking?

So they go to another village (obviously) and now some people along the road are wishing to join Jesus’ entourage. But it wasn’t Jay Z’s entourage. There were no perks, free lunches, or nice hotel rooms.

Jay-Z-008
Even animals have a place to live, right? But according to Jesus, that was not a guarantee for his followers. This was no cush journey.

Then, yet another person seems to be close to joining Jesus on the journey, but he has some family business to take care of. Burying one’s father is a metaphor for family obligations. He wasn’t able to let go of those obligations to take this new journey. And then another would-be follower expresses willingness to follow Jesus, but he still needs to say goodbye to some people. Not good enough, says Jesus. Let the dead bury the dead and don’t look back.

In my perspective, this is a story about letting go—about moving forward, which means not looking back so much. Often people assume that being a Christ-ian, or a follower of Christ, is about believing something or following a particular religious tradition. That may be true for the various branches of Christianity over the centuries, but it was not true in the Gospels. Jesus was not leading a religion. Jesus was asking people to follow him to a new way of being. And this new way of being was different for each and every person.

For some, Jesus invited them to follow him, because they needed that. Perhaps they had never been invited in their entire lives. They were the outcasts, the untouchables, those whom the religious people didn’t want to hang out with. So Jesus healed them, invited them, and they joined the entourage of the mercy train.

But also, there were those who wanted to follow Jesus. They asked to follow. And each time, Jesus asked them if they were really sure about that. I mean, this would be no prosperity gospel; they would not gain anything materially; they might actually lose material wealth. They wouldn’t be heralded or esteemed; they might even be ridiculed or thought of as strange. And above all, they would have to let go—let go of their world views that were harmful; let go of their prejudices; let go of their attachments to beautiful temples and powerful armies and governments; they would even need to let go of family obligations and guilt. In short, for those who said they wanted to follow Jesus, it was the most difficult, because unlike the outcasts, these would-be followers struggled to let go.

I’ll close with some thoughts about letting go, because I know for many of you, letting go is hard. Let me start by saying what I don’t mean. By letting go I don’t mean that those of you who have been abused in any way, or who have suffered great trauma in the past [and are still obviously dealing with it], I don’t mean that you ought to just get over it. The things that were done to you were of course not your fault, and the healing process of coping with such trauma lasts a lifetime and is an everyday enterprise. Also, keep in mind that Jesus of Nazareth never said “get over it” to any of those who were considered outcasts or who were in need of healing. They were healed and invited on the journey.

What I mean by letting go refers to those reluctant people in the story [and any of us] who are attached to material things and human obligations so much that we cannot move forward. Those of us who are consistently looking back and so full of nostalgia [both good and bad] that the present day is less important and life is stagnant.

Here are some things that have helped me let go of such things obligations. I hope this is helpful for you:

Finding stillness and breathing. Okay, maybe this is weird for some? For me, meditation is helpful, but by meditation I mean just pausing. Really pausing. Stop, even for a few moments, and listen to your breathe. Try it.

Understanding. What has happened in your life? Don’t judge those things. Observe them. Be aware.

Accepting your history. Don’t try to change it. It’s done.

Letting go of judgements, expectations, and material things, as much as possible.

Assessing. What matters most to you in life? Are you pursuing this?

Allowing the Path to be revealed. Don’t force it.

Contributing to the well-being of others, even when you feel angry, sad, or hopeless.

Having fun and laughing. Life actually is short.

Being grateful. Let your gratefulness overcome any complaining.

What things help you to move forward and to let go?

Next week’s teaser: Luke 10:1-11: How Do You Measure Success?

Walking Forward

Luke 24:13-35

Watch this Israeli filmmaker walking forward, yet backwards….

This creative illusion is an example of two things:

How what we see can play tricks on us [depending on our conditioning]

Walking forward, even when it’s actually walking backward…is moving.

Look, if any of us are healthy enough to walk—we should walk, and as much as possible. If we know someone who physically cannot walk, we ought to walk with that person, pushing his/her chair or whatever they need to get around. Walking helps us to notice things around us.

Walking is not just a physical act, though—it’s a metaphor for life.
Life is a journey and we walk on that journey.

At times, we journey through harsh storms and incredibly low moments.
Other times on the journey, we walk in joy and gratitude.
Sometimes the journey is confusing and we’re not sure where to walk.
And at times, life can get so heavy and so overwhelming that we decide to stop walking all together.

But there is a story, I think, that can give us some rich perspective about our journey in life.

It’s Luke’s walking to Emmaus story.

This particular account only appears in Luke’s gospel and features two mysterious characters who meet another mysterious character on the road to a town called Emmaus. So where was Emmaus? Most scholars believe it was about 7 ½ miles Northwest of Jerusalem.[1] Two followers of Jesus of Nazareth were on their way there from Jerusalem where they had just celebrated the Passover. Maybe Emmaus was their home?

But who in the heck were these people anyway?

Good question.

Many believe that they were among “the rest” that Luke 24:9 mentions and so they were not part of the eleven remaining disciples. In fact, the only clue we’re given as to their identity is the name of one of them—Cleopas.

Yet, it’s not much of a clue, because Cleopas is not mentioned in the other gospels at all.

So who is the other person? Do we assume that he was a man? If we believe that Cleopas was walking to his home in Emmaus with his companion, was it their home? Maybe they were family. It’s up for grabs, folks, who the other person [male or female] was.

It gets even more interesting if you consider that this New Testament story seems similar to an Old Testament story in Genesis.
Abraham and Sarah, in their walking story, discover three angels in Genesis 18, i.e. the presence of G-d. They, like the two mysterious disciples of Jesus, do not recognize who it is they are with.

Or perhaps it’s better to say that both Abraham and Sarah, and the two disciples had their eyes closed.
And so they couldn’t see what they were walking past or with whom they were walking.

Deep depression can do that to us, right? Confusion, or just being in a hurry, or desperation.

Anxiety, anyone?

ohnoJesus was dead and so was their dream of something changing.
So they couldn’t see any present or future that had hope or promise.
I think they probably dragged their feet.
I think they were not walking forward.

Even when this mysterious stranger is telling them the whole story about what happened before, during, and after the events of the cross at Golgotha—they still didn’t seem to wake up.

You see, like most of us, when we’re really, really down on ourselves and the world, they didn’t hear hope in anyone’s story, really. They could not see it, either. Cleopas’ disappointment and nostalgia is obvious when he tells the “stranger” his side of the story…with a lot of impatience, it seems.

It’s not until they hear this word:

Fools!

That they wake up.

At least, in English, it’s fools.
Perhaps a better translation would be weak.[2]

The two of them wake up a bit when they realize that they are weak.

Not weak because they were sad or frustrated or angry. This is not weakness. They were weak because they had sold their hope and left behind their joy in exchange for nostalgia and misguided expectations.

And yet, then they make it to Emmaus, they invite the stranger into their home and offer great hospitality.

This is when I think the change happened.

Cleopas and his companion could have laughed in the face of the stranger, paid no attention to him, left him alone, and then gone home to try to forget the whole thing.

But they didn’t.
They walked forward with the stranger and not only that–they opened up their home and shared a meal with him.
The stranger shocked them, though, when he sat at the head of the table and took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

Flashback!

Jesus of Nazareth…he’s back!
Or was he?

Just after their eyes were opened, Jesus was gone again.

Here’s what I like about this story—it is not your typical resurrection appearance, at least how we are conditioned to view resurrection. Often we become so separated from resurrection stories because we feel that they have to be supernatural like something out of comic book or a sci-fi movie.

jesuspeepsSorry–I just cannot resist the “risen Jesus” with peeps pic to illustrate the point.

We feel that we have to have some incredible religious or spiritual experience to “see” Jesus or G-d, and so when we don’t, we stop believing in resurrection.

And then it’s really tempting to journey through life like a robot and never see meaning or hope; to ignore or miss beauty all around us; to keep walking forward when your feet hurt and your head is full of fear and anxiety and you just don’t see anyone walking with you at all.

But here’s the thing—we don’t know who these two disciples were, and I think that’s on purpose.

They could be anyone, of any gender, of any sexual orientation, of any cultural background, of any social level or walk of life.

Jesus or G-d or the Spirit or however you refer to the Divine Presence—this Divine does not appear to people in the same way.
Regardless of what we try to formulate in our doctrines and theologies, the thing is—everyone has a different experience with faith.

The merciful, hopeful thing in this story, at least for me, is that G-d seems to be whatever and wherever people need G-d to be.

Sure, we can try to define G-d and how G-d appears, but come on…

A person suffering from deep depression finds Jesus in a friend who has coffee with him and listens to his story.

Another sees G-d in a child who smiles and laughs with someone who is very sad, and then that sad person breaks down and starts laughing, too.

Somebody else sees Jesus when the rent is due and there’s no money and then someone just decides to help with no strings attached.

The Spirit is seen and heard when a fifteen-year-old stands up against bullies who constantly abuse her gay classmate.

The Creator is present in the decisions of people to choose justice over money, love over convenience, and community over isolation.

You see, walking forward and believing in resurrection does not mean that everything is great and Jesus wipes away all your suffering and problems.

Walking forward is recognizing that suffering is real.

Resurrection is life after death, so…new life rises from the ashes.

When we suffer, that’s not the end of the journey.
When we don’t know where our destination is, we shouldn’t go back.
We should walk forward, and if someone needs help walking, we should walk with her.

Either way, we won’t walk alone.
We’re meant to see that the Divine Presence appears in many ways to many people.

How will your eyes open to that this week?
With whom will you walk?
To whom will you show hospitality?

Journey on.

 

[1] Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary.

[2] Barnes New Testament Notes.

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