on washing hands

There is a darkness, deep and insidious in the story of Christ’s last hours. It is the darkness of the human soul come unashamedly and self-justified to the fore: the betrayal of Judas wrapped up in a kiss of false friendship; the denial of Peter as he lurks in the shadows around that early morning fire; the vicious mocking, insulting and beating in the courtyard of the high priest – at the very hands of the most piously religious; the crowd riled up to a feverish pitch – driven by fear, jealousy, pride; the lying of the false-witnesses placed in the crowd; the deep and heart-wrenching mourning of the women, powerless and voiceless in the face of the religious and social and political spheres in which this all plays out; and then the soldiers, dividing up his clothes even as he hung dying.

I walked the stations last night, entering into the story of each of these players and identifying their humanity in my own. I remembered times I had betrayed or been betrayed and even how some of those moments were prefaced with a kiss. I thought of how I deny countless times a day when what I profess and how I act doesn’t match up. Or even the moments when I downplay or disguise or sugar-coat my faith so as not to offend or put myself in the firing line. I thought about the times when my own piety is pushed viciously to the side and I become “other” – mean-spirited, mocking, pouncing on the weaknesses in others to raise myself. I thought of the places my fear, jealousy, pride and conformity have driven me to – the things I have done or not done as I’ve looked to fit into the crowd. I’ve lied, I’ve stretched the truth, I’ve been played by others more devious than me. I’ve certainly mourned and felt powerless. But sometimes I’ve hushed and pushed others to the silent-fringe so I could have my oh-so-important say. I’ve taken and divided up the lot, generously and evenly, of the poor, the outcast, the dying and the innocent. Countless times. And somehow I’ve managed to justify it all.

washing hands

But there is one whose actions came home for me in a powerful way last night. Pontius Pilate. The one who asked Jesus, “what is truth?” and when the answer came resoundingly back to him, even without a word being said, was compelled to say, “I find no fault in him”. He looked in the face of innocence and through the roars of the crowd knew, without a doubt, that this was a greater moment of justice than any he had faced. He knew this was a dramatic moment of oppression and injustice. He knew the good, knew the right thing to do and, more significantly, had the power to act on that knowledge. Yet he turned away and chose not to act. And then he sealed his guilt with the very prophetic act he intended to assuage it with: he washes his hands in front of the crowd saying, “”I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.” In that moment the full weight of responsibility and blame falls upon his own shoulders even as he feebly tries to abdicate responsibility and acquit himself. His justification becomes his judgement.

Ah, how many times have we poured that same water over our hands which refused to act. How often have we had to cry afterward, “Out, out damn spot!” as our hands drip with the blood of the innocent, the abused, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the stranger, the widow, the orphan. How often have we kissed and betrayed, denied and mocked, lied and allowed ourselves to be driven by fear, jealousy and pride, kicked to the curb, silenced and dishonored – and justified our actions with the washing of our hands. Abdicated responsibility, acquitted ourselves of guilt and turned in the same breath to divide the clothes of those we have thus betrayed.


on schizophrenic love…

I met a guy today. I think I gave him a fright as I entered the Vineyard prayer room in the Neelsie. He was huddled in front of the kettle talking loudly to himself. He quickly recovered and offered me something to drink. I went foward to shake his hand and, when I asked him why it was bandaged, he said he had fought with a lion. Jokingly, I asked him who won. Then the games began. For the next five minutes I was taken on a rollercoaster ride of word salads, outrageous statements and apologetic retractions, whispered self-beratement, four different voices, provocation, misplaced words left hanging in the air. Thinking he was messing with my mind, I eventually walked out but he came to ask me back. We tried to start over. His words and thoughts and voices and pacings surrounded me. He apologised for tearing down the posters and scribbling on the walls. I left. I wrote him off.

See, the most profound thing about the second part of that revolutionary command, love your neighbor as yourself – you know, the one that all the law and all the teachings of the prophets hinges on – is that a lot of the time people are incredibly difficult to love. I think Jesus knew this when he said it. I think he knew that our neighbors would dissapoint us, hurt us, confuse us, frustrate us, rip our stuff and leave it a mess, scribble over our religious acts, trample on our hopes and dreams and passions, mess up our hard work, anger us, and fail us. I think he knew they would be difficult to communicate with, be in the same room as, and understand. I think he knew that the loving part would not always come naturally or easily or gracefully.

In fact, I think the love and the life he calls us to is schizophrenic. It is characterized by abnormalities in perception, content of thought, and thought processes. It is counter-cultural, counter-intuitive and contrary to ‘normal’ assumptions and behaviour. It results in, or perhaps emanates from, an ‘abnormal’ perception or expression of reality. It most commonly manifests with significant social dysfunction… It does not make sense. It is not easy to be around. It confounds those around us. Perhaps it even frightens them a bit. It flies in the face of the way things are. It turns common sense and social convention and religious piety and illusions on their heads.

I wish I had gone back and hung around that guy a bit more, instead of hiding out in anger and frustration because he messed my stuff and my head. I wish I had gone back and loved him.

but I thank him. Because, although I wouldn’t recognise his face again, and I had to ask twice for his name, he has challenged me more directly, thrown me into deeper self-examination and more candid awareness, than have some people I have known for years. If I do meet him there again, I’ll take him up on the offer of coffee….

on heroes

Husband-man and I have just, delayedly, finished Heroes Season One. As I was thinking about dreaming and the ‘individual call’ question, I think I found a pretty good analogy in the series. On Heroes, everyone is special –  each with a distinctive special ability – and most of them feel the call to “Save the World”. So they set out, on their own, to fulfill their own personal destiny. In the process they cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate all the other ‘heroes’ whose tasks, also, are to save the world. In so doing, they very nearly screw  things up entirely ending with that dismal picture of the world in five years time.

I think we tend to do that. We stand with our own unique abilities, character, talents, or giftings (if you want to use Christianese). And we set out, by ourselves, to save the world – believing that we are the destined one, the chosen one; rather than the destined ones and chosen ones. The church. And so we set out longing to hear the specific call and to see the unique path layed out before us that will lead us to “hero-hood” and saving the world. And we cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate everyone else who is doing the same. The church.

I don’t think this is necessarily intentional or spiteful. I think it rather comes from a fundamental misunderstanding and misreading of Scripture, combined with a world-view which puts the individual at the centre and elevates self-hood. In light of these two, the quest for “God’s  individual plan for MY life” becomes completely understandable. A re-reading of Scripture, I believe, clearly demonstrates that while God does on occassion work through individuals (Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, Esther, Daniel etc), His primary concern is with the destiny and path of nations, societies, people groups and communities. Secondly, I believe that God’s overall ‘plan’ – the coming of His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven – can most efficiently, effectively, and exquisitely be achieved through individuals acting in their special capacity/ability/talent/gifting or dream IN COMMUNITY. I’ll do my little part, you do yours, and together we will have done something GREAT.

Shane Claiborne puts it this way:

Shane: Early in my youth, I spent a lot of time thinking, `What is God’s will for my life?’ You know how it goes – as if the whole universe kind of revolved around me. One day, I caught this idea from a priest: “Good things come to those who wait, but great things come to those who get off their butts and go find God at work.” That’s a very different way of thinking of things. And it’s very liberating to know that I don’t have to wait for God to write a magical formula on the wall for me, but I can look around for where God is at work and join in. Instead of staring at my sandals, I walk out my front door and look into the eyes of my neighbours.’

Sometimes it’s harder to be a part of a community than it is to just be a lone ranger or a vigilante. It can seem easier to be a soloist than part of a choir – but ultimately this is a story about community. I’ve got a quote on my wall that says, “I know you’re strong enough to do it alone, but are you strong enough to do it together?” …  Here’s another one: an old African proverb says `if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ In a sense, leadership is a choice to go far together rather than just to run as fast as you can on your own. Being someone who is always going fast, I am tempted to do things alone, but I have chosen to do life together. I have intentionally joined with others. Ultimately, we can do more together than I can on my own.” Excerpt from `Follow me to Freedom’ – Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins

So stop. Stop waiting for God to reveal the individual plan for your life. Find where what you have to give intersects with what the world needs. See, God ‘may’ have a specific path laid out for you (a Moses-plan if you like), but in the meantime while you are waiting for Him to reveal it to you, I think He has laid out enough general ground rules to keep you occupied – love mercy, practice justice, go into all the world, preach the good news, baptise, make disciples, love God, love people, pray unceasingly, always be ready to give an answer for the hope you have, be salt, be light, spread the aroma of Christ…. the list goes on. Find somewhere God is already at work, and join Him and the others already there. Take out your crayons, and draw. Dream.

on widening the circle…

This thing has grabbed me now and won’t let go. So I’m throwing the net a little wider. It now includes Landa Cope, The Old Testament Template; Brian Maclaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in missing the point; Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs; Bell, Rethinking Justice: Restoring Our Humanity; Marshall, God’s Prodigious Justice: Yet Another Reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son; and Miroslav Volf. I don’t know some of these people. I’ll temper it with discussion with Brett and Sean du Toit. And will throw in a bit of Shane Claiborne to keep it grounded. I’ll draw in the thoughts and debates and examples from the Lausanne Conference conversations. And read more opinions. I’ll read Proverbs. And I’ll think about Jesus and meditate on his life.

I’ll return here again and again to trace the lines and connect the dots.