Along the Way
These reflections illuminating areas of church, Christian and spiritual life are offered in each Friday email by our Plymouth clergy.
The Will to Act/in Along the Way /by Elizabeth Blanchette
When All Beauty is Gone/in Along the Way /by Elizabeth Blanchette
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
April 7, 2023
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”—Matt. 23:37
My heart breaks every time I think about how those who pour out their hearts in love, service, and commitment to the most vulnerable are often made victims of the inevitable backlash against the pursuit of justice. Even as Jesus confronts the truth about what awaits him during what would become his last visit to Jerusalem, he expresses his desire to care for the people. His response is a lament, not anger. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams points out that Jesus “consistently refuses the role of oppressor: he does no violence, he utters no condemnation, he has no will to exclude or diminish.” Given the powers Jesus challenged, the inevitability of his execution can never exclusively be theological. Jesus’ relentless, active opposition to the status quo of poverty, violence, and exclusion of “the least of these” threatened the political and economic powers. They had to stop him.
I have never been comfortable concluding that Jesus’ crucifixion was biblically and theologically necessary for humanity’s salvation. I have also been uncomfortable with the idea that we, all of humanity throughout all time, are responsible for Jesus’ death. But what overwhelms me, what draws me to Jesus, especially as we try to capture the theological import of the violence and sadness of Good Friday, is his faithful obedience to God’s call to love and serve until the very end. What strikes awe in me about Jesus is how he acted to make God’s heart and realm real for the world until the powers acted upon him to stop him. What ought we do in light of Jesus’ unwavering, unstoppable love, passion, and commitment? What does it mean to love so fully that the world wants to stop us?
On Good Friday, I confront how often I do not act. Whether out of fear, comfort, or cowardice, I wonder how often I have demurred in silence, compromise, or accommodation to injustice, violence, and dehumanizing disregard for the vulnerable. We are challenged every day at the feet of the cross to admit that, too often, in fear of death, we have been explicitly and inadvertently complicit in making victims, excluding and diminishing the vulnerable for whom Jesus advocated and on whose behalf he challenged the status quo. We have not acted as often as we should on behalf of the poor, the sick, the prisoner, or the homeless. But as the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion sets in, I am heartened by Henri Nouwen’s testimony: “Where all beauty is gone, all eloquence silenced, all splendor taken away, and all admiration withdrawn, there it is that God has chosen to manifest unconditional love to us.” What ought we do?
The Sufferings of the Present Time/in Along the Way /by Elizabeth Blanchette
by Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands” —bell hooks
On a recent television program my family was watching, the show’s hero, who had helped a woman out of an abusive relationship, was attacked by the woman’s violent, spurned-partner. The attack was so brutal and gratuitous that I remarked to my spouse that many of the recent shows and movies we’ve been viewing allowed their heroes to undergo severe, debilitating violence before their inevitable victory. Do the writers believe overwhelming suffering makes victory sweeter? Is there something noble or heroic about suffering?
Every season of Lent, when I am preparing for the Holy Week liturgies and observances, I must confront the suffering of Jesus. In doing so, I also become increasingly sensitive to the news about suffering. Everywhere I turn, I see headlines and hear stories about people enduring unspeakable pain, violence, and suffering caused by nature or human hands. And I must prepare myself for the inevitable tendency to extrapolate from Jesus’ redemptive suffering that all suffering is redemptive, which is borne out by how people generally view suffering. A Pew Research Center poll from last year found that 68% of U.S. adults believe “everything in life happens for a reason,” and more than half (61%) believe that “suffering exists ‘to provide an opportunity for people to come out stronger.’” We know that people cope with suffering by intentional meaning-making to understand and explain the experience and regain some sense of orderliness in their world. I have benefitted personally from the testimonies of growth, overcoming, and deeper discipleship because of suffering.
I understand the desire for suffering to mean something, to see the ugliness and violence we experience transfigured in such a way that we can testify that it will always turn out alright. However, I worry that people misinterpret the Apostle Paul’s claim that he rejoices in his afflictions because suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope as an invitation to suffer (Rom 5:3-4). And unfortunately, overcoming violence, oppression, and discrimination is sometimes used as evidence that suffering is always redemptive or that there is no longer a need to hold anyone to account for it. In the effort to make suffering noble, we may inadvertently expect it, pursue it, or adjust ourselves to it. The social critic bell hooks invites us to be honest about the wounds of our suffering. But she also invites us to take control in reconstructing our lives in response to it. As we continue our journey to wholeness during this season of Lent, I pray that, even as we accept the inevitability of suffering, we remember that God does not require it, and we do not deserve it. Amen.
The Power of an Expansive Theological Imagination/in Along the Way /by Elizabeth Blanchette
October 23, 2020 and Earlier
October 23, 2020 Plagues, Pandemics and Promises
October 16, 2020 The End of Times
October 9, 2020 Rebellion as Sacred Work
October 2, 2020 The Notorious RBG!
September 25, 2020 The Call
September 18, 2020 Dismantling the Silos
September 11, 2020 Revolutionary Love
September 4, 2020 Jesus Is the Answer
August 28, 2020 Worship: God Is the Audience
August 21, 2020 Our Knowledge of God Is Participatory
August 14, 2020 Frederick Douglass, Prophet
August 7, 2020 Do You Want to Be Healed?
July 31, 2020 Vulnerability
July 24, 2020 God’s Backside
July 17, 2020 A Sign of the Times
July 10, 2020 Desiderata
July 3, 2020 A Genius with a Thousand Helpers
June 19, 2020 Unsung Volunteers
June 12, 2020 Our Own Gardens
June 5, 2020 Church Update
May 29, 2020 The Call
May 22, 2020 Scroll Down
May 15, 2020 Don’t Push Send
May 8, 2020 Navigating Mistakes
May 1, 2020 Teach Us to Count Our Days
April 24, 2020 Sitting with Not Knowing
April 17, 2020 Feed My Sheep
April 10, 2020 Life’s Refrain
April 3, 2020 How Do We Show Our Love?
March 27, 2020 Moving through the Fog
March 20, 2020 To Love Kindness
March 13, 2020 The Virus
March 6, 2020 The Seth I Know
February 28, 2020 Triage
February 21, 2020 Impermanence
February 14, 2020 Pruning
February 7, 2020 Inner Life
January 31, 2020 Ask Not
January 24, 2020 Doing Right Things
January 17, 2020 Radical Acceptance
January 10, 2020 The New Year—20/20 Vision
December 27, 2019 Closing the door
December 20, 2019 Winter Solstice and Christmas Day
December 13, 2019 Sacred rest
December 6, 2019 Judge little, forgive much
November 29, 2019 My favorite holiday
November 22, 2019 Making space is spiritual work
November 15, 2019 Looking to the future
November 8, 2019 We stand at the crossroads
November 1, 2019 Ecumenical and Interfaith Connections
October 25, 2019 A Plea for Civility
October 18, 2019 Preacher, Pastor, Prophet
October 11, 2019 . . . to being still