In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hope for Our Souls

This is a special edition to the Feminist Theology blog,originally written for and posted on my personal blog, but crossposted here at the suggestion of Janine, who wrote her reflection on the Baptism of Jesus before the violent events in Tucson unfolded.

I didn't preach today but I did go to church. I went wondering what words of comfort or wisdom I would hear to help me understand the violence, anger, and insanity, that fed the shootings in Tucson on Saturday. I know this shooting feels particularly personal to me because I lived there for a time and I have been to several events with Congresswoman Giffords. I hold her in high regard. When I heard the news yesterday I was stunned and profoundly saddened.

Having lived there, I know first-hand the propensity toward anger, prejudice, and violence that exists. Alarmingly, these have been increasing over the last few years,particularly in that region of Southern Arizona. It was disturbingly high and chronic in the small community I lived in south of Tucson. While it's true that members of the congregation carried concealed weapons which were always a concern, there were more pronounced issues to contend with. These included chronic, unresolved anger,a pronounced sense of entitlement, a high tolerance for inappropriate acting-out without consequences, and a higher than average level of depression and substance abuse. All of these were further fueled by systemic prejudice and fear.

On this Sunday morning when we gathered to celebrate the feast day of the baptism of Jesus, what sense could we make of the violence yesterday? Eighteen shot, six dead including a Judge and a nine year old girl, and a loved Congresswoman in critical condition, shot point blank in the head.

We didn't baptize anyone in the church I went to today, nor did we renew our baptismal vows, nor did the preacher talk about the meaning of baptism. It was a fine sermon., for another time. It just was not what I needed to hear on this day, the day after that tragedy.

Perhaps, if we had taken some time reflect on the Baptismal Rite, I may have found a bit of what I was hoping for, some understanding, some hope, some accountability?

Yes, accountability.

I know a young man shot these people...but we will fail to learn from this if we minimize this to him and his apparent “mental instability.”

We are a people who have gone astray. We are a people who have forgotten how to live in kindness. We are a people who have forgotten what it means to sin.

Then the Celebrant asks the following questions of the candidates who
can speak for themselves, and of the parents and godparents who speak
on behalf of the infants and younger children.

Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer I do.

Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer I do.

Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your  Lord?
Answer I do.

Do we really understand what we are saying here? What sin is? What evil is? Do we even really believe that there are such things as sin and evil? Or do we think the Church made them up just to make us feel ashamed and submissive?

As a society we tend to relegate sin to a set of cultural bound moral behaviors. This complicates and minimizes sin because these cultural bound moral behavior(s) deemed "sinful" change over time. Take divorce and remarriage, for example. The Church has enforced the idea that marriage is forever, regardless of how unhealthy a marriage is. The Church has said that divorce is a sin and remarriage is also a sin. In some churches today divorced and remarried people cannot receive Holy Communion.

Sometimes a marriage needs to end because the marriage is causing brokenness and harm. Sometimes marriages need to be worked on, for each party to examine the brokenness and work for reparation and reconciliation and forgiveness. Sometimes we just have to live our marriage vows, to love faithfully through good times and tough times, to work toward wholeness of self and other, instead behaving in ways that cause further brokenness.

The thing is, sin is about behavior - any behavior that causes harm to another and produces broken relationships with God, self, and other human beings. Looked at this way, as broken relationship, we can redirect our efforts from reducing sin to something it is not and toward what sin is.

I tend to define sin as any behavior that causes brokenness between God, self, and others. By this I mean anything that causes me to become broken with God, or broken with myself, or broken with others. Evil is the root that causes that brokenness. Evil is the force that tempts us. Evil is the power that draws us and pulls at us, distorting how we think and see, fooling us into self-deception, encouraging us to act upon self-deprecation, or grandiosity, arrogance, entitlement, and or violence. Evil is real and so is sin. Just look at how broken our world is. How lost we have become. How even basic civility has been pushed aside, how we have lost the ability to assume the best in others.

As a Christian I believe that we humans have souls. It's even possible that there is a “communal soul,” of sorts, that forms in congregations, in communities, in countries. The soul, individually and corporately, responds to how we nourish it and care for it, or neglect it. If we feed the soul with care and compassion we will show care and compassion to others. If we feed the soul with anger and mean-spirited words, we will become angry and mean spirited people. Yes, words matter.

Perhaps that is why the baptismal rite has the entire community listen to those taking these vows and then asks the community to respond with their support:

Celebrant Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?
People We will.

We are all responsible. We all need to renounce evil and embrace compassion, renounce sin, and embrace love, renounce fear and embrace trust, renounce anger and embrace hope. We need the redemption that can only come from turning away from behaviors that cause brokenness in the world, with God/self/others, and turning toward reconciliation. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking this is something we can do on our own - but we can do it with God's help.

In the Episcopal Church the baptismal covenant reminds us of this:

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and  fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever  you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all  people, and respect the dignity of every human  being?
People I will, with God’s help.

So, here is what I wanted to hear: we are all accountable for the sins and evils of the world we live, including the violence yesterday. We are accountable by things we have done and things we have not done. We are accountable by participating, in any way, in acts that have caused brokeness instead of acts that seek wholeness. We all need to turn and return to God, to seek absolution and reconciliation, and to move forward - with God's help - to live as God would have us live.

And, perhaps, with that, turning to God and with God's help living as God would have us, we will find hope for our souls.

Crossposted on SeekingAuthenticVoice

1 comment:

Janine Goodwin said...

Thank you for this, Terri.