Anne Howard: A Word in Time: Bad Religion


There's nothing like a natural disaster to produce bad theology. 

I have been cringing at the kind of Godtalk I've seen in the news in the wake of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma. You know the kind of things people say: "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away" or "God never gives us more than we can bear"-as if God gives us a tornado to test our "bear-ability."

It's the kind of theology that keeps God at a supernatural remove, external to our world, off on some throne, casting down golden crowns or slinging lumps of coal. It's the kind of theology that's always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I get it that people want to explain things. (I find myself wanting to jump on the climate change explanation train, which was legit for Katrina and Sandy and may or may not be the case of this most recent tornado. I would like the satisfaction of blaming this tornado on Big Oil and Mindless Consumption.)

But there is no theological cause-and-effect to explain natural disasters. God does not "send" these things. The forces of nature-sometimes human-influenced-cause the wind to blow and the earth to quake as forces of nature, not as tools of divine punishment or reward.

So, in the wake of the Oklahoma tonado, and looking ahead to a summer of tornadoes and storms and hurricanes and wildfires, we have an opportunity to call out fear-based religion for the oppressive force that it is and has been for too long and too often. We have an opportunity for both liberation and healing.

That's what we find in Luke's story of the healing of the centurion's servant-liberation and healing. Isn't that what we find in all the Jesus stories about healing? - liberation from the old superstitions of divine punishment, liberation from the cultural taboos against infirmity and disability, liberation from the notion of healing or illness being somehow "deserved" by a certain kind of person or group.

Such liberation, in the face of cultural superstitions and prejudices and fears, is nothing short of a miracle.

In Luke's story of the healing of the servant (Luke 7:1-10) the centurion protests that he does not deserve the healing presence of Jesus, that he is "not worthy" to receive Jesus into his home.

Jesus says, in effect, Nonsense. Healing does not come to those who deserve it. Healing does not come to those who practice the right religion. (Nor is healing reserved from those who practice the "wrong" religion.) Jesus hears (from the elders who deliver the message) of the centurion's desire for healing, and in an instant, without seeking qualification or preaching anything,  he acknowledges that desire as the seedbed of faith and new possibility.

Desire opens the centurion to faith, overcomes estrangement and unleashes the power of healing. Divinity is welcomed into the moment. The servant is healed.

The distance between this first-century healing story and our 21st century natural disasters is not that great. Both give us the opportunity to turn from tired explanations about deserving and undeserving, punishment and reward. Both give us the opportunity to act, as the centurion and the elders and Jesus acted on behalf of the one in need.

Oklahoma gives us one more way to discover that God is alive and active in the very middle of suffering and loss-in the midst of the whirlwind, as Job discovered. God is alive and active in any desire for healing. And God is alive and active in our capacity to reach across taboos and superstitions and barriers, to reach just like Jesus.


Echoes from the Edge


By Anna Woofenden, 2011 Beatitudes Summer Fellow - May 27th, 2013

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5

I was raised in a world of "alternatives": Alternative power sources, alternative food sources, alternative schooling, alternative medicine.

Sometimes this felt novel and unique. People would visit us on our back-to-the-land homestead from their suburban houses. I would hear the conversations as they pondered how they could live a little closer to the earth and in tune with nature.

Something intrigued people about the possibly of a different way, the idea that all that they knew to be "normal" might not be the entire story. Maybe something else could be an option for them. They were searching for an alternative to the status quo and to the cultural norms.

" _A river of the water of life... __no more night... leaves of the trees that are for the healing of the nations..."_

Each of these words and images holds in it a glimpse of a true alternative, the offering of a possibility of something different.

I long for these alternatives. In some heavenly realm after death, sure, but I long for these alternatives here and now, incarnate in the flesh and the brokenness of the world. I long for a world where violence is not expected. I long for a world where people are not hungry. I long for a world where the societal norm is forgiveness and love. I long for an alternative. I long for the kingdom of God, manifest more and more prominently here on earth.

There's something about this vision in our text, there's something about the parables, there's something about the personhood of Jesus, there's something about the questions that Jesus asks. There's something about this Kingdom of God thing that involves a different perspective, and to look at the world a little differently, to ask new questions, and to change re-imagine the way we engage.

May we engage the possibility that we can be part of the "alternative."

Finally, the Poet

from "The Cure at Troy"

By Seamus Heaney - May 27th, 2013

Human beings suffer.

They torture one another.

They get hurt and get hard. . .

History says, Don't hope

On this side of the grave,

But the, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up, 

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a farther shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.

Taken with permission from the Beatitudes Society Blog.