Choose life. From the Torah to the prophets to the psalms to the teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul, our collection of scriptures says, over and over again, in so many ways, "choose life."
From the Torah this coming Sunday (Deuteronomy 39) we hear, "Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live." From Matthew's collection of sayings that we call the Sermon the Mount, we hear Jesus instructing his followers to choose life-giving ways to live together in community. He takes the early commandments about community life and pushes even harder toward reconciliation, peacemaking, honesty. His words fall harsh on 21st century ears-Jesus would no doubt flunk a course in Pastoral Counseling-but I think he is really offering another version of "choose life."
After all, Jesus' project is God's dream: God's dream for the thriving, well-being, shalom of all people. That dream bears the possibility of becoming reality only when we learn to live in community, that is, when we turn from the idolatry of individualism to care for the common good.
Years ago, I heard Richard Rohr speak about this at a conference called "Politics and Spirituality: Seeking a Public Integrity." He read us Mary Oliver's poem Sunrise, (printed below in Finally the Poet) and he talked about the two kinds of fire named in the poem: the fire of the lone individual, and the fire that draws us into connection, into participation, the happiness named by the poet "I am so many."
This fire, Rohr said, is the fire of Moses' burning bush, the fire that draws us into participation with God and with all creation. In Moses' profound experience of the divine out in the wilderness, in his encounter with God at the burning bush, Moses found that he couldn't turn from that bush and go back to his sheep; he had to go to Pharaoh's palace to demand freedom for the Hebrew slaves. He was drawn out of his comfort zone so that he could stand up to Pharaoh and say "Let my people go!"
We too are being drawn into fire, Rohr said, into the encounter with the divine, and that turns us around and upside down; God draws us into intimate, personal encounter, so that God can send us out to do God's work in the world.
Now, we attended that 2006 conference because we cared about the public work of justice, the freeing of the slaves in our day, and I believe we were also there to get free ourselves, to get free from our despair and discouragement about the state of our nation, the state of our streets and our schools and our air and our rivers, there to get free from our cynicism and our whining.
"Enslavement is when you can't imagine an alternative," said Rohr, "when you are captive to the status quo." We are all captive to a lie, he said, the corrosive lie at the core of Western spirituality and culture: the lie of individualism. We are stuck in a culture that has lost its notion of the common good, and the fabric of our community is in tatters.
Our "trump card," Rohr said, "is the body of Christ." We can't solve the ills of our day through individualism; "only in our togetherness are we the glory of God."
Living the gospel is corporate work; but in so many of our churches, we've made it private; we too often turn from engaging the issues of the day in a therapeutic effort to feel good. We swallow a bite of church like one more vitamin. And we wonder why we still feel alone and inadequate. The key, or the trump card, is that the life of faith is not about feeling good about yourself, it's about feeling connected to others and to God, it's about seeing ourselves as the Body of Christ, seeing ourselves as one with others, one with the creation.
I believe that even more now than when I heard Rohr speak in 2006. That's our strength, that's our hope: to remember that we belong to God, that we belong to one another. That's what we choose when we choose life. Life together.
Echoes from the Edge
By Christy Wade, 2011 Beatitudes Summer Fellow - February 11th, 2014
Beatitudes Society 2011 Summer Fellow Christy Wade continues to actively pursue faith and justice in the public square through her work at LOVEboldly, a nonprofit dedicated to creating spaces to discuss faith and sexual orientation. Throughout her childhood, Christy loved attending church with her grandmother. Children's church, Sunday school, vacation bible school, prayer meetings, and Sunday morning worship were common in her life. God and the church was a source of great comfort and love for her. However, this would soon change when Christy realized that she was 'one of those homosexuals' that she had heard slurred at her place of worship. Comfort and love were replaced with fear and self-hatred. Although she would experience pain from Christians throughout the next 20 years, Christy refused to leave her faith.
She writes the following on her approach to the conversation of sexuality and faith and the work of LOVEboldly.
In a debate that is too often marred with anger, LOVEboldly exists to restore dignity, decency, and civility back into polarizing conversations on faith and sexuality. Since 2010, they have been blogging, meeting, and building relationships to help heal the divisions between the church and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
This organization is comprised of individuals with a variety of positions on the theology and politics regarding faith and sexuality, but all of them are fundamentally dedicated to honoring the dignity and humanity of all people, and there is room and safety for each person wherever you find yourself in your journey. Their board and closest advisers/supporters include straight folks and LGBT folks, married couples, single and celibate, single and searching for 'the one', Side A and Side B perspectives, ex-gay and ex-ex-gay, and even folks who don't know what all of those terms mean. This plurality doesn't constrain them. Rather, it makes them more respectful of the many perspectives held by Christians.
We invite you to check out the work of LOVEboldly and follow Christy's writing and advocacy on her blog.
Finally, the Poet
By Mary Oliver - February 11th, 2014
die for it-an idea, or the world. People
have done so, brilliantly, letting
their small bodies be bound
to the stake, creating
fury of light. But
this morning, climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought
of China, and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun
for everyone just
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many! What is my name? What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter fire."