The Sacred Text was the cleansing of the Temple, which I recognized from the preceding Sunday.
Keith said that we would do prayers in four parts -- prayers for our world and our nation, prayers for our community and loved ones, prayers for ourselves, and thanksgivings -- and that after each prayer was lifted up aloud, we would respond, "God, hear our prayer."
We put out I think 15 chairs and I ended up pulling out an extra one during Prayers (so I didn't get to lift up my Thanksgivings) when Tara and Gary came in from setting up for house church.
Subject: [FirstChurch Mailing List] Lenten house-church tonight: suffering, poverty, justiceWe read:
Things are tough all over, Beloved, but we know that they are tougher for some than for others, as it has always been. What is a Christian to do with the suffering in the world? Is the Kingdom to come now, based on our activity in the cosmos? What is that activity?
Tonight, we gather, for deeper, smaller church. Rest and Bread at 6p; simple homemade supper at 7p; conversation about scripture, Christian social teaching (think: liberation theology and the social gospel) and our own experience/revelation from God on this critical issue. Let's make it our own.
hope to see you there!
Jeremiah 22:13-16 (which Laura Ruth said was the daily lectionary text, incidentally)
as well as readings from the Social Gospel movement (Rev. Walter Rausenbush) and Liberation Theology (Monseñor Oscar Romero) and an excerpt from the contemporary novel Gilead (by Marilynne Robinson), and then we were given the opportunity to generate a short list of questions which we would then discuss in smaller groups.
"Sin is a social force. It runs from man to man along the lines of social contact. Its impact on the individual becomes most overwhelming when sin is most completely socialized. Salvation, too, is a social force. It is exerted by groups that are charged with divine will and love...a full salvation demands a Christian social order which will serve as the spiritual environment of the individual."
-Rev. Walter Rausenbush
"God needs the people themselves to save the world . . . The world of the poor teaches us that liberation will arrive only when the poor are not simply on the receiving end of hand-outs from governments or from the churches, but when they themselves are the masters and protagonists of their own struggle for liberation."
"When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises."
-Monseñor Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador 1977 - 1980
I heard a man say once that Christians worship sorrow. That is by no means true. But we do believe there is a sacred mystery in it, it's fair to say that.
I believe there is a dignity in sorrow simply because it is God's pleasure that there should be. He is forever raising up those who are brought low. This does not mean that it is even right to cause suffering or to seek it out when it can be avoided, and serves not good, practical purpose. To value suffering in itself can be dangerous and strange, so I want to be very clear about this. It means simply that God takes the side of the sufferers against those who afflict them.
-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Last week, the facilitator had come in with a list of about a half a dozen questions and asked us what other questions we wanted to include, and. So this time the handout didn't have any questions and Molly just asked us to generate 4 or 5 questions. There was lots of silence, and she said that just because we were only going to have a few questions didn't mean that YOUR question wasn't important :)
I said, "I want to ask, 'Why does God allow suffering?' but that seems too big a question to inflict on a small group for a 45-minute discussion." Molly insisted that it was a good and important core question :)
* if the gospel is just justice, what gets left out?
* can justice succeed?
* why does God allow suffering?
* what does a congregation like ours do if Romero's right?
* realistically, what can we do to remove ourselves from a world obsessed with consumerism?
Molly, Jenny, and Laura Ruth were all leading small groups. With 20 attendees, we wanted to have 4 groups, and Molly asked if anyone felt called to lead one. Silence. Molly volunteered me to lead one and I was like, "Um, okay." I am unclear as to what made her volunteer me, but I did a serviceable job. (Mostly I just kept an eye on the time and on moving us from a period of discussion to generating "We Believe" statements. Actually facilitating discussion is something I'm very much still learning how to do.)
Someone mentioned Moral Clarity by Susan Neiman.
Someone mentioned the idea that God created the world and left it for us to create justice.
We frequently went back to the Oscar Romero quote "liberation will arrive only when the poor are not simply on the receiving end of hand-outs from governments or from the churches, but when they themselves are the masters and protagonists of their own struggle for liberation."
We talked a lot about not being patronizing, of being in relationship, of being respectful, of being in solidarity.
I wasn't able to articulate the issue of being in solidarity with the Other, as if the Other is not amongst us. (A few weeks ago, Joy preached about being in solidarity with those who are oppressed, and afterward Marla pointed out to her that the way she had presented it was problematic because many of the people in the congregation are/have been oppressed -- for being queer, primarily, but not necessarily just that.)
One person mentioned a NYT article on millionaires who had lost lots of money feeling poor. I felt like I'd read that article (though when I went to nytimes.com I couldn't find it). I was uncomfortable (but unable to articulate my discomfort) with the angle the person/group took that it was all those awful millionaires who were making the less-millionaires feel poor (this stance that of course these folks were NOT poor and so how dare they think themselves so). I think someone did mention that compared to most of the world, we are ALL incredibly rich. I know that I said it was all relative -- the question of who are we comparing ourselves to.
In talking about how to phrase one of the "We Believe" statements to be appropriately inclusive (and to not include a litany of various oppressions) but not meaningless, one person said, "I don't want to be in solidarity with the oppressor." Recalling discussions of systemic racism, I said, "But we are the oppressor," but I'm not sure anyone heard me.
Eventually we reconvened (30 minutes was totally a lie).
At the end we sang "God of Grace and God of Glory" (which we had sung at my Sunday morning church and which I was pleased about at that time, too).
On Friday, I saw a friend mention a Radio National "Encounter" program called "Ashes," looking at the Book of Job. Transcript and audio available here. Excerpts:
Jason Kalman: Elie Wiesel, for example, has written that even though God behaves in an unjust manner with regard to Job, Job is really at his greatest point heroic for standing up to God, for challenging God. And as such, human beings have a responsibility in the face of all injustice, whether divine or human, to stand up for the righteous.
David Rutledge: It brings up this question of why, which is not answered in the text, why do these terrible things happen to Job, why do the righteous suffer, why does God allow suffering? If that question is not answered, if we take away that question, what kinds of questions are we left with? Is Job in some sense a book about how to suffer?
Jason Kalman: Well, it may be. Certainly contemporary Jewish teachers have tried to read it that way. The question of the 'what' of suffering really becomes dominant. 'Since I've now suffered, what do I do as a result?' Certainly Job's attempts to seek out God, to try and find the just path, is a model that becomes important. Certainly Job's challenges to God's justice take on a particularly important role after the Holocaust. Not to explain the why of suffering, but how one should respond. That is, we should always demand justice. We should always learn from the event: if I can't learn about God, at the very least, I should be able to learn how to respond to that suffering, either by becoming more empathetic, or by actually physically going out and taking what I've learned from the disaster to help avoid future disasters.
Mark Vernon: One answer to the question of why we suffer is that it's a necessary part of our make-up, it's just what it is to be biological creatures, to be psychological creatures. There's no happiness without sadness; there are no good things in life without struggle. But that doesn't seem to be a hugely satisfactory answer to me, for two reasons. One is that it seems rather calculating, and if there's one thing not to be when it comes to trying to deal with suffering, that is calculating. Reason compounds suffering, if you like.
David Rutledge: So when you say that reason compounds suffering, is that partly a warning, if you like, about the limits of philosophical answers to suffering?
Mark Vernon: Yes, I think that what philosophical reflections upon suffering can do is that they can try and sort of pinpoint what the real issues are. But I don't think there's any reasoning out of suffering.
David Rutledge: So are you saying that there's no ultimate sense to be made of it, it's just enough to learn to deal with it practically?
Mark Vernon: I don't think there's any rational sense to be made of it, but there is perhaps experiential sense to be made of it. One of the things which I noticed when I was a priest is that often the times when people are suffering very greatly, when they've got ill children or when someone who's loved has died, and they're often the most meaningful moments in people's lives. It's then that they know that they really loved the person who has gone, or that they really care for the child, and they're very intense experiences in some way that they never felt so alive as during that time. And so there's a mystery here, if you like, that while you would never will that suffering upon people, it can be a very profound experience.
Havi Carel: [...] I think this emphasis on choice is something that's very important to the discussion of illness and suffering, because even though the illness and the suffering might be unavoidable, and inflicted on you by an external process, you still have the choice as to how to respond to it. The discovery for me that I was the only person who could decide how to respond to it, how I would respond to it, was an immense sense of freedom, precisely because it restores some of the sense of autonomy that is really massively damaged, at least initially when you become ill.
David Rutledge: Well, it's interesting you talk about maintaining a relationship with the God of the Book of Job, because in some respects, a relationship is precisely what that God disavows. God's engagement with Job, apart from allowing him to be afflicted with suffering, is limited to saying, 'I'm God and you're human, you don't understand me, so keep quiet and just take what's meted out to you'.
Jason Kalman: Well, I think there is that issue - but there's also the fact that Job demands a personal encounter with God and God actually responds. I might not like what God says, but the fact that God shows up, I think, offers a redemptive note.
David Rutledge: What about the end of the story? We've mentioned the way in which it's made the book problematic for readers who are addressing questions that come up through the Holocaust, the experience of suffering there. Job is apparently rewarded, which seems to contradict everything that's gone before. How do you read that ending?
Robert Eisen: Well, it is a very troubling ending, and let me share with you the comments of a couple of the more obscure commentators in the Jewish tradition, who basically think that it was tacked on as a way of kind of just appeasing the masses. You know, in other words, Job isn't rewarded in the end, but the author had to put something in there to make them feel good.
I'd like to go in a different direction by saying that it is part of the book, and the issue of whether God rewards him is one thing, and I'm not sure I have a good answer to that - but the thing that really strikes me about it is that he gets back into life. Who's Job at the end of this incredible of tragedies? Is he a broken person who simply gives up? No. He goes back, he raises a family, he gets married and raises a family, and that to me is the most important message that I think a Jew can respond to - and maybe any human being - which is that if you experience tragedy, don't give up.
The fact that Job engages in a dialogue, the fact that at certain points in the text he protests against God, I think that's very modern, that appeals to my sense of the need to talk about injustice, to engage God in dialogue in which you question him. I think we should all do that, all people of faith. And again, the fact that in the very end Job has enough faith to raise a second family. Many Jews lost families in the Holocaust, and it just is a marvel to me that they made a new life in Europe, America, and raised children again. So having that faith not necessarily in God, but in human living, and in moving on past suffering, I see that in Job and I find that very inspiring.
Laurie Woods: It's one of those few books I think in the bible that says life isn't about control - and I think that's something that touches us in the 21st century, we're all control freaks, we all want to be in control.
David Rutledge: Laurie Woods.
Laurie Woods: And we can't control God, and Job realises he can't control anything that's going on in his life, so he sits back, not so much agnostically, because as I said before, he knew God through tradition but now through life, experience, suffering agony, he's come to know God in a different kind of way, and through struggle, he has been able to emerge transformed.