Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday in Holy Week

“The The Spiritual Gift of Righteous Indignation”
The Jesus who threw the money changers out of the temple is not the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of Sunday School flannel boards and stained glass windows. Rather this is an outraged Jesus who has finally had it up to “here” with those in authority whose commitment to the “letter of the Law” they inherited blinded them to the Spirit of the Law Jesus incarnated. Out of patience? Jesus? Is that hard to imagine? Harder to imagine, perhaps, is that he wouldn’t have been by this point.

Abraham Heschel had this to say about patience: “Patience, a quality of holiness may be sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.” [Heschel, The Prophets] And Jesus was righteously indignant, all right! The picture that comes to my mind when I imagine this scene is Peter Finch in the movie “Network” yelling, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Jesus was NOT going to take it anymore and he made no bones about it as he went toe-to-toe with what would have been the clergy, vestry and wardens of his day.

And I love that he started where they lived – quoting the scripture they shared in common as his “opening argument” -- “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” … but you have turned it into a den of thieves! No wonder they began to plot his destruction: as one of my mentors once cautioned, “Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” And out to get Jesus they were.

And what were his greatest crimes? Knowing their tradition as well as they did. Calling them out of their comfort zone and asking them to abandon “how we’ve always done it.” Insisting that “a house of prayer for all the peoples” meant ALL the peoples … not just the ritually clean, not just the ones with enough wealth to purchase the doves necessary for the temple sacrifice – all the peoples. Offering God’s healing grace to all people -- the lepers and outcasts, the women and the children, the Roman centurion and the Syro-Phonecian woman. Fulfilling the vision of the prophet Isaiah who spoke for Yahweh to the people of Israel, “It is not enough for you … to bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

I remember this morning the words we pray in the daily office: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. That everyone might come. Everyone.

It was not only what he was willing to die for it was what he was willing to pitch a fit for. What got those tables tossed and those doves disturbed in this act of outrage in the Temple was the very idea that there were those who would put themselves and their rituals, their sacrifices and their “theological boundaries” between God’s grace and anyone who God created in love and calls into that saving embrace.

And the beat goes one. From my perspective the mindset operating in the Temple that Jerusalem day is still hard at work in parts of this Episcopal Church – of this Anglican Communion. It is the mindset that results in comments like this one from a post to an online discussion site: “The Episcopal Church’s current problems have little to do with sex, but everything to do with an unwillingness to maintain theological boundaries."

Maintain theological boundaries. Let’s try it on: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that we might maintain theological boundaries. Don’t know about you but that’s not working for me. And it didn’t work for a clergy colleague of mine who offered this online response:

The Jesus I have met on my walk of faith constantly challenged theological boundaries, constantly bothered the authorities both civil and religious. He consorted with the unclean, he had women in his cohort, he denied the priority of familial relations, he violated purity codes. With the procession into Jerusalem, he upset the civil authorities and with the subsequent overturning of the temple tables he upset the religious authorities. Here a boundary, there a boundary, everywhere a boundary. I think that unwillingness to maintain boundaries may be of the essence of the faith ... at least if Jesus is to be the center of that faith.
If we’re not righteously indignant we’re not paying attention.
As we follow the life and example of Jesus may we be given the courage to challenge the civil boundaries that keep us from being a nation where liberty and justice for all really means all. And as we follow Jesus this week in the way of the cross may we also be given the grace to take up the cross of righteous indignation and take ON those religious authorities who presume to say who qualifies and who doesn’t to be gathered into God’s loving embrace.
And in spite of the challenges, with the psalmist may we say, “As for me, I will always have hope, and I will add to all your praises. My lips will proclaim your deeds of justice and salvation all day long.” Amen.


Anonymous said...

I was 'righteously indignant' now I'm tired. I've been reading the entries in a.r.c.e. omg the venom and hate that gets promoted there. The vitriol directed at the +PB and the church for trying to defend what's given into their care, their stewardship. Not a word for the folks that didn't want to leave, not a word for the good work TEC does everyday. I'm tired Susan. I want to lay down this cross and stop. I'm tired of being the enemy. One of the reasons I left the RCC to join TEC was the sense of welcome I 'percieved'. I have to tell you I wasn't thrilled that the local episcopal priest was a woman (residual romanism I suppose LOL) but when I met her and we talked and I told her my story, essentially that the RCC does't want me. She told me that "GOD" does want you and wants you in His house on Sunday morning. That woman gave me the energy to go on fighting the fight to be a christian. Now the Lord has taken her away, the powers that be are tolerant but hardly accepting. Such negativity. It's hard to bear it everyday. Anyway I think I've gone off subject I'll stop here, needed to talk to someone and you're one of the most friendly faces on the internet. Thank you for being here. I know you care. Jesse


I deleted this accidently from blogger so am posting it myself ... sorry, Jonathan:

Jonathan has left a new comment on your post "Tuesday in Holy Week":

According to Merriam Webster, indignation is "anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean."

The problem is, in the real world people tend to get "indignant" about all manner of things OTHER than what is unjust or mean. In fact, most of us relish our indignation at perceiving the wrongdoing of others --as if merely experiencing this anger was redeeming us and elevating us.

I can cut Jesus some slack for attacking folks in the temple, since he was the incarnate son of the Creator. Being imperfect myself, I need to curb my desire to strut around "righting wrongs" since I really can't claim to have the lock on truth and justice.

I'm not certain, but I'm guessing Jesus would want me to spend my energies in love and service, rather than in righteous indignation. Darn it! That's so much harder!

Jane said...

Jesse, yes it is tough but it's worth it. I'm a transsexual woman, lesbian as well, and my Anglican church community, being composed mainly of elderly and retired folk, isn't one you'd see as welcoming someone like me. However, I was determined not to end up in a kind of ghetto; I say that while fully respecting the great work of churches such as the Metropolitan Community Church. Yet by just being myself and contributing meaningfully to my church, I think that I've earned the respect of most of the other church members, well I'd say almost all except for the exceptionally bigoted who'll never be moved! And you know what, they elected me to our Parochial Church Council. It is a long and slow process of education, at least on this side of the pond! In many ways I envy ECUSA and feel it would make our path over here so much more difficult were you to move away from the Communion. In any case, Jesse, I've also just gone off subject, so do keep up the fight, it's worth it, a legacy we'll leave behind us. God bless, Jane.

Manny Publius said...

Battle fatigue! Burnout! I know what that's like. I know the kind of energy required to continue the battle alone.

My parish is very conservative. There aren't a lot of alternatives. In a small New England community there is often only one parish. It's different in a city but it's hard to get there from here.

Funny, I can tell you they are good people with a lot of closed minds in their midsts. They only know what they know. For my part, I haven't come out in my parish though some folks know I am gay.

I sit and listen, hoping I don't hear anything offensive. Mostly I don't but I can't say that I never do.

I didn't go to church on Sunday...didn't go the Sunday before or the Sunday before that either. I miss it. Going to church on Easter Sunday would be nice, but I probably won't make it. I probably won't put myself through that. As the battle rages on, as the front line engulfs me I want to retreat, to find a safe haven for my soul.

It feels like THEIR Jesus will rise on Easter and bury our hopes and dreams and faith. Jesus died for their sins...ours, as defined by them, are unredeemable.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Jane for your words of encoragement. I don't mean to use your blog Susan to communicate but I just wanted to thank Jane and hope Manny read some of the worlds of encoragement.
Isn't it funny, the traditionalist (is there a better word than that?) think we run the church I don't feel like we have that much power. I'm going to church Manny and I'll remember you and pray God give you, give us all the strenght to not only endure but to see the battle through.

AmerInParis said...

I joined the Episcopal church partly because there were women priests, which was so refreshing after growing up without them. It was also wonderful to stumble across a brochure at the first Episcopal church I visited that emphasized the willingness to listen to and respect the experience of God of others (other religions, other people). Absolutely wonderful after all the church sermons about how we're -- name of Xtian denomination goes here) right, they're (rest of the world) wrong. Sometimes I could swear they were even happy about the idea that others would get their comeuppance in the afterlife!

And now the ABC et al don't seem interested in our experience of God. The ABC, for one, would invite Gene Robinson if he were.

Now I see books written on how awful religion is, and I can see why people would think that. But I think it's more a matter that any organization can start out well, but quickly grow political, hierarchical and divide into "we're right and you're wrong" groups.

I'm tired of it all, too. According to much of the world I'm inferior because I'm female, damned because I'm a lesbian, disordered because my brain works differently (ADHD), useless and undesirable because I'm middle-aged, and just generally awful and undisciplined for being fat. And my family think I'm naive for my political beliefs and can't possibly have actually done any research or properly thought things out, or I would agree with them! ;-)

So I think it isn't just religion. Humans in general seem to feel more comfortable with labels and judgements: bad/good, right/wrong, us/them, for us/against us.

Tough world! And I do think there are times to be indignant and say "Talk about right or wrong -- it is simply WRONG to make others inferior in society or force them to follow what your group has decided is right. Believe want you want to believe but stop interfering with everybody else's life. Focus on your own relationship with God and leave us to do the same!"

And I would probably hop up and down in my rage, which would be VERRRRY impressive, I'm sure! ;-)

Unknown said...

While I attend the Episcopal church, I often find more comfort these days in the Reform Jewish Church on line and in various publications. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book entitled "The Book of Jewish Values," had this to say to his child that he found out huniliated another child. Judaism regards the issue of humiliating another very seriously. Judaism regards such behavior as a form of murder, understanding that if such humiliation goes on for a prolonged period, it can destroy a person's self-respect, make him or her feel foolish and hated, and therefore destroy a person's life. Isn't this what happens when people are labeled as gay, lesbian, etc. When people feel so bad about themselves that they no longer want to go to church doesn't that indicate they are slowly dying, withdrawing from society? And, when this happens don't we all lose? We lose that individuals' thoughts, ideas, and inventions. Who knows if we are killing the next Einstein. Just a thought...