I realize that social media is an inept form of communication. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for vitriol, divisiveness or exclusion.
A recent posting of one of my “friends” in which they promoted the Christian faith of “one of [their] favorite presidents.” After which they say, “Haters, please don’t comment.”
The posting and use of words, of course, is completely non-shocking. We see this type of comment on social media all the time. (We see it on Obama and on Bush and on everything across the polemical gammut.) It is common, and that is why it should be all the more disturbing.
We could critique the actual statement that affirms the president’s Christianity on the basis of his stated belief in Jesus or his attendance of church or the prayer he has prayed – a statement that may implicitly give the president blanket approval, without evaluating how the particular president’s actions cohere with Christian faith. We could critique that.
We could also critique this form of communication that claims the soapbox or the pulpit for one’s self and for one’s self alone. The exclusive right to speak assures a monolog. Or it assures a dialog only with those who think like you. And that limits any liklihood of learning or change. It says I want to talk but I don’t care about lisenting. It says my voice is important and yours is not. In larger society, this is counter the value of “free speech,” which their favorite president presupposably supports. In the church, this is the equivalent of silencing the prophet, whose contemporaries would have called “hater.”
And that leads to the real problem with this statement. It is easy to throw around words like “hater.” It’s not just that this is simple “name-calling.” It demonizes the other. It’s not that you have a different opinion than I; it’s that because you have an opposing opinion, you are bad. And because you are bad, no one needs listen to you. Worse, your being a “hater” justifies my violence against you, whether that be denying you the right to be heard or by inflcting other harms on you.
So, let’s take a line from The Interview, a film which has become a metonymic image of threatened free speech and violence to another’s point of view. Actually, we’ll take just the second half of James Franco’s character’s line, “Haters gonna hate an ain’ters gonna ain’t.” Let’s be ain’ters, refusing to demonize the other as hater and refusing to shut down those with views contrary to our own.
Cu toate că venim cu intenții bune, plini de compasiune și cu dorința să vedem pe toți mântuiți, noi creștinii putem contribui neintenționat la sărăcia oamenilor. Iată câteva moduri prin care se întâmplă acest lucru:
– În unele instanțe, susținem o înțelegere reducționistă a Evangheliei. Căutăm mântuirea sufletului în timp ce disconsiderăm trupul. Dăm oamenilor un mesaj al mântuirii care conține o rugăciune pentru iertare, fără să le dăm o comunitate care îi ajută în foamea și nevoia lor. Oferim o soluție spirituală pentru o problemă fizică sau invers, ne folosim de trupurile lor pentru a ajunge la suflet. Aprovizionăm hrană și ajutorare pentru ca să asculte și să raspunde la mesajul nostru de mântuire. Însă, această abordare duce de multe ori la ceea ce se numește creștini de orez: cei care întorc manipulare pentru manipulare, răspunzând la mesajul nostru subțire de mântuire ca să satisfacă nevoile lor prezente.
– Uneori îi luăm pe săraci de sus. Noi am experimentat ceva de care știm că fiecare are nevoie. Însă, când încercăm să dăm altora, nu întotdeaună ne așezăm în postură de primitori. Presupunem că noi cunoaștem problemele celor în nevoi și venim cu soluția noastră. Cu toate că nu înțelegem de multe ori dinamicele culturale și sociale ale comunităților marginale, venim noi cu soluții care funcționează în comunitățile noastre. Pe lângă asta, îi tratăm pe cei marginalizați ca și cum sunt proiectele noastre și obiective de misiune mai degrabă decât oameni și relații prețioase.
– În unele cercuri, creștinii promovează o înțelegere disțorsionată a binecuvântării. Noi afirmăm că binecuvântărea lui Dumnezeu se vede prin bogăție și prosperitate. Le spunem celor săraci că dacă ajung la o relație corectă cu Dumnezeu, vor fi binecuvântați și că această binecuvântare îi va ridica din sărăcia lor. Cei care predică această „evanghelie” presupun că starea lor materială este un semn de favoare din partea lui Dumnezeu. Cei care nu se ridică din starea aceasta sunt văzuți ca având probleme și păcate în viața lor. Cu toate că acest mesaj este foarte atrăgător pentru cei săraci, slujește în primul rând pe predicatorii acestei „evanghelii” prin faptul că se îmbogățesc pe seama audienței lor.
– De multe ori asuprim sau luăm putere de la cei săraci. Poate că venim cu asistența, dar într-un mod necugetat distrugem afacerile mici și vulnerabile ale comunității. Sau oferim caritatea noastră ca să ameliorăm starea lor fără să ne asumăm responsabilitatea pentru starea lor. Acest lucru se întâmplă când dăm banii organizațiilor caritabile care îi ajută pe muncitorii care sunt exploatați în fabrici în timp ce cumpărăm îmbrăcămintea ieftină de la aceste fabrici. Partea cealaltă a acestei probleme este atunci când oferim caritatea fără să cultivăm responsabilitatea. Când oamenii sunt tratați ca un recipient de donații, ei devin dependenți de caritate și pierd un simț de responsabilitate pentru ceea ce au și ceea ce primesc.
Când Evanghelia nu se adresează întregii persoane, ci doar nevoilor lor „spirituale”, cei săraci sunt lăsați în sărăcia lor deznădăjduitoare, crezând că Dumnezeu îi trage cu momeală prin nevoile lor fizice sau că este indiferent față de suferința fizică din viața aceasta.
Când îi luăm pe săraci de sus, cei vulnerabili sunt și mai marginalizați, exploatați și obiectificați.
Când promovăm o înțelegere distorsionată a binecuvântării, creăm nemulțumire și vină. Mai rău, pictăm o imagine a unui zeu care relaționează prin și pentru cei bogați, alungând pe cei săraci ca și cum sunt blestemați.
Atunci când luăm puterea de la cei săraci, îi ținem în sărăcia lor, subordonați „generozității”noastre și anesteziați în dependența lor. Poate că ne liniștim conștiința prin milostenia noastră, dar nu ne adresăm cauzelor structurale ale sărăciei.
Sperăm ca să cultivăm alte tipuri de lucrări creștine – lucrări care caută să fie holistice, care prețuiesc relațiile și reciprocitatea, care se identifică cu cei marginalizați, care afirmă faptul că Dumnezeu este este împreună cu și pentru cei vulnerabili, și care împuternicesc și dezvoltă responsabilitatea.
For the past 17 years, we have been building relationships with children living on the streets, children abandoned with HIV, children with disabilities, and children at risk of being trafficked. Our hope and prayer is that these vulnerable children will have a better future. But often, it is the children that inspire our hope and teach us to pray – and that by simply being vulnerable children.
When we speak about vulnerability, we think of the word’s Latin roots: the ability to be wounded. For children, vulnerability is the combination of present dangers and difficulties that they must face and cope with. Most often, we understand vulnerability as a challenge to be overcome or solved. While it is true that we need to protect children and reduce the threat of exploitation, we also need to understand vulnerability as a gift.
In actuality, this gift is one endowed by God to every child at creation. We are familiar with the text from Genesis:
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).
Although the concept of “image of God” is debated, there is general consensus around the idea that humanity in the image of God translates to humanity as God’s representative on earth. (That is why we are forbidden to make graven images because the image is already created and set in creation by God.) The question is: how does humanity represent God?
Usually, humanity’s likeness to God is understood as having rationality, the power to exert dominion, ethics, the capacity to love or – through Platonic influence – the having of an eternal soul. While all of these ideas may distinguish humanity from the rest of creation, they revolve around the abilities of human beings and, therefore, the most common understanding is power. Those that hold this opinion connect power with humanity’s ability to exert dominion over God’s creation. However, humanity’s representation of God through power has its problems. For example, from the creation narratives on through Genesis and the First Testament, we almost always find humanity’s power in negative terms. There is the fall and exile from Eden because they wanted to be like God; there is the construction of the temple-tower in Babel because they wanted to reach heaven; and there is the exploitation of other humans Egypt and later by the Israeli kings and temple. We also have before our eyes the real effects of human power today in the oppression of the power and ecological destruction through our consumer economies.
Rather than understanding humanity’s likeness to God through power or what humans can do, we are better to view likeness through vulnerability. God reveals God’s-self as vulnerable. God loves, which entails the risk of misunderstanding and rejection. The God of the cosmos enters into covenant with human beings, saying, “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people’ (Lev 26:12). God acts on behalf of the vulnerable by rescuing the Israelite slaves from Egypt. God takes the place of a slave by carrying the shade (in the form of a cloud) and the torch (a pillar of fire). The culmination of God’s Self-revelation is the incarnation, when the Son is conceived in a mother’s womb, is born in a stable, lives on the margins, and critiques power. The Son touches the excluded like children, diseased and sinners. The Son goes the way of a cross and is seen as the most vulnerable: a little lamb that appears slain. All of this doesn’t just tell us what God does. With God, there is no difference between acting and being. In fact, we begin to understand God’s being through God’s action. So, the vulnerability that we see through God’s actions open us up who God is.
If God reveals God’s-self through vulnerability and if we represent God through our vulnerability, rather than through our power, we can then affirm the image of God in children. Interpretations based on power and ability usually do not consider children, and if they do, they view children as lives anticipating adulthood – as if only adults can image God. In this way, children are either seen as less than human or almost human and only in a process of becoming. Viewing children as images of God affirms their vulnerability and also empowers them to be who they are as children. Moreover, by affirming children as the image of God, we also critique adults who, sometimes unwittingly, try to make children after their own images.
Children as image of God is developed further by Jesus who makes the intrinsic link between children and God’s kingdom. We learn from Jesus’ interaction with children:
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10:13-14).
In our proclamation the kingdom of God, we are invited to see children as participants – not because they prayed a certain prayer, but simply because they are children.
In our community we have had many babies born in the last year or two. In their infancy, and precisely in their vulnerability, they image God. One of the children, Abel, has been my icon at our Sunday worship services – a window through which I see God. When Abel was still in the womb, the doctors identified a developmental problem and recommended that the mother have an abortion. After much prayer and many conflicts with the doctors, the parents gave birth to Abel. The first weeks were touch in go with head swelling and many seizures, but Abel survived. Although he has low-level brain activity and still has seizures, Abel continues to live and to receive love and to give love. He is dependent at every moment on others for his survival. Abel represents God’s image. Abel belongs to God’s kingdom.
Abel and other children are vulnerable in their dependence on others and in their openness to others. We can affirm their vulnerability by caring for them (especially in a world that rejects them).
Jesus gives us a mandate to protect children: ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!” (Matt. 18:6).
Along with protecting children, we can affirm their vulnerability by receiving them (by accepting their uniqueness). Through our hospitality towards vulnerable children, we also receive God. ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Matt 18:5).
By recognizing the vulnerability of children, maybe we will more readily affirm our own vulnerability. And the gift of vulnerability that we see in children can become the gift of vulnerability that we are and that we offer by more faithfully imaging God in the world.
Again, the invitation of Jesus: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:3-4).
The word Pantocrator is of Greek origin meaning “ruler of all”. Christ Pantocrator is an icon of Christ represented full or half-length and full-faced. He holds the book of the Gospels in his left hand and blesses with his right hand.
The icon portrays Christ as the Righteous Judge and the Lover of Mankind, both at the same time. The Gospel is the book by which we are judged, and the blessing proclaims God’s loving kindness toward us, showing us that he is giving us his forgiveness.
Although ruler of all, Christ is not pictured with a crown or scepter as other kings of this world. The large open eyes look directly into the soul of the viewer. The high curved forehead shows wisdom. The long slender nose is a look of nobility, the small closed mouth, the silence of contemplation.
It is the tradition of the Church to depict “God is with us” by having the large Pantocrator icon inside of the central dome, or ceiling of the church.
RVE Cluj raportează despre „Iisus în oraș” – o consultatie despre misiunea urbană în Cluj în care am participat:
One of the organizers, Robert Calvert, is a minister in the Church of Scotland in Rotterdam. I met him at a similar consultation in Iasi, Romania and at the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town. Another one of the organizers, David Clark, is a minister at the Steeple Church in Dundee, Scotland – a friend and supporter, who has visited us a couple of times in Galati.
On the first day of the consultation, we did a walking tour of the major churches in Cluj. Because I there were many places on the tour in which I could not see a communist block building, I felt like I was in western Europe, not Romania. I also was surprised by the ecclesial diversity. There is a long history of the Roman Catholic Church going back to the Hapsburg Empire. Through this tradition, the Franciscans and the Jesuits built churches and schools. Cluj was also affected by the Reformation. Lutherans and later Reformed (Calvinists) turned the Roman churches into Protestant ones. Cluj was also one of the places in which the Unitarian church began. It seemed that every decade another one of these groups came to power and changed the churches’ names and evicted everyone else. Of course, the Orthodox Church was also present through the Romanian citizens, though a minority. In order to form a political constituency, Orthodox leaders recognized the authority of the Roman Pope, while keeping their Byzantine liturgy. This church was called Greek Catholic – although it is neither Greek, nor Catholic. In Cluj, the Germans, Hungarians, Romanians and their respective church traditions intersect.
For the rest of the consultation, we sat in a circle and discussed. Sometimes we ate, and then we discussed some more. There were representatives from the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholic Church, the Brethren church, the Pentecostal church, the Baptist church, as well as other independent churches. Most of the participants did not know each other previously. Many of them had not been inside churches other than their own particular tradition. I was delighted to see that there was cordiality and more understanding in the room than disagreements.
The conversations revolved around the place of the church in the city and the way the church interacts with the city. This exercise forced everyone to think beyond the walls of their own churches and their own programs. Each was able to see their particular congregation in light of the city – its dynamism, its problems, and its needs.
We all left knowing that we need to invest in relationships beyond those of our particular tradition and with eyes to envision interaction with and for the urban situation in which we are all ministering.
On the last afternoon of the consultation, we visited a garbage dump where thousands of Roma have made their homes. Many of them pick through the dump to find recyclables that they can sell. A Christian NGO has helped them build simple, but sturdy homes as well as communal toilets, showers and a kindergarten. We met Salome, a young Swiss girl, who felt God’s call to live among the Roma. So, she got on a train and went. She lives in a simple shelter on the garbage dump and teaches the children in the kindergarten. This was not only inspiring and faith-building, but it was also a great example of the church responding to the city.
These sermons was formative for me and for all of us in Word Made Flesh. I will post it in 8 parts: