Of Popes and Faith

The tables are turned, I suppose. Those brothers and sisters of mine within the tent of the Roman Catholic Church who found great comfort in previous Popes who often focussed on devotions and rules and fairly strict behavioral and belief rules are now faced with a Holy Father who is willing to say “Who am I to judge?” or who is willing to face our need to care for our brothers and sisters without so much judgement, or who is willing to proclaim that we are stewards of all creation, and look at the mess we’ve made of that job.

To me, it seems that Francis is calling us to be transformed by our faith in God — our faith in the Trinity — so God, Jesus the Christ and the Spirit. He is calling on us to actually interact with the world from that place of transformation. To let go of our assumed superiority, or presumed chosen-ness and be agents of love and change in our world. To be the salt of the earth.

Sometimes, that flies in the face of rigid rules. Sometimes that forces us to look beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. And, sometimes when I hear the criticism of relativism, I want to say “And you make that [relativism] sound like a bad thing. Really?”

As best I can tell, Jesus said “Follow me.” — not “Worship me.” Following, walking in His footsteps, trying to see the world as He saw it is far more life changing that worshipping Him and keeping change at a distance — don’t you think?

 

Blast from the past

We watched the movie “Woodlawn” last night. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I have friends who were students at Woodlawn High School (Birmingham AL) when the story took place. To them, it seemed that the movie was reasonably accurate. I was in college at the time, but┬ámy own high school years were during the opening years of mandated integration, and the closing of the black high school which forced far more integration into the two [originally] all white high schools. And this story of Birmingham high schools and football was set against some of the most violent times and places of this time in Alabama history.

But the part of the story I was totally unaware of was the back story of the “evangelist” (I think maybe a Campus Crusade for Christ “missionary” or some one inspired by a similar group). He called himself a “sports team chaplain.” He offered a simple message and challenge to a predominately “Christian” football team and things began to happen.

First off, the coach, while skeptical, allowed him access. This would never be allowed today. And, indeed, over the next 2 years, as the team began to be a single team, not a divided squad, pressure was brought, and the coaching staff pays for its choice to let this happen. And, in the story, it spreads to the rival school, Banks, and that staff pays a price as well.

There were quite a few of the opening scenes that I remembered seeing on TV first hand: George Wallace in the schoolhouse door trying to block the first black students at the University of Alabama and Bull Connor with dogs and firehoses. These are not just file footage for me — they were live.

The moment that was the real blast from the past for me, was when the chaplain talked about Explo 72 in Dallas Texas. 100,000 plus college students in the Cotton Bowl with Billy Graham. A totally dark Cotton Bowl that is finally lit up starting with a single candle who’s light is shared until all 100,000 candles are lit. Think Easter Vigil — we start in darkness and light the many small candles from the Easter Candle. I was there. I was in the Cotton Bowl. I experienced this. And, it had faded from my memory.

I listened to the message in the movie and I watched the “One Way” hand signal ( a raised hand with the index finger pointing up). And, as I listened to the message weave through the movie, I heard the simplicity of the calling of God: “You are not alone. You are loved. Come to me.” That’s the message of the Gospel that still bores it’s way through to me. I slices through church laws and practice (I’m now a practicing Roman Catholic); it overrides denominations of Christianity. And, in many ways, though not all, it moves beyond Christianity.

This movie could have been preachy, but I think it avoided that. And I’m glad of that. It showed examples of overcoming anger, fear and discrimination. It even showed Bear Bryant in a light that made me not so “anti-Bear” (I’m also of the Auburn persuasion). It was a quiet witness to the power of allowing God to work in the everyday world we find ourselves walking through.

 

Who touched me?

Sunday’s readings included the story from the Gospel of Mark of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She fights her way through the crowd surrounding Jesus, believing that if she can just touch the hem of his clothes, she will be healed. This story is stuck in the middle of the story of Jairus, the temple official who’s daughter will be raised from the dead at the end of the story.

But I digress — I’ve head both of these stories multiple times and this time, the woman’s story jumped out at me in a different way. She manages to touch Jesus’ hem and she knows in her body that she is healed. She’s going to slip away and be happy. But, Jesus stops and recognizes that he has been touched. He demands to know who touched him. I can see his buddies rolling their eyes as they say “What? Of course somebody touched you. You’re in the middle of crowd with all sorts of folks touching you.” But he knows and she knows. And she realizes that she must come forward and acknowledge her healing.

I think what caught me short was that she knew she was healed, even before Jesus stopped, asked who touched him and then proclaimed to the crowd that her faith had healed her. She knew. She didn’t have to have Jesus tell the world that she was healed.

At the same time, she also realized that she had to own the fact that she was healed. She had to acknowledge that touching his hem did it. She had to acknowledge that she believed.

There have been times when I knew that something changed — that a hurt or problem had been healed — long before the public acknowledgement. Sometimes the healing is the easy part. Owning it is more difficult. Folks my laugh or think I’m a bit odd because I believe that somehow Jesus or God has healed me. But I must admit it, to myself and to others.

Share the word.

Falling

I hate falling. It scares me. I hate that loss of control, the moment of panic when my mind races worrying about what will hurt, what will be broken, where the bruises will be.

I hate falling: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. But, I find the most vivid descriptions of Why in the physical form.

I’ve barely been out of the house for 2 days now. There was ice and snow. Not a lot by many standards, but enough to make walking tricky and at times treacherous on our iced over driveway. I’ve fallen on ice a few times, and they stand out vividly in my memory: once, wearing ski boots at a ski resort in Boone NC and another on the St. John’s campus in New York. Both proved painful, and extremely unpleasant. Neither resulted in anything being broken. I’m not sure about bruises. But, I remember, in my gut the sensation of falling and the pain upon hitting the ground.

My balance is not as good as I would like. I can recount stepping through the ceiling in the attic (a fall stopped by the ceiling joists) which resulted in bruising from the back of my knee halfway up my butt. Or two falls on the Camino. Or falling and cracking a rib running to get out of the rain on campus; falling in the Chili’s parking lot in pouring rain causing a rotator cuff tear.

And there is the grandaddy of all falls in my memory — falling off of the front porch (four steps high, no railing) into a pyracantha bush. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time. To this day, I am very timid about leaning out or jumping ditches or anything where I might fall.

Get the picture? We haven’t even gotten to mental, emotional or spiritual falls… but, let’s just say I’ve had a few. Some of them, I am only now beginning to understand as falls. I’ve miss opportunities because of this fear of falling. There are times I simply cannot or will not let go (and let God) because I am so terrified of falling. Even in battling depression, it seemed impossible to let go and fall to the bottom, trusting that there was indeed a bottom to stop the fall.

Funny thing is that when I do let go, when I do allow myself to risk falling, I don’t always fall. And, so far, I’ve been able to get up again when I have fallen. But, still, it holds me back. What if I don’t bounce back? What if I lose it all? What if I lose something? What if I speak the truth and you never talk to me again? Or you laugh at me? Or write me off and pretend I don’t exist? What if I sell everything to buy the field where the precious pearl is buried, and then discover I hate pearls? Butch and Sundance had to jump and fall into the river to escape. Me? I would probably have died on the cliff out of fear of the fall into the river.

I really hate falling. And yet, it seems that to move forward, to growth, to love, I’m going to have to risk falling, even if I am scared.

 

 

Room for Everyone

Today’s Gospel, John 14:1-6 comes to my mind often, and generally brings a quiet smile.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.
Where (I) am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I find peace in the idea that there are many rooms (dwelling places) so that all are welcome in this great house we so often call heaven. I find comfort that someone is getting it ready and will take me to just my spot at just the right time. I can relax a bit with the idea that there truly is no written treasure map, but instead the ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus/Christ/God to find the way. If there is no written map, then I don’t have to try to find it – I only need to stay with the tour guide as best I can and let him/her show me the way.

Note: writing this has opened a floodgate of thoughts, feelings, beliefs that I am not yet ready to share. So, for now, I’ll work through them in private, seeking to understand better the Way.