Friday, April 18, 2014

Father, Forgive Them…


You are John

You are John, the disciple. You were there when Judas left the Supper early. You didn’t think much of it until hours later when he came with a mob to seize Jesus. You saw Judas plant a kiss on Jesus, and then the rush of the mob upon him.

Everything turned into a blur after that. Afraid for your life, you fled the scene. But soon afterwards you turned back and followed at a distance.

You watched as the religious leaders and council members made mockery of the very laws they were sworn to uphold. You saw them beat and spit upon Jesus. You watched him in shackles being led from one place to another. You could see and hear their hate.

You spoke up for Peter and got him inside the courtyard. But then you heard Peter deny any knowledge of Jesus, as he warmed himself by the fire.

You are Mary

You are Mary, Jesus’ mother. You were awakened by frightened disciples screaming that Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and seized by the religious leaders. You wrap yourself with a cloak and rush out as quickly as you can toward Temple.

By the time you get there Jesus is in chains at the Praetorium. You hear the angry mob. The religious leaders egg them on. You hear Pilate proclaim Jesus’ innocence. Your hopes rise. But they are dashed just as quickly when he says Jesus will be scourged. You watch as the Roman soldiers strip Jesus of his clothing, tie him to a stake, and beat him with a scourge.

You would do anything to save your son. But you cannot. You are helpless.

Your hopes rise again as Pilate tries to release Jesus. But the cries of the mob grow louder. “Crucify him!” they shout and scream.

You sob. You cry. You shake.

You follow the procession out of Jerusalem. You watch Jesus stumble and fall, and fall again. He has no strength left. How can they do this to your son? Your baby? Your firstborn? The one who nursed at your breast? The one you comforted when he stumbled as a child? The one whose scrapes and bumps you bandaged?

You are at the Cross

You are Mary. You are John. You stand at a distance as the Romans pound spikes into Jesus, just another day’s work. The religious leaders and the mob cheer them on. You cannot bear to watch. You cover your ears, but the sounds of the spikes piercing into flesh and the screams from Jesus still penetrate. You hear the “thud” as the cross is dropped into its place, and the accompanying screams and cries of agony as Jesus experiences the shock of the fall.

You finally have the courage to turn around and look at Jesus. You are filled with both sorrow and rage.

Your eyes meet Jesus’. You see him take in an excruciating breath. What is so important that he endures such suffering in order to speak?

Every word struggling, strained, and pained, you hear, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34a CEB)

This story was presented as part of the Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross Community Good Friday Service at the Petersburg Lutheran Church on April 18, 2014 in Petersburg, Alaska. It is a creative interpretation of what may have been going on in the minds of John and Mary during the time period depicted.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Book Review: The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion

The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics, and BelieversThe Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics, and Believers by Martin Thielen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are tired of a rigid, black-and-white religious environment, this book might be for you.

Martin Thielen draws upon his own experiences in his book The Answer to Bad Religion Is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics, and Believers. His is a journey that begins when his denomination makes a shift toward fundamentalism. He feels he does not belong, but stays for some time because the costs of leaving seem too high. It is hard to leave a family that has nurtured you and helped you along in your spiritual growth. But eventually he is forced to face that the costs of staying are too high. And thus he leaves to a more progressive denomination - in his case, the United Methodists.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part describes what Martin sees as characterizing bad religion. These include judgmentalism and condemnation, a spirit of negativity, arrogance, absolutism, and intolerance. At the end of this first part he lists other characteristics but does not discuss them in detail.

The second part discusses why the decision of some who have exited toxic religion into "no religion" is not the right answer. He discusses how religion, in spite of its many imperfections, has been and continues to be a force for and a motivation for good in society. He discusses how human beings seemed to be wired to need religion.

The third part discusses characteristics that Martin believes are exhibited in good religion. These include prioritization of love, engagement in service, community building, forgiveness, and integrity. At the end of this part, in similarity to the first part, a list of additional good characteristic are given.

In the Conclusion chapter Martin recommends that those who want a good religion to try some of the mainline and moderate Christian churches. He specifically recommends trying out United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, UCC, American Baptist, Cooperative Baptist, and Alliance of Baptists churches.

There two appendices. The first lists additional reading and study materials. The second is a discussion of non-literal biblical hermeneutics.

I see a fairly narrow audience for this book. Those who are happy in conservative and fundamentalist churches and accept this way of biblical interpretations will be rather unhappy with this book. Those who are happy with their abandonment of or antipathy to any religion will likely not be swayed by this book. To those who are already in moderate, mainline churches will feel like this book is preaching to the choir.

That leaves those who have been disillusioned by their conservative and fundamentalist churches, and those who are currently on their way to abandoning religion but haven't quite got there yet. To these groups, this book is a call to take a pause and take a little more time exploring religion that, hopefully, is different from their pasts.

This review is based on an ARC supplied by the publisher through NetGalley.

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