Tuesday, October 18, 2005

You Are Accepted or Facing Apathy

It has been some time since I've posted something coming from within me but the last few days have finally led me to it. Crazily enough, it was a sermon by 20th century theologian Paul Tillich read out loud by my professor and theologian George Hunsinger. Now if you had been in that lecture, you may marvel as to why I would have been led to post...the sermon was dry and its presentation of it equally dry, but by God's grace I was listening and this is what I heard.

Tillich's sermon was meant to be an evocative presentation on the importance of understanding the terms of sin and grace, both terms that are frequently misunderstood and misused in both Christian and extra-Christian circles.

Tillich's understanding of sin is that sin is not merely immoral actions or inactions,rather sin is estrangement; estrangement from others, from ourselves, and from the Ground of our Being (God). What struck me most in his sermon was his references to his context. He writes:

"The walls of distance,in time and space, have been removed by technical progress; but the walls of estrangement between heart and heart have been incredibly strengthened...But let us just consider ourselves and what we feel, when we read, this morning and tonight, that in some sections of Europe all children under the age of three are sick and dying [this is Africa in 2005],or that in some sections of Asia millions without homes are freezing and starving to death [this is the case right now in Pakistan!]The strangeness of life to life is evident in the strange fact that we can know all this, and yet can live today, this morning,tonight, as though we were completely ignorant."

These words cut me to the quick. I have to be honest with you, Tillich's words are true for me. I was driving in the car a few mornings ago, listening to NPR and WHYY was interviewing Penn students about the recent Word catastrophies, most specifically on the earthquake in Pakistan. One student boldly claimed that he was not desensitized to reports of tragedies just because they were overseas. He said, "How could I ever be apathetic to these people suffering just because they are far away?" How, he asks? Well, it's quite easy. Let's take a moment to consider what we who have access to world media have learned in the past few months...A Tsunami in December 04, a raging and neverending war in Iraq, religious cleansing in Sudan, drought in Niger, Hurricane Katrina, an earthquake killing what some reports indicate as much as 100,000 and even now in the last week, widespread flooding in my current state of New Jersey. And these are just the biggies folks. This doesn't touch the daily quiet insidious sin of estrangement in our own communities. Just yesterday, a man was arrested on my campus for traveling from Texas to come, stalk, and potentially harm a fellow student. How long, O Lord!

What is the natural, instinctual response of humans, of any creature, when faced whether directly or indirectly with these horrific events? You flee, you check out, you shut down, you become desensitized or worse, apathetic.

And I admit it, this is where I'm at. I can rage against it in conversations with friends or co-workers but at the end of the day, I'm still sipping my Starbucks Easy Almond Extra-Foamy Latte, typing away at my Mac, watching the world from a distance.

So what do I do, what do we do when we become apathetic, when we check out? Well first, I think we need to name it, call a spade a spade. Next, we must return to

grace. The grace that Tillich says "allows us to accept [ourselves] and to be reconciled to others." This is not the grace of easy answers. This is not the grace that gets us off the hook of our apathy. Rather, it's the grace that meets us in the depths of our apathy, our estrangement and strikes us into action, into giving a damn and reconnecting us to our community and our Ground of Being.

What is grace? Well I'm still trying to figure that out. But I do know that grace is what allows me to get up into the morning and even makes shaking off part of that cushy coffee induced haze possible.

More to come...

Congrats Melissa!

Hey everyone!

Check out my sister-in-law's blog. She just ran her first marathon on October 9 in Chicago and qualified for the Boston! T and I are in awe!

runmelissarun

Thursday, October 06, 2005

By the grace of God!!

Phew!

Somehow by the grace of God I survived this week. I need to share with you how this is really rather amazing so bear with me...

Somehow, someway, all of these things I completed in the span of less than a week:

1. A 35 minute presentation with a fellow student on Mark 4:1-9 (due Tuesday)
2. A five page research paper on the same passage (same class due Tuesday)
3. A 20 minute sermon on the same passage (same class!! due Today)
4. A two paragraph critique on a twenty minute sermon listened to on my computer (same class due Today)
5. A six page exegetical report on Matthew 3:1-12 (due Today)

And now, here's the clincher, the proverbial icing on the cake...in the midst of all that I had Presbytery required Psychological Evaluations and Career counseling from 9:30AM to 5PM on Wednesday with take home homework and then a second part from 9 to 11:15 AM going straight into delivering my sermon at 11:40!

Can we say recipe for meltdown.

Thankfully with the help of a very supportive spouse and mostly understanding daughter (hey she's only 2 after all) and a gracious God who provided me energy and sanity throughout most of it, I have now crossed the finish line. And boy does it feel good!

Please my friends, hit me over the head if I get myself into something like this again :-) Ok, so don't resort to violence but a very stern talking to!

-J