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A Journey filled with candor and compassion
Podcast and Blog of Matt Sandoval
I was randomly assigned to read a total bummer today as part of the church’s legionary schedule. The day’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a. It is the conclusion of the story of David and Bathsheba. The story is known well enough to be a cross-cultural anecdote thousands of years later. David and Bathsheba is the story of a ruler’s complete misuse of power, the abuse of a woman, and the disgrace and murder of a soldier who, up to that point, had only shown bravery and loyalty to that king.
In the power of myth, a story like this speaks past its own context. It is a total bummer to read because the actions of the ruler bring destruction to many innocent people just as that leader sits enthroned in his self-righteousness. Yet, with the destruction of a marriage and a soldier’s life appearing to evade detection, the prophet Nathan is sent. You see, what has been covered up has been seen, and it is displeasing. Very displeasing.
“But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD, and the LORD sent Nathan to David.”
I imagine Nathan was afraid of this type of confrontation. Who dares to speak against the Lord’s anointed? Some religious leaders, more in love with power than the truth, will tell you never to speak back to a leader. Who dares to accuse a great person of a terrible wrong? Who dares to speak truth to power? I imagine that Nathan could have just let “Kings be Kings.” But he didn’t. Prophets take risks, but their confidence comes from the truth and the good of the Kingdom - not from the approval of their kings.
“Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan breaks the ice with a story of a wealthy man who needs to care for a guest and steals a poor man’s only lamb. This angers David. He swears that the man will pay and pay dearly. His righteousness is deluded because he thinks Nathan is telling a story and not giving an analogy. David’s anger is an example of reaction formation. His decisiveness to punish is an attempt to reduce the anxiety of his scrambled, inconsistent, and thoroughly selfish leadership ethic. With such power and such a perspective, evil thrives.
“Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”
Nathan’s message connects with crystal clear clarity. David end’s the passage with “I have sinned against the LORD.” The Second reading for the day from Psalm 51 is related to this episode. The Psalm is said to be a prayer of David’s for mercy, for confession, and for a new and clean heart.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.
6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother's womb.
7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
12 Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
13 Give me the joy of your saving help again *
And sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Today, Psalm 51 is a popular worship song called “Create in Me in a Clean Heart.” I cannot read it without hearing the tune. I also cannot read it without feeling sadness because of the truth it speaks about the ongoing human experience. Hierarchy and rulers may be inevitable facts of civilization, but they need not be evil. They need not abuse the powerless. They need not be beyond rebuke. But when they are, even the God-ordained leaders and hierarchies cannot cover up their misuse of power. Something is watching. Always watching.
Prophets exist to speak the truth to power, even when it terrifies them. But at the moment’s when truth and justice meet reaction formation, the Leader’s true heart cannot be covered up. Will they confess and seek mercy? Will they restore the wrong delivered? Will they prevent future misuses of power? Or will they continue cloak themselves in self-righteousness and continue to damage those that they are supposed to protect?
I read a total bummer today in 2 Samuel and Psalm 51. Despite reconciliation and forgiveness, abuse of power has its consequences. David, King of Israel, wasn’t the first time something like this occurred, and it won’t be the last.
May all who hold power know that what is covered up is still seen.
May we all make space in hearts and mind to hear the prophets who are sent to speak truth to power.
May the confrontations with the truth restore leadership to its God-ordained purpose of justice.
May this ancient story stop being so very familiar to us all.
Radical acceptance isn't complacency or resignation. It is consciously noticing and acknowledging the emotional weather of the moment, without judgment. Those two words "without judgement" are the hardest part. Our conditioning tells us to suppress, to resist, to run, and to hide from our emotional weather. Radical acceptance is sitting in the rain until the time comes to dance in it. To dance first is to form an active and repressive denial of reality. Sitting with feelings and then recognizing and releasing judging thoughts is the first step to willingly living life, just as it, just as we are, and exactly where we are. The next obstacle is to avoid using acceptance and willingness as a new method to control feelings. This is resistance with a new mask in disguise. The willingness that follows acceptance is sitting in the emotional rainy weather, welcoming the thoughts and sensations without owning or rejecting them, and then deciding that this is the time to dance in the moment of life, even if the rains have come for a brief visit.
On The Crucified God chapter in The Crucified God.
Have difficulties with the "man upstairs"? So does an understanding of the cross of Jesus.
Have difficulties when Christians minimize, grief, suffering, and death? So does an understanding of the cross.
Ashamed of the political power that exploits what it ought to protect and in a manner that is self-righteous and motivated by religion? So is an understanding of the cross.
By starting with a discussion on Luther's complaints against the Church, Moltmann has the foundation set to explore a crucial idea about the crucifixion of Jesus. Because of the cross, Christian Theology is the "criticism of and liberation from philosophical and political monotheism." Written in the height of "Death of God" movement, Moltmann describes how the cross event has always been the "death" of childish projections of the detached theistic God, human impotence and helplessness caused by God's omnipotence, divinized father figures that cause men to remain children, political omnipotence in the name of God, and Godlike puppetry of human affairs.
Page 315 " In the cross of his Son, God took upon himself not only death, so that man might be able to die comforted with the certainty that even death could not separate him from God, but still more, in order to make the crucified Christ the ground of his new creation, in which death itself is swallowed up in the victory of life and there will be "no sorrow, no crying, and no more tears".
On "The Eschatological Trial of Jesus" in The Crucified God.
The resurrection, as God's new creation breaks into this world, means that the current system of guilt, shame, suffering and death cannot demonstrate the new creation. The world cannot comprehend the cross nor the resurrection but it will question and challenge those that, through faith, live in way that is fixed on God's future creation and against the world's grain.
The resurrection is God's demonstration of his righteousness. The righteousness in God does not ignore the victims and God does not empower the perpetrators because he died as one victim himself, and in so doing, he has disarmed and restored both of these groups. To make vengeance the future hope is ask that law win over sin; however, it is Grace that triumphed over law and sin. This is a scandal! This is not how our scales of justice balance. It is even more surprising, that the blaspheming rebel named Jesus was the first to experience the resurrection. This subversion of the world power structures, both corporate and interpersonal, cannot be understood inside the old creation. To be a person of hope, is to live in that future new creation.
July 21, 2018
I have been thoroughly challenged by the Crucified God. In the partial section of the Historical Trial of Jesus, Moltmann has described the relationship between Jesus the preacher and the Christ who is preached. To separate history and theology in this manner leaves many stating that Jesus, because of his death, was a failed preacher and that his message, self-referential as it was, died with him. Moltmann is showing that Jesus' preaching and the apostles preaching of him (which appear to have differences) are related in that they both are eschatological - they are focused on a future that is coming and is perpetually still to come. Jesus was the beginning and the apostles are the ones tasked with "what has begun". The cross has functioned as hard line marking history and kerygma (the confession and preaching of the early church), but Moltmann is tying the death, which purposely referred to as “crucified”, as a consequence of his ministry both to the secular authorities and the religious leaders. Embedded in his death are political reasons from authorities, religious reasons from his homeland, and Jesus' on theological reasons.
What can it all mean? At the cross we meet paradox, the one preaching the beginning of God’s kingdom was crushed by another kingdom, the one opening doors of love was declared a blasphemer, and the one healing was the one who died alone, and abandoned by God. Historically speaking, the question becomes, is the cross a refutation of his person or his preaching, or both? Theologically, how does the cross change the proclamation from the one Jesus made of himself to the one the apostles made of him?
The cross is the pivot point of all paradoxes of life. It is where the dead became the living, the abandoned the vindicated, and the humiliated the exalted.
What drew you to read this book?
I have been reading and rereading works of the contemporary historical Jesus scholarship. Over the last ten months, I have spent time with the thoughts of Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, and N.T. Wright who, despite vast differences in emphasis and conclusion, begin with a similar assumption from source criticism about the New Testament canon. The assumption is that Mark's gospel was written first, and Matthew and Luke use it as a source while also adding new material from other sources and each expanding on the themes of Mark in their way (Luke is my favorite). However, as the fanciful movie The DaVinci Code made clear, this is not the only assumption on how Jesus came to be understood by early Christians. Elaine Pagel's thesis is that newly discovered Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of John both show signs of having been written by rival factions of the 2nd and 3rd-century Christian church who were competing for followers and also for church authority. Pagel's work is an attempt to tell the story of what these communities might have practiced and believed without the strict interpretation given by the eventual winners of the debates (what we know as Orthodoxy). In fairness, the gnostic/new prophecy/mystery Christians didn’t suffer eradication. They are very much still present in the opinions of many who are willing to contemplate a Jesus who is a human guide to the light that is already present within (compare that to the opening of John for the beginning of the distinctions with orthodoxy).
What are your significant takeaways?
I enjoyed her dive into the historical and social factors surrounding the church fathers such as Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Valentinus, and Irenaeus. Her thesis is that Irenaeus drove the effort to develop the orthodox canons of faith and, of the scriptures, as a means of protecting the early church from division. Also, it is likely that debates about orthodoxy were emotionally charged due to the rampant persecution of Christians ( a young Irenaeus watched his teacher Polycarp be publicly executed for his belief). Emotionally, one can easily see that if your life is threatened for philosophy, it's very likely that you have already determined what type of philosophy you are willing to suffer for, in order to protect it.
What surprised you the most about what you learned?
I enjoyed the discussions about controversies between the followers of Thomas and John. Pagel believes that John's gospel is more emphatic about the divine nature of Jesus because it seeks to correct growing misunderstanding in Christian communities, namely among the gnostic/new prophecy/mystery Christian groups. Source criticism holds that Mark is the home base of historical Jesus material, but Pagel holds that John became the theological home base for orthodox Christology and then Irenaeus's effort made it the predecessor to the Nicene creeds
What questions do you have for the author?
Your book is a historical reflection and partially personal reflection on loss and grief. How did your own experience affect the way you view the four gospels and their relationship to the apocryphal gospels?
Why should someone else read this book?
Because you may be curious about why John is so different than Matthew, Mark and Luke, and why Thomas is so different than all four of the canonical gospels. If you are intrigued by history, you will enjoy the discussion on Valentinus and Irenaeus as rival theologian philosophers. You may come to see the Gospel of John with a new set of lenses!
How many Burritos does this one get out of five?
4/5 Elaine Pagel made this very accessible and intriguing. She creates space for the diverse views of the works she mentions without favoring one side overtly or creating caricatures of the conflicting views to advance her arguments.
I am the way, I heard
Here is the map
Crumbled and blurry
I folded it
I am the light, I heard
Turned toward the Sun
Blinded and dizzy
I missed it
I am the truth, I heard
Exploring the words
Rehearsing and reciting
I forgot it
I am the silence, I learned
When I began to sit
Breathing and accepting
I heard it
I am the breath, I learned
When I counted the seconds
Inhaling and releasing
I felt it
I am the lamb, I learned
When I opened up
Speaking and trusting
I risked it
Come, enjoy it
In being and spirit
I am infinite
I am sublime
Found in the fullness of time
The way, the light, the truth
Pointing toward the root
An old tree with leaves
That first covered shame
A new growth of branches
Healing for nations again
Silence, breath, and a lamb
They are the friends you find
In the shade of the tree
Provocative acts often appear outrageous, but they also include the mundane performed at the right place and time and are common illustrations in the teaching of Jesus. As a child, the Palm Sunday story sounded more silly to me than sacred. In my 4th grade Sunday School class, our teacher made an abrupt change from the movie like hero exploits of King David to the parables of Jesus. Nine year old me found this to be boring and inconsequential.
It would take many more years until wise teachers would connect me to the subversive elements of the Jesus story and its connection to David, to Caesar and all empires. The result would be the first of many times that gospel narratives challenged and judged my mental framework of Jesus's work as being nothing more than an idol. I failed to see the protest in the words and actions of the gospels and did not consider the original meaning of the entry Jerusalem.
Conquering Roman generals and even Caesar himself would make a spectacle out of their return from a successful military campaign. A royal procession would come through town and attendance was mandatory. But on this Sunday leading to Passover, Jesus made his entry and Marks notes that many laid down palms and cried out in celebration. This type of procession is fit for a king, one in the line of David. Except this is not the kingdom of David, it belongs to Rome. And Rome does not like competition.
The ride into Jerusalem on a single colt caused a crowd to see one like the old war hero king David, and it caused the local authorities to see a troublemaker. Mark says he immediately goes to the temple but takes no action on that day. This trip was not of convenience but one of confrontation and destiny. The colt is a parody of Caesar's royal procession designed to give one group hope and another very stern warning.
The idol I once made of Jesus did not include a figure that would challenge any religious or political status quo. However, the events of the week leading up to the crucifixion take place during a massive public festival where military forces would have a high presence to keep the peace. Because of this, the Sunday procession occurs to deliberately provoke reactions, even hostile ones from the most powerful people on earth - the Roman empire and 2nd Temple religious devotees of ancient Israel.
Jordan Petersen, in his book 12 Rules for Life says "If you have something to say, silence is a lie. Tyranny depends on lies." I have come to recognize that the crucifixion was provoked, intentionally, with words and deeds chosen on purpose. They confront human tyranny in the form of empires and religious practices that dehumanize, that separate people into worthy and unworthy, that make gods of peace act violently. The parade into Jerusalem is an unexpected challenge to the Roman empire, the temple, as well as any other misguided empire and religious system. The challenge to empire and the temple are linked so tightly that the crucifixion of Friday is the result of empire's love of power and the temple's commitment to remain a "den of robbers."
In the two decades to follow, the first recorded Jesus mystic Paul would take these local events and present them as more than an execution of a beloved protester who picked the wrong week to make his point. To the Corinthians, Paul would write that these actions and provocations are foolish to the world, but they are the wisdom of God. At the end of the letter, Paul would give the earliest written account of the resurrection of Easter morning which is still observed by Christians worldwide. However, his letter starts by proclaiming to know "nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (2 Corinthians 2). Following Christ, for most Christians, has not come anywhere close to the example of a crucified political and religious provocateur and it certainly not on the mind of most Easter celebrants.
Instead, there isn't Christian unity around respect for all people regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. Many of the most dividing voices use obscure biblical references, archaic hermeneutic schemes, inferences from tradition, or outright lies to propagate views that dehumanize. It makes me wonder, if they saw someone ride into your community and then to your place of worship tomorrow, what do you suppose they would have to say?
Jordan Petersen, again, in his book, 12 Rules for Life, turned a familiar Christian doctrine on its head when he said that most teaching emphasis is that Jesus died on the cross, and because of that we are to believe in him. Instead, he has come to accept that Jesus died on a cross because he believes in us. This belief in us means that following Jesus may not be about being weak, agreeable, and accommodating to the forces in our world, especially when they dehumanize on a national or worldwide scale. May the cross propel us to justice and forgiveness for all.
You likely won't see a colt awaiting you tomorrow. You will, however, see many striving to find acceptance, equal opportunity, necessary supplies, food, and peace in their physical and their emotional environment. Following Jesus, on Palm Sunday, means to target the forces that exploit them all. To do so also means provoking and confronting these forces nonviolently, with eyes wide open to the potential mockery and suffering. It demands that we avoid the lies of the heart committed when we are silent by speaking up and against the idols of power, greed, and hatred. In the difficulties that arise we can rest in in the confidence that this way, of a crucified messenger of heaven, is the wisdom of God.
In October 2013 I noticed a small patch form under my left elbow. I consulted Dr. Google and came to the self-diagnosis that it was either a fungus or Vitiligo. Several anti-fungal treatments, two dermatology appointments, and a punch biopsy later I had a professional opinion. The doctor diagnosed me with Vitiligo - an autoimmune condition where your body reacts to the cells that create your skin tone as if they were a threat and killed them. Other than its cosmetic effects, it is not problematic and is not contagious. When I first heard the diagnosis, I was stunned, and I remember that the technician tried to comfort me by saying "at least it's not on your face." It's true; I am blessed to have a mild and slow changing pattern. It is also true that it would be years before I could see it that way. When I look at my arm, I remember that it could show up anywhere and anytime, even on my face.
It wasn't until my well-meaning immune system started destroying the pigment on my arm that I realized how much the color of my skin had melded with my self-identity. Cultural resentment and shame cripple a large part of my self-identity. I picked up these cues early; in first grade, my classmates covered my class birthday card with comparisons to Speedy Gonzales. In tenth grade, I overheard "decent" classmates at Christian school tell me how Mexican's look dirty. I have been told, more than once as an adult, that given how I speak and what I have to say, that I must be from East Indian heritage (the implication being: certainly not heritage from south of the border). Extended family relatives of my children have questioned the legitimacy of them being "Latino." Professionally, I accepted pigeonhole assignments and promotions from middle-aged, white males, to work predominately with Spanish speaking communities while also needing to justify that I do not speak Spanish and with few alternatives to grow my career.
It took me three years to stop covering the spots on my arm and hands. I didn't think the cover up fooled anyone, it just made me feel better and usually held off the Michael Jackson (who had Vitiligo) inspired joke for a while. In a year of committing to "show up, just as I am, wherever I am," I stopped covering it up. I continue the medical regime and even see some slowing of its progression, but the real progress has been psychological and spiritual. It is part of my journey to complete self-acceptance. Along the way, I have also learned to accept a few other things:
People will follow the spots with their eyes until they figure out what is going on
Someone always has "that one friend" who also has it, too
I did not become more or less of an American in the spot that lost its brown color
I did not become any smarter/less intelligent as my color shifted
I did not develop the drive to increase or decrease anyone else's access to education, employment, healthcare, or any other version of the American dream as the color changed.
This past fall, I volunteered in three elementary schools and played many hours of math and language arts games with student populations that are 95% Hispanic/Latino. About half of the time, and almost immediately, one of the students will ask about the spots. The inquiries are as sweet as they are surprising. Adults don't ask as often, and usually not out of curiosity, but from something that sounds like fear - "what is up with your arm?". The first time a young student asked me what was wrong with my skin I blurted out "that is just how God colored me." He then reached over, patted the spot on my right hand, and with tender eyes said, "it's okay!".
I supposed that this student's reaction is how God felt when he pronounced all of creation, and all of humanity as "good." Believing that we are born in and carry this "goodness" in all our lives makes it hard to watch the bias and racism that exist toward humans who have dared to live as they were born. Born into bodies where skin color is mediated by cellular function and not inherited superiority. Born into societies where ethnic differences are socially conditioned and not decided by genetic capability. And born in a world that looks the same as we widen the scope of our vision and realize that if we gain enough distance we all look the same and we are beautiful!