A Warm Spring of Refreshment after Tragedy

Over the weeks following Easter, Gospel stories recounting the appearances of the risen Christ to the disciples are read in Christian churches.  Of these stories, perhaps the most striking to me recounts two people and their encounter with Christ on Easter evening.  This story is commonly called, “The Road to Emmaus.”

Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus. They are bereft because of the public execution of Jesus.  A stranger joins them on their way.  Seeing they are upset, he asked what happened.  They explain, “We used to hope that Jesus was the messiah.” The stranger explains to them the Hebrew Scriptures pointing to the events which had just occurred. The stranger stays with them for dinner and, while sharing the meal, he breaks bread.  The disciples realize that the stranger is actually the risen Christ.

The story is rich in symbolism.  For instance, Emmaus is not a town that ever existed.  Instead, the word “Emmaus” means “warm springs.”  The disciples were going from the place of tragedy to a warm spring, an oasis, a place of rest and comfort.

The disciples are trying to make sense of a tragedy.  They lived in a world marked by cruelty and oppression, ruled by fickle leaders who took advantage of the people at every step.  They thought they had found someone who would save them from their plight.  Would he over throw Roman oppression much like the Maccabee brothers who led the revolt to overthrow Syrian oppression? Would his teaching lead to a new kind of realm?  They used to hope for so much, but all their hopes were crushed.  What did they have to live for?  Why go on?

In their trauma, they invited a stranger to stay with them.  In ancient stories, a stranger is a symbolic figure representing change or opportunity.  The stranger shows them that all is not lost.  They discover something that reminds them of all Jesus taught in a simple, universal act:  breaking bread and eat with others.  It was in this simple gesture that new hope was found.

During the weeks after Easter, as I drive past churches, I see many signs proclaiming things like, “He is risen!”  What does that really mean?  Was a dead body resuscitated?  Is the Easter story about a zombie?    Honestly, I don’t find much meaning in the way the Easter story has been reduced to a magical event by many Christians.

Instead, what I find very significant and extremely meaningful is conveyed in this story about the road to Emmaus.  It’s when life looks most grim, when everything has fallen apart, when we find that our dreams are dashed and that we have given up all hope that we can experience resurrection.  The story conveys that the disciples found new life, new meaning, new purpose, new energy by sharing their pain, by welcoming new opportunity (represented by the presence of the stranger), and finding something sustaining in the most ordinary thing: breaking bread and sharing a meal with others.  This encounter on the road to the desert oasis didn’t change what had occurred, but in the midst of pain and death, the disciples found new life.

For me, the most important truth of the resurrection is that in the midst of our difficulties, we can continue to find new life.  That is truly something to celebrate.

 

Photo credit: Ben Amstutz via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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My Internet Troll

Sometimes, I ‘m trolled on the Internet.  In case you’re not familiar with the term, “Internet troll,” it’s slang for someone who attempts to create discord online with arguments or inflammatory posts for no other purpose than to be disagreeable.  While I occasionally am trolled, I have one gentleman who’s been trolling me regularly for over six months.  Unlike most, he’s openly admitted that he has an agenda to discredit people like me.

This very dependable, articulate gentleman who trolls me on a particular social media site has stated that his goal is to challenge Christians because of his belief that Christianity is harmful to people. He claims that I’m not really a Christian because I don’t adhere to certain teachings he believes are essential to Christianity.  He also insists that Christians can’t be involved in interfaith pursuits.  Lastly, he insists that all I’m attempting to do is make money off of people.

When he first began trolling me, I thought he was sincere and wanted to have dialogue.  It took me a while, but I realized that this was not the case.  Instead, he’s attempting to create discord online. What’s interesting to me about this man is that he’s essentially a fundamentalist.  He’s really no different from rigid believers who insist that the belief and experience of others must match their own.  If one seriously considers the history of Christianity, it’s very clear that there always been a wide diversity of belief and practice among Christians. Christians have never agreed on key elements of the religion, like baptism or communion, the meaning of salvation, or whether the world is fundamentally good or intrinsically evil. These debates aren’t new.  Instead, they cross the span of two millennia.  This same kind of diversity of belief and experience is found in every other major religion.

The term “religion” comes from the Latin word religare meaning to bind together.  Religion draws people together to share common beliefs and experiences.  Religion also binds together within a person a sense of that person’s own beliefs and experiences.  Properly, religion isn’t about dogma but about attempting to make coherent sense of experience of life. When religion becomes dogma, then it’s making someone else’s belief and experience one’s own.  In other words, dogma isn’t my experience but is someone else’s experience that’s appropriated as true.

I can only assume that the gentleman who routinely trolls me was somehow hurt very deeply by religion or perhaps by a member of the clergy.  It’s clear that he’s not able to listen and attend to the experience of others because he’s limited by his own experience and intention to pick arguments to point out what he believes are inconsistencies.  Contrary to that, I find that my best opportunities to enrich my life have been to learn from the experience and thoughts of others, including shamans and Native American elders, Hindu yogis, Buddhist roshis, Muslim imans, Jewish rabbis and people with no particular faith or tradition.  When we open our hearts to respect and receive the rich experience of others, we have the opportunity to grow in ways we would never expect.

Yes, I am a Christian.  I draw a sense of meaning and fulfillment from the teachings of Jesus and do my best to live out those teachings in daily life.  But I don’t expect that others should follow that path that’s right for me.  Further, I encourage others to follow the path that’s right for them, whether that be through another religion or belief system or no particular belief system.  That’s because I contend that people who live with integrity to what is most true within them will lead lives marked by goodness and compassion.

People whose goal is create discord and division, whether in real life or online, have not discovered what it means to live with compassion for themselves or others.  Perhaps that’s what makes the term “Internet troll” appropriate.

 

(Photo credit: betsythedevine via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA)

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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On Being Human

Who am I?  What makes me the person that I am?  I have to be honest:  I’m not really sure.  I have lots of roles.  I’m a professor, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a cook, a laundress, a lawn boy, a spiritual director, , an agitator, a letter writer…..and the list goes on.  But are any of these things who I am?  What’s the essence of me?

When I was three or four years old, I was the little boy who delighted to play in a sand box.  I had trucks, and soldiers, and all sorts of toys. I would play games of imagination for hours.  Was that me?

As a teenager, I had anxieties that seemed overwhelming.  What should I do?  How do I fit in? Where’s my place?  Honestly, I never figured out those questions, but my concerns over such things faded away.  Was that me?

It was so different in my late 20’s!  I thought I could take on the world!  I was ready to do anything — and I did a lot.  As I think back on those years, I wonder:  was that really me?  Who was that guy who worked so hard, anyway?

Then I was 45.  Oh, my!  All those things I set out to do twenty years before.  Some were great; some not so much.  I wondered:  was that all there is?  Was that all of me?

I’ve now had six decades of life.  You’d think I’d understand this thing called life by now.  I look back on those younger versions of myself and, well, at times I want to roll my eyes in wonderment at how silly I was and at other times I have great compassion for myself.  In looking back, there’s a glimmer of the person I may be.  Those were all me, but none of them were fully me.

As I look over my life and the lives of those I know well, I’ve come to understand that to be human isn’t to be one thing. Identity isn’t something fixed and constant over a lifetime.  Instead, to be human is to be a happening, a process which is dynamic, which evolves and changes over time.  As we grow and change, we do so in the context of others and the situations which we encounter.  Who I am is in relationship with others and the events of life.  Our lives take shape within the nuances of particular contexts, events, and relationships. From this perspective, it’s clear that we each have multiple dimensions to our identities. Each of us isn’t one thing, but we are many things.  But those many things which evolve over time come together as one in our sense of identity.

So what am I yet to become? What will the next twenty or thirty years bring?  Who’s to know?  But I am sure of this:  whoever I am in one moment to the next happens in relationship to others and in the context of events.  None of us becomes who we are alone.  Instead, it’s through and with each other that we be and become.

As a Christian, I understand the essence of the Divine as a trinity of persons.  The Divine isn’t a constant, but happening of relationships. The Divine is three-in-one and one-in-three.  In the context of these multiple relationships love begets love. This love is creative, redemptive, and sustaining. It’s absolute goodness and generosity. In considering my own life and what I hope to become, perhaps the greatest aim I could have is also be a happening in the context of others which begets love and manifests it in the world;  to be good and to be generous; to be creative; to allow for second chances; and to support and sustain life all around me.  Perhaps in this way, to be human is to be Divine.

Is this what my ancestor in faith, Athanasius, stated in the fourth century?  God became human so that humans could become Divine.  Perhaps in this dynamic happening of an evolving self we each discover who we are most deeply.

Photo credit: Marco Bellucci via Foter.com / CC BY

© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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