Opening disclosure: this is not about politics!
I know that by making that statement up front I have now lost a few folks trolling for a fight. Still, I wanted to reassure my faithful audience, the two or three of you who read this blog on a regular basis, that you can relax for this one.
At various times in my writing, and especially of late, I have most definitely been caught up in the flurry of voices sharing – shouting – opinions about the ills of society. I make no apologies for my blithering, other than its general ignorance. There is a long, shameful history in the U.S. of white clergy not speaking out about injustice. Given that history, I would rather err on the side of being too vocal, than not vocal enough. However, two lines of thought that occurred to me, recently, led this piece away from politics. One of those thoughts was a realization that I had particularly well-honed skills at diagnosing and condemning problems while at the same time not having equally well-honed skills for offering solutions. The other thought reminded me of the reason I started writing in the first place.
Just after Easter, I reread the story of Thomas in John’s Gospel. The poor guy gets a very bad rap as the “doubting” one who wasn’t fortunate enough to have been around when the risen Jesus showed up to the male disciples the first time. In response to the stories he heard from the other guys, Thomas adamantly refused to believe that Jesus was alive unless he got to see him with his own eyes, maybe even poked him a few times with his finger. A week later when Jesus shows up a second time, Thomas is with the group, sees Jesus, maybe pokes him, maybe not, but either way the doubting “one” believes! Great. Good story. Yet, what really struck me was what the other guys were doing BOTH times just before Jesus showed up. Both times they were hiding behind locked doors.
The first time is totally understandable. The tomb had only been discovered empty that morning. Some of the women disciples had seen Jesus, even talked with him. But guys being guys, the witness of the women wasn’t enough to convince them. The male disciples huddled behind locked doors for fear that the authorities who had killed Jesus, would kill them also. As I said, under such circumstances, hiding behind locked doors seems pretty reasonable.
The second time, however, John writes, “They gathered again behind locked doors; and Jesus reappeared. This time Thomas was with them.” Wait a minute. Go back. “The gathered again behind locked doors.” Hadn’t they already experienced the presence of their risen Lord and Savior? Why then the locked doors? You’d think that maybe having had such a spectacular interaction with Jesus the week before, they would have been emboldened to say and do whatever they wanted, without fear of the consequences.
But, I think they were still afraid. Sure, they had seen Jesus alive; they caught a glimpse of something astonishingly strange, hopeful, powerful. But just a few days prior to that encounter they had also seen that same man, Jesus, pegged to a wooden beam, hanging in the desert sun, bleeding, broken, humiliated. The same authorities that had nailed Jesus to a post could do the same to them; and, as far as they knew, the authorities wanted to do so, and would. I can see the hesitancy to unlock the doors lingering for quite some time.
The wild thing is, somehow over the next several weeks, something dramatically changed in the hearts and minds of these same disciples. They did unlock the doors; and not only left the room, they went out into the streets and started telling anyone who would listen that no one had to hide behind locked doors anymore. They had good news for all those who were afraid, who were bound in whatever manner. They began working for a better world for everyone; and, they did so openly, as followers of Jesus. Their experience of the presence of the risen Christ, filled their souls with such joy and hope that they broke free of the fear, the grief and the despair that had bound them and they wanted that same freedom for others.
Over thirty years ago I experienced this sense of release and relief in the living presence of Christ. Fear didn’t bind my soul so much as loneliness and despair. I had spent years trying to hold darkness at bay and trying to fill the emptiness I felt within myself. Then one weekend in the middle of my sophomore year of college, at a retreat, Jesus was there, with me. Not in any sort of physical manifestation, but as a real presence nonetheless. I can describe it in no other way. Up to that moment, I had heard of Jesus, I had read bits and pieces of the stories about him. Then, in a very specific moment, I knew he was real and present with me. In that same moment, a burden lifted off of my spirit that honestly felt like a physical weight being lifted off of my back. I understood to the core of my being that Jesus was the one for whom I had been looking, that God loved me, and that Christ would never leave me.
The very next thought that popped into my brain was, “I want to be a pastor.” However, I felt very sheepish about that idea. I figured everyone who has such a distinct, dramatic experience of “conversion,” especially in their post-teen years, must want to be a pastor (Writing this just now, makes me realize, even more than I had before, what a stupid assumption that was!). It took a few years, and a particularly intense one in China, for me to realize that not everyone dreams of being a pastor. I also realized that my greatest desire was to help other lonely, fearful, grieving people find love, hope, even joy as I had. That was what I wanted to spend my life doing.
And that is why I spend my life doing what I am doing. I don’t write this blog, ultimately, to try and influence the outcome of the presidential election in the United States of America. I don’t write this blog to try to get particular legislation passed or change a particular social bias. I write this blog because there are still people hiding behind locked doors out of fear. I write this blog because there are still people struggling to keep darkness at bay, feeling empty inside and feeling alone through it all. I write this blog because in Christ I have found love, hope, beauty and even joy amidst the darkness. I write this blog on the faint chance that what I say, or share, might in some tiny way help even one person unlock the door and find freedom from what binds their hearts and minds; that it might help even one person experience the real presence of love, or hope, or beauty or joy in life. Sometimes I wander off the path a bit. I focus on the election or legislation or social biases, because they impact our sense of hope profoundly. But ultimately what I seek for myself and for others is not political. It’s personal.
You do a wonderful job of all those things! And I especially like your speaking into spaces of Justice because we truly can’t say those things enough.
Your opening, though reminded me of a cartoon I saw that week where a few men are standing around and one says, “But no one is calls you Denying Peter or Running Away John!”