I write this on Good Friday. Throughout the night, different people have come and prayed in the Garden of Repose that we set-up in the sanctuary. Framed by trees and plants, flickering with candle light, the reserved sacrament of bread and wine formed the focal point of the garden. Years ago I identified five questions that seem to be inherent in the Christian tradition, questions that form a lens through which we look at the world. I created a guide for those who came and prayed in the Garden of Repose, and I included these five questions in it.
- Meaning Question — What meaning do you make of an issue that you’re wrestling with? What does this issue, and the way you wrestle with it, say about what you value?
- Communion Questions — Whose voices are you hearing as you consider this issue? What other people, beyond yourself, are influencing the way you’re approaching this issue?
- Spiritual Gifts Question — What knowledge and skills do you have that can help you wrestle with this issue? How did you acquire this knowledge or skill?
- Powers and Principalities Question — What societal discourses are at work as you wrestle with this issue?
- Eschatology Question — Can you imagine what your life will be like once you’ve resolved this issue?
In Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh’s book Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John they make this claim: “‘objectivity’ is simply socially tutored subjectivity.” Their point is that “the truth,” the ideas we cling to and that we let define our lives, is given to us and maintained for us by the society that surrounds us. We say that something is “objectively” true when it is agreed upon by the majority of the people in our society. The Johannine Christians rejected the “truths” of the society that surrounded them, and therefore they were accused of rejecting “objective fact” or “objective truth.” Yet for them truth was personal, not propositional. The truth that they knew was the person of Jesus Christ, and he provided the model by which they came to understand the truth of their own lives.
The five questions that I propose are meant to help us discover the truth of our own lives. They are the questions that Christians have always asked, and are drawn from the Gospels, the Epistles, and the writings of the saints. No doctrine or dogma can impose answers to these questions. You must find your answers for yourself. Finding such answers is the work of covenanting with yourself, your neighbor, and with God. The five questions I offer above have been asked by people who have covenanted well throughout the centuries. They are a gift to us, said and sung by multitudinous voices, shaping our souls as we are shaped by the person and example of Christ.
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I will save this. It occurs to me that I might never need another sermon, homily, or spiritual guide than this.
The first question, the one about something I am struggling to derive meaning from, occupied my mind during my time in the garden last night. The senseless obscene violence of the invaders of Ukraine has laid on my mind a great deal. Like the singular violence performed on Jesus, it almost seems that empirical power and the desire to maintain and even expand it is the primary motive of the evil doers. If we are creatures of a loving just and ultimately good deity, how is it possible for us to accept such brutality as part of creation?
I take comfort in the assurance that, through our honoring Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection by acts of faith in his commandment to love one another as he loves us, we undermine and ultimately banish the forces seeking to destroy the Beloved Community from the earth.