Feeling Guilty or Doing Justice? – Lenten Reflection (21)

Scripture for Today: Micah 2, 4, 6

I met Rose on my second day in Kenya. Rose was about my age; she had two beautiful children and was full of light. Rose worked as my housekeeper for all four of my years in Kenya and became one of my closest confidants.

One day after a huge storm Rose came to work late. The storm had literally torn her world apart: the roof on her home had been blown off by the winds, her entire home had flooded, and everything was ruined. As I listened to her my heart sunk, my stomach tightened, and my skin started to crawl,

This experience of guilt was a regular occurrence in Kenya: why did I maintain a life of comfort when so many were living in poverty? I imagine this is a question many of us have asked in some form. And despite the eternal nature of this philosophical question, I’m not sure it’s the question God wants us to be asking.

I know that’s not how Micah calls the people in his prophecy. Micah is writing to people who occupied similar positions of authority, wealth and power in Judah. He is angered by their greed, corruption and abuse of power. Instead of using their power and privilege for the good of all, the people Micah addresses are stealing homes from those who are poor, and cheating others in court (2:2 and 6:10).

Micah dramatizes this conflict, writing the book to read like a courtroom scene in which God has taken the people to court for their behavior. In the opening arguments, God reminds the people of the provision they experienced in the desert, and asks them to extend God’s care as it was extended to them. We are not being judged on purity, chastity, competency, worldly success, or the amount of guilt we experience but on these three qualities: doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

Justice and kindness are stark contrasts to guilt.

Guilt keeps the focus on our own discomfort rather than the pain of the situation. At best, guilt can lead to one-off actions that attempt to remedy our feelings of shame. At worst, it motivates us to recede deeper into our position of power to avoid this discomfort.

Justice and kindness begin by looking outward and acknowledging the discomfort we feel about inequity. Justice is, directly translated, the idea of seeking wholeness and finality for people. Doing justice means bringing about the unity and equality Ezekiel dreamed of in his prophecy. A community marked by loving kindness, the relentless love of God, lets that love transform the way we show mercy and kindness to those around us.

No, I do not think God wants guilt.

Instead, God requires that we “walk humbly.” That we open our entire being to justice and kindness so that all that we do might move us one step closer to God’s dream.

Prayer: Open my heart to justice and kindness.

Reflection: How does my emotional response to injustice get in the way of me taking action? How might I increase the kindness I offer others?

Art: Micah

Worship-6-26-11: http://www.jconradimages.com/?project=dry-bones

Collective Restoration – Lenten Reflection (20)

Scripture for Today: Ezekiel 16, 36-37

Today’s reading begins with the same complicated metaphor of yesterday, an unfaithful bride. However, it pivots quickly to talk about a vision for restoration. This vision expands past a scorned lover to include healing between God and the land, between God and individuals, and among the people.

Ezekiel writes in the same manner as Hosea, using metaphor and image to describe this holistic healing.  Through the images of dry bones and stone hearts turned to vulnerable fleshly beings, the prophet reminds us that restoration isn’t about a specific aspect or action; it’s about claiming an entirely new way of being.  Instead of symbolic sacrifices, we offer to God our very essence. In doing so, we gain a heightened sense of intimacy with God.

The image of two formerly-split sticks being attached teaches us that restoration extends past ourselves and God to making right relationships among the community. Ezekiel is speaking specifically about the relationship between the Northern and Southern parts of Israel (split after the reign of Solomon), but this idea of collective restoration continues to appear in the New Testament when Jesus prays that “They may be One” (John 17). In Ezekiel, along with the unification of peoples, the land is also deeply blessed by restoration: “The land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden” (36:35).

When I think about harm and healing it is easy to get fixated on how conflict impacts me, the person I am conflicting with, and sometimes God. It takes intentionality to notice the effect I am having on my wider community or the environment. It is difficult to consider how my guilty pleasures reinforce communal values, to notice how my tone with my partner impacts the people around us, and to consider the environmental impact of our purchases.

Ezekiel’s vision challenges the idea that healing is two-dimensional and invites us into a wider understanding of restoration. This invitation will undoubtedly require that we raise our consciousness, but in return promises a more vibrant and rich life for all.

Prayer: Deepen my understanding of restoration.

Reflection: How can I be more conscious of my impact?

Art: Worship-6-26-11

Tikkun Olam - Heal the World - Laurie Morgan - https://fineartamerica.com/featured/tikkun-olam-heal-the-world-laurie-morgan.html

Tikkun Olam – Lenten Reflection (17)

Scripture for Today: Proverbs 8:1 – 9:6, Ecclesiastes 3

One Jewish account of creation is as follows: God contracted the divine self to make room for creation. Divine light became contained in special vessels, or kelim, some of which shattered and scattered. As a result, good and evil remained thoroughly mixed in the created world, and human souls became imprisoned within the shards. Humans have been charged with the work of tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that can be roughly translated as “repair of the world.” We repair the world by claiming the Divine light and choosing to embody goodness by engaging in the healing of the world.

The Hebrew word for world, olam, appears in Ecclesiastes 3:

God has placed eternity (olam) in our hearts, yet we cannot fathom what he will do from beginning to end.

Wow. God, the creator of all, placed a piece of the eternal world in our hearts.

I find it difficult to expand on this profound truth, and I don’t want to. Rather, I can share the moments in my life where I might have begun to grasp God’s eternal presence in me.

These are moments that seem too big for our bodies: a dear friend finally conceiving and bearing child after years of trying, finding someone who loves even the most human parts of you, connecting with a stranger as if you had known them for years. In these moments of profound connection and intimacy my heart feels like it’s going to burst into shards of light. Eternity is in me.

These moment are breathtaking.

These moments are frustrating.

As much as I try, I cannot create, manufacture or grasp these moments. They are fleeting, brief encounters with the eternal wisdom that was beside and with God from the beginning of the world (Prov 8:9).

This, I think, is the reality of the human experience. We were created by God to be God’s very image. The Holy Spirit, described beautifully in Proverbs 8, is ever crying within us to embody her way. And sometimes, we get it. However, we are often frustrated (understandably so) because we cannot see the whole picture from beginning to end.

So what do we do?

We pay attention to the voice of God that is within us. We follow the way of righteousness and justice. We enjoy the bits of the divine we are graced to encounter. We eat. We drink. We take pleasure in our work. We do what is placed before us and trust God with the rest. We try our best to engage in the repair of the world, one eternal moment at a time.

Prayer: May I embody the light of God.

Reflection: How can you create space to listen to wisdom speaking within you? How do you feel called to engage in the repair of the world?

Art: Tikkun Olam: Heal the World by Laurie Morgan

Attribution: The description of Tikkun Olam comes from My Jewish Learning.