Friday, March 28, 2014

Light It Up

At one time y'all were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Walk the path of life as children of light—-for the fruit of the light is found in all that is goodness and justice and truth. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not partner with the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead work to expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
‘Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’

Ephesians 5:8-14

Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.
Richard Rohr

The letter to the Ephesians was written sometime between 80-110CE, decades after the death of the Apostle Paul. As was common in antiquity, it was written by someone claiming the Pauline tradition, penned in the style of the Apostle Paul. This was not considered plagiarism, but instead, was a way for a community to honor a leader by advancing the Cause.

Biblical scholars believe the same to be true about the second half of the book of Isaiah, written a couple of centuries after the original prophet Isaiah. It has a slightly different style and substance from the first few dozen chapters, reflecting the current events on the ground. Many scholars believe that Ephesians itself become a "circular" letter, passed along to different communities around the Eastern Mediterranean and, eventually, it became part of the New Testament in the late 2nd century.

Ephesians was written to Gentile followers of Jesus who were slowly learning the ways of the God of the Hebrew Bible who, they believed, became enfleshed in Jesus, a Jewish peasant from the small town of Nazareth who confronted empire decades earlier...and was crucified for it. Like the risen Jesus, these Gentiles awoke to a new life that sprouted mature practices of grace, compassion, forgiveness and generosity in a society that worshipped unpredictable gods (including the Emperor Caesar himself) characterized by their adolescent ways of revenge, violence, hedonism and hoarding. In short, these Gentiles needed to get saved, and their new found faith (Greek pistis: trust/allegiance) in Jesus led them out of the destructive patterns society had taught them.

Those of us experimenting with 12-step meetings, group processes and personal inventory models have become compelled that the biblical concept of "salvation" is nothing more than a rigorous lifestyle of active recovery from various addictions. Over the course of our lifespan, we all develop harmful copings to deal with the inevitable pain brought on by the dysfunction of our family, social, economic & political systems. These addictive patterns are subtle, cunning, baffling and powerful. It is like groping around in perpetual darkness, sleepwalking through life. This is insanity (Einstein on insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"). It is, quite literally, a living hell.

The author of Ephesians exhorts readers to vulnerably shine the light on their own pain cycles, exposing the ways we blame or shame & obsessively control or escape all of our triggering situations. This leads to all sorts of scapegoating, name-calling, projecting, trivializing, catastrophizing & fearmongering. In committed, authentic & disciplined communities, we can garner the courage to speak the truth about our lives so that we can find the wisdom, discernment and strength to re-enter our peace cycles, where we find an abundance of love and security and trust. But facing the truth about ourselves, consistently & concretely, requires humility & vulnerability & the removal of our precious copings. As Father Rohr admits, it tends to be miserable.

Of course, the road to salvation must run through both personal and political terrain. Our manna & mercy lifestyle (in both word and deed) ought to be an exposé on the hidden & hoarding patterns of violence & injustice in our world. We are the ones called to shine the light on our widespread racism hidden by proud proclamations of our black President and the overwhelming popularity of Lebron & Beyoncé. We are the ones called to excavate the hunger, homelessness & heartache cultivated by the hangover of unrestrained capitalism (the market will always have its "losers"). We are the ones commissioned to track the schizophrenic climate caused by our unquenched thirst for profits and consumption.

Indeed, our pursuit of goodness and justice and truth will be sustained by both personal inventory and prophetic imagination. We can consistently practice resurrection in our heads, our hearts & all over our habitats. The stone has been rolled away from the tomb & the light shines in. We can wake up from our deathly ways, walk out into freedom and work on exposing all copings & corruption that keep every living thing locked out of experiencing Life. May we find conviction & courage for this task. After all, it often leads to crucifixion.

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