Friday, June 29, 2012

Is there life before death?

I've wrestled with this question this week in light of some of the healing stories in Mark's gospel (especially the woman with the 12 year hemorrhage). I've had some wonderful insights from Facebook friends on this - especially on the nature of life and what it means to live.

Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). I cannot subscribe to the popular prosperity theology that's rampant in our culture which links abundant life to material wealth. Some of the most alive people I've ever met were people who were poor and had short life spans because of where they lived. They invested in relationships not things and conversely, those who spent time heavily invested in things often struggled with relationships.

If we're really honest with ourselves, we'd acknowledge the fact that we are all walking dead. That's right - we all live under a terminal condition ... we all have a death sentence hanging over our heads. We just don't know when, where or how.

So if you began to, as the Tim McGraw song goes, live like you were dying ... what would be different in your life?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Holy Family systems

This week I've been pondering the issue of family systems in light of our Gospel reading from the 3rd Chapter of Mark this Sunday. It's the story about how Jesus' family goes to his house to restrain him because the word is "he's out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-35)

Our image of the Holy Family is not that of dysfunction, is it? When someone says "the Holy Family," our mind leaps to images lifted from Christmas cards showing Mary and Joseph gazing down adoringly at their baby boy in the manger. (As an aside, I always thought Mary looked way too composed in these pictures! As one who logged 38 hours in the labor and delivery ward between two pregnancies, I can assure you no woman looks that good after giving birth. But I digress...)

We have trouble wrapping our heads around the idea that Jesus' family was much like our own - replete with joys, sorrows, and yes, even conflicts and relational dysfunctions. We get a small glimpse in Luke's gospel of the tension when Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem as a 'tween and his exasperated parents return to fetch him. And we get a glimpse of it here in Mark's gospel too.

As the eldest son (which Mark doesn't explicitly tell us, but Matthew and Luke do), Jesus has an expected role to fulfill. He is to learn the trade of his father and take over the work when his father dies or is too old to work. He is to provide for his parents in their advancing age ... a form of first century social security. He is to be the elder of the extended family to whom the family system looks for leadership and guidance. Oh yes, he has a job to do ... but he's not doing it and the family is none too happy about that! They think he's gone meschugge and needs a good talking to in order to straighten him out. They've come to the rescue ... or so they think.

The pull of the family system is strong. The family is the first place where we are told who we are, how we are to relate to the others in the system, and how we relate to the world. Some families affirm their children and want nothing more than for their progeny to be the best they can be. Other families ... well ... not so much. Much of what we believe to be true about ourselves comes from our families and, hopefully, they tell us the truth that we are beloved children of God. Sadly, some families don't know how to affirm and support each other and the distortion of shame and lies can destroy their members.

Jesus steps out of the expectations of his family system in this story. The family tries to pull him back - largely out of their desire for familial self-preservation. But preserving the self isn't what the gospel is about, is it? Transforming the self, both individually and collectively, is where the gospel leads us ... if we but dare to let it.