25 January 2010

Brethren, what shall we do?

In looking at other blogs this morning, I came across three in a row that dealt with questions about what Christians can do about injustice and suffereing in the world. Not just talk about it, not just deplore it, not just theologise about it, but DO something about it.

My friend Jim Forest writes in his blog On Pilgrimage: Works of mercy:
For many Protestants, the single criterion for salvation is making a “decision for Christ” -- an intellectual affirmation that Christ is Lord. It has very little to do with how we live and everything to do with how we think. But Jesus, as we meet him in the New Testament, says very little about the criteria for salvation at the Last Judgment. Mainly the Gospel has to do with how we live here and now and how we relate to each other. Jesus sums up the law and the prophets in just a few words: to love God with all one's heart, mind and soul, and to love one's neighbor as oneself. Just one sentence.

and goes on to say

Main point? The works of mercy (feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, etc.) connect us to the God of Mercy.

There are many works of art that give visual expression to this crucial aspect of the Gospel. Among those I find most impressive is a very local work of art made in 1504 by an artist who is known only as "the Master of Alkmaar." Originally his seven-panel work hung in the Holy Spirit House of Hospitality in Alkmaar. Later it was moved to the town's cathedral. In the last century, it became part of the Rijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam. Currently, while the Rijksmuseum is undergoing reconstruction, it hangs in Rotterdam at the Boijmans Museum, where Nancy and I visited it yesterday.

In five of the seven panels, Christ -- without a halo -- is present but unrecognized. In this first panel, he looks directly toward the viewer. Only in the panel of the burial of the dead, sitting on a rainbow, is Christ revealed as Pantocrator, Lord of the Cosmos.

And then Julie Clawson writes in Walking the Justice Walk: onehandclapping:
in the large sessions I attended at Urbana, I heard a lot about the pain in the world. I saw that there were starving and hurting people. I was also told that I am self-centered for Facebooking and Twittering. I heard the stories of immigrants who have nothing and are desperately trying to survive. I was shown the magnitude of my consumption habits. And Shane Claiborne even told me how evil it is to live in empire that hurts instead of helps the world. I got the message. I felt guilty. I understood that I should care for others. But nowhere did I hear what I should be doing instead. I heard loud and clear what is wrong with the world, but nothing about what I need to do to make it right.

Perhaps one possible answer is to be found at Margaret Pfeil: Tradition is a living thing | Faith & Leadership:
Catholic Worker houses were founded by Day (1897-1980) and seek to foster practice of the church’s traditional corporal works of mercy (to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit and ransom the captives, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead) and spiritual works of mercy (to admonish sinners, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries and pray for the living and the dead). Catholic Worker houses also advocate for social justice in their local communities and beyond. Hat-tip to A Pinch of Salt: Margaret Pfeil on Dorothy Day

And I am reminded of a book I read more than 40 years ago, on the eve of writing a doctrine exam. It was far more interesting than my textbook, which I should have been reading. One way of escaping, as I said, is to theologise about it. We need a new theolo9gy of this or a new theology of that, people say. I know, I've been there, done that, made that excuse myself, and perhaps am guilty of that right now by blogging about it instead of doing something about it. And the book, by Colin Morris, a Methodist missionary in Zambia, put it in a nutshell:

That phrase Revolutionary Christianity is fashionable. But what it describes is more often a way of talking than a way of walking. It is revolution at the level of argument rather than action. We take daring liberties with the Christianity of the Creeds and the traditional ideas about God. We go into the fray armed to rend an Altizer or Woolwich apart of defend them to the death. We sup the heady wine of controversy and nail our colours to the mast -- mixing our metaphors in the excitement! The Church, we cry, is in ferment. She has bestirred herself out of her defensive positions and is on the march! And so she is -- on the march to the nearest bookshop or theological lecture room or avant garde church to expose herself to the latest hail of verbal or paper missiles. This is not revolution. It has more in common with the frenzied scratching of a dog to rid itself of fleas than an epic march on the Bastille or the Winter Palace. Revolutionary Christianity is so uncomplicated in comparison that it is almost embarassing to have to put it into words. It is simply doing costly things for Jesus' sake.

Dorothy Day did that, and so did Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn, but what about the rest of us?

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails