Saturday, January 12, 2013

Christ Crucified

  "For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's wisdom is stronger that human strength.... 
   "When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  1 Corinthians 1:18,22-25, 2:1-2

I am beginning to understand these words of Paul.  The emphasis on Jesus' crucifixion in much of Paul's letters has frequently been a stumbling block for me.  "Why emphasize Jesus' death," I want to shout at Paul and others like him, "when his life was filled with so much love and truth?!"  I love Jesus' life, not his death.  But, I am beginning to understand that the way Jesus died is just as important as the way Jesus lived.

When the world is not as it should be -- when there is oppression, hunger, sickness, and violence -- putting it back to rights requires facing those who either contribute to these problems or who turn a blind eye to them.  Either way, back then and always, the result is a cross.  It may no longer literally be crucifixion, but it will not be a walk in the park, either.  Sometimes, as Jesus learned, those who oppose you may be those who are closest to you.  They may oppose you with the best intention and be motivated to protect you and keep you safe, as Peter demonstrated when he admonished Jesus to not even think of being killed.

This is what I am now discovering in my own life.  As I wrote last week, our church youth group has been invited to join another church in town to learn about the Arizona-Mexico border and put a human face on the immigration problem.  I want to participate.  I want to learn more about the border.  I want to meet the people involved.  I want to get involved somehow in helping wherever God calls me to help.  And I feel a strong pull towards the border.

But I am also feeling a strong pull away from the border by family members who think it is dangerous. Several people who care deeply about me have tried to show me how unsafe Nogales, Sonora is:  through stories, internet travel advisories and newspaper clippings.  The stories are a couple of years old, the travel advisory only warns about travel from Nogales, Sonora into the interior of Mexico, and the newspaper clipping describes the murder of an American drug smuggler in a bar at midnight.  So... how do these warnings apply to this trip or to me?  We will be walking 500 yards into Nogales, Sonora, in a group, in the middle of the day, to visit a soup kitchen and women's shelter, for a few hours, and we will be led by those who run the kitchen and shelter and who lead such groups all the time.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not taking this trip lightly.  I know there is risk, and many people depend on me to be alive and well.  So, I am also researching and listening.  But I am finding information that is less fearful, that balances the scale a little.  Am I absolutely guaranteed to be safe in Nogales, Sonora?  No.  But then, I'm not guaranteed to be safe in my own upper-middle-class neighborhood.  With the way things are going in America, I could be shot and killed just going to the grocery store to say "Hi" to a favorite politician, or going to a movie, or teaching at a school.

The world needs to change.  There is still oppression, hunger, sickness, and violence.  And it takes individuals to make a difference.  One person can make a difference.  For better, or for worse.

I turned on the television earlier in the week and came across a BBC program called "The Fatal Attraction of Hitler."  It showed how easy it was for Hitler to convince the German people to accept living in a police state:  because he was able to raise their standard of living, which had been pretty dire under the previous regime, the German people were willing to be led down any path by him.  The program also showed footage of Hitler riding into Vienna, Austria, surrounded by thousands of people cheering and welcoming him.  I was surprised by this.  "Wasn't there any resistance?" I wondered. 

The next morning, I picked up a copy of the New York Times, and read an article in the Obituaries section about a German historian, Klemens von Klemperer.  Klemperer, who Jewish grandfather had converted to Protestantism, was a student at the University of Vienna when Hitler annexed Austria in 1938.  I read that he "took part in student street protests.  But by November, with his family's property seized, he had fled to the United States.  Eventually, members of his family were killed at Auschwitz."  Klemperer became an historian, best known for his writings about the German resistance against Hitler.  So, yes, there had been resistance in Vienna.

That afternoon, wandering in a bookstore, looking for Thomas a'Kempis' "The Imitation of Christ," (which the bookstore didn't have) I came across a book called, "Kisses From Katie." Its vibrantly-colored cover shows a young woman holding hands and laughing with a dozen or so African children.  This autobiography, written by Katie Davis, describes the journey of a privileged and popular high school student, who fell in love with Jesus, and went to Uganda to help in an orphanage over one Christmas break.  It was hard enough to persuade her parents to support her on this mission, but when she graduated and wanted to return to work there for a year, she faced greater opposition, especially from her father.  She convinced her father to escort her there and stay for a week in order to see what it was really like.  And though her father tried everyday to convince her to leave, appalled by the living conditions of the people, he returned home alone.  Katie ends up staying permanently in Uganda, adopting 14 orphaned children (!), and helping to run a school for hundreds more.  It is an astounding story of one woman trying to follow God's will.  She writes, "This is the place where I am supposed to follow Jesus, obey Him, and make my best effort, with His gracious help, to treat people with dignity and care for them unconditionally.  to say yes to each and every thing He asks of me, to each person He places in front of me."  (pg. 12)  The thought crossed my mind that maybe this is the kind of "imitation of Christ" God really wants me to learn about.

And then, last night, again flipping through channels on the television, I came across a PBS series titled "The Abolitionists."  I learned for the first time of Angelina Grimke.  She was a young woman from a well-to-do, influential, and slave-owning, southern family, who became an outspoken opponent of slavery.  When she faced repeated threats to her life by fellow Southerners, she moved to the North.  But even in the North, even amongst fellow abolitionists, she faced opposition:  as a woman speaking to both men and women.  She saw immediately that the plight of women was not that far from the plight of the slave:  both had very little freedom.  After the Civil War, she took up the fight for women's rights.  She was the first woman ever to speak before a legislative body in the United States.  I was impressed by how brave, and how modern, she was.

So what do these various programs and readings mean?  I think it means that God is trying to give me some guidance, as always.  Every step of the way.  And I am, as always, amazed and deeply humbled by God's care of me.

Truly, God doesn't love us so that we will live lives of complacency, blind to the problems around us.  God loves us so that we will know how to love and serve others.  And, in every possible way, God shows us, as he did Jesus, what we need to know and do.  It will not be easy.  It never is.  But God will be with us. Always.

Dear God, thank you for the wonderful blessing of your guidance.  Please help me ease the worry of my family.  Love always, Pam

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