Friday, August 30, 2013

Breakable Girls and Boys

Most people who know me know that I am a big Bruce Springsteen fan, and have been for something like three and a half decades. (He continues to wear well for me, and keeps "Growin' Up.")

But the truth is that I love all kinds of music and I am very grateful for my kids (aka "young men") who have kept me listening to new music. One person I've been listening to now for about four years is Ingrid Michaelson. LOVE HER! There is wisdom and depth in her music that wears well.

In fact, one Good Friday (April 2, 2010) I preached on "Everybody" at one of those ecumenical three-hour services. Well, I didn't really preach on the song, but I wanted to suggest that the song took us to the heart of the meaning of the day. I was preaching on Peter's denial and how that would not be the last word about Peter's life. And so I said this:
In this world it’s hard to get it right, Ingrid sings. Yes indeed. And the cock crows and I imagine that Peter feels that he has been exposed as a fraud and that his life is over. He failed; the rock turned out to be nothing but sand. The great paradox, though, is that he is still loved in that very moment as much as ever.
 Happy is the heart that feels pain. This holy season of Lent has reminded us once again that hearts of stone are no good to us or to God.  It’s easy to see how hearts can calcify; it can feel like a matter of self-preservation. Hearts of flesh can be broken; hearts of flesh can feel pain. But Michaelson sings that as a kind of beatitude: Happy is the heart that still feels pain. Which reminds me a lot of another beatitude, spoken on a mountaintop overlooking the Sea of Galilee: blessed are those who mourn. Why is that? Because broken, contrite hearts can be used by God for good.  
 To see and confront the pain of this world and of our own lives, to see our failings and disappointments and instead of despair, to feel love, love, love—well I think that goes to the very heart of what this day is all about. This isn’t Bad Friday after all, and while there will be even more good news to come on Sunday morning we don’t have to wait that long for good news. This Friday is, after all, still called good and I think the reason for that is that the healing, transformative, reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ is revealed on the cross, not just at the empty tomb.  
             Happy is the heart that still feels pain
            Darkness drains and light will come again
            Swing open your chest and let it in
            Just let the love, love, love begin…   
Well, I continue to listen to Ingrid and lately I've been meditating a lot on the song "Breakable" - which is found on that same album. In fact I think the two songs fit together nicely. She reminds us (as one bumper sticker puts it) to 'be kind: everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.'

One might think that congregations are laboratories for grace and forgiveness and sometimes they are and when it happens the living, resurrected Christ is surely made manifest. But congregations can also be places that are brutal, places where conflicts create factions and rifts, where "the truth" is spoken not in love but with callous authority. We do a number on each other sometimes, in congregations, which is why the Church Alumni Association continues to grow at such an alarming rate.

In situations of conflict I often find myself counseling vulnerability, which in such moments is almost exactly the opposite of what the person feels like doing. (More likely they are wanting to put on the whole armor of God!) But as soon as I say it, I ask for God's mercy and grace and even pre-forgiveness in case this is the worst advice ever and I am sending a lamb to the slaughter. We are, after all, "so fragile and our cracking bones make noise...we are just breakable, breakable breakable girls and boys..."

And yet I also know this: without vulnerability, reconciliation is not possible. A theologian whom I think Michaelson would enjoy (and vice versa) is Miroslav Volf. In his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation he speaks of the act of an embrace. An embrace begins with an act of vulnerability: open arms. In such a gesture, we offer a "sign that I have created space in myself for the other to come in," Volf writes. But then we wait. Because you cannot force an embrace; that's a bear hug or something else altogether and sometimes profoundly unwanted. A true embrace begins with open arms and then always must be followed by waiting. The other person is totally free to walk away, to literally "leave us hanging."

We are so breakable, and our cracking bones make noise. The ways that I sometimes hear clergy talk about their parishioners, and parishioners talk about their clergy, has that sound. Now don't get me wrong: not always and not even most of the time, thank God. But even so - enough to give one pause. Enough to know why it is that Jesus commanded us to love one another, and to pray that that love might be a little less arrogant, rude, and boastful - and a little more patient, kind, and gentle.

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