Christ is killed every day by the injuries we cannot bear

These are the opening words of Rowan Williams’ new book, Holy Living, and they are meant to unveil our regular, entirely reasonable (so it seems) un-involvement in the pains around us. We say, rightly, “Christ alone can carry our sufferings.” Yes indeed, surely this is right. Christ alone, Rowan_Williams_2007according to his grace, can carry our sufferings. We are thus realists about our limited capacities. Indeed we’re theologically astute realists, as least as it concerns the sufficiency of grace. But though we grasp the sufficiency of Christ’s grace for us we fail to follow the trajectory of grace into the pain around us.

As realists we easily and painlessly stand at a distance from pain. However, Williams reminds, the pain of another person “does not stop being ours when it becomes his.” In fact, the nature of God’s peculiar way of redeeming me compels me to be a particular kind of un-realist: “The complete involvement of Jesus in human torment draws us after, draws us to imitation, stirs us to be Christ for our neighbor, to expose ourselves as he did” (9, 11).

There is more I want to say about this in a later post. There is perspective here on my vocation as a Christian professor in a Christian institution of higher education, though I’m still mulling over quite how I want to put it. For now I want to post a slightly longer section of this chapter around which my attention keeps coming back. You might ask yourself, “In whatever kind of community I find myself, how does this challenge me?”

Well, we are all realists to a greater or lesser degree, and there is therefore no avoiding the fact of our complicity in the death of Jesus. Like the apostles we evade and refuse and deny and escape when the cross becomes a serious possibility.

Ouch! And he doesn’t let up:

Terror of involvement, fear of failure—of hurting as well as being hurt—the dread of having of powerlessness nakedly spelled out for us: all of this is the common coin of most of our lives. For beneath the humility of the person who believes he or she knows their limitations is the fear of those who have never found or felt their limitations. Only when we have traveled to those stony places of the spirit where we are forced to confront our helplessness and our failure can we be said to know our limitations, and then the knowledge is too late to be useful. We do not know what we can or cannot bear until we have risked the impossible and intolerable in our own lives. Christ bears what is unbearable, but we must first find it and know it to be unbearable. And it does not stop being ours when it becomes his. Only thus can we translate our complicity in the death of Christ into a communion in the death of Christ, a baptism in the death of Christ: by not refusing, by not escaping, by forgetting our realism and our reasonableness, by letting the heart speak freely, by exposing ourselves, by making ourselves vulnerable (9).

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Weekender: May 6, 2017

Weekender: 05/06/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “To grow as a disciple is to take the journey from understanding into faith, from memory into hope and from will into love.” From Rowan Williams’s Being Disciples. Kent reflected on another quote from this book in his post “On Shame.”

Blog Post to Read: Mark Labberton’s post on Christian Century about the perspicuity, or plainness, of Scripture — or how it’s not so plain after all.“The great irony about the claim of perspicuity is that it is not perspicuous,” Labberton writes. “Or at least not as clear as it might sound. The greatest evidence that perspicuity is not self-evident is provided by Calvin himself, who argued for the perspicuity of the Bible while writing thousands of pages of commentary to help make plain to the ordinary reader what the scriptures were saying and teaching. What was plain and clear plainly needed some explaining.”

Reflecting with Images: William Blake’s Jerusalem, Plate 41, “Bath who is Legions”

William Blake's Jerusalem, Plate 41, "Bath who is Legion"

Questions to Ponder: Kent has been posting on shame this week. His posts have evoked a number of questions for me (Zen).

  • How does a pastor speak well about sin and forgiveness? That is, how does someone call a congregation to confession and repentance without leaving them with a sense of inadequacy? Is preaching forgiveness enough? Or should a call to repentance always begin with a reminder of Christ’s love? How does a thoughtful liturgy help guard pastors from perpetuating shame?
  • I wonder what percentage of Christians attend church because of shame? How many people think going to church is primarily about “getting right with God”? How do we alter the perception of what church is for to something more true, like we attend church to celebrate God’s love and faithfulness and to be nurtured through sacrament, prayer, and preaching?