We are hearing about so much devastation in our world through natural disasters and wildfires. We need rain in parts of our country and need less in others. The content of our prayers differs depending on our perspective.
Unfortunately, we hear many things to blame for these circumstances. I’ve heard it blamed on our morality, who our president is, our inability to love one another, and natural consequences for how we have treated our environment. In the midst of the blaming, we see division and judgment.
I’ve been doing reading for a class I am teaching on Psalms and another I am taking on Church History. Both of these topics have given me something to think about as I notice loss in our world and in my own life.
Brueggemann defines the flow of the Psalms starting with orientation, moving to disorientation, and ending in a new orientation, only to start the cycle again. This flow reminds me of our journey through spiritual formation. In my last blog, I spoke about disorientation or lament. This time I would like to start with the first stage.
Orientation is a mindset where we are content with the way things are, the status quo. Brueggemann actually states that our dominant culture is resistant to change, both from loss and surprise.
Amazing, we are as unwelcoming of change from surprise as we are from loss. We prefer the way things are. We are full of gratitude as we think this place of contentment will continue on forever. The thing is, it never does.
Often, we are unaware that our place of goodness is often at the expense of another. During the Babylonian exile, Israel wrote psalms of despair while Babylon was content to have slave labor. We see it in our own country as we debate about white privilege and racism. We see it in the way we define the reason behind natural disasters. In the midst of seeing our own lives of goodness, we are completely blind of another’s struggle or pain.
Sometimes, from this place of blindness, we define “right” and “wrong” and ultimately how we expect God to act based on our own circumstances. Often, we are unaware of how our own place in society shapes our lens. Our definition of a life of faith and our understanding of God is shaped by our culture, what we have learned, and our circumstances.
How does God meet us in this predicament where one person’s gratitude bumps up against another’s cry for mercy. What do we do with this tension of seemingly opposing understandings? It is difficult to hold this tension and sometimes we respond out of fear and with judgment. This place can lead to viewing others as enemies.
We may think that God needs to fix others without really looking at ourselves. It makes me wonder…what if God is actually for all of us without division or favoritism? How does this make sense in our lived-out understanding of God?
This brings me to my reading in Church History. As the early church tried to figure out the way forward, they weren’t defined by land or temple as other religions in that time. The surrounding communities wondered about this New Way due to the courage shown in facing martyrdom and the willingness to care for those impacted by a plague that made others turn away. They lived out generous hospitality.
Jesus taught that Christians would be known by their love and these early Christians lived out that call. In fact, they defined morality not by what was “right” or “wrong” but by generous hospitality, loving and hosting space for everyone, regardless.
It makes me wonder about us, about me. What does generous hospitality look like? I think we have seen it in Houston and even locally during the fire in the Gorge. Firefighters risked their lives to protect precious areas in Oregon. First responders and neighbors risked their lives in rescuing others in Texas. I think we live it out when we walk alongside others in their loss and grief without judging them for being in the midst of such sadness. Maybe it is loving those around us, regardless, recognizing God is in them as well as in ourselves.
So how does God meet us in this tension? What if God grieved with us in our places of deep loss and celebrated in our places of safety and gratitude? What if God was big enough to be in the midst of our circumstances, regardless?
What if we allowed God to show us how our own places of orientation impact another? What if our hearts grieved with God for those who suffer injustice or are oppressed in our system?
It seems that becoming aware is one of the first steps toward changing our system. But first, let us grieve together and allow that journey through grief to be a place to join God in God’s work of generous hospitality. Maybe, this is the real work of living out the incarnational life Jesus invites us to experience.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984.
Irvin, Dale T., and Scott W. Sunquist. History of the World Christian Movement: Earliest Christianity to 1453. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2001.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!