Tag Archives: Easter

Resurrection in the world

In just a matter of days, we’ll come to the high point of the Christian tradition: the resurrection of Jesus. Pastors across the country will stand in the pulpit and use one of my favorite phrases–they’ll remind congregations that not just something has changed because of this resurrected Christ, everything has changed. The pastor I worked with started to talk about it last Sunday: because of the resurrection, “we are Easter people.”

Yet, I can’t help but wonder whether that resurrection life, in our current worldview, is really available to all people, not just in death, but in life.

There was an odd thread this semester connecting the two courses I taught, one on ministry with older adults and the other on young people, and it was the concept of “therapeutic culture.” For older people, this means we live in a culture that attempts to deny aging, because it smacks of weakness, failure, and bodily frailty. In our highly medicalized culture, we use therapeutic techniques to overcome these problems of the body, to fight against not just aging but also death. And we often prefer to live in the denial that we can win such a fight against time and mortality.

In contrast, in her book Chronic Youth, Julie Elman traces young people’s cultural evolution from “rebels” to “patients.” Today the same teenagers who were presumed innately rebellious and disruptive to society have become the object of therapeutic intervention and techniques. We are fascinated by the human brain, by young people’s ability to be conformed to the ideals of society and docile citizenship: the whole goal of adolescence becomes synonymous with young people being rehabilitated from their deficient youthful states to become obedient, accommodated citizens.

In theorizing adolescence through the lenses of therapeutic culture, rehabilitation, and conformity, Elman deftly shows how such a model leaves young people with disabilities behind. If they cannot be rehabilitated or conformed to suit or assimilate or accommodate to society, they cannot become capable, productive human beings.

Indeed, Elman’s work led me to puzzle through the concept and purpose of rehabilitation, which is something, as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, that I’ve always felt uneasy about. When we constantly champion therapy as hope for young people with disabilities, how do we do so in such a way that maintains their integrity as unique and important human beings? When we stress the import of rehabilitation, especially for young people who are born with disabilities, I wonder what we think or hope they are being rehabilitated to? Because there is no prior state of health to often return to, perhaps rehabilitation is a never-ending, dehumanizing pursuit? Perhaps like those who are aging, young people with disabilities become victim to a spiral of therapeutic culture that champions a certain kind of person, a certain kind of life that they can never achieve?

I’ve struggled through this puzzle for so long, because my own child has been the recipient of meaningful, dignifying therapy–the kind that has appreciated who she is and at the same time spurred her on toward substantive goals of social interaction and self-expression. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fundamentally uncomfortable or unsatisfied with rehabilitation as one of the primary metaphors through which we instinctively interrogate the lives of people with disabilities. As anthropologist Gail H. Landsman points out in her study of mothers of children with disabilities, mothers clung to hope in therapy not because they really desired to change and alter their children, but because they thought it more plausible to change their children rather than change the way the world sees them. (A really poignant essay by Maria Rohan in Motherly discusses a similar challenge.)

But this has all got me thinking that if we truly are Easter people, if we truly are the church, we don’t have to buy into the gospel of rehabilitation, because we’ve got different, more transformative gospel at the heart of our faith. Rather than rehabilitation, especially for persons born with disabilities, surely resurrection, as a process of transformation, makes more sense in this world: people with disabilities, like all of us, live within the hope and promise and process of resurrection. They are not being rehabilitated or returned to some prior pure, whole, or able-bodied state, but they, too, are being transformed, made a new, dynamic, empowered, uplifted, exalted creation in Christ.

The problem, of course, is that too often a resurrection gospel has been far too therapeutic when it comes to people with disabilities. People with disabilities are implicitly told that resurrected life is either impossible because they can’t be rehabilitated as “normal,” or only narrowly possible in the hope of a miraculous overcoming or disappearance of their disability in life after death. But this is a false and human dichotomy, coopted by able-bodied imagination, hopes, and fears. This is why theologian Nancy Eiseland gave us such a powerful insight into resurrected life when she drew our attention to the scars and the wounds that Christ still possessed when he was raised from the dead. Christ’s body, imperfectly rehabilitated, yet fully resurrected in our midst, should remind us that signs of life among Easter people may look radically different than what therapeutic culture witnesses to.

And so here I am this morning, longing again, as one is wont to do in Lent, for resurrection in a fallen world. But what I continue to pray is that God would give me the wisdom to behold resurrection, in all its complexity, grace, and abundance. For when we preach of a mere gospel of rehabilitation as Christians we sell short the transformative, life-giving work God longs to do in this world in and through all of us as vessels.

But selling short people with disabilities is not just a problem for them, it’s a problem for all of us. For in a world in which we all grow old and die, therapeutic culture will never win the victory over death that has been won on the cross, a victory that doesn’t just involve the changing of a few lives, but the very world, the conditions, the parameters and limits in which we live. And living like Easter people, in light of that reality, means living with a promise that sees and uplifts and champions life among all people. It means we get to work in ministry that resurrects rather than rehabilitates, that points to who and where God is, even when the world may struggle to understand. And in so doing, that world, especially for people with disabilities, must and will be changed.

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Inside Notre Dame, 2013. Photo by Evan Schneider.
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Lent just in time

I realized that it’s only fitting that I started blogging again yesterday during Lent, because as history serves, Lent has lent (I just can’t help with the puns…you know Easter is on April Fools, right?!) a good portion of inspiration.

So I’ve compiled, just in time for Good Friday, a dose of Lenten posts for your contemplative reading.

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Egyptian wilderness.  Photo by Evan Schneider.

I pray that this season has been meaningful and full for you and that you find so much comfort and hope and peace even at the sight of our wounded savior on the cross.  May we linger on that cross and the grave with renewed passion and waiting and expectation of the hope to come on Easter Sunday.  Amen.

Deeply Needy, Deeply Grateful

The God of Silence

Thanking God for the woes

Everyday Listening

Forgoing Security for Faith

Practicing Gratefulness

An Invitation to Listen

Dirt

Where is the Joy?

 

On risking earthly things

It sounds so simple, this business of trusting God.

But even when I’m wracked with uncertainty and brutally aware of my own need for God, I often fail to understand how exactly we go about being faithful.  Even as I strive to know and trust God with my present and my future, I discover that once again I’m going about it all wrong.

Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’ve placed my trust in earthly things instead of in who God is, has been, and always will be.

When we’re reticent to truly trust God, our vision is limited.  We place our trust in human endeavors–promotions, houses, even people–but earthly securities are but illusions.  They crumble, they fall, they fail us.  At those moments of despair we often cry out to God, feeling betrayed.

But it is God whom we have betrayed.  

We’ve put our trust, our devotion, and our service in the things of this world instead of our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.  And when God doesn’t have our whole trust and our whole lives, God can’t grant us the vision and possibilities and promises that lie beyond our own limited perspective and imagination.

I heard a great sermon yesterday challenging us to faithfully cast out our nets as the disciples do in the last chapter of John and trust Jesus to fill them with provision that defies common sense.

The Yong River.  Nanning, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The Yong River. Nanning, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

But we’re so stubborn.

We human beings cling to our common sense like it’s all there is, like we’d rather settle for our own plans and dreams and ideas rather than God’s expansive vision.  Have the Biblical stories taught us nothing?  Has the promise of Easter fallen on deaf ears?  Do we truly believe Christ has been raised from the dead, and with him, we, too have been given eternal life?

I’m realizing that living as Easter people means risking the earthly things for the eternal ones, and relying on God to provide possibilities that we cannot fathom or imagine, but that we earnestly trust come from the hand of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer who never fails us.  For me, this requires daily commitment.  It requires me to continually let go of my plans, however seemingly perfect, and find rest and peace in who God is.  My restlessness, in fact, is a good sign to me usually that I’m relying on my own vision rather than seeking God’s.  

So may you find rest in who God is, has been, and always will be this morning.  May you seek eternal rather than earthly things, and may you be raised alongside Christ to taste and see the possibilities that only God has in store for you and your life.  Amen.

Scripture: Colossians 3; John 21

Weekend Links

It’s been a fabulous weekend celebrating my husband’s 35th birthday and enjoying the company of lots of friends and the lovely spring weather in NJ.  In addition to a photo from one of those lovely walks with the babe, here are some great stories and posts around the internet for your enjoyment this weekend:

“The Five Lessons of Good Friday,” a great article to ponder during Eastertide: I love the nuanced points about suffering and the proclamation that suffering does not have the last word!  For my own reflections on how to live in light of Easter, see last year’s post, “Holy everything.”

On the subject of men, women, and the workplace, “The Confidence Gap,” was a lengthy, but good read about what may be holding women back.

“Saving Minds Along with Souls,” the latest installment from Anthropologist of Religion, Tanya Luhrmann, provides a great challenge to the church to love, include, and care for the mentally ill.  For other posts on Luhrmann’s work, see  “What it means to be a child of God” and “God behind the scenes.”

“China On Track to Become the World’s Largest Christian Country by 2025, Experts Say,” …and in my non-expert opinion, it may be even sooner.  For more posts on Christianity in China on this blog, see “Chinese churches” and “Church Renewal from Below.”

FInally, another gem to ponder this week from Zen Habits, “The Reality of This Moment.”

What if we lived in this moment rather than the fantasy of our worries and fears about the future? 

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Have a wonderful weekend! 

Holy everything

Nearly a week has passed since Christ rose from the grave, since we celebrated Easter with trumpets and sunrise, communion and hallelujahs, feast and fanfare, and I still feel resoundingly full.

It’s not just the ham that’s still in the refrigerator or the earnest celebration of new life that felt so different from the traditions of revering the ancestors and sweeping the ancestors this time of year in China.  In fact, it’s the same story, from my youth, of Jesus riding in triumphantly on the donkey, of black Friday, of brutal death on a cross, and an empty tomb.

Nothing has changed in the Biblical story, so how do I account for what feels so different, so breathless, so heavy, so alive about Easter this year?

First signs of spring on the university campus.
First signs of spring on the Princeton University campus.

Last Sunday as the pastor stood in the pulpit, she reminded us that for Christians, we have no tomb, no cross, no holy place, hill, mount, or edifice to go to pay homage to Jesus, but that we ourselves are the embodiment of the resurrection, the Living Stones (1 Peter 2), the Easter people.  There are no holy places and so in resurrection, we are made holy people.

But our pastor also stepped off a white-cloaked altar into the sea of faces dressed in their best that morning and invited us to share our joys and concerns like we do on ordinary Sundays.  We were reminded that in earnest celebration there is still loss, and fear, and pain.

I think it’s this fact that accounts for the fullness of this season for me, the fact that the communion we take symbolizes not only life, resurrection, and the miraculous, but human brokenness, betrayal, and violence.  Likewise, the Easter story we celebrate leaves the women and the disciples not only full of hope and promise, foreshadowing the incredible growth of the church in history, but also anguished by the death of their savior, and bewildered and fearful at the sight of an empty tomb, a dwindling faithful, and an impossible truth.

This Easter I’m reminded that God doesn’t change, but the resurrection changes us, often and endlessly.  

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God.  It changes me.”

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We don’t become Easter people in a flash, jubilant and freed from this world, but we become Easter people when holiness leaves the altar, the cross, the tomb, and steps firmly into our midst and settles into our bodies and life rhythms.  Our circumstances don’t necessarily change, we still look like the flawed people that we are, but we become Easter people when our hearts, our eyes look upon this world and find everything holy.  We become Easter people when we behold what is holy in one another as though we are making a pilgrimage to somewhere sacred, because the Kingdom of God is here, in you and in me.  We become Easter people when we stop parsing what’s God and what isn’t and relish that the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.  We become Easter people when death is always with us, and yet, we experience life anew.

We become Easter people each time spring and hope return to a desperate world, and we’re left full, changed, and holy.