To follow this paradoxical Christ is to learn to be bridge builders
I write to you as I head to Kanuga, a retreat spot in Hendersonville, North Carolina, for the spring House of Bishops meeting.
The writer to the Hebrews in Chapter 12 says, "...let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith....” I am struck by a spirit of gentle assurance and solidarity felt among colleagues in Rochester's interfaith community of leaders amidst serious expressions of hate, such as the shooting of a Sikh man near Seattle, a young engineer from Hyderabad in Kansas City, and the desecration of burial grounds belonging to Jewish people in several parts of the country including in Rochester — and the one that's about to be desecrated in Standing Rock, affecting Native Americans.
I have been reflecting on the relevance of the person of Christ in the context of our polarized world and commend the spiritual exercise of "looking to Jesus" to you this Lent. The Scottish Divine James Stewart described Jesus this way:
He was the meekest and lowliest of all the sons of men, yet he spoke of coming on the clouds of heaven with the glory of God.
He was so austere that evil spirits and demons cried out with terror at his sight, yet he was so genial and winsome and approachable that the children loved to play with him, and the little ones nestled in his arms.
His presence at the innocent gaiety of a village wedding was like the presence of sunshine.
No one was half so kind or compassionate toward sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red-hot scorching words about sin.
A bruised reed he would not break, his whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of Hell.
He was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, yet for sheer stark realism He has all our self-styled realists soundly beaten.
He was a servant of all, washing his disciples’ feet, yet masterfully He strode into the temple, and the hucksters and moneychangers fell over one another in the mad rush to get away from the fire they saw blazing in His eyes.
He saved others, yet at the last Himself He did not save. There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.
In his book, Becoming Good, Becoming Holy, Mark O’Keefe says,
As Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s love, he is also the perfect revelation of the authentic pattern of human response to God. The perfect image of God becomes the way for all those created in God’s image. The Christian life, then, is a following of Jesus. It is the path of discipleship. This discipleship is more than an external imitation of Jesus; it is, rather, a conforming of oneself to Jesus. It is becoming one with Christ rooted in prayer and lived out in action.
Galatians 2:19-20: I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
So, let us unpack some aspects of this Jesus, as a model to emulate.
Relational Leader: He was about an extension of beloved community within and without. Love God, love neighbor. Jesus gave us a window to his internal relationship with the creator, whom he referred to as "the Father" and the Holy Spirit. His genius, however, was such that his internal relational connection extended the continuum to include the stranger, the poor, and those who were invisible. It is best captured in Matthew 28:36, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Well-differentiated leader: It is Jesus’ willingness to marinate in relational belonging that enabled him to balance the place of institutional religious formation without acquiescing to them and in the bargain sellout the kingdom of God. We too are called to emulate this unencumbered life of abundance. Jesus models in this relational engagement his ability to stay well-differentiated, or not get sucked into systems of dysfunction. You are wise to be aware of the traps of usually pastoral settings that could easily mire and consume your capacity to function meaningfully. So, be careful not to confuse empathy with enabling emotional dysfunction. Edwin Friedman's Failure of Nerve delves into the ways leaders can be self-aware. I love the bumper sticker that said, “Rabbi Jesus saved my soul, Rabbi Friedman saved my donkey (there's another word for it!).”
Bridge building leader: Jesus is also a paradoxical model for us in that he was constantly a bridge builder. Whether it was to Nicodemus, the Syrophoenician woman, the ten men with leprosy, the Pharisees, Sadducees, blind Bartimaeus, the Centurion, Zaccheus, the system, etc. To follow this paradoxical Christ is to learn to be bridge builders: Paul calls us to be wise followers of Christ and claim our charism as bridge builders. In First Corinthians, chapter three, he instructs that Paul, Apollos, Peter, the world, life, death, present, future, all are yours, you are Christ's and Christ is God's. Bridge building assumes a deep drink of God’s security. It is as if there is a dynamic collusion resulting in the rippling impact of the earthly and the cosmic. Our discipleship in Christ provokes us then to do what is unthinkable in the normal path of thinking. We are capable of bridging otherwise impenetrable sectors, be they systems or individuals. Statutory warning: if you wish to be a bridge, come from a place of security because people will walk all over you. Yet, bridge builders are so needed. The problem with a reduction of bridge builders is that where there is no bridge, there will be a chasm or a wall!
Have a Holy Lent, and don't forget that penitence does not mean a joyless state of being dour!