Sunday, July 1, 2012

Opposite - Acts 5:33-42

Opposite, by Chester C. Topple
July 1, 2012
Santa Fe
Scripture Acts: 5:33-42

Daddy tends to have knee jerk reactions when things aren’t going according to plan.  

Last Sunday for instance, we had a little tussle before leaving for MorningSong - the 8:30 rooftop worship service.  I was running behind, and she wanted some water.
Okay fine.
She then wanted to fill it herself
Okay fine
She then wanted to put the top on...the problem was that this top was a little tricky...clock’s ticking, time for daddy to do it his way.

Mistake #1 - don’t grab the top from your three year old -.
Mistake #2 - don’t then grab your three year old and try to get her in the car.  
Learn something new everyday, right?

That afternoon, Trasie introduced the concept:
Do the opposite of what you think you want to do; when you’re emotionally charged..  

….Does that just apply to life with a three year old?

Stretching it a bit, and going to the story from scripture today, I think this is the logic that Gamaliel uses when dealing with his fellow brethren of the High Council.
There are these stubborn pesky Jesus freaks around,
- don’t want to obey anything the High Council tells them.  
- It’s been awful for the Power people, since the healing of the crippled beggar back by the Beautiful Gate.
- This is the third time Peter and the other apostles are being called to the carpet!
- our wrist slap the first time didn’t work.
- The second time, They escaped...somehow...from jail
How are we going to shut these guys up?

Third time’s a charm... time to SILENCE them once and for all...

Wait, Hands OFF! says the Pharisee Gamaliel.  
There have been others who led masses - Theudas, Judas the Galilean, Jerry Falwell -when they died their following scattered.  
These followed...shhh...
“I wasn’t going to say the name, but these followed you know who.”
If it’s of God, there’s nothing we can do.
If it’s not, they’ll disappear  like water in the desert.  
Let’s do the opposite of what we think we want to do.
Let ‘em go.
After a good whippin’ of course....39 Lashes!

Shamefully dragged before the crowds, the disciples are stripped and the whipping begins.  

Maybe after lash #7 John wonders, what am I doing?
Maybe with #20, Peter wonders, is this worth it.
27, 28, 29...numbness...

37, 38, 39...That oughta do the trick....
one would think.  

I mean isn’t life all about avoiding pain?
IN our society it’s all about safety, saving face, and living free of suffering.

We go to great lengths to avoid pain and suffering,
We deny it exists...

Harry pointed out in his sermon last Sunday, no matter what we’ve been through,
we like to put on our happy face (mirror) before the masses and cover up any stuff that wouldn’t reflect that we are just happy and suffer free people.   

We diminish our own experience of it...
“I haven’t suffered at all compared to so and so...”

We over look it.
We don’t want to acknowledge the suffering of others,
- the wealthy don’t really know any pain...
- The poor surely get used to their situation...
We turn a blind eye; insulate ourselves from other people’s suffering...

Or maybe we want to cover up the wounds...:
Ruby loves “ouie-aids”.

I remember in 2003 reading an article that talked about research investigating the possibility of anti-anxiety drugs or beta-blockers to prevent the formation of long-term memories of certain events - (Gilbert Meilaender, “Why Remember”, First Things: August/September 2003).
Erase the bad memories....hmmm

In May of this year, the BBC reported that , we Americana consume 80% of the worlds “Painkillers.” It looks like the drug experiment is cover up...

Our suffering may trigger any number of responses...
- anger, fear, contempt, a desire for revenge, shutting down, cursing God, or concluding there must be no God....

these responses may be what we want to do?
But are they helpful?
How are we to respond to suffering as people of faith?

What is the opposite of what we think we want to do?  

I look at the reaction of Peter and the apostles to their own persecutions,
the whippin they take for the faith,
for the sake of the name,

these are the same people who were once scattered and afraid when Jesus faced his own death,
they now leave a whippin for the sake of the name overjoyed.  
They leave the powers and potentially threatening forces strengthened in their resolve;
They know it’s worth it to do what they have to do:
turn the oppressive forces upside down in order to create a new world order of God’s peaceable kingdom on earth,
It’s worth it.

They do the exact opposite of what they should do in the face of opposition and pain.  
Rather than avoid, or run from any potential suffering, or pretend nothing happened...They embrace it.

Franciscan Father Richard Rohr encourages us to hold on to our own suffering and anger and hatred,
move toward them;
examine and embrace them.  
Why did this hurt me?
Why did I react this way?
Instead of letting those suffering moments go or running from them,
allow them to become more intimately part of who we are....
He calls this path toward our own suffering “the path of descent which is the path of transformation.
Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.”
(As quoted in an email devotional from the CAC, June 28, 2012)
What are some of the lessons you have learned in your own darkness, failure, relapse, death and woundedness?

About 11 years ago, my cousin Matt, during his senior year of college, disappeared.
He has never been found; the case remains unsolved.  
About 9 years after the disappearance, Matt's mother, my aunt Mary Ellen, was interviewed by spiritual director and personal friend, Dr Ben Campbell Johnson, as part of a series called Experiences of God.   (

In the interview, Dr. Johnson asked my aunt,
"How did you respond to the realization that [Matt] was not going to be found easily?"

She replied, "It was a gradual process; of course initially the hope that he would be found was most important...
But, he was never found...
But, we could not have survived without the support of the community.
People, some of whom I had not seen for 10 years, called and brought food by and the hugs...
so many times people would come and I could tell they just plain didn't know what to say, but they were with us,
we were never alone.
They were here and I felt their support, their [compassion], their concern."

Dr Johnson responded: "It is so important that you and your husband Jeff were able to receive that.
Often people want to help and to support, but some don't accept the efforts of others."

"There's something about giving and receiving that is important," she concurred.

"Mary Ellen, I know this is a dark path, but I want to ask you, what kind of thoughts and feelings did you have when you felt "I may never see [my boy] again."

She forced a smile as she answered,
"I actually didn't think I'd never see him again.
Initially, I hoped, I kept hoping that he would be found, that we would know what happened.

Then, I had a very special experience on Valentines day, which was about 10 and a half weeks after he had disappeared.
We were still in the throws of will we ever see him again, but I got a very clear message that day--from him I'm convinced--That he was okay.  
I didn’t know what that meant.  
I didn't know if he was still in his physical body, or if he wasn't. But I got the message that he was okay.
That eased my anxiety to get an answer.  Because what's more important for a mother than to know that her child is okay..."  

She continued, "I may never find out what happened, and that's okay, he's with God."  

"How did you and how do you experience God in this pain?" Dr. Johnson asked.

Her response:
"Some people feel God allows pain or gives us situations that cause pain so that we can grow.
I don't believe that, I believe that  God is with us through the pain.
I think God cries with us.
I think God is sad when these things happen.  
[God] would never cause it to happen to test us, I don't believe. God is with us, and God is with us in the hands and hugs and thoughts and prayers of others, too. I really believe that."

My aunt and uncle both have become a great teachers for me, and are some of the most compassionate people I know.  

Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Hnat Hanh (Brother Thay),
who lived through the atrocities of the US war in Vietnam and its aftermath
insists that “even the most painful and violent experiences of life demand our full attention.
When we are attentive to our own suffering,
we will know that of others.
And this knowledge can help break cycles of suffering and violence in the world around us.

“This is a miracle, Brother Thay says, “because you understand the nature of the suffering,...and you are not trying to run away from suffering anymore, and you know how to make use of suffering in order to build peace and happiness.

It's like growing lotus flowers.
You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble.
You have to grow them on the mud.
Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower.
Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.

Brother Thay admits,
“I would not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because, in such a place, they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.
Radio Interview of Thich Nhat Hanh with Krista Tippet, on On Being

Fearful disciples of Jesus were transformed after Jesus’ death and resurrection into men of passion and conviction.  
What do the cross and resurrection have to say about the suffering in the world?
I recently visited a private chapel built by a family living north of Española.
On one end of the capilla there was a crucifix.
On the other a picture of the risen Jesus.
The owner said he wanted to have both the crucifiction and the image of the resurrection in his place of worship in order to capture the whole story.  

Our own story of faith, acknowledges the suffering in the world, and takes it head on...
confident there is also resurrection and new life,
and in the time between suffering and resurrection...
God becomes most intimate....
Our lives become transformed

What do I think I want to to do?

I turned 37 last week,
I’m a father of two;
a husband of an amazing woman.  
It could be easy for me to settle comfort, ease in life...
try to avoid a lot of the pain of the world.  

That’s what the world around me encourages me to do...
that’s what a little voice in my head tells me to do...
hey Chester, take it easy.

But, is this what I am called to do?
Is this what the teachers I’ve mentioned above say is best for me?
Is this what my own suffering teaches me?

a few months before his own death, Martin Luther King, Jr reflected:
Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral.
Every now and then I wonder what I want them to say....
I’d like someone to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like someone to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to be able to say that I did try to visit those in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
I won’t have any money left behind.
I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind.
But, I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

Living by our convictions may lead to great suffering.
Great suffering may lead to deep convictions...

Together, we can learn from our sufferings,
live by our convictions to stand up to the oppressive forces that would try to do us in, and find great resolve...
We can be the disciples Jesus calls us to be...
to make of this old world...a brand new world..
Isn’t that what we really want to do?

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