“I went back to church thinking it would be like an epidural, taking the pain away. But I realized that church is more like a midwife, standing next to me saying push…it’s supposed to hurt a little bit.” -Brene Brown
“Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken Hallelujah” -Leonard Cohen
Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, and I know for some of the readers of this blog, this may sound like a day that is just for Catholics.
But Ash Wednesday was going on long before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed for over a thousand years, where we remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.
It is profoundly ancient, biblical, and Christ-like.
Man of Sorrows
If you were just to pick up one of the Gospels and read it for the first time, one the of the more interesting things about that would stand out to you was how much Jesus talks about death, in particular how much he talks about his own death, what He thinks it will accomplish, and how intentional He was about not shying away from it.
And then you would probably notice that Jesus cried a lot.
Which is not something most of us are good at.
In Tim Keller’s recent book, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering” he talks about how uncomfortable most Western people are with suffering. At one point in his book he referred to an interview the BBC had with Robert Spitzer a few years ago. Spitzer was one of the main psychologists who worked on classifying all the various mental illness and how they should be treated.
25 years later, Spitzer admitted that, in hindsight, he believed they had wrongly labeled many normal human experiences of grief, sorrow, and anxiety as mental disorders. When the interviewer asked: “So you have effectively medicalized much ordinary human sadness?” Spitzer said, “Yes, I think so, to some extent…”
In other words, what used to be just the natural response to the valleys of life has now become a disorder. We used to cry and now there’s a pill for that.*
It seems like our world has two different options for suffering, either to medicate it or to marginalize it.
And that’s all well and good, unless you are a Jesus follower. Because Jesus dealt with death and suffering much differently than that. Jesus, the Resurrection and the life, wept when he saw a friend die, a friend who he was about to raise from the dead! He wept over Jerusalem, even though He knew there would one day be a New Jerusalem.
Blood on the Floor
So this video is from Brene Brown (famous for her TED talk on vulnerability). In a world where everyone seems to be walking away from church, Brown a secular sociologist talks about her journey back toward faith.
But why she came back may surprise you. She says that she had always thought church was a way of avoiding suffering, but as she reentered the Christian faith she was surprised to find Jesus weeping.
When Brene Brown found herself back at church she said she knew that God was love, but she discovered that it wasn’t just that God is love, but that God defines love as well. In reality, love is complicated and difficult and sacrificial. In reality, love bleeds, and love weeps.
In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. Like our expectations of how life should turn out, or how others should have treated us.
If we got to define love it would be all about puppies and unicorns, but in reality love is complicated and difficult and sacrificial. At one point in the video Brown talks about something her new minister said that I think is fascinating. He said, “In faith communities where forgiveness is easy and love is easy, there’s not enough blood on the floor to make sense of it.”
What an interesting way to say that.
You know, unlike other Greek heroes, or even Jewish ones, Jesus doesn’t die like some stoic hero.Unlike Bruce Willis in Armageddon or George Clooney in Gravity (I’m realizing I watch too much sci-fi as I type this) Jesus weeps, a lot. He doesn’t brave it out, or just walk it off. He cries so hard he sweats blood.
In fact, this is the one thing that sets Jesus apart about how He died.
Because Love bleeds.
Now, if you know me, you know that I am very hopeful, I’m tired of the cynicism that pervades my generation, but this isn’t cynicism. This is the other side of hope. Death isn’t right, and there will be a day when death pays back what it owes.
But that day is not today.
I like the way one Lutheran Youth Minister says this:
It appears the world has little time for the church, not because we are broken people, people seeking to be honest about our loss and yearning. The world has little time for the church because it sees it as a very dishonest place–a place where people like Ted Haggard rail against others as immoral to hide the deep (sinful or not) yearnings that live inside of them, a place where people do not see their duplicity, where people hide from reality in religion.
In other words, if the world is going to believe the Church’s Good news, they have to see us be honest about the bad news too.
Without exception in the ancient world, all the heroes faced their final hours calmly removed and dispassionate. The Jewish heroes are hot-blooded and angry and fearless, but Jesus is nothing like that. Because Jesus doesn’t want to die. He thinks that this life matters, that this world matters, and anything not in tune with God’s dream for the world is worth weeping and bleeding for.
All is not as it should be, and there aren’t enough pills in the world to make it go away, nor can you just stuff it down deep enough to ignore forever.
This is the Wisdom of Ash Wednesday. Christians for over a thousand years have recognized that we need a season to remind ourselves of the one thing we most want to ignore.
We will die.
Suffering comes to everyone, but God suffers with us.
For God so loved this world, and His Love weeps.
*This is not to dismiss the many psychological benefits and valid causes for medication like depression.