Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Faith and Doubt

Thursday evening, Skyler (my wife) went to a healing service--not an Anglican, Book of Common Prayer type of service, but a charismatic, revivalist type of service. I stayed home, tired, still trying to adjust to my new job and not wanting to be around any more people.

The service, apparently, was one of the best she has ever been to--and Skyler has been to a lot of these kinds of events. The speaker told some typical stories about healing but changed the script when it came to the actual healing portion. Instead of calling out certain people to come up and receive prayer from himself, the speaker started bringing up people from the audience to pray for sick people. It was, I think, an important reminder that it is God who heals the sick, not the charismatic leader. Skyler said she saw a small, quiet woman who had never received a "word of knowledge" get a picture of a 50 year old man with a throat problem. The speaker asked if this picture described anyone in the audience, and an older gentleman walked up to the stage, untied the bandana around his neck, and revealed to everyone a tube going into his throat. The speaker then asked the woman to pray for the man, in her own words. The woman gently placed her hand on the man's forehead, asked that God would heal this man, and immediately, he falls backwards (into the arms of the body catchers required at any charismatic service).

As Skyler was telling me, I started joking that it was an elaborate ruse--you know, where the speaker plants a couple of people in the audience to help make a dramatic presentation. I didn't actually doubt the prayer service; it just seemed humorous to describe the service as well-scripted hoax. It reminded me of a Flannery O'Connor novel, Wise Blood, which describes the desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt of a young man, Hazel Motes, to lose his faith. One of the main characters in the story is a street preacher who pretends to be blind, Asa Hawks, or, more accurately, pretends to have blinded himself, which he had promised to do as an act to "justify" his faith, to demonstrate his devotion. Only, on the night of the event, he preached on the blindness of St. Paul, poured wet lime on his face, but never managed to get it in his eyes. He spent the following years pretending he succeeded, roaming the streets as a blind evangelist.

Saturday, two days after Skyler's experiences at the healing service, I sat drinking coffee with a friend I hadn't seen in a few years. After doing the normal "what have you been up to, what are you planning to do, and do you still keep up with this person from our shared past," we started speaking more openly about how we were actually doing. She shared with me that she hasn't opened her Bible in over a year, that she had been in a really unhealthy relationship, and that for the first time in her life, she finds herself doubting God. I sat across from her, sipping my coffee, praying desperately that God would give me something helpful to say. I couldn't think of anything that wasn't trite, superficial, or downright insulting. So I just told her that. I told her that I wished I could find a way to bring some healing to those wounds, to lessen her pain, to help her see Jesus in this mess, but there wasn't time and my words would be insufficient. We talked some more, about doubt, about God, and about our lives. I finally told her I thought she was angry at Jesus and that if there is anyone it is safe to be angry with, it's Jesus. Jesus has a peculiar ability to enter right into our anger, our despair, our doubt, and our outright disbelief.

When people doubt God and seem to be about to "lose their faith," we normally panic. We try to diagnose the problem as quick as we can, and then find the solution. It's urgent--their salvation is at stake. We start quoting them our favorite Christian slogans; perhaps we buy them some books on Christian apologetics, or, we tell them that their doubts are only an intellectual veneer covering a deeper, more personal matter. It's not that the beliefs are now questionable; they are just angry, or selfish, or scared, or determined to sin and so they shut out God with these intellectual defense mechanisms. To us, the doubter is a problem, to themselves, and to us. We need to fix them, or help them fix themselves--fast.

It's a humorous response, when it isn't actually harmful. It's humorous because we ought to know better. The moment we see doubt, we panic, and lose all of our theological sense. We start acting as if faith were our own intellectual commitment, the product of our will, a result of our ethical behavior. We start acting as if faith wasn't a gift from God, completely out of hands and beyond our control. We start demanding that the doubter believe even though we know that No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3).

Ten years after Wise Blood was published, the second edition came out, with no changes except the addition of a single paged preface. She mentions that many interpreters found Hazel Mote's integrity to lie "in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind [Christ]. For the author Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to."

It is his incapacity, his inability to get rid of Christ, that defines Hazel Motes. His faith is not some heroic work but an event that occurs to him, something he endures and even resists, but something he cannot escape.

There is a lot of theological debate regarding whether it is "faith in Christ" or the "faithfulness of Christ" that is central to Paul's theology (in passages like Gal. 2:15-21). I think it might not be as big of an issue as we think. Perhaps our faith is not something we produce, whether on our own or through grace. Perhaps it is closer to something that occurs to us. It is not our act, but a continual disruption of our lives. It is not an ability, but an inability. Even in our doubt, we find the obnoxious, ragged figure of Christ flitting about. Jesus isn't disturbed or bothered by our doubt, disbelief, or rebellious sin. He has placed himself on that path, becoming sin for us, so that we no longer have anywhere to hide from him. He entered into our damnation--as the Apostle's Creed says, he descended to hell--so that, even at what would seem to be the place furthest from God, hell, we would still find God. His faithfulness to us produces our faith: he continually shows that we no longer have any place to hide from God. We have no way out, no escape; faith is simply the recognition that even our path away from God is precisely the path on which Christ encounters us. It's not our triumph, but Christ's: it is a gift, that is, grace.

And so, to my doubting friend, after some thought, what I would like to say, is simply, that it's okay. Jesus can handle your doubts. And my prayer is that you would know Jesus is with you in your doubts, and that you are not alone, even there, even in the loneliness, even in the anger, even in the disbelief. I pray that you, and me, would see that our faith is not the outworking of our inner resolve but the result of Christ's refusal to be without us. Faith is not a boundary marker of who is in and who is out; faith is our recognition that Christ has not left anyone out, including us. As Paul puts it Christ died for all; therefore all died (2 Cor. 5:14). Or, as Desmond Tutu put it, In God's family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Even in your doubt, or, especially in your doubt, you are not outside of or apart from Christ. I pray that Christ would continue to haunt you and me, and that at every wrong turn, we would meet the one who tells us that every path now points us back to him. Even the path of doubt.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two Tongues Behind These Teeth: reading scripture beyond mastery

Sometimes it's easier to begin with words that are not mine, but belong to another--foreign, in a sense. Outside (foris), on the other side of the door (fores), coming from a far and distant land. In a quotation, the outside becomes my own, or, from the opposite side, perhaps I am forced to walk through the door. But neither option interests me here. I am seeking something else, something that is neither inside nor outside, neither the air coming in nor passing out. The words I want to quote are words that can never become my own; I can never bring them in, nor can I ever fully exit into them. They have a different master.

To quote words that are still being spoken, no, that are still addressing, no, confronting, interrupting my own speech. I can never begin, or each beginning is just a stutter, a gasp of breath as I prepare my monologue, only to be silenced before the first word passes through my lips. The momentum cut short--silence! Listen to me! The shout muffles my exhale and hinders my speech. I am not mute, only speechless, but it is uncomfortable nonetheless.

A confession: the interruption is probably only vexing because I think I have the right to speak and to be heard. To get a word in edge wise, to have to insert my voice in a gap, to make a claim with my posture because my voice cannot be heard are not skills I have had to learn. I presume from the beginning to be a master over the words. I was born into that position, and it has always been cultivated. Gifted and Talented, Honors, AP, a B.A. with a thesis, a Masters degree. As a small boy I sat in the back of the class, ignoring the teacher--with her permission--to work at my own, accelerated pace. I have been reared to think that my voice ought to rise above the rest, and so, I take a deep breath, as I have been prodigiously prepared to do, and start to form the first word in my mouth, with my jaw pulled back and my lips parted to say what I have been taught to say--I--when, from somewhere beyond me, a shout--listen to me!

These words I cannot quote because they are addressed to me. I cannot bring them in, I cannot analyze them, I cannot exercise control. They are a command that renders me powerless. Whose tongue is trying to enter my mouth? Note: my mouth.

It is not with a word, a shibboleth, that we will manage to pass. Tongue in our mouths, we must change tongues, another tongue must come into our mouths, and into our bodies another body (Cixous, __Stigmata__, 107).

A living tongue in my mouth, a tongue that silences me and claims my speech--my mouth is no longer my own, and yet, do I not have the same tongue? A single mouth occupied by a foreign tongue, a tongue from outside that now dwells behind the wall, behind my teeth. A tongue that claims my own tongue, that has the power to render me mute, that does render me mute (or, what amounts to the same thing, for Paul, that blinds his eyes), and yet, commands me to speak. My words are still my own, and yet, strangely, they have been taken away from me.

Part of me wants to claim that I am brought into a kind of liminal existence (ex-sistere), between two tongues, but that is too easy. And false. I still have my same tongue, and, after all, we can never stand (sistere) in the pause between each breath. But now, with my tongue, or, in fact, my tongue itself, is claimed by another tongue, brought under its authority and freed--yes, freed--to do what it could not do on its own, that is, to respond.

For Christ's sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him (Phil 2:8-9). Or perhaps Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant (2 Cor 3:5-6). And again, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor 12:9). I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified...My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God (1 Cor 2:1-5). And most clearly: we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. 4:5).

It is not a matter of being silenced, of possessing a new tongue, but of being freed from attempting to master this other tongue. The one who speaks to me does not ask me to drop my own language, to abandon my tongue, but claims my very words for his and her own purpose (presuming you are willing, as I am, to refer to the Spirit in the feminine). My speech and my proclamation are not an exhibition of my mastery, Paul declares, but were hollowed out and made weak so that Christ's power would be manifest.

I take this to be a hermeneutical principle. As Karl Barth puts it (yes, again with Karl Barth), Scripture itself is a really truly living, acting and speaking subject which only as such can be truly heard and received by the Church and in the Church (CD I/2, 672). Scripture is not a dead voice. I cannot imprison it in a forgotten past or absorb it into my own poetic or mystical or ethical present. It stands outside of me, yet within me. I neither go out nor absorb--I am wounded by it: stigma stings, pierces, makes holes, separates with pinched marks and in the same movement distinguishes--re-marks--inscribes, writes. Stigma wounds and spurs, stimulates (Cixous, p. xiii). I have suffered the loss of all things. Which means, as Paul makes clear, freedom, life, joy, salvation: wounded so the power of Christ may dwell in me.

It would be foolish to make concrete proposals here--as if, after all of this, we could list off a series of hermeneutic principles. I do not mean that there are no principles, but only that the principles come later, to help us when we tire of the voice and want to find new ways to claim those words as our possession. They help us resist the urge to rip that foreign tongue out of our mouths. The fact that we--confession, that I--so quickly want to find some stabilizing principles reveals just how uncomfortable I am when I discover that I am not the master. But fortunately, Scripture resists all of my attempts to bring it under control, for it does not claim to exist for itself but to point away from itself. It points away to the one who brings freedom and joy to all those he wounds--a new name and a new life to those rendered incapable of mastery (and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him, Gen 32:25).

It seems fitting to give the final word to someone else, and so I will quote a passage I have quoted before, but to which I keep returning:

Writing is a passageway, the entrance, the exit, the dwelling place of the other in me--the other that I am and am not, that I don't know how to be, but that I feel passing, that makes me live--that tears me apart, disturbs me, changes me, who?--a feminine one, a masculine one, some?--several, some unknown, which is indeed what gives me the desire to know and from which all life soars. This peopling gives neither rest nor security, always disturbs the relationship to "reality," produces an uncertainty that gets in the way of the subject's socialization. It is distressing, it wears you out; and for men, this permeability, this nonexclusion is a threat, something intolerable (Cixous, Sorties, in __The Newly Born Woman__, 86).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Scripture, Sinners, and the Fractured Anglican Church

I have spoken, frequently, of the sinful nature of the church and Christianity. I have posted a Barth quote on a few occasions: The "sum total of even the Christian religion is simply this, that it is idolatry and self-righteousness, unbelief, and therefore sin. It must be forgiven if it is to be justified" (CD I/2, 354). I have hinted at and made allusions to the present separation between Anglicans and Episcopalians. But I have skirted the issue. I want to at least make one post that more directly engages the question. I have a lot to say. But I want to try to focus mostly on the role of Scripture.

If we take the Barth quote as a concise summation of what I've been aiming at over the last few posts, then we are led to the following conclusion: any exegesis or interpretation of Scripture must be forgiven if it is to be justified.

Not surprisingly, I'm going to unpack this conclusion with....some more Barth.

There is no more dangerous subjectivism than that which is based on the arrogance of a false objectivity. Not the fact that Holy Scripture as the Word of God is obscure and ambiguous, but the fact that it is the Word of God for the Church on earth, and therefore a teacher of pupils who are lost sinners, is what makes the much deplored divergence in its understanding possible, and, unless the miracle of revelation and faith [meaning concretely the work of the Holy Spirit] intervenes, quite inevitable. (CD, I/2, 553).

Barth is not elevating Scripture to the level of divinity, as if it originated in heaven and then dropped down, unblemished, from the skies. For Barth, Scripture is the Word of God in the sense that it continually becomes the Word of God. Scripture does not imprison God; it does not give us a hold on God, a way to control and place ourselves as lords standing over and against God. Scripture continually becomes the Word of God. Scripture, therefore, does not stand on its own but depends on the continual work of God. "The witness of Holy Scripture is...the witness of the Holy Spirit" (538). That Scripture reveals the Word of God depends on something outside of Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a miracle that Scripture is the Word of God.

It is a miracle we hate and wish to reject. We want something more substantial, something much more immediate and direct, something that we can get our minds around (and get our hands upon). We turn to tradition, to culture, to reason, to mysticism, to ethics, to the individual, to the Church, to the creeds, to the Fathers, to Thomas Aquinas, to Luther, to Karl Barth, to anything, or anyone, even to biblicism, to give us some kind of assurance that we have heard rightly. That we--and that always means, and not them--are in the truth, exist as the bearers of the truth. We want direct access to revelation, to possess it and hold it, to claim it as our own and justify ourselves with it. We want to win, and we are always tempted to turn the Bible into a book that assures that we win, that our beliefs, our knowledge, our actions, our piety, our theology--our lives--are good enough and strong enough to win. Biblicism (what those on the left call "fundamentalism") ignores our dependency on the Spirit, and hence forgets that there is no direct access to revelation in Scripture. It forgets that only the Spirit removes the veil that makes Scripture obscure, that prevents us from encountering God's Word--Jesus Christ--in Scripture (cf. 2 Cor 3). Or, it presumes too quickly that it has the Spirit. The Spirit opens my eyes, not yours, and I live confidently (and hence with complacency). Regardless, I know I am right, that I read Scripture rightly, and that I am on the inside, on the side of truth, on the side of goodness. It never crosses my mind that I might need to repent. It never crosses my mind that the first and last thing I must do, whenever I read Scripture, is to repent.

The "conservatives" see the "liberal" Episcopalians as placing themselves as lords over Scripture. They do not like the text, so they ignore it, or proclaim a revelation that "completes" it. In a global context, African and Asian bishops have protested that the Western Anglican churches have acted with the typical, but lamentable, Western hubris. God's revelation is proclaimed by the West; the backwards "rest" need to hurry up and get with the times. They wonder why people embedded in a culture that is without a doubt sexually disordered (for a quick example, which Amy Laura Hall used in class, consider the production and consumption of pornography here) feel they are in a position to declare to the rest of the world a new word regarding human sexuality. However, the fundamental point is neither sexual disorder nor imperialist arrogance; the breaking point is the refusal to submit to God's Word.

That, at least, is how I see the debate shaping up, and like any debate, both sides want to win. Both sides claim that the other side fails to read Scripture properly. But that raises the fundamental question: how do you know when you are reading Scripture rightly?

That is the question we want to ask, but it is, I think, the wrong question. It is a question that can only be answered in a way that provides self-justification. The appropriate turn is not to some kind of agnosticism. That too would still be a claim to possess the right way to read Scripture. Nor is the way forward to simply proclaim our inability to read Scripture rightly. That path would eventually lead to mysticism, or atheism, or some other claim to be in the right (see my post on the "true standard religious game"). As Luther put it: the Holy Spirit is no skeptic.

How, then, to proceed, without trying to win? How to move forward? The first step is to accept that Christ has bound us to Scripture, that we cannot move away from it, nor we can ever make it our own. We are dependent on something that is itself dependent. We are not free to move past Scripture and find God apart from its testimony. We are bound to it. But it does not bind God. Its witness, its status as "the Word of God," depends on the work of the Spirit. We are dependent on something that is itself dependent, and hence, something that can never be brought under our control. We are never the masters but only claimed for obedience.

The Word of God is necessary for us. It is also sufficient. But this sufficiency does not lie in itself--how could it--but in the sufficiency of God's grace in Christ Jesus. We need not worry about whether Scripture is "inerrant" because its testimony does not point to itself but to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Scripture is not worried about cleaning up its own contradictions and discrepancies precisely because the authors of Scripture wrote as witnesses, as those who attest to something beyond themselves. The sufficiency of Scripture lies in Christ and the gift of the Spirit. Scripture is good enough for us because it truly points beyond itself, to the one who truly holds us in his hands, Jesus Christ. (But remember, Christ has bound us to Scripture, and so we never have access to Christ apart from the witness itself, the Words of Scripture).

Let me try to speak more plainly. Both the liberals and conservatives (to make crude generalizations) are attempting to bypass the weakness of Scripture. Both are seeking a way to possess Scripture, and to possess Scripture, they need to supplement it. Conservatives postulate a kind of direct access. Scripture says X. Boom! End of story. They forget that Scripture itself depends on the Spirit, and that the Spirit speaks through Scripture to sinful people. Liberals postulate a cultural supplement. It's the march of human freedom. Of progression. Of love. And this cultural thread either bypasses Scripture completely or absorbs it within its own trajectory. Scripture's voice is either not binding at all, or it is binding but, not surprisingly, it articulates the cultural thread within which we are already located (using a variety of "exegetical" methods to justify the approach). To put it crudely, I have not yet met someone who was adamantly opposed to homosexual unions until they read Scripture and then, after reading through the Bible, became convinced that they were wrong and that God clearly approves of such unions. Both sides, therefore, want to supplement Scripture (elevate it beyond its, meaning our, weakness) and neither wants to embrace the necessity of repentance.

The way out that I am suggesting, unfortunately, isn't really a way out. It doesn't actually solve the issue. But I think it is the only Christian way forward. It involves these two key points. First, we exist in a twofold state of dependency: we (A) depend on the Spirit to speak to us (B) through Scripture. We are dependent on Scripture, which itself is dependent. It's a position of weakness, but one of joy, for we wait with expectation for God to reveal Godself to us, to speak to us again of God's love for us in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we wait without anxiety because we know we are safe in his hands. Secondly, in light of Christ's extension of forgiveness, we begin our exegesis with the freedom of repentance. The Word on which we depend tells us again and again that we are always in need of God's grace and that grace is to be found! Our piety may be something for which we will have to repent; but we can repent, because we know we are secure in Christ's hands! In short, revelation tells us that we are sinners, justified by, not exegesis, but simply by the faithfulness of Christ.

Maybe at a later date, and after reading some more Barth, I will be able to sketch out a bit more clearly what exegesis from within a posture of weakness and repentance involves. But for now, I simply want to suggest that all of us need to take quite seriously the fact that, at the end of the day, we will all need to repent for where we stand. It's the only place safe for us. We must be forgiven if we are to be justified. Including, and especially, for our Christianity; which means, including, and especially, for our readings of Scripture.

*I stole the language of "winning" from J. Kameron Carter.*

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Can I wear your clothes? (missions and alienation)

Portrait of Nicolas Trigault in Chinese Costume, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1617

The early Jesuit missionaries to China translated themselves into the native garb. As a religious order, they first wore buddhist robes, projecting an image as new, religious messengers. The first missionary, Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607) made the decision, saying, "Now the robes are being cut and soon we will be made into Chinese" (quoted in __Journey to the East__ by Liam Matthew Brockey, p. 33). The robes, however, were soon dropped, as the missionaries decided on a new image: as educated literati. The Buddhist monks were not as socially powerful as Ruggieri imagined; his first companion, Matteo Ricci, donned the outfit of a mandarin scholar (of Confucius), and even grew out his hair and beard so as to allay himself more closely with this educated and socially powerful class. When describing his new costume, Ricci declared that the robes were "very similar to what the Venetians use in Venice" (43).

The robes were habitable because familiar: the missionaries could see themselves in those clothes. The robes were habitable because the Chinese were habitable: soon we will be made into Chinese. Not so different. Literate. Educated. Hierarchically organized. A different experience from the Africans. Primitives. Without proper clothing, proper society, or proper religion. Not even the inverse, but the absence: a human void (quick, take the empty land!).

If I had time, I would love to investigate missionary fashion. Clothing as the marker of a habitable population. A people we think approximates us. Or is too far away. Whose outfits--or lack there of--suggest a human absence. The naked savage. Lacking civilization. A bad thing. Then a good thing. When people tired of civilization. The noble savage. We can now see ourselves in their naked bodies.

Our image of ourselves, standing in between. No encounter. We create the identities. Who do you say you are? No response. Or, every response, a translation. Who do I think you say you are? What? I can't understand you. What language are you speaking? (I was told earlier this week, by an Iraqi refugee, that I would soon learn to speak refugee....)

There is no point lamenting our inability to have a direct encounter. We can never move beyond ourselves. We must be thrust out of the way. From outside. Someone must take our place. If they dare.

Salvation means alienation, and "salvation is of the Jews" (Jn. 4.22). And because people will not be alienated even for their own salvation, they roll away the alienation on to the Jew (Barth, CD I/2, 511).

Let us not lie to ourselves. Any "alienation" that comes easy is another form of donning chinese clothes. An easy move. I have already absorbed them. They can reflect me. I can see myself in them. They are habitable, so I will wear their clothes. No alienation, just absorption. In their clothes, I translate them. More so, I absorb them. Engulf them from within. I hypostasize their culture. It is I who hold up their lifeless clothes. It is I who animate. It is I who am....the Spirit.

Blasphemy. The dangerous edge of empathy, of seeing myself in others. A loving attack, all the more vicious because it is an empathy over which I am the master. The terms are under my control. I choose whose clothes I will wear.

No one will be alienated, not even for salvation. It is an offer we refuse, a gift we reject. But to refuse our own alienation, to reject salvation, is to...turn against the Jews. To roll off our alienation and place it on another, the Jews (how often "primitive" African religion was understood as a degraded form of Judaism...).

We cannot be saved "unless we are prepared to become Jews with the Jews." Barth penned this in the 1930s. "By being hostile to Jewish blood, the world simply proves that it is the world: blind and deaf and stupid to the ways of God" (511). "In the Jew, the non-Jew has to recognize himself...and in the Jew he has to recognize Christ, the Messiah of Israel" (511). The one we rejected, the one on whom we rolled off our alienation, the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. Let us be clear: the one who comes to displace us is the one we want to kill. The one we do kill. But, by the grace of God, the one who lives again!

Christ's flesh, a space of alienation. A wound. The stigmata--an opening of the flesh, a making of space. A way of becoming habitable by what is foreign.

In Jesus, we are brought out of the dialectic of habitation. No longer are you the one who threatens to occupy me, to cut open my flesh. Nor I to you. A space exists between us, which neither of us can occupy, or, more properly, a space which already occupies us both: a shared wound.

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

To live for the one who died and was raised for us. It is a call to alienation; to salvation.

It's a call we know we will resist.

Not a matter of changing clothes then. Of entering "the other." Of celebrating difference. The offer of alienation is a devastating offer. A gift of becoming ill at ease. It makes us hesitate. We no longer know where we stand. Or, more precisely, we finally see that where we stand (and who we are) is never something we can possess. We cannot speak the truth of who we are. Someone stands in our way, blocking our vision, halting our speech. It is either a terrifying assault. Or a gift of joy. This one is the end of ourselves--hallelujah!

In the end, the clothes don't matter. You are never a space I can inhabit. Yet, we can never leave each other behind. We are bound to a space between us that neither of us can navigate. Which doesn't mean it is impassible. For it is a space that has already been traversed. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. (It is only from here that we can move beyond Rilke, who wrote, "love consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other").

Lord Jesus, help me love my neighbor, the stranger whom I despise (the samaritan!), the one who speaks to me of my own alienation, and who therefore, I want to reject. Help me see them as a reminder of your grace, as a testimony to your resurrection, and as a renewed invitation to live by your Spirit, with thanksgiving and joy.