This past two weeks I have spent much time with Chinese Christians. I have marveled at their faithful perseverance and creativity in the face of political and cultural pressure. So it was with incredible sadness that I read of the news of the murder of nine innocents in a South Carolina church. Just as I was pondering and imagining the powerful interconnectedness, indeed the interdependence, of gatherings of Christians upon one another I read of the rending and tearing at the heart of a Christian community by debased hatred.
Of course, on the same evening as I read this news I read another piece of news that was heartening and reiterated our connectedness. Pope Francis released his long anticipated encyclical on our stewardship of the environment, connection to God, and our mutual responsibility. Many are viewing this as simply a declaration on he environment – it is dramatically more than that. It is an emphatic sermon on our God-given identity and promise rooted in a sacramental truth – a grace-filled revelation – that explores our true and holy ideal.
In reading these two pieces of news I could not help but wonder what their common thread was. It is simply this – God gives and we take.
God gives us diversity and we debase the image of God.
God gives us creation and we grind, tear, and rip that gift to pieces.
God gives us sustenance – in creation and one another – and we take until we are distorted by gluttony as our own image is bloated beyond recognition and distorted with inhuman desire. That desire may be for status, belonging, or purity as we establish that others are clearly lower than us. That desire may be for wallets, bellies, and homes crammed beyond our needs or hopes and yet we know ourselves blessed because more is ours.
Others become the means to an end. With no end in sight we decide that the ends of the earth and the ends of others are simply he cost of a well-deserved life. So nations plunder nations. People stand by as rights and dreams are pillaged. Though it all we benefit from diffuse responsibility and slyly differentiated aspirations. Each of us says, “Well, that’s the way it is, I suppose.”
Environmental and Social responsibility are lost in the midst of varied and shifting daily pressures. Yet our aspirations cloud and obscure the fact that our aspirations are the burden of too many others. It’s no long bit of algebra to see in decaying neighborhoods and drained aquifers the same drying up of the pools of richness and diversity that God intends to feed, nurture, and nourish all of us. Yet a virtual kleptocracy has evolved which steals the very future of generations for the immediate social and political gratification of the few and of the moment.
The sacramental generosity of God is not intended to draw us into a vampiric or parasitic relationship with our world or one another. We are called to offer our selves, our souls, and bodies in the very recognition that we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs and yet God pours upon his his very Body to mold, feed, and call us to holy being. We respond not by taking and taking without end but by laying before the throne of grace gifts to be changed by divine Interplay. As we are changed we go out to love and serve – to use the gifts of God for the people of God.
We are faced with the breaking of the Body and respond with the whole coming together of a Body blessed by Resurrection power.
As Christians we are not given dominion but utter servant hood. We are given not the mantle of nobility but the yoke of obedience. That obedience is a call to see in one another our end and hope – our brothers and sisters are not to be exploited, ignored, nor debased. Our natural world is shot-through with holy perfection. Neither is to be our tool but our guide. In them God’s longing and purpose is unveiled. We are called to holy interdependence and mutual care. Our care for one another and for the natural world are measures of our dependence upon the revelation of the Holy Spirit – can we care for and be guided by the easily dominated or quickly ignored?
Over and over again Jesus uses those denied and despised to demonstrate the generosity and love of God. Can we do the same? Can we let the holy healing of the many and the whole lead us? Can we depend on the vulnerability of a diverse creation to break open our fictitious belief that we are in control?
We depend on one another. We depend on Creation. We depend on God. This is Christian liberty. This is Christian privilege.