Tag Archives: Holy Week

Chaos and creation for Holy Week: Demise and rise of your institution

No metrics exist to measure life without institutions, because they’ve been around as long as humankind. The first institution was the first family. The tribe was the first community. The first tribe’s leader was the first politician, and its elders were the first legislature. Its guards, the first police force. Its storyteller, a teacher. Humans are coded to create communities, and communities beget institutions.

So what institutions are being created now?

Look out Pizza Dads!

When the present disaster is over, what institutions will have been created? Something is happening. CBS Sunday Morning suggested it might be created by robots. Gwen and I suggested it might be creating more anxiety and depression, the life disorders that can be associated with severe self-interest, a turning in on oneself, the mental illnesses of being alone.

Social prophets keep talking about chaos syndrome as the trickle down contribution of our present elites. In general, the idea identifies a chronic decline in  a system’s capacity for self-organization, especially the political system. It begins with the weakening of the institutions and brokers—political parties, career politicians, and congressional leaders and committees—that have historically held politicians accountable to one another and prevented everyone in the system from pursuing naked self-interest all the time. As these intermediaries’ influence fades, politicians, activists, and voters all become more individualistic and unaccountable (and anxious and depressed!). The system atomizes. Chaos becomes the new normal—both in campaigns like Donald Trump’s and in government actions like the House of Representatives considering healthcare.

Government is all most people think we have for an institution, but there are a lot more disintegrating before our eyes. There are four ex-Catholics for every new one in the United States, for instance. Local schools cope with chaos every day. We had people deployed to pray on the steps of our governments last night in honor of Jesus doing the same; it was very hard to find any radicals to believe in prayer, to believe in extravagant gestures of prophecy, or to believe they should even think about what disintegrating institutions are creating.

What is the solution to disintegrating institutions?

Frustrated people are trying to fill the vacuum left by disintegration. We don’t trust any news outlets, so like-minded “followers” and “friends” feed us news online. People sometimes barter on eBay, even start local businesses rather than bow to Amazon. Parents increasingly homeschool their children rather than expose them to under-supported public schools. But most of that is coping, not creating nourishing institutions. Any Sociology 1 student can tell you we need the organizing institutions provide; it’s how things get done. But by Sociology 2 they can probably cite a study that shows how many people despise all institutions; they even hate their church if they think it is institutional, since they don’t like “institutionalized” religion.

When people trust their institutions (you may not remember such a time), they’re better able to solve common problems. Research shows that school principals are much more likely to improve struggling  schools where people have a history of working together and getting involved in their children’s education. Communities bonded by friendships formed at church are more likely to vote, volunteer, and perform everyday good deeds like helping someone find a job. And governments find it easier to persuade the public to make sacrifices for the common good when people trust that their political leaders have the community’s best interests at heart. Institutions — even dysfunctional ones — are why we don’t experience common chaos.

The heart of the institution
Click pic to go to info site

At least for a while we may not experience total chaos. I pray chaos does not engulf us. Which brings me to praying during this holy week. Some people  probably saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem yesterday as the perfect agent of much-needed, anti-institutional fervor. They will follow his movement all week as he upends retail business on Monday, invades higher learning on Tuesday, subverts family and social norms on Wednesday, performs alternative religious rites on Thursday with his subversive cell, defies government authority on Friday and undermines the supposed laws of nature on Sunday. They see him as a big ball of chaos. I agree that he is the great disrupter.

But all through this holy week  Jesus is doing a lot more than being an amazing individual who can stand against all forces, alone and in control. Much deeper, what is happening all week is this: Jesus is God, again brooding over the chaos and exercising his redemptive creative touch. What Jesus is doing, for anyone with eyes to see, is creating something new in the chaos of the fallen institutions. The main new institution he is creating is the church. One will not be able to summarize what he is doing in a sociology book; he is not institutionalizing something alongside all the other institutions. He is the metric by which life is measured — and his grace is new every morning, like this one. He is happening no matter what happens.

Last night our reps in Washington DC, Harrisburg, Trenton and Philadelphia prayed a common liturgy that restated the heart of our revelation in these troubling times. It ended with:

It all happens on a cross
it all happens at a state execution
where the governor did not commute the sentence
it all happens at the hands of an empire
that has captured our imagination
it all happens through blood
not through a power grab by the sovereign one
it all happens in embraced pain
for the sake of others
it all happens on a cross
arms outstretched in embrace
and this is the image of the invisible God
this is the body of Christ.

But can anyone still be part of the body of Christ? Are we so reduced we can’t connect? can’t covenant? can’t marry? can’t build anything together? Our church is living proof that is not so. We are doing it. But the chaos does not stop undermining us. Each Holy Week is a test of our capacity for living. If there are no holy people to experience the Holy Week, if no one makes the connection between what Jesus did and what He is creating through us, our institution isn’t the body of Christ, it is just one more thing we mistrust and destroy.

Good Friday story: What do Christians REALLY want?

The title of today’s post hit me while I was walking the streets with Jesus on the way of the cross last Friday. I was pondering our journey in Capitolo Park, in the rain when I heard a nice singing voice on a loudspeaker in Spanish. I looked around south of Pat’s cheesesteak, but it appeared to be coming from even farther south. I started walking to investigate. I heard the Spanish word for sin, I saw the crest of a Roman legionnaire glinting in the distance, so I started running. Before long I was in a procession behind Mexican Jesus carrying his cross and being periodically whipped by soldiers who were taking their roles as seriously as everyone else in the parade. I stood very close to Mary, herself, and hummed along with the rest of the singers in the crowd.

The police were trying to make it all work. The neighbors were standing on their stoops looking bemused and indulgent. A reporter made it a human interest story on Saturday in the Inquirer. But I was strangely moved when Jesus fell and the soldiers started yelling at him to get up and finally whipped him again with their cotton-rope whips to keep him moving toward His death. What an important spectacle! — few words, just a big visual aid for what the day in history was all about. I was glad I was with everyone for a while before I continued my own more meditative version of the discipline. As I stood out in the middle of Broad St. and prayed for the city, in the rain, in the median, in the line of sight for all sorts of cars wondering why anyone was doing such a thing, I began to wonder what people really want.

Lots of people do not want Jesus crucified and risen. That is for sure. It hasn’t changed much since Paul insisted that his story about Jesus’ death and resurrection was all he really had to give people. People wanted “spirituality” and the idol worship of the state back then, too, instead of Jesus. But what to the Christians really want? They did not want to get out in the rain and make themselves known as followers along the way of the cross, for the most part, certainly not with the Mexicans who were importing their extravagant passion play. I began to make a list in my head.

What do Christians REALLY want?

Mind you, this is not a list for all Christians, or even for the Christians I know. It is more along the line of “these are the things Christians get sucked into when their courage is weakened by their environment and the unique challenges of their personal journey” or “this is what people think Christians really want instead of Jesus that makes them hypocrites.”

  • They want the best for their kids.

Who doesn’t? But if that is all you really want will they ever find out what is best beyond what you can get for them?

  • They want to pay less taxes and control their money.

Thus, Republican candidates can assume the evangelicals will vote for them.

  • They want good friends.

So all sorts of churches have tight communities and don’t even need to mention Jesus to keep them going.

  • They want more personal time.

So many church people resent the church because it appears to eat up too much of the time not dominated by their jobs.

  • They want to argue about church policies

This is for people who are into church, of course. Most people only argue about policies when the church doesn’t have one that benefits them or has one that makes what they want to do look wrong.

  • They want to follow rules

No matter how much the Bible writers fight the constant pressure to makes rules that manage God people still want to tame the Lord and lead God around — you know, whip him into shape.

Does Jesus really care about any of these things? He cares about us, so he ends up caring about what we care about. But, as the Son of God, none of these things make his top twenty list. He doesn’t have a wife and kids (or a house or even a career in the normal sense of the word). He gets tax money out the mouth of a fish. He has great friends, but they were not too reliable last week. He doesn’t work on dichotomies like public and personal. He is frustrated with Pharisees who have created policies about policies. He is a ruler, not a rule follower.

What do YOU want?

I suppose Jesus is so weird his weirdness is a good reason that people just motored through Good Friday and were impatient when a processional of Mexicans messed up their search for a parking space. Obviously, needing a parking space is not wrong and being frustrated about parking is a normal feature of city life. I suppose the problem is more about the desire that creates one’s list rather than the search itself. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. For the frustration of being annoyed a parker might endure the processional.

What do you REALLY want? The church normally promises whatever people want in the name of Jesus so they can keep butts in the seats. Church ends up all about your kids, your career, your friends, your “you” time, and all brought down to principles, policies and rules that a fifth grader could understand and apply without too much demanding spiritual stuff added in. You’re OK if you attend enough meetings to keep off the absentee list.

But there was Jesus out on the street again last Friday. I felt like my puny, twisted desires were whipping him, too.  I was moved all over again to make myself absent to any of the normal fears that make me desire things I don’t have or desire more perfect versions of the things I already have in order to follow the Savior in the life I have been given. I want to know the miracle of being raised from the death of need so I can more needlessly receive and carelessly love. I want to know Christ, even though it means being one with him in death and suffering with him along this journey in order to know the power of his resurrection — instead of just desiring what I pretend I can get for myself.

Six good reasons to observe the Holy Week

I have always had a bit of resistance to telling people about Holy Week. It is one of those things that casual people might gum up and mere consumers might defile. It really deserves people who voluntarily seek the Lord  — not people who are pressured into some observance by fear of unholiness and not people afraid of being on the outs with their peers or the people who dominate them. Holy Week is a radical thing to do — not really something to be visited but something to be accomplished, just like Jesus will say at the end of it, “It is finished.”

Walking through the Holy Week with Jesus is the ultimate in taking to heart the great theme verse of Lent, Philippians 3:10-11:  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” The discipline is all about knowing Jesus – knowing his death and moving through it with him to resurrection. Powerful.

At the same time, I also hate for anyone to miss Holy Week! So many Christians de-radicalize themselves and ramp down Christianity to fit into their “side-project” category while their schedule is devoted to who they really are. I cannot resist calling everyone into true faith that invades their schedule with as much discipline bent on knowing Jesus as it can tolerate – a true attempt at praying without ceasing and being the body on a pilgrimage together into eternity. This journey is our true life and no one should miss it. We got the strangest compliment the other day; someone said, “That church really expects us to be Christians.” It’s true. I hope that’s not becoming unusual for the Church in general. But it is true; Holy Week expects us to be Christians.

So here are six reasons I think we should do it. You still have a few days to plan to do what you can to become who you might be — and, as Paul seems to say it, “attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

It connects us.

The “Holy Week” of the Christian discipline year is the week immediately before Easter. The earliest allusion to the custom of marking this week as a whole with special observances can be found in the Apostolical Constitutions (v. 18, 19), dating from the late 200’s and early 300’s.

Do it because it is great to be part of the transhistorical body of Christ! Our church also has its own version of this tradition that is as old as our church is. It is great to be part of our own spiritual tradition! Some people think that resisting the tradition makes them something. Could be — not going with the crowd, being “free” or merely being oneself  has good parts, too. But as a spiritual lifestyle, staying singular is detrimental.

We need to identify.

The main discipline of Holy Week is the spiritual exercise of being with Jesus, quite consciously, prayerfully and physically, as he moves through the final week on the way to his great work on our behalf. He is fully indentified with us and we seek to fully identify with him.

Do it to become one with him, to know him and to die and rise with him. We could do this in our imagination in our house, of course, or binge watch it on a movie. Making the effort to go to a gathering connects us to our own problems with being that real, that active, and that committed as well as being all those things with all those people. We exercise our Christ-connected identity in graphic ways and that solidifies it.

It helps us receive Jesus.

The time we spend every day during the Holy Week gives us a lot of meditative space we do not normally have and may not normally discipline in our own schedule. The teaching, worship, dialogue and quiet give us a lot of space to receive Jesus: what he is saying and what he is doing.

Do it because as God came to us in Jesus in the past, he is coming right now and will come back to welcome us into the age to come. These mysteries are very deep and are a little different for us each year. We need to be softened to them and we need time to receive all that Jesus was, is and will be.

We need to develop our faith.

Many of us are just starting off in faith and we need to get a handle on what we are doing. Holy Week lays it out in a deep but linear path we can follow. Exercising spiritual discipline at this level is a formative first for many of us. It challenges who we are as individuals and a body, which is why many people don’t risk it. Others are settled in Jesus and the church and don’t feel so needy anymore – they need to regain some humility, enough to place themselves on the now-familiar path with Jesus and get somewhere.

Do it because we need to place ourselves on that path as who we are now. New believers need to get on a new path. Old believers need to get further on the path. We need to move with Jesus where we are going next, not get stuck on the track we’re in. We dare not become content with our level. Holy Week demands a deeper level, since Jesus is out in front of us demonstrating what self-giving love means.

It makes us a deep community.

While spiritual discipline is probably primarily a silent, singular practice with God, we can’t leave that as the full extent of our practice. We need each other. The weak need the strong and the strong need the weak. During the mutual discipline of Holy Week, we dispense with our normal cell schedule. We band together as four congregation who will meet as a whole on Easter morning and then will be sent into our stations on Easter evening.

Do it because it is so descriptive and formative it is priceless! The practice helps us face up to our new faces and to live in the truth and love that makes us one. The story of Holy Week is the story that makes us the body of Christ. Reliving it is remembering our birth.

We want to witness to Jesus.

In a world full of newly-formed detractors and deconstructors, the word of Jesus needs to be told and the way of Jesus needs to be demonstrated. This week of the year cannot be turned into a cute celebration of family/friendship or gift-giving; it is the Holy Week in which Jesus dies and rises. It is the gospel lived out by the Lord and His people. It is the re-creation moment held up for everyone to see. The Holy Week observances are like a march down Broad St. by which we let people know that people of this generation follow Jesus and take his work so seriously they are drawn to emulate it in their small way as they gather to be a part of it together.

Do it because the more appointments we need to reschedule, the more bosses we need to ask for time off, the more friends we have occasion to tell what we are doing, the more trouble the whole process causes to the homeostasis of this present time which as it smothers hope, the better.

You may have more reasons! You may have stories to tell about why you do it. If this is a good place to share, please feel free.

Five Reasons Holy Week Might Be Hard For Us

Walking with Jesus will be hard this week. It is hard to walk Spirit to spirit every day, but this week is the “discipline week” that often brings up everything that makes it hard to walk with Jesus every day. You may not think Holy Week is going to be hard, but I, and most others I think, will be struggling a bit.

At a conference full of evangelicals last week the worship leader started out a plenary session with “At the Cross” (an example sung robustly here). It reminded me of my childhood experience of Christianity. I can’t really defend our skeptical reaction, but my sister and I always lampooned this song when we sang it (robustly!) in the front row of the Baptist Church. We were tickled because of this line, “At the cross…it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” Even then, we knew that most of the people in the room were not happy all the day and that the song made promises it wasn’t keeping.

What I mean is that the story of “At the Cross” should have stuck with Jesus and not included somewhat narcissistic declarations of how happy Jesus has made his followers as evidence that his work has efficacy. The burden of sin has rolled away, but I am still rising from my tomb. Dying is still easy and living is still hard. Everyone who knows me, especially my intimates, can tell you that I am generally a happy-all-the-day kind of guy who still shoots himself in the foot all the time. I will be happy to limp through Holy Week, following after Jesus, who saved me and is saving me, with whom I am suffering as he is suffering with me. That’s harder and better than pretending “it’s all good.”

We offer a Holy Week observance that is harder and better and I think that is good. I need it.

Now, I am not writing this to make non-participants feel stupid or bad. The school district has made this week a vacation and some people will take advantage of that and miss the whole thing. Some people work at night, when we are holding our meetings, and there are not that many jobs to be had. Plenty of people have not figured out how to have spiritual disciplines that actually help them connect to God and aren’t merely more things to do; they don’t need more obligation. So don’t take this the wrong way.

Paolo Veronese, c. 1550 "Christ with the Doctors in the Temple." We mark this on the Monday of Holy Week.

I am just writing to you in the spirit of Jesus, who tells people to follow him even when they make a lot of good excuses why they can’t do it. He meets people who are honest enough to admit that it is hard to follow him, and Jesus is honest enough to tell them that he knows it is hard and they have to do it anyway. We need to die, too, in order to live. Paul says he wants to share the Lord’s death so he will share the Lord’s life. Our audacious determination to follow Jesus through his last week, in whatever way we can, hopefully using the community’s observances, is the kind of focus serious disciples keep. I think it is life-giving.

Five reasons that it will be hard. That’s OK:

1) You might be called in to work or have classes. There are very few people in power and probably no corporations or universities who will recognize your obligation to follow Jesus through his last week, especially if it costs them any of your time or devotion. They are against such divided loyalty to their money. They will make it hard. The younger you are the harder it will be because the unemployment rate for the young is something like 14-20% according to Sunday’s Inquirer. Holy Week calls for focus on the master, so it brings up the other masters on whom we are called to focus.

2) We will have to work on it. Having devotion that calls for scheduling outside our “ruts” for an entire week is work. That’s why we do it. Some people honestly love the whole thing and not only look forward to Lent but also Holy Week all year. Most people don’t. Most people think good things happen to them, or not; they don’t feel like one should work for them. Their marriages disappoint them as soon as they are “work,” so do their churches, jobs, whatever. Holy Week breeds agency – a sense that we have value, that we make a difference when we show up, that doing something can build something.

3) We will do it together. The way we observe Holy Week, a lot of the process is communal, not just individual. That makes it even more inconvenient and even more subject to being messy and inept. New leaders will lead the meetings and they may be great or awful. We’ll have to deal with that. Jesus, after all, is visibly making himself subject to humankind throughout the week. We need to do that too — we’re even going to follow him as he carries his cross through our neighborhoods and experience what it is like to be observed by the neighbors! Being spiritual as people among other people is one of our greatest challenges. Holy Week breeds humility and patience.

4) The whole idea requires surrender. First, it requires surrender to love. Like David Benner says: “It is possible to know God’s love personally, beyond simply knowing about it. The fact that I am deeply loved by God is increasingly the core of my identity, what I know about myself with most confidence. Such a conviction is, I am convinced, the foundation of any significant Christian spiritual growth.” Living in that love means surrender of time, surrender of attention to other things, other pursuits, maybe even surrender of wages or visits with important people, or pleasure.  Holy Week breeds waiting expectantly for the fullness of love.

5) It is all about Jesus. That makes it hard, in itself. Holy Week makes it plain that following Jesus is not an ideology one can hold in one’s brain, it is an embodied faith that happens in real time. Jesus did not die in the abstract; he died in time and space. We are called to die daily, too. During Holy Week we enact faith that is about our whole lives. Being deeply involved in doing something that is all about Jesus, that is devoted to relating to Jesus and being like Jesus, that even leads us to be public about following is hard and very good for us. Holy Week nurtures a character that can be a true self day by day.

Focusing on the master, showing up because what we do makes difference, developing humility and patience in community, learning to wait expectantly, nurturing a character that reflects our true selves – all those are good reasons to do something hard. I am trying to talk myself into it. Jesus already came to town last night. I don’t want to miss the whole thing for the nothing I somehow consider more important.

I Don’t Want to Zone Out During Holy Week.

Last night I talked about my favorite new painter, William Brassey Hole. I am not sure he is the most spectacular painter. But the scenes he paints are the most spectacular ever.

The one on which we were meditating last night is the one called, in short, “Jesus about to heal a boy.” It is one of Hole’s “on the spot” imaginations of what it must have been like to be part of the scene when Jesus descended from the experience of transfiguration on the mountain and entered into a village in which a boy was tormented by an evil spirit.

There is a lot to say about what Mark reveals about that moment in history. But the part of the painting that sticks with me is the man in the foreground zoning out. He is reminding me too much of myself. I can’t help but pay attention to him as we get near Holy Week.

A few people reading this probably just said, “What is Holy Week?” Wikipedia does not really do it justice. Circle of Hope tries to get into it deep. We spend the whole week walking with Jesus through his last days, in a symbolic way, mainly through our nightly meetings that listen to the scripture and replicate it in some significant way. Our Holy Week observance is intentionally “over the top.” It stakes a claim to our attention and time in a world that would love to shuffle Jesus off into “private time,” which none of us has much of anyway. Holy Week insists that we plan around it, we change our schedule, we do something so Christian that our acquaintances will find out about it and we will have to explain ourselves; it honors Jesus going to the cross, which is still the scandalous basis for our faith. I love it.

That is, I love it theoretically. It is certainly the right thing to do. I am proud to have it in my schedule. I think I should honor Jesus. But I am still way too much like that guy in the painting looking “wherever.”

The most important thing that will ever happen in his village is about to happen and he is looking somewhere else. I can’t quite interpret what he is thinking.

  • He could just be blanked out, like people on the subway waiting for the train to stop, sleepwalking.
  • He could be lost in his own thoughts, slightly depressed; a screaming boy can’t even get his attention.
  • He might be worried, looking up the hill to see if anyone is watching this, like his wife maybe, who wishes they would move out of his terrible village into her father’s village, where there are no seizure-ridden boys.
  • He might be wondering if that dog wandering up there is his dog that got untied and is chasing the neighbor’s chicken.

For whatever reason, his attention is wandering away from Jesus coming to his village and the miracle that is about to happen. I might do that with Holy week.

A lot of my friends will ignore the discipline of Holy Week because they think they carry Jesus with them in their heart, exclusively, like they are the vehicle for his existence. They don’t live in Jesus, Jesus lives in them; and whatever they do, Jesus is privileged to bless. If they let Him out of the cage of their heart, he should feel grateful.

I never quite got that Christianity, even though it has been popular for decades. I still feel like I am privileged to follow Jesus around. I expect to be surprised at how he is going to show up. I spend a lot of effort tuning my receptors, so I am ready for him. I am welcomed into his universe, restored to my place in it. I am watching for what my king desires.

So I don’t want to zone out during Holy Week. Yes, it is arbitrary to have a holy week, and no, Jesus is not restricted to showing up during it. Yes, most of it was invented by Catholics, and no, it is not a magical vortex of some kind. Yes, there are a lot of arguments for why one should go to class or wherever instead of the observances, but they are mostly bogus reasons, imho. I think the week will be especially helpful in fulfilling my desire to zone in on Jesus, so I don’t just zone out about stuff that is threatening to overwhelm me.

It is tempting every year for me to tamp down the meaning and emotion of Holy Week, to look away, to let it happen without me while my mind is occupied elsewhere or my mind is occupied with resisting being occupied. I am way too much like that man in the painting. Jesus is going to the cross and I…

  • could be preoccupied with my relationship problems.
  • could wonder if the observances are worth the effort to attend. Some people would think it was radical to ask their boss for time off from noon to three on Good Friday because they aren’t going to work while Jesus is on the cross doing his work. And it is true, some people in charge of the observances might not be all that adept.
  • could be distracted by how weird it is to be a Christian who is so serious. Every day!?
  • could just stay distant. I might go to every meeting and manage to never concentrate on what they mean, or on the Lord’s presence in  the moment, or on my own heart’s struggle.

Those are just a few of my issues.

How are you working with the opportunity?

I think it is the most important week of the year. It is the week that should color all the other weeks. If the year is going to be Christian, it should be like Jesus is coming to heal a boy in our own village, not like a passing thought trying to get into my preoccupied mind.