Naming a blog, or for that matter, titling a sermon or a book, is an interesting endeavor. How do you catch people’s attention? How do you give them a 3-7 word promise as to what they’ll be reading or hearing?
In the case of this blog, the title rose out of the intersection of my deepest theological conviction (that God is love and that God’s love longs to be embodied in human beings), my understanding of what Jesus of Nazareth has to do with that conviction, and a writing prompt that the talented Nerissa Nields provided for the blogging class I’m taking.
The prompt was Jane Hirshfield’s poem,“For What Binds Us.” The poem ends this way:
And when two people have loved each other
See how it is like a
Scar between their bodies
Stronger, darker, and proud;
How the black cord makes of them a single fabric
That nothing can tear or mend.
As I reflected on those words, it struck me that all real love does come at a cost. Love becomes invested enough to really have compassion (to feel with) and empathy (to feel in) for another. Real love leads us to be vulnerable; it opens us to feel deeply, even hurt, for and even because of another. It does create and leave scars.
To illustrate, let me move from the sublime to the ridiculous.
I am a Chicago Cubs’ fan. My father is a Cubs’ fan, my maternal grandfather was a Cubs’ fan, and his father-in-law, my great grandfather, was a Cubs’ fan. So, you might say the fact that I am a Cubs’ fan is a congenital birth defect! Or, if you wanted to be Calvinist about it, that I was predestined to love the Cubs.
To be a serious Cubs’ fan, a dyed-in-the-wool, true blue supporter of the team, is to know disappointment. The last time they won the World Series was 1908, 104 years ago. The last time they even went to the World Series was 1945, 21 years before I was born. In my lifetime, they have been to the playoffs six times, but only twice did they have a legitimate shot to go on to the Series. In 1984, they were one win away and lost three straight games to dash my hopes. And in 2003, they were one win, just six blasted OUTS AWAY, and they lost two straight games. At home…. In Wrigley Field!
Both of those years, it felt to me like I’d been kicked in the gut. I bear the scars still. And yet nearly every spring, millions of other Cubs’ fans and I think to ourselves, “This could finally be the ‘next year’ we’ve been waiting for.” Hope springs eternal, as they say.
It’s silly, of course, to discuss sports loyalties in the same breath as addressing the costliness of real human love. But they do give us a small window into how much it can hurt to really be invested in someone or something. When you really care, you open yourself to feeling deeply, including being hurt.
Any pastor worth her or his salt knows this to be true. In the twenty years I’ve been in ordained ministry, I’ve officiated at hundreds of funerals and memorial services. Each time, I learn afresh the truth of what Thomas Lynch, the undertaker and author says: “Grief is the tax we pay on loving people.” When my relationship with the deceased and/or with his or her family has been at all close, the pain really hits home.
Then there are the other scars that form in a life of genuine caring in the context of a community, whether you are a pastor or not: seeing the wreckage caused in dysfunctional families; standing with people in courtrooms or jail cells; walking with people through various tragedies and travails. You work side by side in reaching out to those in need. Something you say or do, or fail to say or do, angers someone you care about. You disappoint and are disappointed. You forgive and are forgiven. Or not, as the case may be.
Add that to the joys, the happy times and laughter, the accomplishments and moments of deep sharing that come with life together, and the bonds that are formed in community become quite strong. Strong as a scar that knits skin together. Solid as the black cord that makes of us a single fabric.
I understand God to be an integral part of that whole process. Not as some distant clockmaker who set the world in motion and left it to its own devices. Not as an impersonal force. But as the Love who leads us to care that deeply, and modeled and embodied that love in a human being named Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, who cared enough about people, and justice and compassion, that he was willing to challenge the powers that be, though he knew he would probably meet a violent end. Jesus, who came to embody God’s ongoing love for the whole world, even those who would outright reject God. Jesus, who hanging scarred on a cross, cried, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus, whom I believe somehow triumphed over death, and then showed his disciples his nail-scarred hands.
So, yes, it is a scarred God that I serve. A God whose love was fleshed out in a body and soul and through the Spirit that was in Jesus continues to be fleshed out in bodies and souls living real human lives like yours and mine. Bodies and souls that feel deeply and sometimes care so much that it hurts. Bodies and souls that need to be cared for and that are meant to live fully.
Stay tuned in for more thoughts about Serving a Scarred God.