I ended my sermon this past Sunday talking about Japanese art of Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold or silver. As a philosophy, it treats the damage, the brokenness, and its repair as part of the history of the piece rather than something to be disguised. The art uses the repair to create a new thing of beauty out of the old. The jar below is an example of this.
In my sermon, and in my last post, I talked about the need for Christians to be involved in bringing our broken, divided nation together with acts of love and peace. I believe that we will not do this by trying to ignore or deny the brokenness. However, I do believe that in owning that brokenness the "gold" of the Gospel, of the Holy Spirit working through us, of the love of Christ alive in us, we can create something new and beautiful.
This week, I did some more research on Kintsugi and discovered how long this process is. This isn't a matter of super gluing things back together. It is a painstaking, time consuming process. As it will be for us. There have been two examples that have moved me lately:
The first was my police ride-along a couple of weeks ago. I've spent a good deal of my life working in some form or another, in, or with, the criminal justice system. I have friends I love who are law enforcement officers of one kind or another. I am also an advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement and have deep concern over the systemic racism within the justice system. Working as a volunteer Chaplain with the local Police Department is my way of holding those two things in tension. Of denying neither the reality of the national problem or racism in policing, nor the needs and challenges of the officers I try to pastor. It will be a painstaking, time consuming process. There will be people (on both sides) who do not understand what I'm trying to do, or why.
The second example is, in some ways, more personal. I was as a clergy luncheon for the Mid-Atlantic CBF this past week. At the table with me was an African American clergyman with a last name that I recognized from my childhood. I asked him if he had family is Spartanburg, S.C. "Yes, but most of my people came from Union." (Union and Spartanburg are separated by about 30 miles). I responded that my father grew up in Union and that my people came out of the mills there. I mentioned a particular Sheriff who, in the early 1900's had a name identified with racism and the KKK. This pastor responded with a story of how his grandfather had been forced to move north after an encounter with this Sheriff. I, with some embarrassment, said, "I believe that my grandfather was this man's deputy sheriff." The silence at the table was palpable. The wounds in our nation run deep. I am not responsible for the sins of my grandfather (which were many); but I ache for the pain caused to this man's family-pain that passed through generations. I am shamed by the fact that someone in my family might have been part of creating that pain (though I will probably never know). This pastor and I talked. We will talk again. What we create out of acknowledging the brokenness in both our stories will be an act of the Spirit.
All of this brings us to Jesus' commandment that we are to "take up your cross and follow me" that we find in Mark 8:34-37.
This passage is NOT about some personal burden in our lives, though this is how it is most often used and quoted: "I guess that's just my cross to bear." Now we could have a good discussion about how we continue to follow Jesus in spite of the burdens of our lives: an addiction from which we struggle to recover; a seriously ill child; a troubled marriage. The Apostle Paul writes about following Jesus in the face of hardship, and it's an important topic. But it isn't what Jesus is talking about here.
Even before His own death, Jesus is using an image that wasn't used in polite society to explain the potential cost, the inherent risk, of following Him. It is a risk that He demands we take if we're going to follow. "Deny yourself" isn't a phrase we like to hear. Leaving ourselves that vulnerable isn't in our playbook. We prefer to hedge our bets, to hang back just a little.....like the disciples who watched the crucifixion from afar.
Jesus says to us, "You can't hold on to yourself and follow me. You have to be willing to risk it all. What will it matter if, by holding back, you gain everything you ever thought you wanted, but loose yourself in the process?" See, it's in holding on that we "forfeit their life" or "lose their soul." Coaches call this kind of living, this denial of self, "leaving it all on the field." That's what Jesus wants from us. And that is what it will take to heal our world. Christians committed "leaving it all on the field." No holding back. Willing to die, to go to jail, to be abandoned by friends and loved ones. As I heard someone say once about the depth of these demands, "This ain't aroma therapy we're talking about."
This demand to take up our cross; to find ourselves in loosing ourselves; to risk everything to follow Jesus in the task of healing the world makes me very uncomfortable. It should make us all uncomfortable. It's extremist talk. It does not leave us much wiggle room at all. We are to put it all on the line. It is here, we are told, that we will truly find ourselves. It ain't aroma therapy. But it is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.