If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pete Seeger: iconic folk singer/songwriter

I believe God is everywhere. Pete Seeger

This evening I finished an ink drawing for my M.U.S.I.C. series (Musicians Undermining Social Injustice Creatively) of Pete Seeger, an iconic American folk singer/songwriter, who is known for writing protest songs, like Where have all the flowers gone?, If I had a hammer, and for popularizing We shall overcome during his involvement in the Southern Freedom movement. Seeger has been involved in music since the 40's and is still going at the age of 91! He is the epitomy of a musician undermining social injustice creatively.

The Peaceable Kingdom: a reflection on Hosea 2:14-20

Edward Hicks, a self-taughtfolk-artist and Quaker preacher from Bucks County, Pennsylvania is best known for his painting The Peaceable Kingdom. I should say "paintings" because he did over 80 versions of the picture and gave them as gifts to friends, neighbors, and relatives as a way to teach them about peace. In the foreground of the painting is a herd of diverse animals lying down under the shade of the trees. Predatory animals are resting peacefully in an Eden-like garden next to their enemies in the animal kingdom. One child stands next to a ferociously mild beast, while another child is unharmed sticking their hand in a snake's hole. The primitive style of the painting gives it an air of childlike innocence or otherworldly fantasy. What brings the painting back to earth is the scene to the left and in the background. If you don't look closely, you might miss it. Behind the gathering of peaceful animals is a gathering of humans. Quaker William Penn can be seen making the 1682 treaty with the Leni-Lenape tribe of Native Americans by the shore of the Delaware River. The ideal vision and the reality of peace stand side by side. Within the framework of a vision of nature at peace, humans are forging peace. Though Hick's vision of peace is drawn directly from the prophet Isaiah, the prophet Hosea proclaims a strikingly similar vision of a covenant God is going to make with the wild animals, a future peaceable kingdom in which nature and humanity are in harmony.

In the days of the prophet Hosea there were foreign gods which seduced Israel away from God's peace toward the value system of violence. During the eighth century, when Hosea prophesied, Israel and Judah were living in a period of increased prosperity with a sense of national security, with the superpowers of Egypt and Assyria temporarily immobilized, but not without Israel and Judah having to pay heavy tribute and exports. This relatively peaceful political and economic situation caused God's people to feel they had been blessed by God in a special way. All the while leaders were bent on protecting their own narrow self-interests by taking advantage of others. Lying, stealing, political assassination, debt foreclosures, land-grabbing, economic inequities, and court corruption were the injustices the festered beneath the outward appearance of prosperity. Doesn't it always seem to go that when there is economic prosperity, it comes with injustices and there are those who suffer under and do not share in the prosperity. Hosea describes these moral and economic injustices as ecological violence: Therefore the land mourns and all who live in it languish, together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing (Hosea 4:3).

At the heart of this ecological violence was a spiritual adultery, an unfaithfulness in Israel's relationship with God. The nation had been seduced by foreign values, with its reigning kings and elites, the building of temples, palaces, and fortified cities, and trust in armaments and military alliances. Israel and Judah had also been enticed by the foreign gods of Baal and his consort, the goddess Asherah. Baal was the god of thunder and fertility. He was believed to provide the rain and productivity of humans and land. Baal was depicted as a virile bull or warrior god with club and spears of lightning. Baal represented an ethical value system foreign to God's covenant. In Hosea's day the people had fallen into worshipping Baal and living by its ethical system, which led to violence in many different forms.

The extent of Baal worship in Israel can be seen in archeological digs. One of many cultic sites which has been unearthed is at the Israelite fortress city of Arad, similar to another cultic site found in the ancient city of Dan. A Bamah or hilltop sanctuary was found containing bowls for offerings, pottery inscribed with names of priestly families, incense burner, altars, and Holy of Holy with stones possibly representing both Yahweh and Baal (Read Hosea 4: 13- They sacrifice on tops of mountains). At the altars of Baal and Asherah fertility rites with temple prostitutes were performed, along with ritual human sacrifices (Hosea 4: 14). At the archeological site of Kuntillet Arjud an inscription from the period and location of Hosea's ministry was found which graphically depicts Yahweh, the name for Israel's God, with a consort or wife, Asherah. The inscription reads, I have blessed you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his asherah. In Hosea's time Yahweh had taken on the likeness of Baal, to the extent of having a wife. This archeological find illuminates how Hosea's broken marriage through his unfaithful wife Gomer was a fitting symbol for Israel's broken covenant with God through its relationship with Baal. It also illustrates how Israel's God had become wedded to foreign gods and their values.

Now, we know that kind of primitive stuff doesn't happen today in the United States. We live in a time of political insecurity and economic prosperity for the wealthy, which isn't shared by the middle or lowerclasses of our society. We place a lot of trust in the military and our fortified borders to protect us from foreign enemies and immigrants. We have made our share of political alliances and pay our tributes to other nations. Admittedly, even the church sees our nation as being specially blessed and favored by God. One nation under God. But, that's as far as it goes, right? Well, not quite. Have we not consorted with foreign gods and taken on their values, which lead us into various forms of violence?

Our security and prosperity comes with certain injustices, which are the seeds of violence. God's covenant tells us to welcome the foreigner and care for the poor. We fortify our borders to the South, not the North, and incarcerate those fleeing poverty. The invasion of Iraq was supposedly meant to keep us safe from our "enemies," but did extreme violence to innocent people, with some estimates being the death of 100,000 civilians. We know that our petroleum interests were also involved in this violence upon the common Iraqi people. On the home front we try to keep our cities and streets safe and secure, but the result is an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of minorities are killed by police action or end up in our prison system and on death row awaiting a kind of ritual sacrifice for our racism.

At least we don't serve Baal. You don't have to do an archaeological dig to find an inscription depicting our god. You can find it on any dollar bill: In god we trust. Altars to Baal have been uncovered throughout the land of Israel. If future archaeologists were able to dig up our civilization, what might the altars look like? Shopping malls? Big, macho petroleum-burning automobiles? Houses built on hills? Churches that resemble shrines to Mammon? I wonder. Thank God, we don't have anything remotely resembling the cultic prostitution of Baal and Asherah. Oh, I almost forgot about that old TV show Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire, where 50 women lined up to get a chance at marrying into big money before a worshipping, I mean a viewing audience of millions. We love the vicarious thrill of these kinds of get rich shows. Is possible that these shows are sad but graphic symbols of the depth of our own infidelity toward God by consorting with foreign gods and their value systems?

Serving these foreign gods and their values disrupts the harmony between humanity and nature. The worship of security and prosperity often lead to various forms of violence. Our national security is built upon feeding a bloated military industrial complex that sucks the marrow out of our education and human welfare programs. Our political alliances, such as we once had with Iraq when in conflict with Iran, can sour and turn into conflict and war. Our prosperity often comes with a price tag of exploitation of foreign workers. Remember Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line? Unregulated industries that produce our never-ending demand for goods pour pollutants into our rivers and air killing wild life. Rain forests are raped depleting vegetation which supplies our earth's with oxygen. Our gods and their value systems cause us to commit ecological violence. The words of Hosea are timely: Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.

Our God ultimately seeks to restore peace between humanity and nature. Hosea's vision of this restoration is one of a peaceable kingdom. God's faithful love will never give up on the covenant relationship. God is going to woo his bride, God's people, back to the wilderness, symbolic of the place where the covenant and its values were given, but this wilderness will literally become the desert of Babylonian captivity. There is judgment with hope. On that day Israel will call God, "My husband" and no longer "My Baal." God will make a covenant with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground and will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land. And God will cause the people to lie down in safety and security. God seeks to put an end to violence, which bleeds from human life to animal and natural life. Hosea envisions a day when peace comes to the people and to the earth, symbolized in harmony between humans and nature; a covenant with the wild animals.

Edward Hick's painting of The Peaceable Kingdom resembles the lost world of Eden, to which we can never return. It has the air of a utopian fantasy or childish fairy tale. That is, until you look in the distant background at the real life treaty being made by William Penn with the Leni-Lenape Native Americans. Penn's peaceable vision was only a glimmer of light in our dark relations with the indigenous peoples of America. And yet, it was a real, though small ray of hope emerging from a man with a relationship to God, who had dreams of a peaceable kingdom on earth as in heaven.

We who share Hick’s vision may work creating our own concrete rays of hope that reflect the vision of the peaceable kingdom. We may serve as a small background within the framework of this larger vision of God's peaceable reign. We can be brush into the painting of the larger world our Christian values of peacemaking. Supporting the antiracism work of organizations like Mennonite Central Committee’s Damascus Road Antiracism Training can help to dismantle racial injustices which are a form of violence. Mennonite churches can seek to preserve our peace heritage in the face of attempts to wed our churches to foreign values, which would have us downplay or deny God's peaceable vision for the earth. In our communities we can engage in ministries that care for the vulnerable or follow agricultural practices that care about the earth. We can teach our children the biblical vision of peace not as a Dr. Doolittle fantasy, but in concrete forms of cooperation and cross-cultural awareness in Sunday School or like the Kids for Peace Club my wife Iris and her friend started in Houston, Texas. We can use our own particular gifts to promote and teach peace principles, like I have tried to do with my Drumming for Peace programs. In our lifestyles we can respect animal life and care for the environment as a gift God has given us.

We can draw the outlines of a picture of life in which humanity and nature are less exploited and in conflict and are more harmonious in their relationships. We can be small rays of light, figures in the background of God's peaceable kingdom until that day when from out of faithful love for all peoples and the earth God will make a covenant with the wild animals and finally abolish violence, in all its forms, from the land. Then Hick's painting of the peaceable kingdom will become a political, social, economic, and environmental reality. I can't express it any better than the words of the old Christian Rock group East to West:

Joy will abound and every heart will soar
A light’s gonna shine we’ve never seen before
Armies will lay down their weapons of war
And no one’s gonna fight anymore

When the lion lays down with the lamb
Brothers and sisters walk hand in hand
Love goes blind and madness will cease
And every knee bows to the Prince of Peace

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anointed: a poem by Leo Hartshorn

one in three
three in one
oil of the Spirit
grease me down
anoint me
squeeze me
slide me
slip me
through heaven's keyhole

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fiery Pacman and Pirate: by Gavin Brown and Leo Hartshorn

My grandson, Gavin Brown who we are raising, loves to draw. He is 5 and will turn 6 April 30. Some of his love for drawing is probably due to my own love for art and drawing. Sometimes when I am drawing at my art table he will pull up a TV tray, grab his stack of of pens, pencils, crayons and drawing pad and begin drawing right behind me.

Some of his drawing is pretty detailed for a 5 year old. I thought I would take some of the characters that he draws, put them into a composition, color them, and add a background. Here is my first attempt at an artistic collaboration.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Artisan of Social Change: Gene Stoltzfus, 1940-2010

Finished a new ink drawing for my Artisans of Social Change series. The drawing and quote are in memory of the first staff person of Christian Peacemaker Teams Gene Stolzfus who died recently. More can be read about Gene in my recent blog at: http://leohartshorn.blogspot.com/2010/03/in-memory-of-gene-stoltzfus-founder-of.html.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Christ is Red Rover: an Easter meditation

Jesus said to her, "Do not hold onto me, because I have-not yet
ascended to the Father. " John 20: 17

Have you seen Christ hanging around anywhere lately? Somewhere I heard that he has risen from the dead and has been seen by his followers. Well, if he is alive, then surely he must still be roaming about the world meeting with his followers. Right? Didn't he promise that wherever two or more are gathered in his name he would show up as an anonymous guest? Has the Risen Christ come to you like he did to those early disciples at a tomb, in a locked room, or by the seashore? Could it be that on some unsuspecting evening Christ glided through the locked doors of your home with the ease of a thief in the night? Maybe Christ sat with you as you ate fried fish for breakfast by the lake. Has he called out your name while you were anointing a tombstone with tears? Did he come to you and show you his scarred hands and feet as
you were probing your own doubts? Or possibly you were at your job and Christ intruded into your work place with the disturbing question: "Do you love me more than all this?" Have you caught sight of the Risen Christ?

I don't know about you, but I would like to see Jesus "in the flesh." I wish I could meet him face-to-face. I want him to "walk with me and talk with me along life's narrow way." Like Mary, I would have grabbed hold of him and never let go. But for you and me, that's just not possible. Jesus is not physically present any longer. And by all appearances our experiences of Christ's living presence are rather momentary and fleeting. We are the disciples from Emmaus. Often we don't recognize that it is Christ that is walking alongside us. But, at times we may catch a glimpse of the Risen Christ out of the corner of our eye as we study the Scriptures or break bread together. But, as soon as we seem to grasp the sandy presence of Christ he slips through our fingers.

Mary tried to hold onto Jesus. But she had to let go of Jesus in order to grasp the presence of the living Christ. It was early Sunday morning that Mortician Mary went to Jesus' tomb to straighten his tie and to make sure his carcass smelled nice with a bit of spice. When she got to the tomb she saw its gaping mouth was wide open. Her first thought was that grave robbers were on the prowl. She sprinted off to tell Peter what had happened. Running to the tomb, Peter did the mile in four minutes flat. An anonymous disciple did it in 3 minutes 50 seconds. Peter looked into the tomb and saw a cocoon of burial garments. Peter arrived and stepped inside. The anonymous disciple saw the cocoon and believed ... in butterflies and a Christ with wings.

Meanwhile, Mary stood outside the tomb watering the grass with her tears. Then she bent over and looked into death's open mouth and saw two bookend-angels at the head and at the foot of the tomb. No sooner had she seen the angels than she turned around and spotted Jesus in cognito, disguised as a gardener. She couldn't see Jesus through the blur of tears and death. So, she questioned the gardener concerning the absconded corpse. The gardener spoke her name in a tone of voice that was unmistakable and like magic she pulled a Rabbi from the hat of the gardener. At least that's the way Mary saw it, For you see, when her eyes were clear of tears Mary didn't see the Risen Christ, but rather her old friend Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth. She was clinging to her past experience of Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth. But, Rabbi Jesus had died and had risen as the exalted Christ (and to tell you the truth, he hasn't been the same ever since).

No longer would Mary be able to sit at his feet and listen spellbound to his teachings or hear the laughter dance from his lips. Now she would have to listen for his voice through the stories of the emerging church. No longer would she be able to touch his physical presence nearby. Now she would have to feel his presence in her heart. No longer would she be able track down the physical presence of Jesus. Now she would have to stalk his elusive presence in the Spirit. So, she clung to the feet of the Rabbi Jesus and would not let go.

Jesus looked down at Mary. She clung desperately to his feet, like a child tightly holding onto the string of a helium balloon that might at any moment float away. He commanded her to stop holding onto him, for he had not yet fully ascended. It wasn't that Jesus couldn't fly up into the sky with the weight of Mary on his feet. Rather, Jesus wanted Mary to let go of the string of her old experience of his presence. She was not to cling to some by-gone-Jesus, some once-upon-a-time Jesus. Jesus had not been restored to the same physical life he possessed before his death. Resurrection is not resuscitation. Mary could no longer hold on to the human Jesus. He was now to be present to his followers in a new mode of existence. After Jesus had ascended he would come to his people in the gift of the Spirit. Instead of holding on to the Jesus of her past, Mary was told go to the disciples and prepare them for the coming of the Spirit. From now on, Mary would have to stalk the elusive Spirit to encounter Christ's presence.

To experience the presence of the living Christ will mean that we become stalkers of the elusive Spirit. As the Resurrection stories remind us, we cannot easily nail down the presence of Christ. Christ's presence in the Spirit blows where it wills. We may hear the sound of his life's breath but not know whether he is coming or going. In our desperation we may cling to a paper Jesus of an ancient time and far away land or a Jesus-we-knew-once-upon-a-time. But we will have to let go of any by-gone-Jesus of a dead past. For The Risen Christ is among us here .and now in the presence of the Spirit! Our urgent longing for the presence of Jesus will be met only as we experience the Risen and Ascended Christ in the elusive presence of the Spirit.

Where do we, who cling to Jesus for dear life, encounter the presence of the living Christ today? The classic path to encounter the Spirit of the living Christ is through the Christian traditions: the scriptures,the breaking of bread, the Christian community, Christian liturgy and ritual, and devotional practices. These ancient paths of Christ's followers mediate the Risen Christ to us. They trigger the mysterious presence of Christ. You know what I mean, don't you? A woman has just gone through the death of a loved one. She sits alone in their bedroom crying. The grief is hard to bear. Day passes into day in an endless blur. Looking for some source of consolation, she opens the Bible and reads Christ's words, "Let not your heart be troubled." The written words come alive and become inner words of peace that still the troubled sea of her heart.

It's an Easter Sunday. Spring, with broad brush, has painted the trees a bright green. The leaves seem to sparkle in the sunlight. The dome of the sky is a crisp blue. A door on a suburban home opens. A man goes out to pick up his newspaper. He's had a stressful week at the office. He breathes in deep the Easter morning. In the distance the church bells ring. They seem to call out to a child inside him. He hasn't been to church since he was in grade school. For some crazy reason he decides to go to church. At first he's a little uncomfortable in the pew, but the warm greetings of the people put him at ease. An Easter hymn is sung a little off key. A flood of childhood memories of mom and dad taking him to church begins to pour from his eyes. Something, someone has reached inside him and touched where no human hand could touch. It is the hand of the living Christ.

The elusive Spirit of Christ comes to us on the wings of a sermon, the unadorned reading of the Scripture, the melody of an old hymn, a lit Christ candle, the breaking of the bread, a moment of solitude. We experience a living presence rushing through us and we wish that we could grab it and hold on to it for dear life.

I have often gone hunting for Christ, the fox. I have stalked the Spirit of Christ with eyes stretched wide open. I have seen the tears of Christ on Passion Sunday in worshippers overcome by the truthful story of the cross. There have been moments when I have stood around the communion table, when the bread was broken and the cup shared, that I could almost feel the feather of Christ's Spirit brushing up against my cheek. I have spotted Christ in moments when in solitude the Scripture began to burn the brand of truth into my heart.

I have seen Christ in the actions of an African-American woman. She was driving a Cadillac on Montrose street in Houston. I was behind her car waiting for the light to change. It was the dead of winter. A chill in the air was biting a homeless man walking by in thin clothes. He was hugging himself to fight off the cold. I could see that the woman in the Cadillac was well off. She wore a coat with a fur lined collar. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the homeless man. I watched in amazement and wonder as she opened the door of her Cadillac, dashed across the street toward the shivering man, took off her expensive coat,draped it over the shoulders of the scruffy-looking stranger, hopped back in her car and drove off. It was an epiphany. I had seen Christ.

I have seen Christ on the city streets. I have accompanied Christ on walks for hunger and protests against nuclear weapons and have stood in a circle near some site where a person was gunned down, praying for the peace not of Jerusalem, but of Houston, of Philadelphia, of Washington, of the US, of Iraq, of the world. Christ was there. And for a few brief moments I have caught Christ, that cunning fox by the tip of the tail.

Now, you may say that it was all in my imagination. That may very well be true. But, you could say that of any experience of the Spirit world. In Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan there is a dialogue between St. Joan and Captain Robert de Baudricourt, a military squire. Joan says to him, "I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God. "The skeptical squire responds, "They come from your imagination." To which St. Joan boldly answers, "Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us." (1) Possibly that is why many of us fail to recognize the spirit of the living Christ among us in cognito. We just can't imagine that Christ is present!

Mary experienced the presence of the living Christ. But, she had to stop holding onto the Jesus she had known before the resurrection. So, in the power of her Easter experience, she ran and proclaimed the good news to the other disciples and they too encountered the resurrected Christ. And the good news was spread to about 120gathered in a room, who later at Pentecost were filled with the burning presence of the Spirit of Christ. And they went into all the earth and told people of all nations that Christ was indeed risen. And after two thousand years you and I heard the good news and the Spirit of the Risen Christ blew through our lives. And we haven't been the same ever since!

One of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, a Pulitzer prize winning author has captured the spirit of Easter morning where she writes about the longing to grab hold of the Spirit of the Risen Christ:

You have to stalk. .. You can wait forgetful anywhere for anywhere is the way of his fleet passage, and hope to catch him by the tail and shout something in his ear as he wrests away. Or you can pursue him wherever you dare, risking the shrunken sinew in the hollow of the thigh; you can bang at the door all night till the innkeeper relents, if he ever relents; and you can wail till you're hoarse or worse the cry or incarnation always in John Knoepfle's poem: "and Christ is red rover ... and the children are calling/come over, come over." (2)

Some gather in churches on Easter morning to fulfill a duty to visiting parents. Some gather to display their Easter clothes. Others gather out of habit or routine. Still others gather to cling to a by-gone-Jesus trapped in the tomb of history or locked up in some childhood memory. But some of us... some of us come to hunt for Christ the fox. We come to stalk the Spirit. For we believe that Christ is red rover. And we are the children standing with arms stretched across time crying out. .. "come over ... come over!"

(1) George Bernard Shaw, Saint Joan. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1924), 59.
(2) Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. (San Francisco: Harper, 1974), 205.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Death Angel: In Living (?) Color

Today I colorized my Death Angel tattoo design that was originally in black and white. And although I didn't think about it until just now...today is Good Friday, when Jesus met the Death Angel.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday Meditation: A Station of the Cross at Lancaster County Prison, April 10, 1998

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished."Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

Jesus took his last breath between two thieves. This wasn't the loveliest place to die. Among the outcasts. We shouldn't think of these thieves flanking Jesus as similar to robbers who might hold up a Turkey Hill. Their crime was more along the line of a Nelson Mandela. They were "social bandits," that is, political agitators subversive of Rome's domination system. Jesus dies among political subversives, with himself being labeled the same. As the scripture says, "He was counted among the lawless." There is something profound about Jesus dying among bandits, criminals. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann put it well when he said:

The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but a change of mind. It is a symbol that leads us out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which calls the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God.(1)

To recall that Jesus took his last breath between two outcasts and criminals in front of the Lancaster County prison is highly symbolic. Though this prison is in the midst of Lancaster, its residents live "outside the city." By that I mean, they are society's outcasts. I will not stand here in front of the prison and tell you that the criminals behind bars should not be here or that they should be let out, nor will I forget their victims. I will say that generally speaking those in prison are disproportionately people of color. I will dare to say that at least 90% of the violent criminals in prisons are from abusive families; persons who grew up amid violence, who were neglected, and forgotten. I won't try to justify their crimes. But, I will say that retributive justice or punitive incarceration of criminals is not the final answer. Merely "giving them life" will not give them life.

As we consider Jesus dying on the cross, we might be tempted to compare his death to the death of criminals by capital punishment. The comparison has been visually portrayed in movies like Dead Man Walking with the repentant character played by Sean Penn strapped to a cruciform table. Some of us might be uncomfortable with that comparison. Every person who dies by the hands of the state is guilty of there crimes, aren't they? Weren't the three criminals who were tortured and executed by the state some two thousand years ago on the hill of the skull all guilty of their crimes?

Jesus breathed his last breath between two criminals. It's not the loveliest place to die. Nor is it the loveliest place to live. The criminals in this prison could probably tell us that, if we were listen to them. But, that's not the kind of place that most of us would want to be found in the midst of criminals or society's outcasts and marginalized. But, as strange as it may sound, that may be the very place where we might find this one who died a criminal's death. Christ may possibly be found not just long ago on a cross. Not just under steeples on Good Friday and Easter Sunday or among the faithful in a march through the city. Oddly enough, Christ may be found today ... right here in this prison. For as the scriptures tells us, Jesus said he could be visited in such places as this. Who knows he might be right in there between two thieves.

1. Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God. (New York: Harper and Row, 1974),40.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blessed are the Feet: A Maundy Thursday Meditation

A number of years ago I tried to reinstitute footwashing at a Maundy Thursday worship service where I was pastor. Even though it was a Mennonite Church, which was part of a larger Anabaptist tradition that has traditionally practiced footwashing, in this congregation footwashing had not historically been a part of its worship practice. During the time when the people were to go to rooms set aside for footwashing a pair of old feet came up to me and in harmony grumbled in a muffled voice through their shoes, "Footwashing is ridiculous. It's not something we need done to us today. That's something they did way back in Jesus' day, when we used to go around half naked in sandals, walked on dusty roads, got filthy, and needed a daily scrubbing. Today, all God's chillin' got shoes! We ain't strippin ' and takin' a bath in front of God and everybody else!"

The feet of the apostle Peter could have said "Amen!" to those two old feet. Peter's feet were also a pair of reluctant doggies! The feet of Peter showed their hesitancy to get washed during a Passover meal Jesus was having with his twelve disciples. Knowing that God had placed all things in Jesus' hands, he stood on his feet, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around his waist. The dark room was bathed in the golden glow of oil lamps looking like a Rembrandt painting. All the eyes of the disciples were fixed upon Jesus as he moved about the upper room like a mime in slow motion. The gurgling of water broke the silence as it splashed in a basin. Stooping before the reclining disciples, the hands of Jesus began washing the feet of the disciples.

When Jesus' came to Peter his feet spoke up in a questioning voice, "Lord, are you going to wash us?" Jesus said, "You don't get what I'm doing right now, but you will later." One of Peter's feet protested, "You will never wash me!" The other chimed in, "Me neither!" Like twins speaking the same thought at the same time Peter's feet said, "Lord, washing us is the menial task of slaves. No way are we going to have you, our Lord and Master, scrubbing us." Jesus responded to those tentative tootsies, "Well, If I don't wash you two, you don't have any part with me." A chorus broke out from Peter's head, hands, and feet, "Wash me, Master! No, wash me first! Wash me, Lord!" Jesus looked at them all and said, "You are all clean and don't need to be washed, just the feet, and maybe somebody else in this room." The feet of Judas shuffled off into the dark night.

Some feet that gather on Maundy Thursday may come reluctantly for a cleansing ritual, if at all. Some feet may be whisper to themselves, "We took a bath just last night, why do need to do this." Another embarrassed doggy may curl up inside a shoe trying to hide a bunion or hammer toe grumbling, "You ain't gettin' me outta here." Two little puppies in the back are wondering, "I just don't get what this is all about." While other feet may dance about singing, "Wash me! Wash me!"

Long ago on a night like this evening Jesus stepped forward and said, "Don't you know what I have done for you? If I, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet. I have set an example for you, that you should do as I have done to you. The feet of the servant are no greater than the feet of the master, nor the beautiful feet of messenger, who brings good news, greater than the one who sent them. Do you get it, now?"

Footwashing is not about cleaning feet. It is a symbolic ritual, a performed pantomime of Jesus' humble, self-giving love. In this dramatic act we symbolically share in Christ's ministry to others; a ritual to practice for the performance of self-giving love we are to carry out in real life with hands, feet, head, and heart. In footwashing we once again remind our whole body of Christ's sacrificial love and faithful witness. For his body was so willing to give itself away that his knees bent low to wash other's feet, his back gave itself to the whip, his head wore a crown of thorns, his hands and feet offered themselves to the cruel spikes out of fierce love and excruciating faithfulness to the truth.

When our feet are splashed with water, we remember Christ's love and we ritually perform the movements of self-giving love and wholehearted commitment to the gospel truth with our bodies, practicing to be servants of one another. "O feet, O hands, O heart and mind, if you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."