ever wish you could take back what you said? what you did?
yesterday the interwebs was abuzz with news of the lutheran pastor whose apology for taking part in the sandy hook interfaith memorial service generated some controversy.
if you’re not yet familiar with this story, click here.
the hullaballoo came due to the lutheran church-missouri synod (LCMS) president writing a letter to one of their pastors involved in the memorial service demanding an apology from him for his ‘joint worship with other religions.’
‘There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don’t matter in the end.’
this isn’t the first time the LCMS lutherans have gotten their theological skivvies in a wad.
just days after the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks, an interfaith vigil took place in new york city. the lutheran pastor who participated in that time of prayer was suspended.
for two years.
now, i have no problem with the lutherans. honestly – i love lutherans.
literally – i’m in love with a lutheran… i’m marrying one.
she and her family have a long history with that particular expression of their faith, and i’ve got somewhat of a fascination (some might call it an obsession) with dr. martin himself.
more on that later.
there’s nothing wrong with being lutheran. or methodist. or baptist. or catholic. or conservative. or pentecostal. or progressive.
i really don’t think it matters.
but there’s something terribly wrong – shameful, even – with taking such a delicate moment of pain and heartache and anger and fear for so many people, and turning our responsibility to comfort into an opportunity to split doctrinal and theological hairs.
if jesus were still in his grave, i bet he’d be rolling over in it.
lest i’m quickly corrected for my ‘post-modern, emergent/progressive position of moral relativity‘, in this or previous posts i’ve written on the necessity of inter-faith dialogue here or here, allow me to point to one intriguing passage of scripture.
warning :: we weren’t taught this in sunday school.
2 kings 5.
some of us are familiar (perhaps even from sunday school?) with the story of the healing of naaman – the captain of the army of the king of aram (ps. that’s modern day syria).
for those who don’t know (or if you’ve forgotten and need a refresher), here’s a summary ::
in unusually flattering language from a jewish author in regard to a gentile, this heathen commander was described as a ‘great man’, ‘highly respected’ and ‘a valiant warrior.’
he also had leprosy.
despite his position, popularity and prestige, naaman had a problem – an incurable and incredibly painful fatal disease that quite literally was eating away at his flesh. he was dying.
naaman’s prayers and sacrifices to rimmon, the regional god of aram, proved to be ineffective and his condition was worsening. he and his king were at a complete loss. their god didn’t seem to be hearing their prayers for healing.
with his kings’ blessing, naaman left his land and journeyed south, hoping that perhaps the God of israel could work his divine powers – he’d heard good things from a little jewish slave girl back home.
he was desperate for a miracle.
upon traveling to the region, naaman was directed to elisha, the prophet of YHVH who had some unusual but surprisingly effective miraculous effects on the captain’s condition.
he was healed.
made whole again, naaman came to the conclusion that YHVH had powers well beyond just the regional territory of the nation of israel and exclaimed,
‘behold, now i know that there is no God in all the earth, but in israel.’
the story isn’t over. don’t miss this.
but he continued in conversation with the prophet. essentially saying,
‘there’s this…thing. if YHVH could forgive me – um, when my master goes into the house of rimmon [remember him? the false, regional god of aram] to worship there, and he leans on my hand and i bow myself in the temple…um, when i bow myself in the temple to rimmon, do you think YHVH could forgive me?’
that’s a pretty big ask. naaman just received the revelation that this ‘god’ rimmon was not even real – that YHVH was the one true God – and he’s asking if it’s alright if he accompanies his king in worship to a false idol?!?!
what do you think elisha said?
‘NOPE. sorry, naaman. but you really need to take a stand for truth, here.
i mean, YHVH just did a miracle. he saved your life. i know it’ll be awkward, and you might lose your life, but you’ve really just got to trust God. and if you’re not willing to do that, then i guess you’re going to burn in hell – a place of literal, conscious torment for all eternity – with the rest of your pagan countrymen.’
spoiler alert :: that’s not what elisha said.
v19 :: he said to him, ‘Go in peace.’
the hebrew word is shalom. it means complete peace. shalom encompasses contentment, wholeness, well being and harmony. shalom is the absolute absence of agitation or discord. it carries meaning of completeness, wholeness, perception and fullness.
‘Go in shalom.’
there are times when – in the midst of everyday life and the confusion surrounding the beliefs we hold versus the beliefs others have – things can be a little fuzzy. things don’t line up into neat little black-and-white-systematic categories where it’s helpful to draw clear lines between ‘us’ and ‘them.’
i can think of a few areas that may be the case.
it seems, based on this story in the old testament – or based on any number of the examples scattered throughout the four gospels in the new – that solidarity with the Other is the way of the kingdom.
perhaps sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re ‘right’ or if they’re ‘right.’ perhaps, sometimes, belief takes a backseat to behavior – as i’ve written previously,
any expressed doctrinal or theological position apart from a compassionate and pastoral response castrates the conversation.
our obsession with cognitive conversion and acquired answers, drawing lines in the sand about jesus renders our beliefs in him obsolete if they are not couched in external actions of loving one another in his example, standing in solidarity with the Other… even when we may think the Other is ‘wrong.’
the world is watching.
is apologizing for taking part in mourning with others and asking for God’s comfort and help in their time of need what we should be doing?
or is it entirely appropriate to join with them in prayer – even if they’re not praying to the same God we are?
what do you think?