Awkward Catholic

Living my faith as the awkward man of God that I am.


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Singing Out of Tune

song-to-singThat awkward moment when you’re at Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and of course all your favorite Marian hymns are being sung, and you just can’t hold it in and you let your heart sing (via your voice) and you look around and realize that everyone around you looks like they’re in pain. Then you realize that your singing is at fault. You feel sorry for them but no force in the universe can hold in your song.

Yeah, that happened to me the other day. I love my Momma Mary and I just can’t hold it in. I also love to sing! I’m also tone deaf and can’t carry a tune. God and I have a deal though. When I get to heaven He’s going to give me, even if its just for one song, a most beautiful singing voice and I’m going to get to do a solo in front of all the heavenly host to honor his (and my) Mother.

Here’s my point: God has created you, unique and amazing, even when you don’t feel like it; you are more beautiful and resplendent than the stars in all their glory. And you have a song to sing; a song that only you can sing. And it’s not easy as we are each so deeply flawed because of our sin. It’s like my singing voice. I know I have a song in my heart that wants to burst out of me, but it sounds so awful when it comes out. I think all of our good works, all the holiness we strive for… in our hearts and heads it seems so beautiful and good but in reality it’s still so out of tune with perfection. AND. THAT’S. OK. God doesn’t ask us for perfection, he simply asks us to sing. It’s up to him to make the music beautiful.

cat-screechingI honestly don’t know how he could ever make my song into something beautiful, but somehow, through his grace he transforms it from a screeching cat into a masterpiece. Because, well, he’s God. And because as a great saint once said (I think it was St.Therese), “One act of pure love is worth more than all the sacrifices of all the saints throughout the world.” In other words, the smallest, most insignificant act of pure love overwhelms the heart of Jesus, who is love itself.

And ultimately what is at the center of this act of love is a simple yes. A simple yes like Mary’s, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your word.” When we say yes at the deepest part of our soul to whatever God wills, even in the smallest of actions, we overwhelm the heart of God. I can only imagine he looks on us as I do my beautiful 2 year old little girl when she tries to sing the Happy Birthday song, I’m simply overwhelmed with joy and love for her.

kid-singing

So I encourage you not to worry what the people around you may think of the song you sing, whether you’re feeding the homeless or simply walking away when the office gossip starts. Sing that song with all your heart.

microphone

 

 

* Whenever this song is sung at church I can’t help but imagine myself singing like Carrie Underwood. Those poor people around me suffer so much. But my soul MUST sing!!


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Is Christ Your King?

A Pastoral Reflection on the Feast of Christ the King

At the time of Christ Jesus, Israel was a nation in expectation, hoping and waiting for the promised messiah, the king that would set them free from the tyranny of foreign oppression and restore the glory of David’s kingdom. They were waiting for a king, God’s anointed, but they were expecting an earthly king, a return to “the good old days”. And so their vision was obscured. To their credit though, the promised one of God was wholly other than what anyone would expect, as Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “It was a sign no one ever asked for, for no one ever hoped that a virgin would become pregnant… or that this offspring should be ‘God with us’.”[1]

Today, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate the fact that Christ Jesus, the God-Man reigns eternal in heaven, as the first fruits of humanity, opening the way for each of us to join him in paradise. In our celebration of Christ the King we celebrate his eternal reign in heaven and on earth, and hopefully in each of our hearts as ‘God with us’. Next Sunday we begin Advent when we prepare for the coming of the King, both in celebration of his birth on earth and in hopeful expectation of his coming again and the completion of all things.

‘Beyond what we ask for; beyond what we hope’; this sums up what St. Irenaeus meant in his above quote. When God sent his only begotten Son, it was beyond our wildest imagination. The general expectation of Israel was for another king like David. God, however, wanted more than to establish a mere earthly kingdom. Rather, he meant to establish the heavenly kingdom, to reunite humanity to God, lost in original sin.

The only begotten Son of the Father became Man, not merely in name or thought, but in actuality. The divine Logos was born of a virgin and became man. He took on human flesh, a human mind, and a human will and united it to his divine person. This is the one we call Jesus Christ, perfectly God and perfectly man. And through this unmixed unity he has redeemed all mankind enabling us to share in his inheritance, which is the kingdom of God.

But what should we expect when his kingdom comes? What are we waiting for? Should we be waiting at all or should we be actively seeking to make his kingdom present here and now? What hope do we have of ever establishing his kingdom in such a broken world?

Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in 1925. In writing the encyclical Quas Primas Pope Pius stated,

 

These manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics… that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.[2]

 

In other words, without Christ there is no hope for peace and our present world has reached a point that it believes it does not need Christ. Hence, Pope Pius established the feast of Christ the King to combat this evil, to give the world hope.

But in the face of the tidal wave of evil that now confronts us, how can we bring back the reign of Christ in our lives and the lives of those around us? To begin with, we must, like Mary, remain faithful ourselves. Like the Most Blessed Virgin, we must let Christ reign in our own lives, over our own wills, in our own hearts and minds and through our very bodies.[3] Then and only then will we be able to withstand the tidal wave of evil sweeping over our world and to build the kingdom of God.

We do this primarily through prayer, by coming to know and love the Lord God personally. First and foremost we unite ourselves to Mary, our Mother. We also participate in the feasts and celebrations of the Church; learn to pray in the rhythm of her seasons, through acts of penance and charity and through obedience to Christ and his Church. In all this we will begin to live in that kingdom that is not of this world, of which this world has no power except what is given it from above.[4] And living under the rule of Christ we will become indomitable for, “all things work for good for those who love God.”[5]

So we first let Christ reign in our lives as King. We then teach and encourage others to participate in the life of the Church and in prayer and fasting. In this we will create a reverse wave. We will turn the tide of evil. But we cannot wait on it happening to us. We must participate in making the kingdom come! Actively seek and work for justice; not a mere human justice, but the justice of love, of the cross, which is love in action.

Be wary, though. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of busy-ness and lose sight of what it is we work for, or rather, whom it is we work for. We work and love for the King and we must keep our eyes on the prize. We accomplish this by learning to see Christ everywhere and in everyone and to be Christ to all those we meet. Remember, too, God loves to surprise us with the unexpected.

We need to ask ourselves, whom are we expecting? When we attend Mass on Sundays, looking to encounter our God, when we join Bible studies or serve at soup kitchens, whom are we expecting to meet? Are we trying to pigeonhole Jesus into a savior of this moment, someone who will lift us out of our misfortune and suffering and give us the good life, someone who will return us to those ‘good old days’?

Or are we open to encountering our Lord as he wills to reveal himself beyond our wildest imagination? Do we see him in the eyes of those we serve, in the words we read in Scripture or in the veiled reality of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist? Do we go to be served or to serve, to be loved or to love?

As we work to build the kingdom of God, remember that the kingdom we are building is not one of this earth but rather of heaven. The kingdom is made present in our love but also retains a “yet to be fulfilled” dynamic. The ultimate fulfillment of this kingdom will only happen at the end of time, at the fulfillment of all things. So find your strength in the hope that looks forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that we will be with him in paradise.

As Jesus hung dying, mocked by the rulers, soldiers and criminals, one man resisted this tide of evil. The criminal on Jesus’ right rebuked the other thief, reminded him of the justice they deserved, and begged for forgiveness. Rather, he merely asked to be remembered. He didn’t ask for salvation or anything wild, but merely to be remembered. And how did Christ respond? By promising him more than he could have possibly hoped for, eternal life in paradise![6] So love in the moment and hope for the unimaginable.

 

 

Bibliography

Brown, Robin K. “25 November 2007 • Christ the King.” Homily Service 40, no. 12 (November 2007): 58-68. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).

Goodwin, Mark J. “Hosea and “the Son of the living God” in Matthew 16:16b.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 67, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 265-283. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2010).

Norris, Richard A., Jr. trans./ed. The Christological Controversy. Sources of Early Christian Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

Pius XI. Quas Primas. December, 1925. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010].

West, Fritz, et al. “Christ the King • Reign of Christ • Proper 29.” Homily Service 38, no. 12 (November 2005): 51-63. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).

[1]Richard A. Norris, Jr., trans./ed, The Christological Controversy, Sources of Early Christian Thought [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], 57.

[2] Pius XI, Quas Primas, December, 1925, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010], 1.

[3] Ibid, 33.

[4] John 18:36, 19:11 All biblical references in this paper are from the NAB, 1991, unless otherwise specified.

[5] Romans, 8:28.

[6] Luke 23:35-43.


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A Refugee Christmas

Our Lady of FatimaOur Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

That awkward moment when you realize that if you’re going to truly, deeply and honestly live your faith, then that one teaching you can’t accept, you’re going to have to accept; or that one thing you can’t live without, you’re going to have to live without; or the one thing you can’t stop doing because you don’t really want to, you’re going to have to stop doing. I’m pretty sure Mary and Joseph didn’t want to flee for their lives with a newborn son, who was suppose to be God, into a country that was known throughout their nations history as the enemy (Egypt). But they did it because their faith in God demanded it.

As my faith has grown over the years I’ve experienced a number of such moments. One of my earliest occurred when I was about 11 years old. I was delivering papers for my paper route and I’d just thrown the 15th paper onto a roof (I didn’t have good aim). Now I wouldn’t have enough papers to finish my route and I shouted “G_d damn!” As I continued on my way I thought about what I’d said and realized how awful of a thing I had just done to Someone (God) I claimed to love. In that moment I vowed never to say that again.

A bit later in life I was asked by my boss to attend a seminar on immigration and my eyes were opened to the reality and truth of the immigration situation in the U.S. and what it meant for our faith. I realized in that moment that all the anti-immigration rhetoric I believed had to go if I were to continue to claim to be Catholic.

I believe, I hope, I pray that this is such a moment for many friends and people of our nation today who call themselves Christian (Catholics included). If for no other reason than the world is watching us in this moment and how we respond to the refugee crisis will profoundly affect the world’s opinion of us: do we actually walk the walk or just talk the talk.

The situation in the Middle East and Europe demands our response in faith; our bishops have called for such a response (here and here). Our brothers and sisters, yes, they are our brothers and sisters, not our enemy, not distant strangers, not even our neighbors but our brothers and sisters, their lives depend upon our response. As I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say, if you call yourself a Christian then your response to the refugee crisis MUST be one of compassion and love, not fear and hate. Our faith, our God demands it!

I know it might not make sense and seems just a little bit terrifying, but wasn’t that exactly how you felt the first timeSyrian Refugee2 you encountered God and everything in your life changed? Well, this moment can be that for you again and perhaps for the refugees as well. A number of such encounters with Christ have already been reported where Muslim refugees are converting after encountering the love of Christ in their new host countries. Isn’t it even the slightest bit possible that our hospitality is what brings them to faith?

Yet, despite what I know to be sincere and deep faith in many Christian friends of mine, they still demand we close our borders and basically say, “I’ll pray for you, here’s a coat.” And what this comes down to is fear. It always comes down to fear. Throughout history refugees (or aliens) have been feared and hated and demonized without exception. And don’t try to say this is different. It’s not. It’s no different than the fear of the Jews during WWII; it’s no different than the fear of the Catholics, the Irish or the Italians in the great migrations towards America, etc, etc, etc, down throughout history.

So here’s the thing… perfect love casts out fear. There is no fear in Christ. Fear is a sin, or it can be if you allow it to prevent you from loving. That’s why we always demonize or objectify the enemy, because you can’t love a demon or a thing. I’m afraid of spiders but that doesn’t stop me from loving God’s creation. I’m afraid of a terrorist bomb blowing up my family but that doesn’t stop me from loving the refugees. In fact, my heart goes out to them all the more because they’ve been living in the hell that I’ve only heard of on the news, they’ve watched their loved ones blown up in front of them while I’ve watched the aftermath on T.V.Syrian Refugee

Ultimately, we are to be imitators of Christ, not just when it’s easy but when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard; always when it could cost us everything! Fact check: there are churches in the U.S. who have to have guards for every priest and Eucharistic Minister during Communion at Mass because there are so many people trying to steal the Eucharist for stupid YouTube videos or worse, Satanic Black masses. Why would Christ allow that?! Why would he risk it?! One word: LOVE. He became man and allowed himself to be crucified. He became bread and allows himself to be denied, mocked, stepped on, ignored, forgotten, thrown away and desecrated in a Satanic ritual, all for the hope that you would spend five minutes with him, sometime. How can we love his children any less?!

What it comes down to is this: I would rather die from a terrorist bomb while trying to love, than live in pseudo-safety while I deny love to my brother and sister because I am afraid.

In this year of mercy, let us remember the mercy of God. Let us fear, not the one who can kill the body but not the soul, rather fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28). Or, if you’d prefer to act out of love rather than fear:

Luke 7:27-38
27r “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,s28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.t29To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.30Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.31Do to others as you would have them do to you.u32For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.34If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.v35But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.w36Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.”

Syrian Refugee3

Finally, here’s an example of how our nation should act. Remember, the world is watching and God is depending… on you to love as he loves, even if it means to die as he died.


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Every Star, Every Drop of Rain

Standing At MassHave you ever had that awkward moment when you’re at Mass and start drifting off into a daydream when suddenly you realize it’s time to stand up? You quickly rise to your feet only to realize everyone else is still kneeling except for the other daydreamers and some poor old man who’s painfully rising to his feet. You stand there awkwardly, unsure what to do; knowing that everyone’s now wondering why you stood up or secretly laughing/judging you. Full of shame, all you want to do is run and hide as you vow to never be the first one to stand again.

In that moment, it feels like the whole world revolves around you and everyone’s judging you. It’s a horrendous feeling, if we’re being honest. This is why I find it so interesting that so many of us do everything we can to make life all about us. We so often and easily get trapped in our own little worlds, wrapped up in petty arguments, perceived slights, jealousy, greed and selfishness. We fantasize about a beautiful woman or chiseled man adoring us and making our lives perfect and everyone else around us loving us and realizing the perfection that we are. And in our delusional desires of self-grandeur, we conveniently leave out the reality of vain-glory… all the awkward, painful, embarrassing moments that come with being in the spotlight.

In Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II made a point that shame is a gift from God that protects us from our lustful desires. In a sense, it also protects us from vain-glory. It can give us perspective on ourselves and our desires. There is a profound often-overlooked tension in Catholic theology that the experience of shame helps to illuminate. On the one hand, as followers of Christ we are called to self-forgetful love, to live for the other as if our lives were insignificant. Yet, we are also told that each of us has infinite value as a child of God; the entire universe, every single star in the sky exists so that God could love you, and you alone. And if you were the only person to have ever lived he still would have done every single last thing he’s ever done… including his death on the cross.

Galaxy

It’s fundamental for a healthy Christian faith to recognize this truth and receive it in your heart… that Jesus thirsts for you. Yet we are then called to live as if we are the least significant person and to give our lives for the other. This is a difficult tension to live out until you realize that the above is true not just of you but also of your 8 billion neighbors out there. And it’s especially true of your neighbor who’s judging, mocking, or wounding you.

I’ve recently learned the difficulty of living this out in real life. My whole being cries out for justice for a wrong done to me and yet I’m the one being forced to apologize. I want nothing more that to prove these persons wrong and call justice down upon them. But I can’t. Instead, I find myself struggling to pray for these persons, these blessed children of God, that they find peace and blessing.

As I write this it might sound like “holier-than-thou” bragging, but the reality is far from it. The not-so-nice thoughts that have run through my head, the judgment and indignation that pours out of my heart… ouch. Rather, I share this struggle in the hopes of encouraging you.

Every star, every drop of rain, every blade of grass exists for you—and you don’t deserve it. He loves you anyway. You’re a petty, broken sinner whose apparent beauty can’t compare to that of the universe. And He loves you anyway. Your neighbor is a judgmental hypocrite (just like you) and yet, He loves him or her anyway.

You are the very image of God and He loves you. You are not worthy to bear this glory, but because of his inexplicably generous love he has given it to you. The shame that protects us, that reminds us of our undeserved glory is a good thing. Likewise, the humiliating experience of being unjustifiably accused and slandered reminds us of the unjustifiable glory that He has bestowed on us.

You are beautiful. You are good. You are glorious! Whether you feel like it or not, whether you understand it or not, you are the Father’s beloved child and he would absolutely give up his life for you. And so, as his image, you too are called to do the same for your brothers and sisters.

Humility is the key to solving the paradox. Humility is always the key. Humility is the door by which we enter the life of faith. You cannot love God if you love only yourself. You cannot love others if you love yourself more. Those countless awkward or embarrassing moments serve to humble us… not humiliate us. Humiliation is for the proud. The humiliated person is the perfect person who has been embarrassed. The humble person recognizes their own imperfection, accepts it and trusts in God’s grace to see them through.

I make mistakes because I am imperfect. I feel ashamed for many of my actions and choices because I am an imperfect person… because I need God, I need the One who is righteous. There is no other. Only One is truly righteous. Only One is truly perfect. Even Mary, the Mother of God is utterly dependent upon her Son. All have fallen short. But there is One who redeems all others. His name, the one name that gives breathe to all others, that gives life to all others, that justifies all others is Jesus, the Christ. There is One: Jesus, the Christ.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus.


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The Lonely Little Boy

The other day I spent time with a 2nd grade little boy, about 7 years old. He was brought into my office at the church because he’d told his religion teacher that he wanted to kill himself. The boy is in SECOND GRADE!! He had no friends and was being bullied. He felt isolated and completely alone. I know that feeling well. I was severely bullied throughout my childhood, alone, lost and without hope.

Mother Teresa once said that the greatest suffering is loneliness; of those familiar with suffering, few I think understood it as Lonely Mandeeply as Mother Teresa. Her life was poured out in walking with others in their suffering and most painful moments. I believe that she saw clearly into the heart of the modern world where we have become isolated and lonely. Our lives have become filled with isolation and selfishness, or rather, they have been emptied of all that is good and beautiful. We have sterilized our lives behind the facade of social media and disavowed any need for the other in our pursuit of the empty fulfillment of fame, fortune and immortality. And this has been done intentionally.

Our beloved Pope Francis has recently stated that we must not forget that the devil is real and actively seeking to destroy us. This is nothing new and has been proclaimed by countless saints throughout the ages. The devil is real and operating in the world with an evil intent… to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to isolate us from God and each other. And not only do we let him, we most often willingly cooperate with him! In war, when is a person most vulnerable? When he’s separated from his platoon. When is a quarterback most vulnerable? When his offensive line collapses around him and he’s left alone.

We have become isolated through our selfishness, laziness, greed and fear. And we isolate others because then, we’re not alone in our isolation. The problem is… everything we are, our body, mind and soul is designed for one simple purpose… communion. We exist to be the “thou” to someone else’s “I”. The way we live our lives can give purpose, meaning and hope to others; or it can take it away.

Every sin is a sin against communion because every sin is a sin of selfishness. Mother Teresa knew this well and sought out the most unapproachable, ignored, rejected, isolated Untouchable, who was being eaten by worms as he lay in the sewer awaiting death. She picked him up and carried him to her home, tended to his wounds (both spiritual and physical) and loved him into heaven. His was a life of loneliness and isolation. His was a death of beauty and love. Why? Because Blessed Mother Teresa entered into his suffering and walked with him to the steps of heaven.  She then repeated this act for the rest of her life with each person she met.

Deer Thirsts 2

What motivated her to do this? Mere knowledge couldn’t. Any person with a brain could figure out that we’re made for communion. Nor was it vein hope, desire for fame or blind faith. It was an encounter with the thirst of the One “I” to whom all others are “thou”; the thirst of the living God. Mother wrote the following in a letter to her fellow sisters:

Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes – to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you… That is so sad, because it is completely the opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that he loves you, but even more – He longs for you…. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes – He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe- you are precious to Him… Why does Jesus say, “I thirst”? What does it mean? “I thirst” is something much deeper than Jesus saying “I love you.” Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.[1]

When we encounter the thirst of Jesus we know, in the depths of our being who we are and who He wants to be for us. We enter into a real communion… our destiny. I have yet to experience this in its fullness. I trust in the testimony of the blessed who have gone before me. I also trust in the promises of Christ himself who will bring me to this himself.

I no longer suffer from loneliness, most of the time. I’ve been blessed with a loving wife, children and friends, but old habits die hard. Rather, I suffer the pains of loneliness in the teens, children and parents who pass through my office on a daily basis. There are so many hurting, lonely souls in the world. Our modern society, with all of its “conveniences” has turned us into lonely, isolated individuals… and we must rage against this machine! We must rage against this tidal wave of evil that is trying to scatter and separate us so as to overwhelm us. We “rage” by quietly letting go of our selfishness and simply engage those around us. We stand up for the kid being bullied, we put down our technology and talk face to face, we turn off the T.V. and talk to our family members, we sacrifice and give for those around us, we help others carry their crosses and we pray. We reach out to the person being bullied and we pray. We smile at those we pass in the hall or on the street and we pray. We do the chores and duties of our family members out of love and we pray. We hold the hand of the person (friend, stranger, enemy) that his suffering and we pray.

Ultimately, we do nothing of our own accord. As St. Augustine said, “All is grace.” We choose to cooperate with the grace of God rather than the lies of Satan. It is the love of God, our communion with him that will redeem the world. Therein lay our hope and our strength.

Mother Theresa

 

P.S., I have hope for the young boy I met with last week. He is dearly loved by his mother and knows now that he has a safe place at his church. He has been enfolded in prayer, he is not alone and through the grace of God will know that some day soon.

 

 

[1] Mother Teresa’s letter to the Missionaries of Charity family, 25th March, 1993 as found in 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. Marian Press, Sotckbridge, MA. 2011.


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Hands in the Air Vulnerability

What is the first thing most people do when being held up by robbers?Surrender Pic Stick their hands in the air. When a criminal is surrounded what does he typically do to give up the fight? Stick his hands in the air. When you’ve been working on something with all you have and you just can’t figure it out and you give up, what do you do? Throw your hands in the air. Why is that? I believe because putting your hands above your head places you in the most vulnerable position you could possibly be in. Our hands, and by extension our arms, are the first and last defense. We stick our hands out to feel our way in the dark, we cover our face to protect it from incoming danger, we brace ourselves with our hands as we fall. Our hands protect and defend us; to move them as far away from our bodies, to place them in a position of uselessness is an act of vulnerability.

To be vulnerable is to risk that the other will hurt you, and to, in a certain sense, say, “I give you permission to do whatever you will.” Like it or not, it’s something we all experience in our lives. In fact, most of us spend the greater part of our childhoods being vulnerable and learning that to live life that way hurts… a lot. And so we learn to close ourselves off, to protect ourselves. Hence, we have the wonderful song by Simon and Garfunkel, I am a Rock.

VulnerableIn almost every human interaction we consciously or subconsciously judge how vulnerable we are going to be with the other person; “How much am I willing to share?” “Can I trust this person?” “Can I be myself right now?” and countless other questions we ask ourselves. Each of them lead back to that core question, “How vulnerable am I willing to be towards this person?” Now, we can’t just go around willy-dilly lettin’ the crazy out on everyone we meet. But there are some people I believe it is necessary to risk that vulnerability with, to risk being hurt by. Those are the ones to whom we say, “I love you.” (And yes, this includes God.)

In order to love we have to be vulnerable, don’t we? On Good Friday I was meditating on the Way of the Cross and was struck with a new insight concerning the 10th Station “Jesus is Stripped of his Clothes.” This is quite possibly the most vulnerable moment in all history: the God-Man, the most powerful, infinite, good and loving being making himself weak and helpless with love. He was completely exposed, completely vulnerable! Vulnerable to what? To us, to our hate and judgment, our scorn and mockery, to the weight of our sin crushing him as he leaned upon the rock of his love.

Jesus is Stripped

Our modern sensibilities have glossed over the reality of this moment and made it difficult for us to realize its gravity. Out of a sense of decency we have placed a cloth over Christ’s loins. We protect the image so as not to reveal too much. And who can blame us? But it wasn’t really that way. The Romans didn’t suddenly find pity in their hearts for the man they were in the midst of torturing and decide, “Let’s leave him a little decency.” They stripped him of everything and nailed his hands above his head to the cross… the most vulnerable position to be in for anyone, least of all God.

Of course, in this Easter season I can hear the objections now, “But Mike, it’s Easter! Why are you talking about the Cross now?! Where’s the upbeat, happy, alleluia message?”

It’s right here, hidden beneath the nakedness of God. You see, it is precisely because he allowed himself to be stripped and utterly exposed that we have the joy of Easter. This is what love is after all, being open to the other, being vulnerable giving yourself completely to another, whether or not they give anything back. That’s why Adam and Eve covered themselves after the Fall, to protect themselves from each other, and from God. And that’s why Christ, the new Adam, ended up naked on a mountain before all the world, to untie the knot of Adam’s sin.

“But Mike, I can’t go around in naught but my skin. I’d get arrested and possibly sunburned!” Yeah, that’s probably not a good idea. You can however have a heart naked and open like the saints, who in imitation of Christ, loved without fear, pretension or ulterior motive. Yes, it’s risky and it’s going to hurt but so did the Cross. And didn’t Jesus demand of his followers that they pick up their cross and follow him? Did you ever ponder that? He doesn’t just want us to suffer like him. He wants us to love like him, to be vulnerable like him, to risk rejection like him.

Light Cross

After all, it’s only because of his vulnerable love that we have the joy of Easter. Love hurts, yes but as Lord Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” It’s better not because love is simply some noble cause, but because that is what we are made for! We exist to love, to know and be known. And you cannot be known if you are a rock! You cannot love if you are an island alone and unfeeling! And when we take this risk it will hurt because we are surrounded by people who would rather crucify God than embrace him (and that includes most of us some times). But the Good News is that when we do open ourselves to this vulnerable love, we become like Him; and who doesn’t want to become a little more God-like?

So what does it look like to be vulnerable?

For me, that means opening up to my wife about how I’m feeling. It means trusting others and not always keeping them at arms’ length with sarcasm and jokes. It’s about having real conversations with friends and not just talking about sports or boardgames; looking people in the eyes and smiling, even with strangers. It’s about seeing Christ in the other person–my friend, my enemy, the stranger, the beggar, the president–and being truly present to them in their need and circumstance. Most of all, it’s about spending time in prayer and opening my heart to my Savior, the greatest lover of all.

So won’t you join me this Easter season and throw your hands up in the air like you just don’t care? Surrender to Christ, become completely vulnerable to him and his loving will, as when He stretched his hands out on the cross in naked vulnerability to the will of the Father. Remember: God will not be out-done in generosity!

And, as a parting note, if you need any more encouragement to let yourself become vulnerable, just read the very end of the Bible, Rev 21-22. That’s what we have to look forward to.