The Power of Suffering


Caption reads: Book soaked with blood of Juan Ramón Moreno

Last August I had the opportunity to be a part of the Washington DC Metro Synod delegation that travelled to visit its companion synod the Salvadorian Lutheran Synod in El Salvador.  The purpose of this trip was to further the relationship and partnership between our two synods.  One of our primary goals was to listen and hear the stories of the Salvadorian people and to think about ways that we can partner and accompany one another in our shared lives together as the body of Christ.

Part of our time was spent learning about the history of the last thirty to forty years and the impact of the Salvadorian Civil War had and still has on the people of El Salvador.  We heard countless stories of violence. Families who have been torn apart, villages of people were massacred, thousands of people missing and/or killed, and perhaps most notably six jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter were assassinated by the government.  Hearing these stories were difficult to take in, but to also know that the United States government had helped finance the Salvadorian military which in turn perpetuated the war and implicated me as a part of the cycle of violence.  Yet there was an authentic hospitality and genuine love that was shared between our groups and there was a collective spirit of hope and joy in the faces and voices of the Salvadorian people as we shared our faith and lives with each other.

Today in class we discussed the mystery of evil.  We began our conversation about Martin Luther’s theology of the cross.  At the cross is where we see God revealed in the person, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Theologian Jürgen Moltmann has written extensively about the relationship of the Triune God and the Cross and argues for how God as Father and Son experience suffering through the crucifixion (in different ways) and through that suffering emerges a love through the work of the Holy Spirit that brings transformation and new life.  Theologian Daniel Migliore writes in Faith Seeking Understanding: “The power of the triune God is not raw omnipotence but the power of suffering, liberating, reconciling love.” (pg.133)

This power reveals to us a God who is not removed from those places where suffering, violence, death, and destruction take place, but rather a God who is immersed with those in the midst of these things.  God’s power comes not in strength, but in weakness, in brokenness, through death on a cross.  When we encounter suffering in our own lives, we can trust that God and God’s love will accompany us through whatever we encounter.  Knowing that God is present with those who suffer, provides us with hope and empowers us to keep pressing on.  God’s action in the world and especially in our lives is love, working to free us from the things that cause us harm.  Responding to God’s action we are called to participate in helping to liberate others who are victims of violence.  We have a responsibility to seek out non-violent solutions and to walk alongside those who are hurting.  

Where do you see suffering in the communities you are a part of and how might you accompany those who are suffering?  What’s your story of life and faith and how might you share that? 

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Whose World is This?

 Whose world is this?
The world is yours, the world is yours
It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine
Whose world is this?
“It’s yours!”
It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine
Whose world is this?

Song lyric from “The World is Yours”  by NAS

So whose world is it?  Is it yours? Is it mine? And what difference does it make?

When we look at the world what do we see?  Do you look out and see a world that’s waiting to be occupied, utilized, cultivated, and improved upon?  Do you look upon the land and see the abundance of opportunities just waiting to be seized upon?  What do you see when the world is yours?  What do you see when the world is mine?

For better or worse we have been conditioned in this country to see the world, through the eyes of “me”.  We have been raised and participate in a world that encourages us to strive to be individualized.  To stand as one and to seize on those opportunities that benefit us and may bring us better standing.

I am currently reading Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology by Daniel L. Migliore for my Religion and Media class and today we talked about creation.  Migliore writes, “Humanity and the other creatures are bound together in suffering and hope.”(pg.98)  This challenges the belief that the world and everything that is outside of the individual is objectified and available for individual use as you or I may see fit.

Historically, Christianity hasn’t done the best job of communicating being bound together with the rest of creation.  Often times people will go the creation stories in the Bible and cite that famous passage in Genesis talking about having dominion over the earth and how the other things that God has created are for human use.  In fact many have used this passage as a justification to exploit and harm what God has created for personal gain.  As we go forward and continue to examine the ways that individuals, families, corporations and countries discuss how we relate to others, including animals and natural resources, perhaps the Church can help reframe and reclaim how we see the world.

Perhaps we could offer for people to see the world as ours, as an interconnected gift from God.

I’ll close with a music video from the rock group Pearl Jam.  What images grab you?  How do you see religious symbols being used in this video and what are they trying to communicate? Do you agree with their assessment?

The World is Yours by Nas  (Lyrics PG-13)

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Trying to look at what can’t be seen.

I swear this blog wasn’t my idea.  Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll be able to cut it as a full-time blogger, but at least for the next few weeks I’m going to see if I can play in the big leagues as I fire this blog up as part of a Religion and Media course that I’m taking as a result of a new partnership between the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Luther Seminary.  Over the course of the next couple weeks, I’ll be offering some thoughts and reflections on things that are taking place inside and outside of our classroom.  My hope is that you’ll follow and participate with me in this journey and we’ll find out together where this thing is going to go.

If you were following the news today at some point you probably heard about the death of Tony Scott.  For those of you are unaware of Tony Scott was a big time Hollywood director and producer whose credits include Top Gun, Enemy of the State, and more recently Unstoppable.  Sadly, it was reported later today that perhaps one of the reasons that Mr. Scott chose to take his life was because he had inoperable brain cancer.

Upon hearing this news, my attention turned much closer to home and to the news that was shared with the LTSG community earlier this summer with unexpected retirement of Rev. Dr. Susan K. Hedahl.  I had come to know Dr. Hedahl over the course of the last couple of years as one of her students and found her personal words from her blog upon sharing her diagnosis with the world to be powerful, poignant, filled with grace and hope, even as she reflected on what her future may hold.  I think the statement that jumped out to me the most was when she said, “I have the most agrresive (sic) form of brain cancer one can get and I will physicallly die from this.”  Dr. Hedahl’s words about the looking towards end of her life communicates that death will not have the final word.  These words and the words that follow come across as being liberating and that there even in the face of death Dr. Hedahl reminds us that there is life to live.

When you look to the lives of Mr. Scott and Dr. Hedahl and how they’ve chosen to respond to their diagnoses, one is left to ponder what words and actions have been given to and shared with them that helped informed the choices that they have made.  I don’t pretend to know all of the details and experiences that have influenced and impacted their lives, but I’m left to wonder what words could have been shared with Mr. Scott that may have given him hope even in the face of death.

I know that as a person of the Christian faith I find the words of 2nd Corinthians that speak not only of hope, but of promise in the face of death. “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (4:16-18)

None of us are able to escape death. One day I too, will die.  But even as our bodies will ultimately fail, I find comfort and courage in knowing that the One who raised Jesus will also raise us with him.

Even though I will never have another class with Dr. Hedahl, she continues to teach me by the way she chooses to live.

On this day may we pray for those who are affected by cancer as well as for those who mourn the lost of loved ones.

UPDATE:  after composing this post, I read that it appears that Tony Scott did not have brain cancer. 

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