This weekend, theologian Matthew Fox came to lead a three-day series of workshops and lectures at my church. Now, before you stop reading because I used the words “theologian” and “church,” I promise this isn’t going to be some heavy-handed religious post. I was interested to hear Matt speak because my minister and good friend, Jeff, loves him. To be honest, the only other people I’ve heard Jeff refer to with such deference are: the Beatles, U2, and this other Irish dude who lives on the Isle of Man, John Bell. So, I was fascinated to meet someone Jeff refers to as a modern day prophet.
For me, no surprise, that person is Jeff. He has been my teacher since I was in 8th grade. I’m tickled pink we are such good friends today.
I missed Friday night’s lecture for the flopped dinner party, but attended 7 hours of lecture and workshops Saturday. Matt has written a book called, “Creativity,” among many others. The workshops were art-inspired, including mural making, mosaic, prose, etc. I led one on community gardening that was a lot of fun. After observing him on Saturday with such rapt attention, I was beginning to see why he draws such a crowd. He emphasized compassion repeatedly and talked about how being comfortable with silence is critical to hearing and appreciating the Holy Spirit. What he had to say resonated. I was truly looking forward to the sermon on Sunday.
Fast forward 18 hours and you can imagine my dismay when Matt stood to speak about “Jesus in 2009,” and spent the next half an hour pointing out the injustices in our society. He had four pages of yellow paper that he read bullet points from. They included things like, “Jesus is in the homeless man at the central Phoenix church who no longer receives a free meal because the neighborhood is up in arms,” etc. Four pages. 30 minutes. And a lot of anger.
Matt was defrocked by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) for believing in original blessing vs. original sin. I’m summarizing greatly, but essentially decades of work as a priest were ground to a halt over a difference of dogma, which today manifests in Matt’s work with a bit of an angry edge. Not bitter necessarily, but you could certainly tell by this sermon that he was less than pleased to have been so publicly embarrassed.
His list of errs in our society got me thinking about the way I see Jesus in 2009. (This is where this post may get a little heavy-handed, fyi. But you are this far, so why not stick around?)
In contrast to all that is wrong with Phoenix, Arizona, the United States, the earth and universe — here are a few ways I see Christ as the embodiment of love, compassion, hope and light alive and well today:
Ginny Hildebrand has led the Association of Arizona Food Banks for decades with limited to no recognition. It really is thanks to her incredible patience, hard work and willingness to stick with her mission that thousands of Arizonans get enough to eat daily. She answers phones late at night to make sure hungry mothers get food boxes (no exaggeration), travels to Washington DC regularly to get our congress people to pay attention to the wide swaths of rural Arizona with very hungry folk, and blushes when you thank her. She is selfless and my community is better for it.
Randy Yavitz is a lawyer who has 4 acres he gardens in central Phoenix. Last year he donated thousands of pounds of produce to the food banks because using the land for good makes sense. He works two hours in his garden each morning before he goes to work a full day to make sure this happens. He is generous and my community is better for it.
The 1700 folks who walked the Breast Cancer 3-day this weekend and raised gobs of money for mammograms, research and treatment. You are warriors for change and my community is better for it.
Sam Richard, who is the most effective networker I have ever met, is the future of Phoenix. He writes about a dozen blogs, lobbies, pickets, volunteers and pushes us all to get going toward social change. He knows how to rally a neighborhood and work through politics to see things improve. I can tell as his friend that he so desperately wants Phoenix to be more socially progressive and he’s willing to work at it 18 hours a day. He does so with very little thanks. He is tireless and my community is better for it.
There is a little boy at my church, one of a dozen children from same-sex partnerships, who had the courage to stand up on Mother’s Day and thank both of his mommies for their love. He is brave and my community is better for it.
I see the light of Christ in my friends who are parents and sacrifice everything — at times including their sanity — to be their very best for their families. In the environmentalists in town who take the bus and the light rail and their bikes even though it means an extra hour each day commuting. In the folks who work at the animal rescue and humane societies, praying today will be the day their nurture pays off with adopted pets. In the man who waits to hold a door open for the next person, the woman who donates her work clothes for homeless women starting over, in children who share, in the Valley Interfaith Project that brings together leaders from many dogma to work together for the betterment of all.
Life is a matter of perspective; my life is full of gratitude, incredible people who inspire, love and compassion. I’d guess Jesus is pissed there are people standing in front of a church, hungry and in need with government standing in the way of their next meal. I’d also guess Jesus in 2009 is an optimist who smiles at the good and hopes there are enough people fueled by love to get motivated.
Sounds like it’s time to call Sam and rally the troops.