About christopherjoiner

A husband, father, and pastor living in Franklin, Tennessee.

The Fullness of Time

Time flies.
This was something I heard older people say all the time when I was younger. “The years just speed by,” they would say, usually remarking how much I’d grown since they saw me last. Truthfully, I never took them seriously. It seemed to me that time was time and it moved at the same pace no matter your age.
Now that I am well into my 50’s, I admit I may have dismissed them too soon. Indeed, time does seem to move more quickly. I find myself saying things like, “Lent snuck up on me,” or “It feels like we just celebrated Easter and here it is again.” And now I have to catch myself before saying to one of the church’s high school seniors, “I knew you when you were a toddler, which seems like just the other day. Time sure flies.”
It is true that time moves at the same pace no matter your age. But it does seem, at least for me, the perception of time’s passage has sped up. I suspect that could be because when I was a child I was pretty good at living in the present. Most kids are. But as we age and take on more responsibilities, it is harder to live in the present, and we have to be more intentional about it.
Lent affords us the invitation to discover the ways God is at work now, to practice disciplines that can have the effect of slowing us down enough to see God’s time embedded in our frenetic time. I love that the Greek language provides two words for time. There is “chronos,” which refers to clock time. This is the time that can seem to speed up or slow down depending on our perception of things. But they gave a second word for time, “Kairos,” to refer to the fullness of time, those moments when time seems to stand still, sacred time – God’s time. I believe this is the time Jesus refers to when he says, “The kingdom of God is near.”
The kingdom, God’s realm, is near. It impinges on our time. It invites us to rest in an alternative time, one in which it is possible to discover amidst the pace of life a harbor of peace.
This Sunday we take up palms and make our way into Holy Week. That week is called Holy because it recounts events central to our faith – the cross and the empty tomb. But it is also called Holy because it gives us space for those events to come alive for us by the power of the Spirit and transform the living of our days. Holy Week is an invitation to Kairos time.

The Poetry of Politics

There will be losers.

There will be winners.

Pray we don’t live as either.

Pray we live otherwise,

By a greater light –

Prose yields to poetry,

The human heart emerges.

Look! Over the long horizon,

Bending toward us,

The community of the beloved,

Home for us all.

As I was preparing last Sunday’s sermon, I thought of so many life-giving conversations I have had over my time as a pastor that were political in nature. When the political conversations were about the horse race, who was going to win or who was going to lose, or whose tribe was superior, they were definitely not life-giving, for any of us. But when, by God’s grace, the conversation slips from the prosaic to the poetic, when it moves to the level of the heart, when we speak of our loves and longings for our common life, of what we are hungering and thirsting for, then it is as if a horizon opens, and we stand on solid and common ground, and the beloved community Dr. King spoke of becomes a possibility, our ultimate home, a foretaste of the realm of God. In thinking about those deeper conversations emerging from our shared longing, the lines above came to me. I share them here with a prayer that we all of us, regardless of how this day ends, will allow the poetry to have its way, and that we may emerge more unified, more closely approximating the beloved community. Because Dr. King was right, “We must live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.”

Black Lives Matter

“N*****r lover!”

I heard it, piercing through the usual noise of kids playing during recess at my elementary school. One student was yelling it at another. Both of them were white. One of them had done or said something that made him the target of the other. To this day, I remember both the phrase, and the response of the one it was yelled at, clearly. He looked up at the red face of the kid who yelled at him and said, “Am not!”

And so it was that they both agreed in that moment that one thing neither of them wanted to be was a person who loved Black people.

I grew up in a place and at a time when it was not unusual for me to hear racial slurs like the one above. For some of my friends and acquaintances…and relatives, the “N-word” rolled off the tongue with the same ease as the word “Y ‘all.” It was just part of the vocabulary of the culture.

I look back on those days with thanksgiving that my mother, going against the cultural grain, told us she better never hear that word or any other racial slur escape our lips. But just because I never said the word doesn’t mean I didn’t drink in the culture of white supremacy that surrounded me and lay within me.

It’s painful for me to write that, but true. White supremacy was part and parcel of my culture growing up.

I have spent the better part of the last fifty-plus years learning the contours of that upbringing, coming to terms with it, and paying attention when I fall back into patterns that subtly convey that the color of my skin is somehow of more worth than someone else’s.

Over the last several years, and prominently in the last few months, I have had to confront structural racism. At times I have been resistant to see racism as structural. After all, I thought, racism is an individual, moral problem. If individuals could overcome their own racial biases, one at a time, then racism would be a thing of the past. When I start thinking that way, I am thankful for voices throughout my life who have reminded me that race is not just an individual failing. It is a systemic failing, one that intersects with gender, class, sexuality, and other dynamics to create an environment in which some lives are valued more than others. Looked at this way, I can stop being so defensive. To say there is such a thing as systemic racism is not a personal attack against White people; rather, it is an acknowledgement that we are one community of human beings, and that this is a problem that has to be addressed as a community.

Or as Paul wrote in Corinthians, “When one part of the body suffers, all suffer with it.”

Whenever someone talks like this in church, they are often met with the line, “Politics doesn’t belong in the church.” I admit I have often said the same. But as a Presbyterian Christian, I know nothing could be further from the truth. Presbyterians have always valued education and a deep engagement with the culture, bringing the Gospel to bear on real life. Politics, insofar as it is the means by which we determine how we will structure our common life, is vitally important to us all and cannot be separated out from our faith lives and our spirituality.

When I came to this church in the summer of 2004, we were heading into a presidential election. That fall, just a few months into my time here, we decided to have a series of Wednesday Night Live sessions entitled, “Politics and the Theology of the Cross.” I remember being so inspired by the ways you all came together to talk politics, to express both agreement and disagreement, and to discover what it looks like to love one another across differences. I will never forget the night that Hugh DuPree, then the Chair of the Williamson County Republican Party, debated Jim Mahurin, who said he was there to represent the Democrats of the county – both of them. What we learned form both of these friends is that our faith doesn’t deny or silence our politics, but it gives us a framework to talk about them without becoming partisan and mean-spirited and self-righteous.

After all, if we all worship the one God of Israel, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, then we know we must guard against the idolatry of imagining God as either a Republican or a Democrat. God is God, and we, and all our ideologies, are not.

When we look at the world that way, we discover ways of being with one another that lift up and not tear down, that speak with respect and not derision, that always embrace the humility that knows there is so much more yet to learn.

This week in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) we are engaging in a Week of Action. It is centered in the conversations that have been happening across our nation regarding race. I pray that each of us can engage with this week in ways that recognize Black Lives Matter not as a partisan exercise, but a deeply faithful attempt to talk politics in church in ways that recognize the work still to be done so that all our human siblings, no matter their color, can flourish in the ways God intends for all.

Paul had it right – “We are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.” May it be so.

 

 

Love in the Time of COVID-19

I was driving yesterday. There are not many cars on the road in these days of quarantine. Suddenly, a SUV quickly came up to the rear of my car, swerved to the passing lane, and raced by me. I caught a quick glance of the driver and wondered where she could be heading so quickly at a time when everything has slowed down. Then I thought of one of my favorite pieces of literature, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This poem is the result. I share it not to make light of these very serious times, but recognizing that one of the ways we get through such times is acknowledging our full humanity, with all the complexity and beauty that entails. I share it along with a prayer for all to be healthy and whole, and in the hope that these days of “social distancing” will be filled with love.

Love in the Time of COVID-19
(with apologies to Marquez)

She drove past, easily
Triple the limit, affording me
Only a glance
Of her eyes – let’s say
Blue,
Of her hands – flashing
Nails – I’m going to say
The color of sun-dappled
Tulips,
Rushing not to the grocery
For the last roll,
Not to the theater for
The last show,
Not to the
Diner for the last
Supper,
(Go with me on this)
She careens toward
Home,
And the arms of her beloved,
Her breath catching at the thought
Of quiet,
Of the still night untroubled by
Fevered commerce,
Of time stretching out
For as long as the fever
Lasts.

Following

I am more and more convinced of the simple Christian truth that doctrine, important as it is, is only the simplest of beginnings when it comes to professing faith in Christ. Doctrine is too easily manipulated, too quickly used to draw up sides and cast stones. Doctrine is necessary, but alone…it is not enough.

Jesus did not call us to assent to doctrine. He called us to follow. Until we put our bodies where our words and thoughts are, our faith is incomplete. Until our commitments line up with our creeds, our creeds ring hollow.

Of course, none of us can follow perfectly. We respond to God’s grace and rely on God’s grace. That’s the hard truth behind the call to take up our cross and follow. It is in the cross where we find the grace that enables us to walk in the way of Christ.

In the end, I believe we who claim Christ are being formed in the shape of the cross, the shape of self-giving love. May it be so for us, for the sake of the world.

Bright Room

The sun sets in the west

(As you know).

What you may not know

Is the wisdom

Of whoever decided

To build all the houses

On our street

Westward facing,

So we might behold

In our sun-blinded, enlightened

Bedrooms something of the glory,

Each evening,

Of that first morning,

When the angels sang

And God said,

“It is good.”

A Quick Poem on the Longest Night

If it was the summer solstice

It would, even now, be shimmering,

The rocks and trees aglow,

Hiding in the light the fact that each

Day would be shorter than the next,

The darkness gaining ground.

But on this, the longest night,

The lingering darkness harbors

No illusions.

It is as dark as it can be.

Tomorrow, and the day after,

Light regains its footing,

A sign,

Surely?