Tonight, I went to a worship service outside of my own context. It's a different tradition. It's a different environment. It's just plain different on many levels. And perhaps what was most different about this service was the music -- hip hop. I'm surprised (and I must admit a tad disappointed) that this church is the only one in Harlem that is "brave enough" to welcome children and youth into its doors to play with worship. Kids were rapping. Kids were moving about in the space. Kids were talking about what God really means to them. It was real. It was worship should be about -- especially with our children.
I think the music was great. It's not what play on my iPod. But, I think it's great. What I don't like is our differences. I know that we do not have the same theology. But, there is something about this that truly bothers me. But before I begin whining about this difference, let's start with the Word. As the preacher said (and I really liked this), This is the Word of God for the People of God that we might not hear the Word but that we might do the Word. But, in this case, read and I will do my bit:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
John 15:12-15, KJV
The preacher focused on that middle bit about friendship. We all have someone that we can count on. We have someone that will be there through thick and thin. Great, I hope that we are all that lucky because that is truly a blessing. And Lord knows that true friendships are rare and precious. Then, he jumps into this thing about if that loyal and trusting friend would die for you. Now, my boy Martin Luther King Jr. once said that you haven't found a reason to live if you haven't found something to die for. I struggle with this. While it elevates the precious gift that life truly is, doesn't it also affirm all that terrible atonement stuff? Aren't we falling back into this mode of needing to be a good Christian? This is that self-sacrificing stuff. We are supposed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. This faith teaches that we are supposed to offer our own lives to follow the will of God. I just have to ask: how can you be so certain?
When women stay in abusive marriages because they are doing the right thing by Christ, how can you be so sure? When a child never hears an affirming word from a parent, how can you be so sure? When a woman is raped but believes it was the will of God because she was in that place and that time, how can you be so sure? The permutations are endless. The abuse doesn't stop. The violence only increases. How in the world can you be so sure?
And if you are sure, then why is offering one's life the only mark of friendship? What about how Jesus healed? What about the love that Jesus offered before the cross? What about the sharing of food? What about all of that other stuff? When we spend time to reflect on the kind of friend that Jesus was... to Mary, to the Beloved Disciple, to Peter, to John... do we find no other alternative than self sacrificing love? Is there another way that Jesus demonstrated his vast and awesome love for humankind? If we think about this kind of love -- where Jesus washed feet, shared what he had and kept the party going in Cana -- isn't there another kind of friendship? Isn't this what that last verse is really about? Or is it tied up in this will of God that you nor I can define simply because we are not God.