Suffering Prophets (Reflection)

Emil-Nolde-Prophet-1912I am re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s book Prophetic Imagination with some friends who meet every other week for discussion and breakfast. It is amazing to read a book so many years after first looking at it to see where you have grown. My sense is that I have moved from a pastor who had some prophetic inklings earlier in my ministerial life to a radical prophet who recognizes the need to also be a healer/pastor if I am to be an effective proclaimer and enactor of Christ’s “utopian” Kingdom.

In the second edition preface to the book, Brueggemann states, “… ‘prophetic imagination’ requires more than the old liberal confrontation if the point is not posturing but effecting change in social perspective and social policy.” This means that if the goal is a societal change, which is what the prophet is calling for, not reform, but revolution, then simply joining a liberal justice group to protest this or that injustice or inequality is not prophetic.

The prophets of old and the prophets of our age were all willing to suffer or die for structural societal change. They didn’t choose or seek out suffering, but they knew that the true prophetic path was one of suffering and self-sacrifice. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. were all willing (albeit reluctantly sometimes) to put their lives on the line for the sake of enacting God’s just and beloved community. Jesus, of course, was and is the exemplar prophet who sacrificed his own life for the whole world.

Martin Luther King said, “A person who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.” Certainly, MLK was following the prophetic path of Jesus when he said this. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Thus, the prophetic path is not set aside for a group of select, elite individuals or “leaders,” but Jesus is saying that all of his followers will be suffering prophets for the sake of the whole world, for the future City of God.

As we live in the heart of the U.S. empire, whose government is wreaking havoc on the whole world, where are the prophets, where are the followers of Christ willing to go the cross to enact the future City of God, what I have called the Commonweal of Love?

We are at a critical point in history, an opportune time to move the evolutionary process of humanity forward, a liminal period to fundamentally change the social structure from one that oppresses the masses for the sake of the few towards a new society based on meeting the needs of all people. To do that we need those who are called to be prophets to accept their calls to suffer, to sacrifice, and to enact the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

© Paul Dordal, 2017

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Zoe, Agape, Kairos: A Material Spirituality (Reflection)

dance editThe material world is, and the spiritual world is. As we live in the here and now of the material, temporal realm, we, nevertheless, integrate our spiritual, eternal lives in the here and now as well. Spiritual people do not separate the natural from the supernatural; they never negate the physical to validate the metaphysical.

Yet, the body is barren without the breath of the spirit (pneuma), as the spirit is formless without the body (soma). Beauty cannot exist without both as the body is lifeless without the soul, and the soul cannot be beheld without the body.

The relational perichoretic of the Trinity brings this notion to the really real—the supranatural. The Father is the creator of biological life (bios) and gives second-birth by the spiritual life (zoe). The incarnated Child takes physical love (eros) and elevates it through the self-sacrificial Cross (agape). The Mother Spirit labors to effect the movement of evolution (chronos) and moves to effect needed revolutions at just the right time (kairos).

Thus, matter/intellect and spirit/emotion are always working together, as positive theses and anti-theses, to generate new syntheses that create the possibility of an eschatologically free, equal, just and beautiful world: The City (polis) of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Multi-Being Vs. Multi-Tasking (Reflection)

being-461780_960_720Recently, I typed “How To Multi-Task” in my web search engine and got back over 10 million hits. Multi-tasking, it seems, is a highly treasured skill. The dictionary says multi-tasking is the ability to “perform more than one task or activity at a time.” Of course, many high-functioning, go-getter-types claim to be great multi-taskers, presumably because that’s what employers and organizational leaders are looking for.

But there is a problem. The human brain was not designed to multi-task. In fact, what is actually happening is not multi-tasking at all, but multi-switching.  “Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”[i] Furthermore, research shows that the more we try to multi-task, the less we accomplish. Our brains are designed to focus, not multi-task.

This got me thinking about a sticky note that I have on my computer screen at the hospital where I minister as a chaplain.  The sticky note says,

Ministry Goals:

  1. Be Available
  2. Be Present
  3. Be Not Rushing
  4. Be Intentional
  5. Be Mercy-Full

Those five “be” statements really are what I attempt to be and to grow into being.  When I am with someone or a group of people, I am to a greater or lesser degree “being” with them. So, really I desire to be good at multi-“be”ing, not multi-tasking. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably not being available or fully present. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably rushing.

Jesus perfectly exemplified the “multi-being,” non-multi-tasking lifestyle. When he was told his best friend Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus stayed focused where he was on the people and mission before him. When he had finished his ministry in that place, Jesus left to go to Lazarus’ home and found that he had died. Jesus wept openly at his burial place, and the people said, “See, how he loved him” (Jn 11:36).  Jesus was always available and present to those who were with him; he was always intentional, full of mercy, and not rushing.

Unfortunately, the typical capitalist business environment of do more, do it perfect, and do it now is antithetical to being human and certainly not multi-being. Businesses and other organizations who desire people to multi-task do not care for their workers. They are oppressing them. And the irony is that it is scientifically impossible to multi-task and multi-tasking actually lowers productivity.  So, let’s promote multi-being, rather than multi-tasking.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could change the name from busi-ness to being-ness.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Reference

[i] Anonymous. “Multitasking: Switching costs.” American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006. Downloaded on August 15, 2017 from http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx.

You Say You Want A Revolution? (Reflection)

revolution of loveThere is a significant amount of chatter about revolution lately. However, I am not impressed with what I am hearing from certain corners. Several spiritual writers that I read have mentioned the need for a spiritual revolution (Google the term to get a taste). Of course, Trump, Sanders, and others from mainstream political parties have spoken of a political revolution (and look at the fine mess we have gotten into Ollie). But, ala Inigo Montaya, I don’t think revolution means what many people who use the word think it means.

Even the dictionary seems to correctly understand revolution as something people do, not what people say. A revolution has two qualities, and the first is “a sudden, radical, or complete change” of a social system. This understanding of revolution is closely tied to its root word “revolt,” which means that a revolution is the process of people revolting against power structures. Thus, revolution is not when well-known spiritual writers or politicians wax eloquently, yet benignly, about spiritual or political change. Revolution, spiritually and politically, is renouncing allegiance or subjection to a corrupt structural and systemic power. It is the action of joining others to overthrow corrupt political structures (like capitalism) or for religious folk the corrupt religious structures (i.e., dogmatic denominations/churches). So, it should be clear that these “spiritual writers” and “mainstream politicians” are really talking about reform, and not revolution.

The second quality of revolution is also fairly easy to understand. A revolution is an “action by which a celestial body goes around in an orbit or elliptical course.” Something that is revolutionary, then, is ongoing. In a spiritual sense, a revolutionary is someone who is radically repenting (changing) in a continual dialectical fashion. Just like a radical is someone who gets to the root of a thing, a revolutionary is someone who recognizes and operates in a recurrent dialectic of being changed spiritually and socially and changing corrupt spiritual and social structures to liberate others. It is a constant process of death and resurrection, of acknowledging blindness and then seeing, over and over again.

It is quite different from semper reformanda. It is semper revolutio!

Jesus clearly was a revolutionary in this sense. He wanted to tear down the temple and rebuild it differently (Jn 3:19). He called us to hate our own parents, siblings, and even our own life in as much as they/we were participating in oppressive systems (Lk 14:26). Jesus told us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor, in order not to be corrupted by greed (Lk 12:33). Yes, the revolutionary Christian is always working towards personal/spiritual and political/social change by radically sacrificing oneself for the cause of others: “We know what love is because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other” (1 Jn 3:16).

This can be frightening stuff, yet it is also quite liberating. This understanding of a revolutionary spirit is needed to recognize the futility of reforms at this stage. Real paradigmatic change has always come through revolutions, not by reforms. Furthermore, it is well-known that the powers that control much of society, whether political or religious, will only allow reforms up to a point and will never relinquish their domination of and stranglehold on the masses. Reforms will never wrest power away from the oppressors and give it back to the people.

Only revolutionary work—both spiritual and political—only a mass movement of the people working together to take power back from the oppressors will result in equality and freedom for all. We need both a spiritual and social revolution, and they must work dialectically as well. And it’s not enough to change society, we must simultaneously help humans have a spiritual awakening to be in concert with the knowledge and purposes of The Holy Spirit.

For the sake of our families, our communities, our world, it is time for Christians to take up our crosses and truly follow a revolutionary Jesus (Lk 9:23).

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Nothing Else Matters (Reflection)

Nothing20Else20MattersFaith (God)
At the foundation of our lives is our faith, whether we are aware of it or not. Now, faith is not just a simple belief in something or someone; faith is where we place our hope, trust, our dependence. As small children, our faith was in our parents, who provide everything for us. As we got older, and more independent, we begin to adjust our faith dependency to other people or even things: teachers, friends, religions, political systems/figures, intellect, science, money, self-image, etcetera.  But, if we are honest, we soon come to realize that our parents or other people or things or systems or intellect are not 100% worthy of our trust. These people, things, etc., are very fallible and sometimes (or oftentimes) harmful or unhealthy.

However, if we were fortunate to have been brought up in a healthy, nurturing family system that emphasized a truly loving, gracious God as foundational or we later discovered a truly loving, gracious God (without being constrained to a strict dogmatic religious construct) our faith may be said to be based on the eternal spiritual foundation of love. This is what St. John discovered when he said, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Thus, what matters, first and foremost, is expressing our faith in love as the meaning and purpose of our lives: “When we are in Christ, being religious or not doesn’t mean anything. What matters most is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).

Family (Jesus)
Moving forward from this eternally existent foundation of faith as the crux of what matters in life, we practice faith expressing itself in love in our present lives to our fellow beings. We live and love out of the “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27) This is filial love, the love of other not as other but as an extension of our very own humanity—our family. The Christ that is in me is the Christ that is in you. We are indeed all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our view of the world then becomes this: there are no borders, or nations, or religions, or politics, or any constructs that can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. We are all interconnected by a Divine Reality. When we move beyond the dualistic belief that there is a material reality separate from the spiritual reality, and instead move towards an integrated spiritual/material reality, the barriers that separate us are broken down. As I said in my last post, the dividing veil has been torn in two. We were blind, but now we see through the veil (or the pall), and the indwelling Christ compels us to love the world.

Future (Holy Spirit)
Therefore, we recognize that to live in the here and now as faith expressing itself in love means that we are being called to co-create another world—a just world—a Society or Commonweal of Love—the eternal City of God. The divided world we are now living in needs reconciliation (re-integration), and the movement towards our preferable future is no less than a social revolution. Prior to being able to co-create this world means, of course, destroying the idolatrous world of harmful dualistic beliefs, systems, and structures which are not life-giving, but life-destroying. Our call, especially as those who name the Name of Christ, is to become revolutionaries who struggle, yes even with those who do not name the Name of Christ, but who understand the struggle and need to co-create God’s Commonweal of Love.

So, nothing else matters except our eternal God-given faith in Christ expressing itself in love to our family (the whole world) and participating with the Spirit in the co-creation of the eternal City of God.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Overcoming Sin: Restoring Right Relationships (Reflection)

we-shall-overcomeOne of the most profound statements of the angels who announced the coming of Jesus was that “Jesus will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

Recently, I had a conversation about sin with one of the student chaplains at the hospital where I work. He is a recent seminary graduate, fresh with a command of systematic theology. After a bit of back and forth on the nature of sin, my final question to him was, But just what is sin? Initially, he gave the typical dictionary and theological answers. Dictionary: An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. Theology: Sin is “missing the mark,” and the “mark” is God’s moral law. The moral law has to do with purity or holiness, for God is Holy. He also noted that there were sins of commission and sins of omission. This is standard Sunday School fare, really.

When I challenged him to go deeper, about the effect of these individual sins, what they caused, he was able to quickly recognize the relational basis for sin. He said, what I had hoped he would conclude, “Ultimately, sin is broken relationships.”

It is quite disconcerting that most Western constructs of sin interpret sin in a very individualized manner with a focus on personal holiness (moral living). The scriptures most often misquoted to support this individualism come from the Old Testament: “Your sins have separated you from your God” (Is 59:2). (Though, clearly, this should be interpreted collectively, as in Israel). And especially, David, who said, “Against you [God] and you alone have I sinned” (Ps 51:4).

But is this true? Did David sin only against God. Is sin primarily a private affair between individuals and God? Undoubtedly, we have to say no to this. Undoubtedly, our sins against God are primarily relational sins against our own selves and others (which includes God, of course). David’s sins were against his own body and other people. Is not God, represented in David’s cry, the entirety of David’s relational world. Misinterpreting David’s assessment of his personal failings reduces the goal of life to personal moral sin avoidance or “personal holiness,” which further disembodies and detaches us from the material reality of our inherent interconnectedness.

Nevertheless, when we view sin primarily as broken relationships (or matters of justice), we must still begin with ourselves. We begin with the brokenness of self, which is a lack of understanding our own true belovedness–our innate relatedness to God and others. When we recognize our broken relationship with God, we realize our failure to understand and abide in God’s perfect love for us and respond to God with reciprocating love. Our broken relationships with ourselves and God leads us to regularly respond in selfish ways which leads to despair and a cycle of sinful behavior–of more broken relationships. Our shortsighted selfishness leads us to break relationships with others, primarily because of our own brokenness, but other’s brokenness as well.

The key to overcoming sin, then, to restoring our broken relationships, is to confront our own sinfulness, our own intra-relational brokenness. We do this by recognizing, receiving, and abiding in Christ as perfect love, sitting at the foot of the Cross, and reciprocating our received love towards God and others. This experience of God as perfect love inevitably will lead to us engaging in the joy-filled, blessed, but hard work of reconciling ourselves to others, of reconciling the whole world to Christ.

Thus, Jesus is the foundation of saving our broken relationships, of saving us from our sins. This is the work of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the restoration of the Garden of Eden, the bringing of justice on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, we are each called to live a cross-life, receiving and abiding in Christ’s perfect love for us, and bearing our own crosses for the world (see Figure 1).

relational-restoration-graphic

(c) Paul Dordal, 2017

I Don’t Believe The Way You Do: And I’m Still A Catholic!

conformity-2It is clear that Jesus was not a member of any of the sects of Judaism in his time (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or Zealots). Jesus was critical of much of these sect’s beliefs and practices, but also praised them when they were in line with the goodness and love of God. Jesus was not beholden to one theological construct over another, and Jesus never identified with any of these sects as his own. He simply was a “believer” and called God his Father. Jesus was a universalist; he was for everyone, and that is why Jesus was a Catholic.

In his book, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, scholar and Catholic priest Raymond Brown found seven distinct traditions in the various churches that were started by the apostles. Brown said, “There is no reason why there could not have been in the one city house churches of different traditions….”[i] Yet, Brown shows that even though these churches had different traditions and theological emphases, they would have still have been in communion with one another.

So, Jesus was not a member of any sect, and the early Christians did not practice exclusivism even as members of unique traditions. Yet, today Christians, to become members of churches, are obliged to hold to the distinctives of the various denominations and sects of Christianity, which way too often do not have communion with one another. Even within a particular tradition there are those who would criticize and even condemn those who don’t hold perfectly to a certain “party-line” of dogmatic teachings. Rigid religious exclusivism abounds and is often encouraged!

This is why I am advocating well-ordered anarchism as the solution to the exclusivism nightmare from which so many Christians cannot seem to awake. I want us all to be Catholics (universalists), if you will, no matter what group or non-group you identify with. All who even remotely have faith in Jesus are Catholics, no matter if some Grand Poohbah, clergy person, or even the person sitting next to you in a pew tries to say otherwise. You are free in Christ! You are beautiful before God!

Some of the issues of which I have been indoctrinated by an Evangelical or conservative Catholic upbringing are simply man-made constructs based on a narrow and often times erroneous interpretation of Scripture. For instance, Just-War Theory simply does not line up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Rigid and absolutist teachings about divorce and remarriage, male-only clergy, hierarchical organization, homosexuality, abortion, capitalism, and how we see other religions are simply unhelpful and, worse, they are hurtful and oppressive.

It is time to do away with the denominations, do away with rigid dogmatism, do away with systems of theology which are exclusivist, do away with church institutionalism, and to embrace the diversity of belief which Jesus and the early church proclaimed and embraced.  It is time to see God for who God really is and always has been: Ultimate Love! When we do this, we can be like Jesus, the One and True Catholic.

© Paul Dordal, 2017

Note
[i] Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, 23.

Hospital Chaplaincy: “Hi-Touch”

hi-touch(This post was originally published in the National VA Chaplain Center’s Newsletter, Spirit of the Chaplaincy, Vol. 7, No. 2, November, 2016)

I want to honor a person who has touched the lives of thousands of people through the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. In honoring the Rev. Eugene “Gene” Reddel, who was my CPE supervisor from 2012-13, I don’t just want to sing his praises, but also share a critical lesson he taught that helped me transform from a proclamational pastor to an incarnational chaplain.

Gene had a profound impact on my life as a chaplain and as a person, as well as hundreds of other CPE students throughout his over 40-year career in the VA. I am now serving as a Clinical Chaplain and ACPE Supervisory Candidate at VA Pittsburgh, in part, because of Gene. Gene retired in 2015, and now several of us are capturing some of the “sayings” of this wise sage. Many of Gene’s sayings, of course, are not his own. They are the accumulated wisdom of his 50+ years in ministry.

As a learner, I have a tendency to adapt what I learn to my own understanding. One of Gene’s sayings was, “Hospital chaplaincy is hi-touch whereas medicine is hi-tech.” I understood immediately the contrast that Gene was pointing out. What Gene was trying to convey to us is that hi-touch does not necessarily mean physical touch, but a more sublime spiritual touch.

But I had a problem.

I was a talker. I originally understood my pastoral ministry as hi-talk, and not just the pastoral care recipient’s talk, but my own as well. I was very apt to tell a story, or, really, to sermonize my patients. One of my consulting supervisors assessed me as wanting to be a W.O.R.M.—a Wise Old Religious Man. However, I began to realize that my hi-talk ministry was not helping me connect spiritually with the Veterans. Chaplains use of words are still necessary and important, for prayer and spiritual assessments, but it was a real spiritual presence (hi-touch), not necessarily words, that I needed to be proficient in a clinical setting. So, I began to practice silence in my visits with Veterans.

To become a hi-touch chaplain, I had to grow my own sense of spiritual touch. I had to learn that silence does “speak” a clear word; and for me to hear I had to be totally present to the other. To do so meant that I had to be deeply “in touch” with myself if I was going to spiritually “touch” the lives of others.

Spiritual touch is what happens when little is said but much is experienced. People in deep friendships often say that with their close friends there is little need to talk. We just enjoy being in each other’s presence. This is how God touches us as well. God enjoys being in our presence. We can sit at the feet of God and touch Divine Mystery. Similarly, we can sit at each other’s feet and experience the God in each of us. Being hi-touch chaplains means developing the spiritual skill of touching soul-to-soul and heart-to-heart, of really hearing the inner-life or the spirit of those we care for.

Today, in my orientations to CPE students I’ll share, “The spirit of chaplaincy isn’t hi-tech or hi-talk, but hi-touch.” Some students smile when they hear it, or respond by saying ooh or ah. Though I am aware that using this saying might be playing into my wanting to be a W.O.R.M., it will always remind me of my supervisor, Gene Reddel, who helped me become an incarnational listener— a hi-touch chaplain.

© Paul Dordal, 2016

Change Your World

change-your-worldOur individual responsibility is not to change the world, but to change our own world, to open ourselves to God to transform our inner selves into Christ. Then we will act more authentically in the world.Then we can become transformative agents in the world.  Then we can participate in God’s ongoing evolutionary work in bringing heaven to earth.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016

A Theology of the Stoop (Reflection)

martha-and-kids-on-a-stoop-on-ward-ave-in-s-bronxWhen I was five years old, I remember my twin brother, Pete, and I hanging out on our stoop at 1132 Ward Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx. It was one of those hot, humid New York City summer days.  One of the neighborhood boys visited our stoop and showed us that he had a firecracker left over from the Fourth of July.  We told him to set it off on the sidewalk, but he decided to stick the firecracker in some freshly laid dog shit near a tree in front of our stoop.

Our young friend lit the firecracker and we all ran away as fast as we could.  But it didn’t go off. So we all went towards the pile to investigate.  When we had put our faces close the firecracker, it suddenly went off and dog shit was all over our faces.  Pete and I ran up to our third story apartment, screaming for our mother, who when she saw us started yelling and cursing at us in Spanish.  We were already pretty embarrassed, but now we were really scared, because we were sure to get the belt for this. But then something different happened.  My mother started to laugh hysterically, and so did we!

I have so many precious memories of sitting and playing on the stoop – especially during the hot summers, because no one had air conditioning.

You know, air conditioning isn’t really all that it’s cracked up to be. I think they should rename air conditioners Relationship Minimizing Cooling Mechanisms.  Far too many people today who live in air conditioned homes, including myself, live out their mode of hot weather existence by going from the perceived comfort of their faux cooled homes into their Freon chilled automobiles in order to get to some other climate controlled indoor man-made place of economic mass consumption.

Yet, for the multitudes of New Yorkers in the not so distant past, air conditioning was a luxury which only the very wealthy could afford.  The rest of us sat on stoops.  And not just when it was hot.  We sat there as long as it wasn’t absolutely freezing.  The stoop was the inner city playground of both adults and children in my place in the Bronx.  It was from there you picked your teams for stick ball on car lined streets or to dry off after splashing in the spewing water of an open fire hydrant. It was where you would take your seat in the community.  The stoop is where you get to sit down and enjoy Sabbath rest.  The stoop was where real life and relationships happened.

Mario Maffi said, “In the ghetto neighborhoods [of New York City] especially, stoops served many different functions…. These elevated platforms were ideal for observation, courting, a chat, or gossip….” (2004:8). Stoops were the center of life, of relational life, of what Jesus called zoe, or spiritual life.  The stoops were the relational circuits where we visited each other in our neighborhoods.

Two years ago I took my family from Pittsburgh, where we live now, back to the South Bronx.  I wanted to take a picture of us all sitting on my old stoop.  I told my children many stories of my childhood, including how when I went trick or treating I had to catch candy in my bag that was thrown from apartment windows five, sometimes ten, stories up.  I told them the old Puerto Rican wives’ tale that when it rained and it was sunny out, witches were having a barbeque.  Don’t ask.  I have no idea.  I told them how excited I was about the ghost the whole community came out to fight one summer’s evening; how I cried when a little baby died in a fire in the corner apartment building; how happy I was to find a quarter in front of the stoop, and I how I used it to buy a Matchbox™ car at the corner Bodega. I remember the fun Pete and I had racing up and down the block as my Dad timed us from the stoop.  I recalled with great fondness the loudness of it all, of having to scream for my mother to give me permission to cross the street.  She would then yell from the window, overlooking the stoop, when it was safe.

And then I told my family about the myriad uncles, aunts, and cousins on the block, each with their own stoops, stoops to visit, stoops to be with others.  I remember Uncle Dario who couldn’t hear too well, Uncle George with his huge Afro, Titi Nilda, Titi Lucy, Titi Martha, and Blanca and Carmen. They either lived on the block or they were somehow always there, and, of course, every other adult on the block was my “uncle” or “aunt.” Who really was your uncle or aunt or cousin back then was a complete mystery. Anyone allowed to spank you was somehow related to you; and there was a lot of spanking going on. I wasn’t told until I was in my twenties that my Titi Livia and my Uncle Dario were unrelated to me.  But we were related — much in the same way I am related to Jesus.

Because the stoop is where Jesus is.  Always, Jesus is waiting there to be with us, to visit with us, to commune with us, to abide in us, to be with us.  “Then God came out from heaven, became a human being in Jesus, and Jesus moved into El Barrio to hang out on the stoop with us” (see Jn 1:14). The stoop is a sacred space; it is holy ground; it is an altar in the ‘hood.  It is where heaven and earth intersect, where “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Ps 85:11, NABRE).

The dictionary definition of stoop is primarily a verb. It means to “come down from a height; to abase; to humble; to submit.” To be on the stoop is to stoop.  God comes to my stoop as the One who is grounded in my reality, as the One who wants to display the truest way of life in humility.  God submits God-self to me, God’s creature, in order that I might be One with God and all creation.  To be on the stoop is to be real, to manifest my truest self to God and my fellow creature.  When I visit others on the stoop, I am called to remove my masks, to reveal my vulnerable, interdependent, and authentic self to the other.

On the stoop Jesus, the real God, comes to visit with His real people. In the Canticle of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist praises God for the soon coming of Jesus the Messiah saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people. Because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Lk 1:68, 78-79, NABRE). What great news!  Emmanuel!  God with us on the stoop!

Yet after visiting my old stoop, waves of sadness came over me.  I realized that I, like so many others, can’t seem to really find my way back to the stoop.  I cannot find my way back to deep community. I have chosen separation and loneliness apart from God and neighbor.  It’s not that I want to be lonely; I desperately want deep communion with God and others.  But I have bought into the lie of the consumer society, and that the pain of my loneliness and separation is more bearable than the effort it would take to be restored to blessed community. Thus, I really haven’t felt it necessary or even prudent to go back to try and restore myself to the stoop of Christ.

Why? I am hurting; I am afraid!  I have an idolatrous desire to be air conditioned, away from God and others, superficially dabbling in religiosity, playing roles instead of living out of my brokenness.

So I no longer need to visit the stoop of my nostalgic past, but I have discovered I need to be restored to the stoop of my eternal now.

Today, I define my being lost as not knowing where my true stoop is – to be out of deep, growing relationships with God and others.  To be lost and alone is what it might mean to sit in darkness and death’s shadow.  The Israelites said, when you were lost and alone, you were outside the camp. Bronxites would say you were missing from the stoop.  Jesus might lament saying, “you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:44b, NABRE).

My heart’s desire is that I would be restored and gathered to my stoop, enjoying shalom and Shabbat with God, my family, my neighbor, being found and in community where there is neither black nor white, male nor female, religious nor atheist, but all are one with and in Christ, visiting, sitting, and abiding on the stoop together with Christ on earth as it is heaven.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2016