Yesterday I included in my blog the obituary for a jazz pianist from New Orleans. This musician lived to be 69, he perfected his craft while living with blindness, his library of work was ruined in the New Orleans flood, and he lived through a number of challenges and all the while created wonderful music and photography. I received this obituary from a friend who had read one of my previous blogs on theodicy, how we live by faith knowing that some are afflicted and some are not, that somehow people of faith manage to live through adulthood and never consider that affliction comes to the just until it happens to them. I wrote in my blog that I find such late revelations surprising considering that we hear every day terrible afflictions being experienced by innocent and just people but only really come to grips with this reality of God’s presence when the affliction comes to us.
Somehow this just, innocent and creative man was afflicted but in spite of this he carried on with a sense of adventure and possibility. My friend wanted me to know he had been thinking of my blog, this obituary was exhibit A of my thesis. I included it as a blog yesterday because it represented to me all those lives we never know, persons just like us, who live all over the world and are challenged, flawed, gifted and loved just as we are. To put that in perspective whatever I imagine God has done for me, or not done for me, I surely must consider the same dynamic exists between others and God, others I shall never know.
I find our ability to block out the reality of others truly bizarre. Don’t we know that millions of people live on this planet, that millions more have been born and died and more still are being born as you read this? Of course we are primarily responsible for our own happiness, making our own decisions and caring for those who live in our sphere of influence. But as we reflect on the God whom we worship, learn from and seek to honor with our covenant love don’t we need to consider that however we make sense of God based on our own experience needs to also be connected to the experience of God by others?
People who read John 14 as an exclusive text, “no one comes to the Father except by me” have to contend with the knowledge that millions of people are born, live and die without any experience or awareness of Jesus. Does our God have a plan for them? What sense does it make for us to imagine our God is pleased with us because we happen to be born to a Christian community but is not pleased with people who have no such experience? If we imagine that the Apostle Paul condemned same gender love how do we make sense of a God who seems to have created a world where 10% of its inhabitants are gay or lesbian? How does one make sense of that? The only way people can hold to these views of condemnation is if they just don’t think about those others, those people who live far away, whose lives are similar and different than our own.
That is why in my Prayers of the People I intentionally balance a personal petition for someone we at the church know by name and love with places, peoples, and circumstances far away from us whose attention and recognition surely our God is affected by, persons we too should be aware of and be affected by. I don’t use set prayers any more, I pray extemporaneously and I weave the familiar and unfamiliar, the comfortable and uncomfortable in the midst of this dialogue and petition with our God. Surely to know the other and what the other experiences, in some small measure, if to help us better understand our own experience of God and what God is doing in our lives. Thus I try as best as I can to be attentive to the other and what that other can bring to this world.