Lightning Rods

A quick quiz…

Name a religious symbol.

If you are Christian, I’d bet nine out of ten would say, “The cross.”

What if you are Jewish? Star of David, perhaps?

Muslim… the Crescent Moon?

How would you respond if I said, lightning rod!?!

Yesterday, Janice Anderson proposed the lightning rod as a good symbol for her “doorbell ministry” at the Basilica of St Mary as well as her work with City House. The Basilica is a large, popular urban parish in Minneapolis where she has been on the staff since 1994.

Anderson was a presenter yesterday at a retreat for people associated with City House, a ministry of “active listening” with people on the margins — including those experiencing poverty, addiction, imprisonment or being homeless.

Janice chairs the City House board. She knows of what she speaks when she proposes the lightning rod as an apt Christian symbol.  Perhaps its an apt symbol for people of all faiths!

First, she readily admits what makes her “bristle” when encountering people who have every reason in the world to lead off with a burst of anger. Here’s my paraphrase of what I heard in her story:

Presuming I am the “more privileged” in such a dialogue — and I generally am — is the other judging me?  Might their judgement be accurate and fair?

Fear quickly surfaces when I feel afraid for my safety, imagined or otherwise.

Pride threatens to rob me of a true human encounter if I fail to enter into dialogue with respect for the other’s equal human dignity.

It is so easy to remain hamstrung by my own self-image as “good” if not “beter.”

Despite the fact it is generally an illusion, I typically hold tight to my need to be “in control” of whatever happens.

You may recall or imagine encounters of your own.  Add or subtract from this list of what makes you “bristle.” I suspect responses are as numerous and particular as the people involved.

Did you know that a lightning rod does not attract the lightning? I thought it did. Rather, it just stands there as lightning randomly dances across the sky. If it happens to strike, the rod simply takes in the charge and enables the surge of energy to pass into the ground.

Like doorbell ministry and accompaniment at City House, isn’t that what we are all called to do when we encounter people who hold a grudge and are angry — whether justifiable or not?  Don’t we find ourselves in places where we are called to stand in the place of God absorbing the charge of others, grounding their anger and letting pass an aggressive first-strike?

And here is a cautious reminder — we are to be lightning rods, not pin cushions!  There’s a big difference.  Jesus was one but never the other!

As we Christians move more intimately toward Holy Week we would do well be attentive to how Jesus absorbs the surges of anger directed at him, stands his ground as aggression passes through, letting first-strikes land, putting an end to the destruction that would otherwise occur.

Perhaps, this year, it is time to look beyond the cross if it has become overly familiar and time-worn of much potency.  Attentiveness to Christ as lightning rod is probably more than enough!
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You may learn more about City House at www.city-house.org — financial support is much-needed and always appreciated.

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