Eric Ohena Lembembe

Remember that name… Eric Ohena Lembembe.

Last evening was the first I heard the name. We were guests at a neighbor’s home to learn about The Advocates for Human Rights. We were duly impressed by all we heard.

The Advocates is a Minnesota based network that investigates and exposes human rights violations, represents immigrants and refugees seeking asylum, trains and assists groups that protect human rights, and uses research, education and advocacy to engage the public and policy-makers in human rights work. I encourage you to check-out their website [here]. 

Eric Ohena Lembembe was a human rights worker in Cameroon. Somehow international reporting of his torture and murder in July 2013 escaped my attention or failed to register in my memory. Imagine… the courageous and tragic story of Eric Ohena Lembembe was retold and honored in a neighborhood gathering last evening in south Minneapolis.

Mr. Lembembe was a well-known gay rights activist, who led an organization which campaigned for people with AIDS in the central African country. Under Cameroon law homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. His killing followed several attacks on the offices of human rights defenders in Cameroon, including those working for gay rights.

In his last blog post before he died, Lembembe – who had recently contributed to a 55-page report on prosecutions of gay people in Cameroon – described attacks on gay and lesbian groups, and criticized the lack of action by the authorities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

The Advocates actively collaborated with Mr. Lembembe. Last evening friends spoke of him on a first-name basis. To this day police have failed to investigate his murder. Though his body was found in his home with his feet broken and his face, hands and feet burned, the cause of death on his official death-certificate remains blank.

A representative of Human Rights Watch has aptly observed: “It’s extremely ironic and really sad that Eric seems to have been killed by the same violence he was speaking out against.” Again, we are reminded of a recurring, tragic pattern of our lives.

Last evening, at the home of neighbors right here in south Minneapolis, I had my Easer faith confirmed… He who has died, LIVES!

Eric Ohena Lembembe, we remember!

__________________

I have relied on The Guardian and their July 2013 [report] on Mr. Lembembe’s death.

Out and About

I’m feeling a little defensive! I know the church celebrates Easter for eight days. My encounter with the Risen One isn’t happening in church. In the past I would have dutifully prayed with the Scriptures assigned for each day of the week in the Lectionary. No more! Regulars here may recognize that this week I could be accused of giving more credence to Earth Day than to Easter. They would be right!

I shouldn’t feel defensive! My Ignatian roots compel me to “Find God in all things.” Christian faith is all about “sacraments” – outward tangible signs, gestures and “stuff” that manifest grace. Earlier this week I referenced the Genesis creation accounts and recalled that Christians profess faith in One so intimate with creation that God becomes incarnate in Jesus to bring all creation to fulfillment in Christ. If any Scripture resonates through my ecological Easter it is Ephesians 8:19-24:

Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…. that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

I guess I’m in good company. Dejected disciples recognized Christ on their trek back home to Emmaus and in the act of sharing bread. The great apostle Paul encountered the Risen One en route to Damascus. Thomas and the rest of the gang come to Easter faith hidden away behind locked doors. And the very first among them all, Mary of Magdala thought she was seeing the gardener.

Why would it be any different for us? As the angel said to those coming to the tomb, “He is not here! He is Risen.” Why do I feel defensive about One who is out and about, showing up in places and with folks we wouldn’t expect (or maybe even approve of), in places we would least expect but where we need Him most!

Time to Give It Up!

What did you do for Easter? We had a wedding of dear neighbors on Saturday evening so we missed the Vigil Service. We went to 9 a.m. Mass at Christ the King and then our three generational family gathered at our niece’s house for a dinner of roast lamb and glazed ham. A novel twist to the time-honored Easter egg hunt greeted the kids this year – an age-appropriate math problem was inside each egg and the kids had to solve it before getting their “prize”. It met with mixed reviews!

What did you do for Lent? Perhaps you gave up alcohol, dessert or meat on Fridays. Some try to attend Mass more frequently during the week. Of course, we were conscious of Ash Wednesday and probably willingly wore the ashen smudge on our foreheads. Some of us still have palms, now faded beige and crunchy like pretzels, from little more than a week ago.

Notice how differently we answer the two questions – What did you do for Easter? What did you do for Lent? Mike Jordan Laskey poignantly poses the difference [link] in his posting on the Millennial blog: “‘What are you doing for Lent?’ is a probing spiritual question. It requires a 40-day answer, and implies action and discipline. ‘What are you doing for Easter?’ is a polite piece of small talk. It has to do with a day’s plans. We celebrate well, and then it’s ‘almost summer’ and things begin to wind down.”

Why is this? Why do we feel a religious compulsion to really get-into Lent and so easily slide past the spiritual patrimony of Christ’s resurrection from the dead? I have my opinions, merely a hunch. Seems to me most people are excessively burdened by shame, a pernicious sense of inadequacy or insecurities about self-worth. The rigor of Lent can too easily feed into these attitudes. Easter is about grace, virtue and who we are in the fullness of our human potential – Imagio Dei, created good and intended for intimate relationship with God.

Laskey reminds us – and sadly we do need to be reminded – that Easter is a 50-day season, ten days longer than the Lenten marathon! I would also point out that our celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is liturgically drawn out over eight full days – recall our Christian roots in the Jewish feast of Passover. Go to church next weekend and it will still be “Easter Sunday”!

Christians by definition are called to “pivot” from death to life! It is as if the Risen One encounters us feeling dejected on our respective way back home to Emmaus or with the persecuting Paul en route to Damascus: “Stop! It’s time to give it up! Let go of your death-dealing and live!” More than any Lenten practice of prayer, almsgiving or fasting perhaps our most urgent human need is to answer the question: “What are you doing for Easter?”

Here are a few ideas to prime the pump:

Paul identified nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  Focus on more fully developing one of them for the 50-days of the Easter season.

Pentecost 2014 will be celebrated on Sunday, June 8 – fix that date in your mind, mark it on your calendar. Actively anticipate the coming of the Spirit by opening yourself more fully to what the Spirit may wish to do with or in you. A fancy spiritual word for this is discernment. Whatever word you use: What does God wish to call forth in you at this time and place in your life?

Integral to Paul’s encounter with the Risen One on the road to Damascus was his blinding recognition that in persecuting others he was persecuting Christ. Where do we see the Body of Christ suffering, persecuted, dying? Will we extend compassion, healing and restore God’s good creation?

It is time to give up shame, sin and self-doubt! Christ is Risen!

Wonderful in Our Eyes!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia.

What Really Matters

God must find us very tedious at times! Yesterday I overheard a media report speculating whether an image reflected in a rain drop was truly an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Oh, for God’s sake – literally! I also find pious fascination, bordering on obsession, with items such as the Shroud of Turin to be a distraction and pointless. All we are given in Scripture is an empty tomb – no witnesses to the “big event”!  We are given faith-filled encounters of people who experienced one who was dead to now be alive! That’s where we must look as well – to our own intimate encounter with the Risen One.

There is some buzz these days about the authenticity of a papyrus fragment suggesting that Jesus may have been married. The “evidence” comes from the discovery of a document from somewhere between the 4th and 8th centuries in which Jesus is quoted as referring to “my wife.” Oh, for God’s sake! Does it really matter? Preoccupation with such questions – important and necessary as they are from a scholarly perspective – is a distraction from what we really should be about during Holy Week. Ultimately, Jesus’ marital status doesn’t really matter to the faith we proclaim!

I am convinced that the overwhelming evidence combined with 2000 years of tradition and the near universal consensus of biblical scholars makes clear that Jesus was not married. Fr. James Martin, SJ offers a cogent defense for this position in the current issue of America magazine. I highly recommend it for its clarity, balance and brevity [link]. 

I hope never to be paranoid, often catch myself being cynical, but invite the charge of being skeptical. Do you see more than coincidence in the big media splash given to this “old news” – from at least 2012 – at the very beginning of Holy Week? I’m not suggesting anything sinister! It’s likely just good PR to hype the report when it will get the most coverage. Would you agree that this “news” would be received differently if it had been released during the week leading up to the Fourth of July!

Rather than pointing a finger at “faithless media” or blaming secularists waging “culture wars” we should really direct that finger at ourselves. Use the media report as an occasion to reflect upon and potentially deepen our faith — in what really matters!  Especially this week… Where do we look for evidence of the resurrection? …to an empty tomb? …to the testimony of others? …to physical evidence? Do we look for it in the past? …in other people’s stories? If so, we are bound to be disappointed. We are so easily distracted by trivia and non-essentials.

Yes, we have the testimony of others. However, these are only intended to lead us to an immediate and intimate encounter with the Risen One precisely where we are most in need of a savior… here, now, today! Don’t be distracted.

The “big event” doesn’t happen in an empty tomb outside Jerusalem!

 

Redeeming Pain

There is more than enough tragedy and suffering to go around. Instant global communication has compounded the impact. For example, outrage at the killing of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt in Syria yesterday ricocheted around the world within 24 hours. Such moral outrage is necessary and important – but it can be numbing. All the more reason to celebrate healing, success and grounds for hope!

Thanks to a friend from the Minnesota International Center who shared a [link] to a really powerful piece about forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. Stunning photos accompany disarming profiles of human anguish and triumph – a testimony to healing and hope for what is possible within a generation of the horrific genocide in which 1 million Rwandans were killed.

We have witnessed such reconciliation and reason for hope before. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu provided a mechanism for people to confess their participation in human rights abuses during apartheid and receive amnesty. Some argue that those responsible for the policies of apartheid should have been held criminally liable. But that is not the route chosen by the Nobel Peace laureate archbishop or President Nelson Mandela.

The moral genius of the TRC was the public airing of the painful truth which prevented the violence of apartheid from being buried in the past.  Rev. Marie Fortune warns on her [blog], the Shakespearian advice to “forgive and forget” is too often directed at victims and survivors of violence. “Forgiveness does not come from a position of powerlessness but from a place of empowerment and a degree of safety; forgiveness is never about forgetting the past, but in remembering the past in order to strengthen our efforts not to repeat it.” Justice requires truth-telling and remembering before forgiveness.  We see this in Rwanda.  And, as numbing as it can be, instant worldwide news reporting has the potential to serve this essential purpose.

Coincidentally, David Brooks has a marvelous piece in today’s NYTimes entitled “What Suffering Does” [link]. He is quick to point out, “there is nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering. Just as failure is sometimes just failure (and not your path to becoming the next Steve Jobs) suffering is sometimes just destructive, to be exited as quickly as possible.” Yet, Brooks celebrates those transcendent survivors who have the capacity to understand their suffering in some larger providence:

It’s at this point that people in the midst of difficulty begin to feel a call. They are not masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. They can’t determine the course of their pain, but they can participate in responding to it. They often feel an overwhelming moral responsibility to respond well to it. …  

The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.

Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. 

Martyrdom in Syria, the hard work of reconciliation in Rwanda, requisite remembering with truth-telling of Marie Fortune, suffering’s ennobling potential cited by David Brooks… wherever we look a world in anguish invites us – desperately needs us – to embrace the paschal drama of Holy Week.

Time Out of Time

Think of all the moments in your life when time stood still. How long did you hold your newborn when she first emerged? How long did that moonlit walk last on the night you realized you were in love? How long did you sit in the waiting room watching the door each time it opened, willing the surgeon to come out with good news?

With these supple and striking images Anna Keating conjures moments of “time out of time” when we feel profoundly alive, grounded in the depths of our humanity. We all know them – such time “does not obey the ordinary rhythms of minutes and hours” but rather “burst the bonds of time.” Keating reminds us of the ancient Greek understanding of chronos and kairos. Chronos is measured by a clock and has specific parameters like the time it takes to read this blog. Kairos is that supple “time out of time” — that “due season”, an irreplicable moment of opportunity, or irrefutable flash of clarity and purpose.

Christians are invited to enter such “time out of time” during the Triduum, the “three days” from sundown Holy Thursday through the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. These three days carry a rhythm that breathes like a single day! Triduum is time to stop, be quiet, tend the silence, gather, prepare and pray. Keatings’ blog post is valuable reading [link]. I gratefully cite it nearly two weeks prior to Holy Thursday to reiterate Keating’s essential point: keeping Triduum warrants our anticipation and deliberate planning.

Yes, participation in the liturgies at our churches is to be highly recommended! It compounds our experience to share the dynamic flow of these liturgies with the same community of seekers. But this is not an endurance test nor is anyone keeping attendance – show up as you are able! Savor the magnificent rituals, but don’t depend on them exclusively! How do you wish to enter Triduum? How can you better dispose yourself to a kairos experience transcending the “chronology” posted in a schedule or texts printed in a missal? Of course, show up even if it all comes down to the last moment — grace happens! But, given the chance, be deliberate. Be choiceful. Be generous with yourself. Embrace the opportunity. Plan ahead.

The world was stunned by Pope Francis washing the feet of lay people on Holy Thursday last year, women as well as men and even a Muslim. We are two weeks out! We all would do well to stretch the rubrics and transcend tired rituals.  Whose feet deserve to be washed this year? Whose feet would you like to see washed? How might you “wash” these feet whether within a liturgy or with other gestures outside of the church’s time-honored ritual?  Maybe, especially for us control-freaks, we need to allow someone else to figuratively but profoundly “wash” our feet.

Good Friday invites us to walk with Jesus through his passion and death. Scripture for each of the fourteen traditional Stations of the Cross are available [here]. With which point along the Way do you especially identify this year? Why is that? Get up-close-and-personal with Jesus in that resonant kairos moment. Do you identify with a particular character in the passion narrative? Be that person for someone outside of church – carry someone’s cross for a while, wipe the sweat and blood of someone suffering. Maybe you know what it is like to fall multiple times.  Go with your heart – it knows where your kairos beckons.

Easter Vigil is the traditional time for Baptism. Do you know the date of your Baptism? Give your godparents a call and wish them Happy Easter. Take some time to consider what your Baptism has meant to you. They say faith is not so much taught as it is caught. When, why and where did you “catch” your faith? Jesus knew in the Garden that he had a “baptism” yet to undergo. What “agony” are you enduring?  What “baptism by fire” is awaiting you? How does Jesus’ dying and rising strengthen you for what lies ahead?

Regardless of the season of the year or the liturgical calendar, when have you experienced “Easter”? What would Easter look-like for you this year? Mary of Magdala thought Jesus was the gardener – how might the Risen One choose to appear to you in kairos time this year?

What would make time stand still?  You know what you need – make it happen. We’ve got time!