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By Kristopher Varga - Life Together Fellow, Church of Our Saviour (Milton) Admin, Poet, Pursuing Priesthood

We’ve entered the season of Lent in the church world. For those who are unfamiliar with the Christian faith, Lent recognizes the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the desert, fasting to overcome temptation and gain spiritual revelation. In response, we fast for forty days, some giving up sweets or television, others eating for only portions of the day, all tailored to one’s ability at that time. We end Lent with Holy Week, honoring the final days in the life of Jesus, concluding with Easter, where we celebrate the risen Christ on the third day after crucifixion.

It’s truly a beautiful time in the church, one of the most reverent next to Christmas. People reflect on the life and mission of Jesus, on what his death and resurrection represented, and what that means for us today. It is full of lamentation and sorrow, as well as rejoicing and connection. And one of that most prominent takeaways is that Jesus suffered, and as Christians, we must also “pick up our cross”, and be willing to endure the suffering of ourselves and others in order to help facilitate healing in the world.

Yet, there’s a fine line that needs to be addressed here: suffering does not mean enduring abuse or sacrificing your safety.

It is truly noble and beautiful when a person feels inspired to focus on the needs of others. Suffering in this world is very real, and when we feel secure in ourselves, being able to support those who need support is a tremendous act of courage. But the key word here is “secure”. Jesus didn’t go up to the blind and the sick and tell them to give away their possessions. No, he told this to the rich man, someone who was already stable and well enough that they had the means to provide.

The waters can be muddled by the idea of Christian suffering, of martyrdom. For years slave masters had sermons preached to the slaves, utilizing Ephesians 6, “Slaves, be obedient to your human masters.” How terrifying that these culturally contextual texts exist in the hands of people who can so easily manipulate them to their own desires. It has brought suffering into the way of oppression, the very thing Jesus died to eradicate!

Which brings me to a verse in Ephesians 5 (gosh those letters are problematic), “Wives should obey their husbands in everything.” Some of you reading this are probably raising your eyebrows and going, “Oh, to hell with that!” But there are certainly people in this world, and perhaps you are one of them, that take these words to heart, whether you’re a Bible-believing Christian, or just hearing this for the first time. And that’s really devastating, because the suffering that Christ calls us to endure is a liberating suffering, one that we undertake to transcend oppressive regimes while simultaneously showcasing them a love that they have forgotten within themselves. That’s the way of Jesus.

But Jesus never said don’t love yourself in the process. In fact, I believe he said to love your neighbor as yourself. We’re not meant to suffer irrationally at the mercy of another; there’s already enough of that within the systems in place. Abuse is a sin, to put it bluntly, and not a virtue to endure. And I don’t speak to only wives and husbands here, but to all genders in all forms of relationships, romantic and platonic. Because even though we’re asked to “turn the other cheek”, we’re also told in Psalm 33 that “the Lord loves righteousness and justice,” meaning that we should certainly practice forgiveness, while simultaneously holding others accountable for their actions in a just way.

I’d like to take a moment and share my hermeneutical approach to scripture, which essentially means interpretive methodology. Firstly, anyone who presents an opinion on scripture is giving an interpretation, and don’t let them tell you otherwise. That’s how bad dogma is formed. But through a hermeneutical lens, one doesn’t just take time to interpret scripture, but they also take in account cultural and historical factors as well. We acknowledge the humanity of the authors who write the scripture, and even though they were inspired by the spirit in their contextual situations, the texts themselves are exactly that: text. Paul, who wrote Ephesians, was a Jew and also a Roman citizen, something most Jewish people didn’t have access to at that time. This meant he had special privileges, and in order to uphold those privileges while simultaneously preaching radical ideas throughout Roman land, he had to be very careful and diplomatic.

Imagine trying to preach liberation in a dictator-driven country. Ya gotta be careful of what you say!

The purpose I’m trying to make is that while scripture is beautiful and helpful in guiding us to leading good lives, it can also be misconstrued if taken too literally. And because of this we’ve had thousands of years of people being oppressed and abused in contrast to scripture. This is terrible, especially when the leader of Christian scripture gave the command “love one another” (John 13:34). Love is free from harm. Love is a caring and appreciation for all human life, including oneself. Abuse is not love, whether physical, emotional, or even spiritual. Love is speaking out against abuse.

What better way to carry your cross than to vocalize injustice?

This month of Lent I challenged myself to not just fast, but also add something enriching as well. This is to write a poem everyday on humility, oppression, and transcendence. It has taken me in a multitude of directions, sometimes being very blunt, sometimes being quite vague. Yet, they have always offered a mirror upon myself as to where my heart is at. Before I leave you with a poem, I want you to ask yourself over the next month: Where is my heart’s attention? Do I witness the suffering in me and in others? What am I going to do about it? How do I embody a resurrected life?


The Dim Lit Room

There’s a questionable shadow

in the dim lit room

lingering just beyond the light.

It lurks in the quiet

as you constrain your breath,

sleepless on the brink of night.

People warned of its presence,

foreboding like a graveyard mist,

shrouding the entire space.

You yearn to scream,

but all sound is repressed

until you choose to leave that place.

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