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|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
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|February 5, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 196
The Good News meets the daily news
By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration
Let me share some of this conversation with you, including its ambiguities and questions. First the scriptures.
There is something curious about the specific instructions Jesus gives his disciples as he sends them out to announce the reign of God. They are to take no travel bag, no money, no change of tunic and no food. Did any of the disciples -- perhaps the more practical-minded Philip or blunt Nathaniel or the skeptical Thomas -- object to these conditions? But Jesus' logic becomes clear. They will be dependent on the towns and people they are sent to for hospitality. It will be within this interaction, a household welcoming them as strangers and providing a meal, that they will share the good news, and demonstrate its power by healing the sick and casting out unclean spirits. The openness of people will be essential to their receptivity to the message. Towns that refuse to open their doors to the disciples will be passed by.
The most important condition is that they will be sent "two by two." Again, a more practical approach, one that would potentially mean the message would reach twice as many towns, would have been to send them singly. But Jesus recognized that human companionship on the way was also essential to the message. It was the shared journey, the chance to air their doubts and fears with one another, to remind each other of what they had already experienced with Jesus, that would generate the confidence to knock on doors, preach the message, dare to touch the sick and command unclean spirits to depart. Human companionship is the first context for the gospel. Human conversation, deeply personal, honest and intimate, is where the power of love becomes believable, where healing and forgiveness first seem possible.
The early church spread the gospel with such teams of preachers, going two by two into the ancient world. Paul travels with companions Barnabas, John Mark, or Luke, or Timothy, or others mentioned in his letters. Paul also recognizes the right of other apostles to travel with a woman companion, thought by some scholars to be a strategy because of homophobia about two unrelated men traveling together. Better to appear as a married couple, or to be a married couple, if it serves the gospel. The essential underlying dynamic of how we know and experience the good news of God's love, the power it gives us to heal, forgive, restore hope, remains the same. Two people, in intimate conversation along the way, receive God's good news.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled yesterday that allowing civil unions for same-sex couples instead of the full civil protection defined by marriage is discriminatory. People of the same sex who want the legal and financial rights, protections and obligations married couples get from the state should be allowed this civil status, says the court. This equality, say other legal and religious groups, including the Catholic church, will negate the privileged place of marriage as only possible between a man and a woman, and will erode society's interest to protect "normal" procreation and parenting within such unions. Counterpoint: Others say that legal adoption by gay and lesbian couples, and their proven capacity for parenting on a par with or exceeding the current mishmash of de facto parenting models, single and shared, makes these arguments moot.
This debate will rage on. It will enter the political mainstream in the coming presidential campaign and force many thoughtful and caring people into polarizing or paralyzing positions about the intimate lives, legal rights and obligations of others, or about whether society is going to hell in a hand basket or is on the threshold of some broad and long overdue emancipation.
The easiest or, perhaps, the hardest position one can take in all this is to say, I do not know. There are some deep mysteries here that need to survive the fierce sorting out of values and principles on all sides of the question. My personal encounter with the Word of God and the front page of the Kansas City Star is this: One of these mysteries is the call to companionship, the unmistakable and mutual invitation that people experience to be with one another. It is, I believe, not primarily about sex, though this is hard to separate out. It is about friendship and intimacy, about two people in desperate conversations about the ultimate meaning of their lives, who somehow experience good news, mutual healing and forgiveness. In our time, so characterized by discontinuity and loss, people just want such companionship to be possible, stable and protected. They want to be together.
Years ago, as I was thinking out loud about another controversial issue, a wise old friend said, "You better have your steel-toed boots on if you go there." When Jesus was sending out his beggarly emissaries, without food, money, luggage or even a change of clothing, he did allow them to wear shoes and take a walking stick.
I need another cup of coffee now. I will let this final bit of imagery settle into my system. Wear shoes. Take a stick to steady you when the road gets hilly or rocky, or when you meet stray dogs and strangers. But keep the conversation going. If you have any good news to share when you get to the next town, it will be because you found it first in your own heart.
Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is email@example.com. Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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