You are here

A Lenten Message from the Bishop

The Rt. Rev. Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark

Quid pro quo. Translated from Latin, it means ‘something for something’. Over the centuries, quid pro quo has become our cultural way. It is the foundation of a market economy. Payment given should equal value received – and vice versa.

The notion of quid pro quo often spills over into our relationships. We will do something for someone else – with the intent, indeed the expectation, that someone will do something in return for us. Many of us have an invisible (and indelible) balance sheet which keeps track of favors given and favors received. And if it gets out of whack, so do we.

Which, of course, is where we are now. We have been whacked into a financial crisis that has left many disoriented, if not despairing. It has challenged, if not cracked open, our time-honored allegiance to quid pro quo.

This may be scary, but it is not a bad thing. The Japanese character for crisis means opportunity. One of our new secular theologians, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, is reported to have said that you never want to waste a crisis; which is perhaps why God sent Moses and his people into the crisis of the wilderness for forty years. Or why the Spirit drove Jesus into the Judean wilderness for forty days, a sojourn which we re-create each season of Lent. In all cases, the wilderness provided the opportunity to learn what was life-giving and what was not.

It turns out that quid pro quo has little place in the Christian faith and life. “Love thy neighbor” is not an equation; it is a command. Our challenge to love one another is not lived out because we think we will receive some direct payback, but because giving love is its own reward, and because we believe it will help bring about – in the fullness of time, the reign of God. We are challenged to be open to ‘the neighbor’ – even when the neighbor doesn’t serve our immediate self-interest.

Our American culture places considerable value on the ability to go it alone. Independence is prized. There is some sociological research that suggests that the migration to the suburbs over the past 75 years has, at some level, been a journey toward greater independence – and greater distance, from one’s neighbor. Especially a neighbor who represents difference. And in the religious realm, to say “I’ve been saved”, which is a goal in many Christian theologies – is a kind of spiritual declaration of independence.

We cannot spiritually afford a continuation of that sort of independence. So – instead of Lent being a time that focuses on my sin or your sin – we have the opportunity to reflect on our connected souls. And to move from the constricting inventory of quid pro quo to the broadening discipline of ubuntu, (a Xhosa word first brought to prominence by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and which will be the theme of this summer’s General Convention). Ubuntu means that a person is a person through another person. “I think, therefore I am”, which is one of the foundations of western philosophy – is balanced out by the bold claim of ubuntu --“I am because you are”.

This Lent, I would suggest that in addition to – or in lieu of, whatever you have chosen to do (or not do), you consider this a season of developing your ability to see. To see the face of Christ in others. To recognize, as writer Henri Nouwen used to say, not how we are different, but how we are the same. To engage in the discipline of ubuntu. It is important spiritual work. It is also the work of justice – because, as we see others as Christ’s living gifts, over time our neighbors can see and claim their own God-given giftedness; and ultimately resist the lie that that their value is determined only by their ability to offer themselves for something else.

In peace,

+Mark Beckwith