A few weekends ago, I was blessed to attend and participate in the Conspire Gathering in Cincinnati. Conspire was a time for people to gather to focus on how we can better be in relationship with our neighborhoods and communities (simplifying it way down). As we gathered, the structure of the event was centered on 4 themes – Listen, Lament, Energize, and Co-Create. It isn’t a “plan” per se but instead a posture of living in relationship with community – all of those are lived out on an ongoing basis. Those ideas have been rattling around in my heart and mind the last few weeks and then I saw something really beautiful in last Sunday’s Gospel lectionary passage. (Side note – I was planning on initially doing a sermon on all 4 points and then it was narrowed down to the first and then it changed a bit further into what I posted about in my last entry). But what I saw was that all 4 foci are in the Bartimaeus story.
Jesus is in a neighborhood in Jericho traveling through there on his way to Jerusalem. I can imagine the scene of many people gathered on narrow dusty streets to catch a glimpse. Some people there because they want to see Jesus, some there simply because they are trying to just get to somewhere else in town. Crowds, life, all there – and the noise and sound that accompanies.
In the midst of all that noise, one man, who is named Bartimaeus (maybe I’ll do another post coming up on whether that is really his name and also the number of people in the Gospel stories who are unnamed – end of tangent) is calling out to Jesus for healing. And there are two types of listening that happen here. One are those who hear Bartimaeus and try to ignore him or actively try to shut him up. We still do this today – the voices of those that make us uncomfortable, angry, frustrated, or that we are simply tired of – we tune them out, we try to shout them down, we talk over them. I was just listening to NPR and heard a debate where two people simply wouldn’t let the other even finish their sentences (ah the joys of being just a few days away from the midterms). And then there’s Jesus’ listening. Over all the rest of the crowd noise, Jesus hears the cries of Bartimaeus and stops in his tracks. Jesus, like he does over and over, hears the cries of the oppressed, ignored, marginalized, forgotten, hurting, bleeding, grieving. In our neighborhoods, are we listening? Really listening? Are we just trying to go about our days without any cares but our own? Is it just about me and my needs or is it about our common needs that we share?
The story continues…There is a lament. Bartimaeus’ cry to Jesus is a lament – “Have mercy on me!” It is a crying out and a pleading to one who has the power to make a difference. There is also lament in his response to Jesus when Jesus asks what he wanted to have happen. “I want to see.” To me, lament is when we offer up our deepest, our most real, our most honest feelings to others. There isn’t any sugarcoating. There isn’t any cutting corners. There isn’t minimizing. Just “here it is.” A lament can be lifted to God, to friends, to the universe. In our neighborhoods, we need to be comfortable with the language of lament. To be ok with people being real about the challenges they face in life, about systemic issues of race, privilege, and economics that continue to be unaddressed, about the ways that we have grown disconnected from each other, and the list could go on. Allowing lament to be shared safely is vital if we are to be able to be real with one another. For Bartimaeus, he had one need. “I want to see.” That was his lament.
In the interactions that take place between Jesus and Bartimaeus, there is an energetic exchange. When people were shouting him down, Bartimaeus cried even more and even louder. When Jesus called to him, Bartimaeus didn’t casually get up and mosey over to Jesus, but this blind man “sprang up” and went to Jesus. I can only imagine the energy in the air as the miracle seems to have casually taken place. There isn’t any mud made from the ground or any magic incantations or even a touching of Bartimaeus’ eyes (at least as Mark tells it), but the energy is there as “immediately, Bartimaeus regained his sight.” There is energy present when we honestly come together to listen to one another, to honor one another’s laments, to have a common heart for wanting to restore our neighborhoods and community. There is energy when ideas flow from one to another and are shaped and formed into new ideas that eventually move into something more than just ideas. There is energy in what can emerge. When Conspire gathered a few weeks ago, there was a beautiful, incredible, and tangible energy in those spaces whether it was in the large group times or in the many smaller conversations that took place. But it doesn’t stop with just the energy but it moves to something more.
The story concludes with Jesus telling Bartimaeus to “go” and telling him that his faith has made him well. But here’s something really cool that happens. Unlike pretty much every other healing story in the Gospel of Mark where the person healed goes off back to their home or simply goes off somewhere else, here it says that Bartimaeus didn’t go but instead he stayed and “followed Jesus on the way.” A co-creation happens going forward from here. Bartimaeus becomes part of the crowd that is sticking with Jesus. You could even go a step further and play off the fact that it says that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way, which in the early years of the Christian faith is how the church was spoken of. It wasn’t called “The church” but was called “The Way.” A common action goes forward as Bartimaeus takes the healing he has received and joins in with the crowd of those who are following Jesus. Co-creation is the next part of the cycle. The listening, lamenting, energizing all come together in how we co-create with one another in our neighborhoods. We don’t force something onto others but we do it in shared work, life, community, relationship.
It is a beautiful story and it is a beautiful process that doesn’t end with co-creating but instead the cycle continues with listening some more, willingness to be real in lamentation, drawing upon the energy that grows, and co-creating some more.
A beautiful story illustrating a beautiful way to live.