Sunday, April 16, 2017

Arisen 2017

Ask me what's wrong. It's easy to tell you. The slow burns of disappointments and frustrations and the sharp intrusions of unexpected pain and news---they are easily cataloged and discussed.

Harder, much harder, to tell you what's good, holy, joyful. It becomes a fearful thing to express. We will make fun of the happy-making things in an ordinary day. They get dismissed as trite.


It has become trite, facile, naive to believe in the Christian story. I am a product of an academic understanding and exploration of the faith and I know the ways other such people can be dismissive.

One of the most joyful people I ever knew, also an academic, often described herself this way: "I'm nothing if not trite." She was also one of the few people I've personally known to deeply dive into the suffering of the world. She suffered with it. With us. She understood and practiced compassion in a way for which I've yet to find the strength. Or the vulnerability.

I believe in resurrection. She trusted  resurrection. 

I can list the things that bring me joy and I might fumble around for the words to explain how this is resurrection. Anyone who has experienced the pounding absence of a loved one, a dead loved one, can tell you how hollow those things sound.

And yet, most of us beaten down by grief will also eventually laugh again.

This is not reportage. This is witness.

Christ is arisen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy 2017

Her son was dead and she wished it weren't the Sabbath. Work would take her mind off it.

Sitting there, "resting," all she could think about was the image of her son, beaten, bloody, dying on that cross. She shakes her head in bitter comfort that he died quicker than most.

She wasn't even sure where she was. His friends were milling around. The women were making plans to care for the body the next day; she couldn't decide if she would join them. The men were doing what men do, fretting, vowing to protect her, as if any of them had power to do anything. The one keeps picking up and setting down a sword. She can't help but think that old fisherman looks like a little boy, playing at war. Reckless, unskilled---he'd be lucky to be run through with a Roman sword rather than captured and hanged like her son.

"Put that thing away, Peter!" Her voice had an edge sharper than his sword. She didn't mean to be that angry, but he obeyed. Being the mother of his dead teacher gave her some authority, it seemed. Good. Someone had to keep their head around here. "I never heard him teach you to be a swordsman," she said more softly.

Did it matter, though? What he taught? She hoped so. She hoped everything she and Joseph went through wasn't for nothing. After all she and her husband had seen and heard, surely this wouldn't be the end of her son.

The sun was setting. The men were getting more anxious as the darkness fell, but the women were making their pallets for sleep. They wouldn't break Sabbath by preparing the ointments and perfumes so they would get up early.

She herself also went to her pallet. Let the men fret. She would sleep. Tomorrow she would find work for her hands. That would get her through the grief, as it had through every grief she'd known. Her hands itched to knead some dough. She fell asleep having decided on making bread in the morning, something with leaven.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good 2017

You loved without letting us off the hook.

That's what got you hanged, really.

You couldn't just support us no matter what, couldn't let us enjoy our power and wealth without noticing, without pointing out that there people all around us suffering want.

That really made us angry.

And yet, you really loved us. You met with us at night when meeting with you in daylight felt dangerous. You healed us, our family, our lovers. You had compassion, even when we tore the roof off to get to you.

You taught us that such love and compassion was true wisdom.

Honestly, as messiahs go, you were kind of a disappointment. We wanted a little more fire. You could have stood to have a little less courage and little more sensible fear. Strategy.

Remember how we cheered and laughed when you let the scribes and pharisees have it? Whitewashed tombs! That was a good one!

But you were no good at building a coalition behind you. Herod found a way to work with the Romans. You needed a sponsor. Some of us think that if you'd gotten to Pilate first, he could have been brought around to protecting us.

But you couldn't do it. So there you are, on a cross. We don't know what to do next. We worry they're going to come after us now.

All this while you're up there, letting everyone off the hook because they don't know what they're doing.

Great time to start, Jesus.

Great time to start.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy 2017

The ever new commandment: love one another, just as I have loved you . . .

I pray help me love better and before I reach amen I think if all the ways I will not.

I'm going to fall asleep in the garden while you sweat blood.

I'm going to betray you, your fate sealed with a kiss.

Over and over and still you come back.

Random thought passes by: This is why we killed you at 33 and I'm still alive at 53.

Love one another, you said. Ever new to the recalcitrant, recidivist heart.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palms 2017

I've been thinking about enemies. For the maybe the first time in my life, I'm seeing I have some.

I've been thinking about loving them. For maybe the first time, I'm seeing the depth of that challenge.

Jesus rode a donkey into a city where he knew powerful people wanted to kill him. They'd tried before.

Lord, I want that courage.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What I'm Talking About When I Talk About Loving Donald Trump

So, yes, here we are in lent and I'm contemplating loving enemies and it's true I find Donald Trump and pretty much his entire staff and cabinet to be enemies of my person and people I love.

What is also true is that, while I write a few notes to senators and make other feeble signs of resistance, these are enemies I'll likely never ever meet. Any influence I might crave over them and their agendas is too small to measure.

So what I'm really thinking about is the way I might love the people in my life who are Donald Trump supporters. I have to think about this a lot because, honestly, I'm pretty hugely pissed off at them.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. [James 1:19-20]

Righteousness. Justice. Justification. The nuances of those words are floating around, bumping into each other in concept of righteousness.

And, to be sure, anger is not always unwarranted. See the prophets and, on a couple of notable occasions, Jesus himself.

But I begin to see how anger---sometimes from others at me, sometimes my own directed elsewhere---is a problem for me. I watch some folks who somehow manage to have terrible fights and arguments complete with bright hot branding anger and still remain in relationship.

I'm a complete failure at this. From my own coming out as gay to the election of Donald Trump, I've too much decided that people who have problems with who I am or what I stand for don't need to be in my life, that there are plenty of people to hang out with who don't have these problems with me.

The bubble, as it were.

This is who I'm talking about when I talk about trying to love Donald Trump, the people outside the bubble. This is much more real than all those people in D.C. And a lot messier. And hurtful. And . . .

Necessary.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Freedom in a Cynical Time

There is a particular aspect of politics in these United States that particularly gets under my skin. It's the "but your guy did this!" argument.

In recent days, we've had arguments about who used a private email server, who had contact with Russia when, and whether a former president and a former first lady can be friends.

Celebrity culture makes all take on a feeling of a WWE match, with people choosing sides of heroes and villains and hoping someone is going to go for that folding chair at ringside. It's not about what is true or right but about who gets in the better hits.

I've done it, will likely participate in this nonsense again. I am a part of culture as much as anyone and so much of what we do is reflexive according to the social cues we're trained to respond to.

But I'm thinking about freedom in Christ. I'm thinking about what this maybe sounded like to the first Christians in the Roman Empire. I wonder if the waters of baptism, the baptism of repentance, freed them from the culture of Empire, of power and slavery, of legal persecutions and crucifixions.

Can we turn away from this democratic government, this WWE shouting matches and "on the ropes" imagery and still participate in it? I continue to vote, I continue to write to my elected representatives, so I guess I think we can.

What I would like us to stop is pretending that any of them are "good guys" all the time. I voted for Barack Obama twice and believe he was generally good for the nation. I also recognize that he authorized the use of drones that killed innocent people, including children. I also know that he could work into his eloquent speeches references to killing America's enemies. These never escaped my attention, but neither did I find the words to talk about it. As a Christian who hates war and believes that killing never has any eloquence, I believe I need to learn where those words are.

I seriously have no answers here. I seriously lack any real response to what I would have us do in the face of violence. I have often said, at election time, that in an empire, you're going to have a Caesar, my job as a voter is to discern who is Augustus and who is Nero. I begin to wonder if the work of Christians is to be kind, show compassion, be helpers whether we have Augustus or Nero, because at the end of the day, either Caesar will crush you if it suits their ends.

This feels cynical. I want to believe in a national leader. I think I need to have learn the wisdom of serpents, not only the gentleness of doves.