Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Remembrance and Retreat (Tuesday of Holy Week 2015)

I disrobe. I'm underground, in flickering light. It's a few steps down into a pool of water. I'm going to drown. This priest will help.

Underwater, held there, I panic. I'm dying while the priest's muffled voice speaks in trinity.

Then I'm raised up, gasping, alive. I step up, out of the pool. There is chanting. A white linen garment enfolds my body.

Everything changes, dissolves into a garden. It is night. There is my Lord, arrested. A crowd surrounds him, weapons in hand.

Some turn to me. They know I am with him. They grab me, I twist away, leaving them with hands full of white linen. I run.

Everyday, I remember my promises. Everyday, I run away naked as the day I drowned.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pursued (Monday of Holy Week 2015)

"What the priests and scribes didn't know---and we much too often forget---is that salvation doesn't come to the one doing the saving, not in the instant. Salvation comes after the one saving, indeed, the one with power to save, is spent, poured out, emptied."

I wrote that in the previous blog entry. I have said that my blog posts are my least edited writing. I pretty much type into Blogger, check for spelling and such (not carefully, which may be obvious), and click "publish." 

The above was convoluted enough to confuse a friend. She focused on the phrase "Salvation comes after the one saving" and asked if I meant salvation pursues the one who is saving. We talked about it and I clarified it was a sequence thing, not a pursuit thing, and on we went to talk about moths or something. 

But I've been thinking about being pursued by salvation all day. 

I rather like the image, in it's abstract way. 

There is the strain of thought in some theological circles that God is pursuing us, that God is not giving up on us and is seeking us out, no matter how "lost" (however we might mean that word) we might be.

I like that image and to anthropomorphize or at least characterize "salvation" as something that has independent agency to pursue us somehow hits a theologically geeky pleasure point in my brain. 

Salvation is one of those slippery concepts. It often refers to eternal destinations in popular discourse. I've not found that a sustaining belief. I also have pretty well given up on any form of substitutionary atonement, which will be preached all over the place this coming week. I always feel like talking about salvation leads to those two ideas. 

So in the context of this week, I'm thinking of Jesus as the embodiment of salvation, pursuing us but even more wanting to protect us from the powers of this world. He knows he's unpopular in Jerusalem, he knows he's going to meet with trouble, but for love of us, he cannot help but speak out against the kingdoms of this world and try to give a vision of the Reign of God that is already among us if we'll just turn around and take notice.

The cross is less about Jesus dying for our sins, then, and a whole lot about Jesus dying because we can't give up our power or our pursuit of power. We can't empty ourselves of the delusions of grandeur that we maintain about ourselves. Still Jesus wants us to catch that vision of love, compassion, self-sacrifice. He's willing to pursue us with this saving vision that he lets nothing get in his way, not even death.

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Recommended listening for tonight: 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hosanna! (Palm Sunday 2015)

Mark 11.9: 

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’  

Mark 15.31: 

In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 

 This morning, as the passion narrative was read, my mind was drawn to the remembrance that "hosanna" has something to do with salvation. There seems to be something lost in translation or vernacular, because the way the crowds used it in welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem doesn't precisely make sense---it doesn't seem to be a cheer of praise or adoration in the way, say, "hallelujah" is---but it does seem these crowds were expecting of Jesus, the healer and teacher and disciple-gatherer, to restore the kingdom of David. Basically, "save us from this Roman occupation!" 

 So, as often happens with my in worship services, I was pondering one specific thing---in this case, salvation and the classic questions like "saved from what, for what?"---and not necessarily paying attention to everything going on. 

But I was jarred back to the service before me as I heard the above verse from Mark 15 read. "He saved others, but he cannot save himself." 

 It jarred me because it was another instance of expecting salvation of a particular kind and not seeing the salvation before us. 

Even more, the second Bible quote reveals something about us and how we expect power to work. If the priests and scribes really believed that Jesus saved others (it's possible, they were mocking Jesus with the first half of the quote), the second half of the sentence reveals their own view on power---what's the point of having it if you don't use it for yourself? 

Except our other reading this morning held this bit (one of my favorite pieces of scripture): 

Philippians 2: 6-7

. . . who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.

What the priests and scribes didn't know---and we much too often forget---is that salvation doesn't come to the one doing the saving, not in the instant. Salvation comes after the one saving, indeed, the one with power to save, is spent, poured out, emptied. 

It may be the hardest lesson to learn, one that the church has failed at both teaching and modeling through the centuries. 

I offer this as a place to begin our Holy Week reflection upon the Passion of Christ. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Faraway -- a book response

Some years ago, a friend who had spent many years being sexually molested by a family member, carefully and haltingly confided in me that part of the shame in being treated like that was that sometimes she liked it. That may be putting it too strongly. She sometimes experienced pleasure. Maybe that's as far as it went. I already feel like I'm putting words in her mouth.

But I carefully and as gently as possible said that made sense to me. Sex is pleasurable, genital stimulation feels good, and even if---maybe especially if---you're being treated like a sex toy, it made sense that you might try to lose yourself in whatever positive thing you could.

I surely don't know. I've been remarkably lucky to not have had that in my childhood.

My friend came to mind, however, as I read Faraway by R.K. Kline and Daniel D. Maurer. Faraway is the story of a summer in the mid-seventies when Kline, a teenager in suburban Missouri, found himself seduced into a life as a gay prostitute, a hustler in public parks and private homes. It starts out as what seems like a sexual adventure, even a burgeoning romance. A gay teenager eager to explore his sexuality would of course find the attentions of an attractive older man exciting and pleasurable. Indeed, part of what made this story compelling was how the authors draw the fine line of expressing the sensuality of the initial experiences while communicating the quick descent into something dangerous and abusive.

Sex feels good and even if it doesn't lead us into prostitution (or keep us in an abusive relationship), I think many adults have had the experience of the promise of pleasure leading to regretful, if less dire, situations.

But this book isn't really about the sex. It's just present, bluntly present, like a baseball bat to your ribs. Terrible things happen in this book, and they happen to minors, and they're heartbreaking, to say the least.

These terrible things happen, however, within the context of friendship and first love---things that most teenagers experience without the terror.

I hesitate to say too much about the story itself. It's something to experience as it unfolds without too much warning about what happens within it.

I will say that it's simply told, without much flash, without much literary pyrotechnics. It's frank. It's clear about what's going on without any attempt to soften the details or turn it into poetry. In current internet jargon, there maybe should be a "trigger warning" on the cover.

I will also say that I read this book in a day. I never do that. I was drawn into this story with the knowledge that the narrator made it out alive and eventually became a Lutheran pastor. I have to say that what kept me engrossed was the wondering how he escaped this circumstance.

Kline was human trafficked without ever leaving home and the circumstances around that had as much to do with how society treats LGBT people, the overt, negative messages we LGBT people receive on a daily basis. As much as he didn't like being a prostitute, the other boy hustlers were people who knew him and treated him like family. There was love among these boys, an unconditional love that Kevin couldn't be certain he would find from his own family.

I would like to think that a book like this would lead people to compassion for teens who find themselves in these dire situations, but I took a look at the reviews on Amazon and found that two reviewers found it self-serving and disgusting, seeing the 14 year old boy in the story as having enough agency to have known better or done differently. So there are heartless jerks in the world. I suppose this isn't news.

But I would highly recommend this book to someone who has a heart, is open to seeing what some people endure, how a search for friendship and love and acceptance can lead to really horrific places. Set aside your judgments and read what is, essentially, a message of hope and restoration. Don't expect to find easy comfort, but do enter into this story with a heart willing to be broken and with a mind willing to see how easily manipulated simple desire can be.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.