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 . . .


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.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Subconscious Enemy

I don't know a lot about dream interpretation. I'm no Joseph (and I don't often wear loud colors, which is entirely beside the point).

I do, however, sometimes have dreams that stick with me and I puzzle over them. I tend to agree with the notion that everyone and everything in a dream is an aspect of me. This one dream has had me turning it around and around for a couple of weeks now.

In this dream, I've been recruited (called?) to join the White House staff as a special assistant to Steve Bannon. I don't remember it being stated explicitly, but the implication was that I was there to be a good influence on him. So there I am in the Oval Office and I'm meeting Steve Bannon and at one point I touch his forearm (he has his sleeves rolled up) and my touch burns him. He doesn't react very much and I don't feel any pain myself, but there are burn marks on his forearm where my fingertips touched him.

That's all I remember of the dream.

I sometimes post about my dreams on Facebook for the amusement of my friends. The morning I work up from this one, I found it funny and posted and in the thread that followed, I wrote this: "In the dream theory where everyone in your dream is some aspect of yourself, I regret to report that I have an inner Bannon. But then there's the hope in the sign that my inner Bannon is vulnerable to some better aspects of me. My inner White House seems to think my inner Bannon could use some influence from my inner, well, me."

Well, that's a lot going on there. 

I've tried sitting in meditation with this dream image---but I'm a dilettante at meditation at best and the best I came away with in that was that I think I felt sorry for burning him. As that notion became extrapolated, I realized that a lot of what I wanted to say to this administration was full of snark. In the jargon of insult humor, I wanted to "burn" this White House. 

I find myself drifting away from that desire. The stakes are too high and, besides, the professionals at Saturday Night Live have that front covered pretty well. 

It's not as if I'm ever going to have access to Steve Bannon in my waking life. That's not what this dream is about and I'm not even sure the dream is about anything beyond my general political anxiety of this moment.

But the ancients found dreams important and they get mentioned plenty of times throughout scripture, from Joseph, the savior of his father, Israel to Joseph, the (step-) father of Jesus Christ. Most of my dreams dissipate quickly after waking. This one has followed me around for about three weeks now.

I'll come back to it, I imagine, as I write through lent. It is partially at the bottom of my desire to blog through the season. Loving the enemy---and I find it difficult to frame the real Steve Bannon as other than that---has to begin somewhere.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Egyptians, Germans, Americans

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ [Exodus 1: 8-10]

I read this passage in Exodus the morning after our president announced the creation of the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. The historical contexts couldn't be more different, but the parallels are striking. Those who are discerned as being "not us" who live among us grow in population and the dominant people---those who, allegedly, "belong"---get nervous and wonder if there are enemy operatives among them. Even the "alien" who is born in the land, who is descended from long ago "immigrants" (I use quotations because the terms are more modern in a legal sense), is looked at with suspicion. Pharaoh needs to keep an eye on them and makes decrees against them.

And I realize in the Biblical story, I am an Egyptian. Maybe I'm aligned with the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh and didn't kill every Israelite boy, but I'm an Egyptian all the same. I have no reason at all to identify with the Israelites in this story. (Which has it's own irony, as I'm a third generation alien on this soil myself, but that's another story.)

On September 23, 1946, Martin Neimoller, former resident of a German concentration camp, preached at Rendsburgh. Since his release, he became aware of the horrors committed in the camp where he was kept. Even though he, himself, was a prisoner, he knew he was a patriotic German, former U-boat captain in the Great War, and that if he shared in the glory of Germany, he also shared in the shame. "The guilt has become anonymous and nobody will share the responsibility," he preached. "Everybody says, 'Go and ask my neighbor. I am innocent.'" [Martin Niemoller by James Bentley, p. 164]

After the fact, oppressors become particular. It was Pharoah, it was Hitler, it was Trump. In reality, it was Egyptians, it was Germans, it is Americans.

Jesus said, "Love your enemies." Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Where do we learn the love of Jesus? Where do we learn the self-awareness of Pogo? How do we gain the insight of Neimoller before going to prison?

Jesus also said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Maybe therein lies a source for fruitful meditation.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

Today, many of us will receive a smudge of ash on our foreheads. It's an action that echoes baptism, a cross on our forehead. Like baptism, it is about belonging to a people. Like baptism, it is about death.

Remembering that we are going to die is intended to foster some humility in us. Humility is necessary to serve. Humility is necessary to love.

Lately, I feel like a beginner in all the above.

Despite years of going to church, listening for Good News, even reading and trying to learn the lessons of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, who taught nothing if not humility, I find myself at the beginning.

The election of Donald Trump has brought out a lot of things about me that I don't particularly like. I am angry. I am haughty. I am judgmental. I fear that he and people he gathers around him are directly opposed and dangerous to me and people I love. 

And one direct commandment we have from Jesus is this: "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." [Luke 6:27-28]

I always make plain as I can that humility is chosen, not compelled. In Jesus' words, I don't hear him saying to a downtrodden people, "Love the Roman occupiers because that's your lot in life." That's the way slavers talk to slaves.

I believe that in telling us to love our enemies, Jesus is saying love, which takes humility, is our strength and redemption.

Baptized into a death like Christ, I am free in Christ and in that freedom, I am free to choose love.

But I find myself lacking in the skill set needed for this choice.

This is me taking the commandment of Jesus seriously and this is me admitting I don't want to do it and this is me knowing my peace and salvation depends on following it.

I don't know how to love.

Step one: Remember that I am dust.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Transfiguration 2017

Some years ago, in an adult Sunday school class, I said somewhat cheekily that I aspired to be a Christian, but I hadn't managed it yet. Maybe someday I'd be converted. After the class, a fellow approached me with some concern, saying, "Did I hear you say you haven't converted to Christianity yet?"

So like my world . . .

Of course I was being cheeky and being serious at the same time. I don't understand my life in Christ as an accomplishment. I do believe that conversion is an ongoing process. But, yes, I have thrown my hat into the Christian ring and I am there to worship every Sunday. I am and am not yet a Christian.

I thought about this story this morning as we listened again to the Transfiguration story and the preacher at my church spoke of conversion (juxtaposed again "justification," which made my Lutheran heart skip a beat, but okay, he wasn't talking about it like that). And I know there is so much more conversion to take place. There is plenty of room for transformation.

I've not been blogging lately. I lost the fire, I lost my way, I lost myself. Something in there is true. I feel my nation, these good ol' United States, has severely lost its way and I'm severely lost in with it. I've felt this is not the time to stop blogging and I've felt I have nothing to say to the state of my government at this moment in history.

But today was Transfiguration Sunday and Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and maybe short snippets and ideas and observations is all I'll write, but I think my voice, insofar as it asks after the love of God in Christ Jesus, should not be still in this historical moment.

It's a small voice. I have no illusions about what my tiny voice can do in this roaring wind tunnel. These blog posts average, last I checked, less than 50 hits per post.

A friend recently said something about running for office and I laughed it off. She said she wouldn't really wish that on me and that I'm a writer and that's better anyway.

So here I am.

I hope to yet be converted to Christ.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Queer Theology Synchroblog 2017 - Identity

Very Random Thoughts on the Theme of Identity

I remember, shortly after coming out, that I did a lenten exercise wherein I wrote daily to answer the question, "who am I?" I have no idea where that notebook is now, neither do I remember much about the exercise. It seemed important at the time. Maybe it was.

+ + +

Today, I made a list of words that all fit me. Fifteen words, none of which fully covers me (except maybe hairy?), and even when combined, doesn't get to who I am. The words might apply to any number of people, millions of people, really.

In any one adjective, I am commonplace. Start mixing them up, and things start getting a bit more unique.

But even gay performer, American writer, hairy single educated cis Lutheran doesn't tell you about my interests in the early history of modern dance or super-hero comics or how I have more than a few photos of flowers on my cell phone. And what will that tell you?

Only so much.

Even as I tell you those things about me, I think of things left out.

+ + +

“‘He’s a gay artist?’ Well, what do you mean, I’m a gay artist? I’m gay. I happen to be an artist. ‘He’s a black artist?’ I’m black, it’s true, but how do you define a black artist? Is that how small you want me to be? I live my whole life with my dukes up in this pugnacious stance, and a lot of it has to do with keeping the motherfuckers away with their stupidity and their reduction, because I am mystery to myself and I am certainly not an open book to you.” 

Mystery. There's a word.
It's a word we use a lot when we get into God territory. It's a word that fits someone who tells a follower, "I Am who I Am." It's as if God is telling Moses, "I'm creator, sure, I'm law giver, okay, but if you really want to know who I am, get to know who I am, because I'm not going to fit inside your pocket." 

When we are honest with ourselves, we carry that bit of God's Image in us, the part that is mysterious, indefinable, best known by being known

I am not the Great I Am, but I am who I am. You're not going to comprehend it in one visit.

Or a lifetime. 

+ + +

We are shaped by so much. Geography, family dynamics, patterns and accidents.  I'm a German Lutheran farm boy from Paige, I'll often say, and it's all true, but wait, there's more. 

I think I can say, without hyperbole or overstatement, that who I am has been mightily shaped by being a Christian. It has opened and closed doors for me. It shapes what I write, what I perform, how I interact with other people . . . Whether in obedience or rebellion, Christianity has shaped me. Take Jesus out of my history and I am someone else.

Even saying that has some mystery in it. 

+ + + 

I'm finding myself questioning every line I've written here. No, not exactly, but I want to qualify, explain, expand most everything I've written. I think about that notebook from 20 years ago, daily lenten scribbles answering "Who am I?" I wonder how much of it is still true, if any of it was. I wonder if I should do it again. 

Lent is only a few weeks away. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Consequences of Glory - Christmas XII 2017

Glory to God in the highest . . . 

Praise and thanksgiving and honor and magnificence and splendor . . .

We like the glory parts of the story and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I want to end this Christmas run on it because it is part of the story.

I've been in a mood this season and so I've been a little focused on the less than pleasant parts of the story. It's easy to do, particularly when you feel like the world keeps taking a turn for the worst. The cross feels very relevant to me these days.

While I definitely believe we have to remember the cross---I could never belong to a church that skipped Good Friday---it must never overshadow all the ways that the story tells us that hardship, persecution, and death are not the totality of the story.

There are the heavenly host teaching us how to praise God. There are lilies in the field that out-glory Solomon in all his glory. There are miracles and healing. The hard things exist in the middle of all this. The glory doesn't make the hardships not hard, but it points to there being more than just the hardships.

There is Resurrection.

Glory to God.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Consequences of Obscurity - Christmas XI 2017

This is all pure speculation.

Every once in a while, one of my atheist or spiritual but not religious friends will post an article quoting one scholar or another about how Jesus was unlikely to have been a historical figure. I seldom get involved in the subsequent thread, but will often follow it for a bit, see where it goes.

Now, I feel like I need to say upfront that I'm not one of those Christians that feels like he has to defend every little question about my religion. If it were possible to provide incontrovertible evidence that Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the 12 disciples were all pure works of fiction, I don't know what difference that would make to me at this point. I recognize that a lot of the gospel story is a mythologizing of  . . . someone? I've read enough "historical Jesus" material to find it all interesting but not faith-threatening. I think if I were to have denounced Christianity, as I toyed with some 15+ years ago, I would have done it by now, but these stories, for better and worse, have shaped me, shaped my life and since my one attempt at dumping it all failed, I figure I'm here to stay.

But I'm as prone to speculate as anyone and often these proclamations of the fictional nature of the gospels rests on more or less on major  premise: Jesus is not mentioned in any non-Biblical material, anywhere. Well, there's the one mention of him in Josephus, but I've seen the argument that some zealous Christian added that to Josephus' history. I don't know. I wasn't there and I haven't researched that claim.

Reading the Bible stories about Jesus, it's easy to get the impression that he was like some rock star, getting huge crowds everywhere he went, known by everyone. Did he really attract 5000 that one time? Having grown up near a town of just under 3,000 population, I have to say I suspect some hyperbole on the part of the gospel writers. Was Jesus' triumphant entry int Jerusalem really create traffic jams and crowded sidewalks? I suspect that, too has some hyperbole. It was clearly enough to get the attention of the authorities, but how many would that take? I see protests on street corners here in Houston that attract law officers and there's maybe 100, 150 at those. And Houston has, I'm pretty sure, a much larger population that than Jerusalem did at the time. If Jesus did gather a couple of hundred folk, that would have been upsetting to the power structure.

But Jesus wasn't the only wandering preacher of the time. He wasn't the only figure to gain a following. One thing that Rome did well was that it squashed anything that looked the least bit threatening to their power structure.

So Jesus was just another bug to step on, really. He, and John before him, may have run foul of the powers that were, but it's hard to know how many like him there were. Jesus and the two thieves were not the only ones to be crucified, not by a long shot.

Thus my speculation goes like this: Only the few around him would have considered writing down stories about him. It was the growing numbers of people who shared the Jesus stories that made them famous.Otherwise, he was more or less just another obscure preacher with a penchant for pissing off powerful people.

In some ways, this obscurity, this hard-to-pin-down-historically aspect of Jesus fits the general point of the Incarnation. God became human, and not even a famous human, but this unremarkable, popular-with-the-wrong-people sort of human.

Of course that sort of obscurity---a sort of humility, really---that creates the theories that Jesus never existed as a historical figure.

 (Take a moment to compare to the stories, rumors, and controversies about someone like William Shakespeare, who lived a more popular and public life and only 400 years ago.)
And now that I've had my say about that, I probably won't engage on the topic again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Consequences of Impossible - Christmas X 2017

The story we have (in Luke) goes like this:

Mary was a virgin. Elizabeth was beyond child-bearing years. Neither had any business giving birth.

Zechariah found it impossible, too, despite getting the news directly from an angel in the Temple. He lost his voice for questioning what God can do.

Mary, too, questioned Gabriel, but she didn't get the sentence of silence that Zechariah got. Perhaps her youth spared her or his status as a priest should have made him more receptive to angels appearing.

And honestly, I have to wonder about people who are being addressed by an angel and then question what they're being told. The angel appearing made perfect sense, the message did not.

Still, here's what the story tells us---the virgin and the post-menopausal both give birth. It's a recurring theme throughout the Hebrew scriptures, too, particularly the "barren" giving birth. The whole Jewish religion begins with such a story in Sarah.

But because I'm in a warning sort of mood this Christmas, I can't help but notice and point out that both of this boys, Elizabeth's and Mary's impossible children, they come to sad, cruel ends at the hands of powerful people. In most stories, told from the perspective of the powerful, these endings would be all there is to it.

Fast forward some 20 centuries and you have powerful people claiming the stories of John and Jesus as their own. They find no irony in claiming to be followers of Jesus while acting like Herod and Pilate.They take the impossible and turn it into the mundane, the banal.

We have to remember the impossible work of God. It is work that upends our ideal of what makes sense and what the natural order of things should be. It becomes stories that are first squashed and then co-opted by the powerful. They result in obscure wilderness preachers being remembered for centuries even as we remember the rulers of the time only for the way they opposed the preachers.

The impossible has it's consequences, but it is the way of God. We lose our way when we forget it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Consequences of Hope - Christmas IX 2017

I'm moving a bit beyond the tradition Christmas stories today, but I'm thinking about Simeon. Here's what Luke has to tell us:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel."

 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too." [Luke 2:25-35]  

Simeon had lived in expectation of seeing the Messiah before he died, and when it happened, gave us this song, which in my youth we called by the Latin name, "Nunc Dimittis."  It's an "I'm ready and thank you" hymn, basically, and something I've said over dying people.

It's the next part that I'm thinking about, though, where Simeon tells the young mother that her child will have trouble in his life and that her own soul will be pierced, too.

Not the blessing a mother might hope for.

Unlike Matthew, Luke doesn't have Herod threatening the baby Jesus, nor is there the flight to Egypt and other moving around. Luke is more into foreshadowing like Simeon's blessing.

New Year's Day, I woke to a Facebook news feed full of hope and defiance for 2017. There's a general consensus that 2016 was hard for a number of reasons, the least being a contentious election with the contention unlikely to let up anytime soon. I, too, felt the urge to post something defiant and full of resistance for the year ahead. I wanted to post something about how our hope for 2017 lies in defiance and resistance.

I didn't post any of that because seeing so many such posts in succession seemed to point toward something we can't be sure of. I do feel the incoming president has given us more than enough to be concerned about, to keep vigilant about. I do think resistance will be called for.

I'm also aware of the soul-piercing will accompany this. There is more than a little potential for pain and loss. I wasn't quite ready to add that bit to the news feed.

I see friends posting memes about how the institutions won't save you. It's true, they're too much a part of the power machinery. As troubling as Simeon's words to Mary are, we will have to look, like him, for salvation in unexpected places, like the baby he's just called God's salvation.

As Christians, we are fond of saying our hope is in the name of the Lord---a scriptural enough claim. Like Simeon, though, if we pay attention and are truthful, we know that such hope costs.

I do not know the future, of course. What I know is extrapolation from history and I'm aware of similarities and differences from past eras to our current situation. I have my hope, and I like to think my hope is something more sure than just wishful thinking. It is a hope that requires action.

All of this will have consequences.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Consequences of Names - Christmas VIII 2017 The Holy Name

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. [Luke 2:21]

Today we remember the naming of Jesus. January first gets this festival due to the Jewish custom of holding the naming ritual---and circumcision---of all boy infants the eighth day after they are born. The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel to make mention of this event.

A popular notion about naming is that it gives you power over whatever is named. Over people, yes, but also other things. I've heard more than once that a proper medical diagnosis, even if it is a difficult one, is a relief because it was no longer an unknown thing and it could now be treated.

It is this "power over" theory that is often used to explain why the Hebrew God was so cagey about being named. "What is your name?" Moses asks The Almighty. "I Am who I Am," is the only name Moses gets.

Children on playgrounds call each other mean names. Nicknames sometimes get used more often than a birth name. We accept or deny a name. We form our identity around our name or names. Even names we don't accept shape us.

Names give first impressions. I've known people who would not date people with certain names. Names that are from certain ethnic groups get passed over when employers scan job applications. Parents sometimes give daughters sexually ambiguous names so their resumes won't be judged based upon gender.

On this day we remember that the God who was cagey about giving a name received a name as well as the fleshly mark of the covenant given to Abraham. Circumcision and a name becomes another way that the humility of Christ is signified.  The name of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, gained a reputation and a following. It made him recognizable to the sick who sought him out for healing and to the soldiers who arrested him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In receiving these human constructs, Jesus receives some of the most subtle and persistent consequences of being human. It's another way that we celebrate incarnation in this season.