Friday, April 15, 2022

Ah, Holy Jesus

 Notes and Confessions Lent 2022 Good Friday

There was a time, not so long ago, when my mind was on Jesus this day. Only on Jesus. 

There was a time, not so long ago, when, had someone brought up the atrocities this day instigated against Jewish neighbors, I might have innocently waved it off with a "yes, that was terrible, but we don't do that anymore, we know better now." 

But if I've learned anything in the last decade, it's that I'm more naive than I thought--and I thought I was pretty naive. I've learned that there is so much more to consider on this day. 

I've learned we do not know better now. I've learned we do still do that. 

I marvel at the Jewish friends I have, who seem to love me and accept me despite my Jesus loving ways. Sure, they might know it's #notallChristians but I would not blame them one bit if they didn't keep a wary eye on me. Raised in Christendom, in Christian hegemony, I'm sure I have, at times, given them reason to hold me at arms length. Just as I doubtlessly say racist things without meaning to, because white supremacy is so strong in the culture, I've doubtlessly said anti-Semitic things because I'm the inheritor of anti-Semitism. 

Jesus died for my sins? Maybe so. But how many have died because of my sins? 

Honestly, I don't know what to do with today. What to do with the Gospel of John. What to do with centuries and centuries of theology that has justified Good Friday murders. 

It's right there from the start, in the story of the garden arrest, isn't it? Peter lashes out with a sword in defense of Jesus. Why wouldn't I expect that any number of people would do the same after having heard the story? 

I'd like to say that surely the writer of the Gospel of John (the Gospel most often quoted in anti-Semitic literature) would be appalled at this heritage, this legacy of the story they told. But I can't know that, can I? I have no way into the mind of someone who wrote 2000 years ago. 

So, here I am, this Good Friday, unable to deny my Christianity any more than I can deny my whiteness, not sure how to even talk about Jesus anymore. The figure who has given me comfort, encouragement, yes, salvation, is also at the center of centuries of hateful crime. 

Ah, Holy Jesus. How hast thou offended? 

Better we should ask, how do we stop offending?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Kenosis and Triumphalism

 Notes and Confessions Lent 2022

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
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.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2: 1-11]

This famous scripture . . . I worry more know the second section better than the first section. 

That "at the name of Jesus" business, it's most often brought out in a triumphalist shout. It often has a bit of prideful boast to it, a declaration of "our God wins and yours doesn't!" 

This attitude completely misses the previous section. The humility of God in full display: the indifference to being equal with God, the understanding that ultimate power was not to be grasped at, exploited. Christ had it all and emptied himself, poured it all out, all the power and glory and authority. This is what came first, before any knee should bend. 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .

But we like the glory. It's shiny and pretty. We like winners, and having every knee bend to our winner of a God is where we look first. 

It's so like us, who often see Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as optional, but are ready to appear on Easter Sunday. It's not that we need to feel bad before the celebration, it's that we need to know the cost to the one we worship, the one who still comes to us humbly, quietly, without demands. 

Kenosis, this self-emptying, self-pouring-out, is not easy. As much as we might meditate on it, think we practice it in some way, we will never really be empty. We haven't the self-awareness to do it. We're too afraid to trust that an empty vessel won't be refilled. 

We don't know how full we are. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Insurrectionist and Murderer

Notes and Confession Lent 2022

Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) [Luke 23: 18-19]

Give us Barabbas. 

I'm 58 years old, grew up in the church, so it's fair that I've heard the story of Barabbas at least 58 times and quite likely some multiples of that (former seminarian and all).  Today, Palm Sunday 2022, I heard it in a new way. 

Of course, the words that jumped out to me this morning, thanks to current events in these United States, are "insurrection" and "murder." 

I questioned, for the first time, why the people would ask for Barabbas. Perhaps because they had more hope in Barabbas than they currently had in Jesus. The one who was actively trying to overthrow the Roman rule seemed like a better choice for a messiah than this itinerant preacher and healer. On top of all the ways that Jesus ended up in Pilate's court, he just wasn't all that promising for bringing liberation for the Jewish people. In fact, he was maybe in the way. Let him hang. Give us Barabbas. 

This is all off the top of my head, and more eisegesis than exegesis. But let's work through this a little bit. 

First, we should never read anything in the New Testament as pro-Rome. So, it's not like we should read this and feel sorry for Rome or Pilate. They were crucifying people, for crying out loud. Not nice people. Not a nice regime. We might feel Pilate sweat that the people preferred Barabbas over this preacher-healer who maybe said suspicious things about the Reign of God but wasn't actively trying to overthrow Rome, but we needn't feel sorry for him. 

And Barabbas? Depends on where you land on violent revolution. Revolutions make heroes and villains of the same people, depending upon where you stand. We can only take at face value that in this moment, he was preferable to Jesus. Given the choice between a troublesome healer and a murderer, it seems we lean towards the murderer.

In our current situation in the USA around these situations, my mind cannot help but turn to the January 6, 2021 attack on the nation's capitol. Who is playing Barabbas in our modern drama? There are a few candidates, I guess, though most of them not directly murderers. Playing Pilate/Rome is the US government at large. Let's not fool ourselves that we're anything but an empire with enough history to say we are not a nice regime. 

Jesus . . . I don't see a Jesus figure in our modern story. And that's okay. It's almost better not to look for one. 

Because I feel we are in a situation without heroes. If anything, we are to look at Jesus in this scenario and look at that famous "third way" that Jesus represents. 

I'm not going to lie. The third way in the USA right now makes me very uncomfortable. I don't see a third way that doesn't make you an enemy of everyone. Which isn't off brand for Jesus, really. 

A third way of healing, of preaching the Reign of God--we see what that gets a body. 

So here is where I start Holy Week, 2022.

Saturday, April 2, 2022


 Notes and Confessions Lent 2022

It was another Spiritual Director day. We covered no little ground, as we do, but I was expressing some dissatisfaction with, oh, life in general and I can't remember what he asked specifically now, but something about my spiritually and how I move in the world. Maybe he referred specifically to how I'll talk about the changing of the seasons, what's blooming, the temperature, and I agreed it was my ability to notice creatures on my walks, to notice buds (leaves or flowers) on plants that gives my life meaning when I'm otherwise feeling low. 

But then I paused and said, "I cultivate this, though. I make a point of doing it. This is how I cultivate wonder and awe and joy." 

I think this goes back to what I posted about a few weeks ago (after my last session with the SD), the notion that we chose our values. I think we, to some extent, choose wonder. We maybe have some ability to decide what captures our attention, what we will look at and draw joy from it. I mean, we all have our predilections, but like a talent, it can be cultivated. Or like a skill, we can learn it even if it doesn't come naturally. 


I also find myself saying sometimes that I have a broad aesthetic, that I can encounter a broad range of art styles and take something from them all. I also recently realized I've cultivated this, too. If I hadn't sought out and puzzled over and studied contemporary art, I'd probably still be declaring only representational art is "real art" or "high art" or some other designation that I no longer believe in. That's not to say I don't have preferences and personal tastes (I much prefer spending an evening with modern dance over ballet, for example), but I've also decided to not dismiss other human creativity. 

Maybe that's it. A decision to not dismiss? A decision to take in? 

Obviously, I'm still puzzling over this. I can make counterarguments before I get to the end of each sentence. 

I do believe, though, in the cultivation of wonder, awe, joy, a broad aesthetic. It sometimes makes me feel out of step with the culture at large, which seems to me to too often choose judgment and boredom. I have those, too. I am a part of this culture as much as anyone. I may even have some predilection towards judgment, for sure. 

I suppose the point is that I work to weed out (to continue the gardening metaphor) judgment and cultivate the wonder. 

My garden's a mess. Don't look at it for a model. Just noting. I believe in cultivating wonder. I shall continue to do it.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Whose Voice?

Notes and Confessions Lent 2022

 I recall the first time I read something by Maya Angelou. It was in 7th or 8th grade. I was struck by her description of an elderly Black woman's skin, purple black and delicate like a ripe plum. (That's how I remember it, anyway.) Now, 40-some years later, I wonder if that was the first time I'd read a black writer in class. 

I stopped blogging some years ago in part because I wondered about my voice being necessary. I'd become very aware of the dominance of white voices in every medium. My stumbling attempts at talking about race,well, stumbled. 

If I play the gay card for having an under-represented voice, well, how far does that take me? Of the gay voices that you know, how many are white? On top of that, as I age, just being gay is not that interesting, not when there are other, I'll say queerer voices to be heard? I'm that gay writer that has been told by gay editors that my work wasn't gay enough for their publication or press. My gay card has a low credit limit.

Does the world really need another Christian writer? 

And yet I have this urge to write. I've been writing more again, recently, and it gives me joy. I'm maybe even publishing a wee bit more, but it's not what some would call a career. Still, I'm a writer. As I often have said, I'd stop it if I could. 

Some years ago, someone read a piece I wrote and they remarked something like, "I hear your quiet gentle voice in your writing." My first reaction was, "no one wants a quiet gentle voice! How do I market that?" But it's true, I realized, and I've leaned into it. Most of my attempts at writing "edgy" or . . . more loudly has mostly come out flat and hollow. (Can something be flat and hollow? Let's assume it can.) I'm a quiet person with a quiet voice. 

But does that help anyone? 

More importantly, does it make room for other, less represented voices? 

Maybe it does, since it's not loud. And maybe for those who want a quieter voice, here I am. 

Anyway, this is why I stopped blogging a couple of years ago. Another gay white guy of a certain age blogging "insights" . . . yawn.

This is what I've really wanted to write about this lent, but look at it. It's kind of whiny and, well, white.

I'm writing because I have the urge, maybe even a need. Dare I call it a vocation? 

That's one of the confessions I wanted to make this lent. I have this need to write and I see no need for another white voice in the cacophony of voices. 

Maybe there will be need for my voice when I'm dead. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022


 Notes and Confessions Lent 2022

I had a conversation with my spiritual director today. It took quite a few digressions, but one is staying with me into the bedtime hour. 

What do I value? I asserted that our values were important and that we had to cultivate them, but then I also admitted that with advances in science of personality, we learn more and more that things like what kind of flora (and fauna?) we have growing in our gut can affect our mood and personality. We've long talked about chemical imbalances in our brains causing depression or manic episodes.How much free will do we have? How much can I choose what I value?

Do I have the bug to write because I have a literal, however microscopic, bug in my gut? 

All interesting questions and I have neither the training nor the desire to get trained for evaluating these things. I know some tendencies that I have and I know I work against them. My tendency to judge has been tempered, I believe, by my readings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. I still have an initial impulse to judge, but I also have a secondary impulse to analyze it. Is the impulse to judge my nature and my impulse to analyze it and temper it my choice? Are both impulses completely some animal response that I have no control over whatsoever?

There are aspects of me that I know I have no control over. My sexuality is high on that list. What I do with that sexuality, though, is a result of my values about humanity. My sexuality may push me to treat men as objects of desire and little more. The values I cultivate around how I want to treat people tempers that push. 

In our conversation today, my SD and I talked about the animal brain response to danger, the self-defense impulse, fight or flight. I suggested that maybe my decision to not carry guns is a means to adhere to my value of human life when I know I have a (often disguised) impulse to lash out at people. 

And so on. 

As we talked, I admitted that my values are not always the value of the culture I live in, and I hope that some of these values are shaped by my lifelong investigation and study in the Jesus event (to use seminary language). A couple of times today, the SD asked, "How do you think Jesus would see this?" and I finally had to say that's not a question I've ever asked myself, that it felt presumptuous to even speculate on the mind of Jesus. I did say I sometimes look at people and situations and ask, "how do I love in this situation?" He asked if there was a difference.

I said, "too-may-toe, too-mah-toe." And we laughed. 

But these questions---what do I value? How do I love in response to this or that? I suppose even what would Jesus do? They shape us beyond our animal brain, I think. I hope. 

It's an ongoing question and maybe not one I can answer. This is one of those blog posts where I'm for sure asking more questions than I can hope to answer.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

It's Always About Mortality

 Notes and Confessions Lent 2022

I had a little health moment today. I'm not going to go into it because it will sound scarier to other people than it was to me. Enough to say it's a recurring health thing and I know what to do about it, and it passes. I also have a call into my doctor to debrief. 

Over 20 years ago, now, I had a friend who was dying. They lived a few hours away from me at the time, and so when I went to go see him and his wife, it was an overnight visit.

One of the last visits, if not the last one, I got there while he was on the phone with someone. I was hanging with his wife in their kitchen when I overheard him say, "No, don't come visit anymore, I don't have the energy for it and you'll need that money to come for the funeral." 

I turned to his wife and asked, "Did I push my way into this visit?" She shook her head and said it was all right. When he got off the phone I asked him again, "Are you sure it's okay I'm here? 

He said no, it was fine I was there. The person he was talking to wasn't okay with him dying, would get anxious when he showed signs of dying (he had awful coughing fits, for one) and then he'd try to suppress all his signs of dying, which only made him miserable. "But you," he said to me, "let me be sick. I don't have to hold back around you. You're okay with me dying and so I enjoy your visit." 

That sounds like I'm bragging on myself, but in my corner, I'd been through seminary and already trained in the art of being a "non-anxious presence." Nonetheless, I took it as one of the highest compliments I've ever received. 

I think a lot about him and that visit whenever I have some health issue. With all sincere appreciation for all the help I received when I had a huge surgery in 2013, I really prefer to be sick alone. I feel, with my friend, a need to be "not sick" around others. I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, I don't want to make anyone anxious, I don't want anyone feeling like they need to do anything. The vast majority of people (admit it, possibly you) are not okay with sick people. We want to help, we want to make better, we want to not experience illness, even when it's not our own. It is, understandably, too much a reminder of our collective fragility. Mortality. 

We're going to die. I don't like it.  I do not look forward to it. I will be the sort to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Probably. If confronted with the inevitable, I'm also likely to surrender to it. I can't see the future. 

I'm not particularly afraid of it, and so when I have something that I know is not imminently life threatening, I keep it to myself. I'll deal with, consult my physicians, and if it does turn into something "more" then I'll tell the people who need to know. And with some I'll have to act healthier than with others, but I"ll do my best to remind myself of the love involved. 

And in the event that this is too much of a Debbie Downer (hey, it is lent), I'll finish by saying this. At lunch, I wrote a monologue for the play I'm working on and the character told me something I didn't know about him before and that's so super exciting. That's been happening a lot lately with this play. I hope it doesn't get out of hand, but I keep thinking, "I'm really close to having a full draft of this thing" and then I go, "There's still so much to learn and reveal here!" 

To answer a question posed by Barbara Brown Taylor, this play is what is saving me today. Despite occasional "health moments" I have so much reason to live and everyday I find something that is saving me. I'm okay with dying and maybe there will eventually come a day when peace with death will save me. But not today. Thanks be to God, not today.