(Annotated anatomical drawing by Paolo Mascagni & François Carlo Antommarchi, 1826)
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our
Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks
to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take,
eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the
remembrance of me."
--Eucharistic Prayer A, Book of Common Prayer, p. 362
He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
The last few days, I've been waking up with the infamous "crick in my neck." I'm not sure when that started happening on a semi-regular basis. I'm guessing it's about the time I first noticed I could no longer turn around and look backward with my neck only, out the back window of my truck, and had to turn my torso around, and sometimes even unhook myself from my seat belt to turn around enough to look backward safely.
It's no secret where this is coming from. Over two decades of looking down a microscope have slowly started to settle into a litany of chronic minor neck, shoulder, and back issues--the #1 chronic occupational injury of pathologists. Oh, it doesn't stop me from anything. I still look the high school aged sacker at Hy-Vee in the eye as I hoist my 40 lb. sack of dog food and say, "Naw, I'll carry it out myself." I still am a whiz at heavy objects for my size. I feel as cognitively strong or stronger than I ever did, even though I know I am not thinking as fast or am not as easily highly focused as I used to be. I still have the stamina to do everything I want to do--but now it takes me longer to recharge, and might require a nap or two that didn't used to be necessary.
In short, I know that muscle by muscle, neuron by neuron, and organ by organ, my body is slowly betraying me--yet I feel I am as much of "me" as I ever was. I feel blessed that I have unusually good health--yet I know for the first time in middle age, that as far as our physical existence goes, entropy rules. None of us escape the betrayal of our physical selves although some of use will know the name of the thing that does us in, and others of us will simply fall apart slowly until one day we just grind to a non-specific halt. We will all either rust out or burn out, and we are not given the date and time that will happen. Every day, our physical selves become more and more transformed to the body of our humiliation.
But if I were to tell you who I believe in almost as much as God, I would tell you it's Sir Isaac Newton...and the Gospel according to Sir Isaac says, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Now, Newton was talking about physical motion, but consider the possibility of spiritual motion. I like to think that on those days when we feel our physical morbidity and mortality with one side of our brain, but are mentally ok with who we are, we are actually living in the balance point of feeling that equal and opposite action-reaction interplay between the physical and the spiritual. So much has been read and said about "living in the now." I like to think that living in the now simply means to live in the place where there is zero net force between our physical and spiritual selves. When we live in the place more on the physical end, things like our ego, our pride, our fear, get in the way. When we live in the place more on the spiritual end, we become navel-contemplating mystics, living in a world totally inside our own head, with no desire to share it. Yet to understand why our goal should be in that place of "zero net force," we have to live some of our days in the not-quite centered spaces on either side of it.
I know people might think I'm a little nuts when I admit that physics helps me understand what "living Eucharistically" is all about. But often, on Sunday, when I hear one of the many versions of our Eucharistic prayer, I hear that call to empty ourselves. To pour our bodies into an oven-fired food product, and to exsanguinate into a chalice.
I think about how those of us in the more liturgical Christian denominations are both attracted to the earthiness of bread and the bright shininess of a silver-plated, gold-lined chalice. We simultaneously desire to be one with the Earth, and one with the bright shiny holy hardware objects. When we eat the bread, we know that alone, we are not the same as the totality of the "given-up" earthly body of Christ, but with Him inside us, we are more than ourselves. When we drink or dip from the common cup, we know that, again, we are not the totality of the lifeblood of God, but we can be the vessel that offers it by ingesting it. We take the bread from the hands of the priest--holy earthiness shared between two human hands--and we take the wine with our own lips in the same way as we thirst for a relationship with God.
So, yeah, I wake up each morning with all those reminders of my body's slow transformation into humiliation--the crick in my neck, the stiff foot from plantar fasciitis, the creaky knee from too many years as a catcher. They are quite adamant about reminding me of that transformation. But at the same time, things like my prayer time, Sunday worship, and things like simply "kickin' back and havin' holy thoughts" remind me of my body's transformation into glory. It's a realization that our bodies are much more than our physical selves, and that they are not just "us" personally--they're ALL of us.
II Corinthians 2:14-17:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.
It's now becoming the time of the year that one of my favorite roadside weeds starts to dot the landscape...chicory. When you ask most people "what chicory smells like," they will tell you sort of an earthy, nutty smell. But they are talking about the ground-up roots. Honestly, most people have never bothered to smell a chicory flower. We drive by perhaps thousands of them en route to work, but never stopped and bent over and actually smelled one, or admired its fragile beauty.
The picture above is one I took of a chicory flower some time back. I've shown that to people and they did not recognize it as a chicory flower...simply because the vantage point of the photo is "up close." Chicory flowers are something we glance at from a distance, and our eyes tend to fill in some little nondescript blue thing without much detail or any colors besides blue.
So, as I pondered this passage yesterday, I was sitting in my yard and saw a little clump of chicory across on the other side of my gravel road--the side I don't mow--and as I pondered what "the aroma of Christ" was like, I started pondering what the aroma of a chicory flower was. I realized I honestly didn't know.
It actually took a few sniffs to discover it.
First my nose was filled with the green smell of the fresh rain from earlier. Then I could smell a green earthiness--kind of a faint oregano smell--of the leaves. But it took a while to smell the flower itself, which carried the air of a faint, light, sweetness--so light, the rest of the plant, and the smell of the roadside itself easily overpowered it.
I pondered the passage some more. I walked back across the gravel road and smelled some more. Back and forth a couple of times or so. The smell of the chicory flower became easier to detect each time I tried. Eventually, it was easy.
I thought for a while about how seeing Christ in everyone we meet is so hard. There are so many people that are easy NOT to like. I am sure there are people who can't see Christ in me with a magnifying glass. But maybe we make our mistake by limiting ourselves to "seeing." Maybe we should be smelling.
I thought about some of the people in my life that have taught me the most about being in the presence of God. Most of them are rather...well...earthy people. They are not always physically attractive. They are perhaps a little heavy on the four letter word usage. They are sometimes quite blunt, a little too raucous, a little overpowering. Some are not even very religious. But I'm that way to an extent, too. What I have come to appreciate, what I have come to love about those people is that I discovered Christ living within them because I sat still in their presence, sat in their "now," and over time I saw who they were as children of God. I saw little secret acts of mercy and kindness spring from them. I saw the truth of God in the earnestness of their blunt, unvarnished moments. Many times the presence of God sprang from them when they did not even know it themselves.
I'll be honest, I still can't see Christ in everyone. I probably never will be able to, totally. But I have figured out that some of them, you can't "see" it--you have to sit in their presence and smell it, and I will only smell it if I keep returning to try to pick up the smell.
Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”
The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.
I had a flashback to a very sad story from my high school years. I am going to change her name in this story to Leah in order to protect the innocent, and I don't know where her life took her after these 30some years, and she deserves her privacy.
Leah and I became friends right about the time I got my drivers' license. Her father was a police officer in town. Leah and I were into reading books and having big discussions about the places we wanted to go in our lives. Neither of us came from families where going to college was routine. We both had things we wanted to move beyond in our family lives. So a natural part of this interaction is we would hang out together, at the Dairy Queen, or at my grandparents' house, or out on the steps at lunch at school or after school. So it is no surprise she invited me to come over to her house. I have no idea to this day what it was about our conversation that made the ensuing events take place--maybe I had said something to the effect of, "I'm not putting up with the crap my folks put up with at home with each other," or "I'm not going to live like that,"--who knows. Or maybe it was something she had said to me. But I became relatively suddenly aware that her dad, who was kind of lurking in the background in another room, was watching me like a hawk. I remember being a little creeped out by it, but since he kept his distance, I really didn't think too much of it.
A couple days later, I saw Leah at school and she had bruises and marks on her face. As I approached her and said, "What happened?" she began to back up from me and say, "Nothing, nothing." Then she said, "You can't come over to the house anymore."
I looked at her and said, "Did your dad do this to you?" She started crying and said, "Please. Don't say anything. Just leave me alone."
And God forgive me, I did exactly as she asked. Maybe it was because I was 16 years old and didn't know any better. Maybe it was because I knew my dad would tell me to stay out of it, as he made it very clear to me that attracting the attention of cops was a bad thing (which had to do more with his feelings about police, not mine.) Maybe it was because I immediately saw it as dumb 16 year old kid vs. the entire local police dept. Or maybe it was simply because I somehow felt bad, that I had "caused" her to be beaten by something I said or did. To this day it haunts me, and sometimes when it pops up again, like now, I pray that somehow her life is better than it was back then.
But this was followed by a few months of her dad stalking me in his police car and pulling me over for every BS thing under the sun--not coming to a complete stop, going one or two miles over the speed limit, tail light out, etc. etc. etc. But he never ticketed me. Mercifully, he always stopped me in plain sight and never stopped me in a scary place where we would have been alone. But he would look at me and say, "I should ticket you, but we will keep this between us. We have an understanding."
Again, I never told anyone. I wasn't going to tell my parents or grandparents--I feared they would cross examine me about being stopped by a cop--after all, if I were stopped, I must have been doing something wrong, right? I didn't want to admit to anyone that I knew about domestic abuse in someone's family because I also knew in my own family, in many places, our sins were ever before us. I simply suffered in silence to no one but God.
After a few months, Leah and her whole family moved away. I always wonder what precipitated that, but who knows. To this day, I don't really know where she ever ended up.
When I read this story in Acts, I think about what all must have been happening before Paul and Barnabas came to town in this episode. The Pharisees, although they had been converted and were believers, for some reason still needed to feel the upper hand in the early church. They still needed to be in control of the family. One of the ways they figured they could control these new Gentiles, to put them in line, was to teach them the ultimate reminder of what being a Jewish male was all about.
I wonder. Did any of them approach Joe Gentile and say, "Well, you know, REALLY, if you want to be a believer, this is what you have to do...but well, it's really painful...but I won't make you do that right now. We will keep that between us." I wonder if this was a way they made women feel they were 2nd class believers--after all, if this was the requirement of being a true believer, well that just automatically cut out the 50% of the population with the wrong parts, now, didn't it?
I wonder if they were hoping when Paul and Barnabas came to town, and it became apparent they were preaching a message of hope and love and inclusion and equality, that these Pharisees stood up and said, "Hey, wait a minute? What about the circumcision thing? How are we going to know who's a believer and who isn't? Yeah, ok, they confessed their sins and say they are followers of Jesus--but how do I know they really mean it? That might be enough for some people, but that's not enough for me."
Sadly, I also wonder who got beaten up after Paul and Barnabas left town.
But maybe that didn't happen. Maybe the community saw this message of inclusive love and when Paul and Barnabas left, they stood up to the abuse they had been getting. Maybe they said, "Yeah, I used to feel that way, but I don't think that is what this church is supposed to be all about. We think it's the other way around--If YOU want to stay, Pharisees, you are going to have to give it up and love us uncircumcised bozos as is, and treat the women the same as the men."
But then I wonder who sat silently in the corner who had been bullied by the Pharisees into circumcision, his boy parts still aching from the event, thinking, "Why did they make me do that? Why didn't God stop them? Why did I fall for this crap? What did I do that was so bad, to put me through this? Why didn't I tell on those guys sooner? I just wanted to be loved by God, and look where it got me." I hope the other members of the church community put their arms around him and loved him, and said, "It's all over now. Let's break bread together. I'm sorry you suffered in the name of the church. I know you're hurt, I know you're angry. But let's do communion together and let God sort it out, not us."
Fast forward 2000 years or so to what seems to have captivated the Anglican Communion, all the recent hoo-haa about Mitregate. I really have held my tongue on this one until now. I have watched my blog friends all be brave and post. But something in me, something old and broken by my own growing up experiences kept saying, "Don't spread crap about the family. Just sit still. Maybe it will blow over. Don't air crap about the family in front of everyone." But it was this Scripture from a recent set of readings from the Daily Office that unlocked my conscience. It's wrong to force other Anglican bodies to accept one Anglican body's interpretation of Holy Scripture. It's wrong to make special deals for one group and not the other. People have been hurt in many ways in the name of this. It's time to accept we should just shut up and share the Sacraments and let God sort it out, not us.
I couldn't help but use the blurb from the old Ronco Veg-O-Matic ad for this one. Many of you remember this post from last year, when I picked up on all the flap about a deacon with visual impairment using a laptop with an ornate cover for an overlay to read the Gospel. It was one of my most-read posts of 2009. The discussion on the Episcopal blogosphere was quite amazing. Many news sites and blogs had picked up the story of how she could more easily proclaim the Gospel with the larger font she could put on her laptop. Opinions ranged from "You go, girl!" to "She's breaking the Canons." All in all, though, it was a healthy discussion.
Well, by the Grace of God and with the consent of the people of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, that deacon, Stephanie Shockley, is now a priest. The photo above shows that her laptop has also earned its new stole and chasuble, so to speak. She is using her laptop as the altar book and my understanding is that it is now rigged with a foot switch for easy hands-free scrolling so that she can do the Eucharistic prayer seamlessly with both hands doing all the things the priest's hands are supposed to be doing at the Holy Table.
Others might feel differently, but I believe there was a special kind of rejoicing in Heaven Sunday, June 20, even greater than when a newly ordained priest ordinarily does that wonderful "First Mass." I truly do. And what she has done to get to this place gives me hope that the core document of faith of the Episcopal Church--our Book of Common Prayer--can be even more portable than ever before. It allows us to "do church" in more ways than we have yet imagined.
When I heard of her upcoming ordination, I sat and played with my iBCP application on my iPad. I thought about how it would be possible for a person to lead worship with it, with no flipping of pages, no muss, no fuss, no trying to flip stuck pages. I thought of how "the Eucharist is the Eucharist," whether is in a cathedral or a small parish, in a church or a foxhole, indoors or outdoors. I thought of how all it now takes is a smart phone or an iPad. Where can our collective church imaginations take us with this realization? Who knows!
I think a short prayer is in order here:
Almighty God, to whom nothing is impossible,
we give thanks for your servant Stephanie
and for the unique journey that she has taken
simply because she desired to proclaim God's word
to the best of her ability.
Open our eyes to the wonder of where technology
can begin to proclaim God's word
in places we cannot even dream of yet.
Insert in our conscious minds prophetic dreams yet to be dreamed
and mission fields yet to be discovered through the power of discovery.
Grant that Stephanie's ministry continues to be one
of faithfulness to you, and quiet persistence to do your will.
Grant that we be led to similar ministries of our own,
whether lay or ordained.
We ask these things in the name of your son Jesus Christ,
who was not afraid to show his own faithfulness and persistence.
I had a day away from Trinity today--this Sunday and next Sunday I am supplying for the 1st Presbyterian Church here in Kirksville. Had a couple requests among my blogging friends to post what I preached about today...so here it is...
Proper 7C—1st Presbyterian Church, Kirksville, MO-June 20, 2010
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the most high God?”
When Jesus began to challenge the voices inside this poor tormented man’s head, the man’s own reply must have echoed through every fiber of his being and bounced off every one of the voices inside of his head. If we pulled out a different sort of “bible”—the bible of psychiatric diagnoses, the DSM-IV—it’s pretty apparent this man was a schizophrenic. He heard many people speaking to him inside of his head. Voices that told him to rip his clothes off and run around naked because the mere weight of clothing reminded him of a humanity that was too painful for him. Voices that demanded silence of such a degree that the only solace he got was among the dead. My guess is when he heard music playing in the street, he got special messages from the music that he thought were meant only for him, and some of the messages weren’t very pretty.
I would also bet money that people in town weren’t prone to speaking too highly of him. At best, on a good day, he was probably one of those colorful characters like many we’ve known in Kirksville over the years. If they had newspapers back then, he probably would have always been submitting editorials and running for public office—and even getting a few votes. At worst, on his most difficult days, he was bound and chained—the legal version of “committed to 96 hours of observation” in those days. People probably wondered how they could lure him out of town to another place, little children made fun of him in the streets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people in town tried more direct methods of discouraging him like flinging the contents of their chamber pots at him when he passed by. All because these voices—“Legion”—would not leave him alone.
So imagine what he was feeling when Jesus—with no introduction, no asking of permission, and with no regard to his personal space—began to command the unclean spirit—the voices of “Legion”—to come out of him. This man didn’t know much, in his psychotic state, but he must have looked at the face of Jesus and knew this man was the holiest, purest thing he’d ever seen—and his heart must have sunk because he knew he wasn’t anything close to that. He must have known exactly who he was at that moment—so in a last ditch attempt to get this fully human, fully divine man to not be profaned by the likes of him, yelled, “What have you to do with me, Jesus?”
What have you to do with me, Jesus?
Wow. Let’s step back from that one a second. Now, many of us here today spend some amount of time on a regular basis, inviting Jesus to bring healing of various sorts to ourselves and to the lives of others. But when Jesus takes the initiative on that one, sometimes our response is more like the story of this poor tormented man than we would like to admit. All of a sudden, when we feel God start to work on us in our lives, to bring us to a new and better place, we suddenly stiffen up and take three steps back and go, “Now wait a minute. I don’t deserve this. I’m not really a terribly nice person on some days. I’m fairly ashamed of some of the things I’ve done, and I’m not really proud of some of the places I’ve gone in my life. No one is knocking at my door to hand me the Mr. or Ms. Congeniality prize. I am SO SERIOUSLY not worthy.”
Hmmm. (Pause) “What have you to do with me, Jesus?”
Well, as we continue on in our Gospel story, what happens next was probably quite a show. Oh, my goodness, there must have been squealing, and splashing, and mud and the swine herders yelling, and as those squeals subsided, all there was left was a bunch of floating hog bodies, an ominous, growing, silence, and a bunch of really, REALLY angry swine herders. I like to imagine, as that silence grew, all of a sudden, this man who had lived a life of torment, a life of feeling possessed by darkness beyond his control, for the first time in many years, for a few split seconds—heard absolutely NOTHING inside of his head—and even that nothingness can feel frightening. We all know that old saying, “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.” That peace, that silence, might actually have felt for a bit like “the devil he didn’t know.”
But luckily for us, nature abhors a vacuum—and so does God. As our story plays out, we discover this man regains his senses—he is “clothed and in his right mind.” Somewhere in this, his mind begins to become filled with goodness and the healing force of the Holy Spirit. That happens to us, too, when we stop backing up from the touch of Christ and simply stand still and feel his hands upon our face. That happens when we share a meal at his holy table in communion with God and each other. That happens when we catch that split-second glimpse in the sparkle of the eye of someone we know truly loves us. Our voices of darkness are replaced with voices of light. Our naked imperfection becomes covered with the warm, comfortable sweatshirt and blue jeans of a new life in Christ.
Just a heads up here. The meaning of this light, this warmth, this brilliance that comes out in us from Christ’s incandescent incarnation, is not always going to be apparent right away. I really doubt the swine herders in our story ever really cared that our man was healed in this story. I imagine they went back to town angry as all get-out and it is very possible that 20 years later, you could load them up on a little too much wine and they could still get on a roll about how “that dude with a beard came to town and ran our hogs down the bank and drowned them.” After all, it did make the people in Gerasenes nervous enough to escort Jesus to the city limits. But as with all good things, time has a way of revealing the truth, and the full goodness of good things. It’s very important we have faith enough to trust in the power of time.
There’s one more place we need to go with this story this morning. Let’s look at what our newly healed man’s response is. Right off the bat, he wants to go hang out with Jesus, like a puppy following him down the street, wagging his tail, begging “take me home with you.” Really, there’s nothing new about that. It’s our natural inclination that when someone changes our lives, we want to follow them forever. We’ve all done it. Maybe it’s a beloved teacher, or a much-admired professor, the friend who went to bat for us when our back was to the wall, the lawyer who saved us from a great injustice, or the doctor who pulled us through a dire illness. On this Father’s Day, maybe it’s a dad, or a grandpa, or an uncle, or a man in our lives who had no reason to be like a dad to us, but did anyway, that we remember. Maybe it’s even a caring pastor or a dynamic preacher! Imagine that!
But look what Jesus tells the man. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” He’s nice about it. He doesn’t throw a rock at the man or anything. But he’s pretty clear about one thing—go take your own journey with this. Tell everyone. Show your thanks to God and to the people in your community--not me, personally.
Jesus is telling the man to TAKE OUR STORIES OF HEALING TO THE STREETS. Christians, by and large, have a tendency to be very generous about our stories of God’s healing within the walls of the church, and at coffee hour afterwards, but we get a little edgy about telling this story at work, or to a friend whom we are unsure of how they feel about matters of faith. We get a little nervous about that “E” word—evangelism. We get images of tent revivals and people coercing us against our will to say and do things that just feel kind of scary, allegedly in the name of Jesus. Most of us are not going to want to stand on the corner of Franklin and Washington and shout to passers-by about how God has healed and delivered us. I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t even put my finger out and say, “Repent!” without busting up laughing.
So, ok, let’s all take a deep breath. Jesus didn’t tell us to do any of that stuff. He simply said “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” We can start right in the privacy of our own homes in a plain brown wrapper. We can start by simply doing things like saying grace at our table at home, and continue the habit when we have people over for supper. We can start by telling our children and the children close to us in our lives about the good things God does in our lives. In this Internet age, we can admit on Facebook that we are praying for someone. We can e-mail our friends a great prayer we bumped into on the internet, we can find a time each day when we pray for the needs of others and ourselves and perhaps read a little Scripture while we’re at it, and admit to others that, “Yeah, I do that every day,” with a sheepish grin on our face. If we simply start by doing that, it will spill out into the rest of our lives as a matter of course.
So today, as we continue with the rest of our worship, I’m going to leave y’all with a little take home assignment. Some of you in this sanctuary today know I started out as a junior high teacher. So I will admit I am into “take-home assignments.” But this is an easy one, and there won’t be a quiz. You are on your honor for this one. I promise I will do this one along with you, too, so I’m in this with all of you. Simply go home today and ask the question, “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” All we have to do is keep asking the question until we hear something. Imagine what could happen in Kirksville and the world if everyone in this room heard just ONE thing to that question. To borrow from the late Sam Cooke, “What a wonderful world this would be.” AMEN
Canticle 21, p. 95, BCP You are God (Te Deum Laudamus)
You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you;
Father of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son,
worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not shun the Virgin's womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God's right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your blood,
and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting.
You are God...and I am not.
I realize if it were totally up to me,
I would be claiming benevolence,
But I would really be simply doing as I wish.
Sometimes I strain and strain to hear what you would have me do,
What it is that would most please you,
But I forget that in doing that,
I have lost sight of you.
You do not expect me to have a relationship
Where I am required to bring an "A" home on my paper every day
To get your approval.
You are God, the Almighty;
Author of all creation,
praised by saints and angels,
apostles, martyrs, and prophets.
Yet you not just have room to love me,
but desire to love me.
I am no saint.
I am no angel.
I am no apostle, nor prophet.
I am only me.
I am not even a very nice person some days.
Yet you often show me how much you love me
and only ask that I love you back
and share this love with community.
You ARE God.
I simply ask for you to teach me to hear you better.
Yeah, I bet you are wondering how a post about love and marriage starts with a can of Diet Mountain Dew. Well, keep reading!
It's June. The month of weddings. It's the month I'm hearing about a bunch of weddings and sometimes even attending a few of them...and sometimes, I think the older I get, I am starting to be the grumpy old curmudgeon about weddings. Just recently, Lisa's post reminded me of that. It seems that, as the years roll by, the wedding industry becomes more and more predatory. Practical old me keeps thinking, "My God, you could have put down a sizable deposit on a house for what you are sinking in this wedding!" But I worry that how the wedding industry preys upon people is by letting young couples think that buying the illusion of Disney-esque storybook happiness will somehow show the world how much y'all are in love with each other. But I guess what bothers me the most is that even in the church setting, so many of these weddings seem essentially devoid of God, or at least my projection of God.
This is going to sound a little out of it here, but the wedding I most felt God was on the premises in recent years was a totally secular wedding. One of my cousin's weddings was a totally secular outdoor affair officiated by a circuit court judge and a carry-in meal afterward. But I thought about the up and down struggle that brought these two to each other, I thought about how from the get-go, their desire was for us all to share their union to each other--fully share a meal and good times, and our lives with theirs. To me, a "good" wedding feels like a baptism. It's not a union of "two" but a union of many. It's all the in-laws learning about each other. It's about making new friends on the other side of the family. It's about DOING all the things that really say we support this new couple in their journey, and about their desire to belong to all of us--not just each other.
What happens in these unions, these "good" ones, is far, FAR from storybook. There will be disagreements. There will be issues of control to negotiate. There WILL be tears. But there will also be moments that we all find ourselves profoundly glad this bevy of new people came into our lives. I think about my cousin's wife. Her aunt and her grandmother have been two of the best additions to that big group I call "my family." I knew that a couple of weeks ago, when I had posted on Facebook that I was mowing the church yard and had run out of Diet Mountain Dew and was kind of grumpy about that. I found it incredibly profound that the two people who came to my aid were my priest associate and my cousin's wife's aunt. Mind you, I would have survived. It was not a dire thing. But to be cared for in such a tiny and easy going way by those two people really floored me, and made me feel profoundly loved.
You see, anyone who truly knows me, knows that my signature drink is Diet Mountain Dew. Everyone at Trinity-Kirksville jokes that they know I've been working at church because there is a trail of Diet Mountain Dew cans lying around. When I'm sick, people are very likely to bring me a Diet Mountain Dew. The floorboard of my truck is often littered with empty DMD cans and bottles because I try to recycle when I can. That neon yellow liquid is the road to my heart.
But within an hour or so of each other, I realized that both my church and my in-law side of the family loved me more than I wanted to let on, and they both knew how much I love them back...and that moment would never have happened, had my cousin not married that wonderful bride of his a few years back. God was on the premises that day more than either of them ever realized, I think.
Pied Beauty (by Gerald Manley Hopkins)
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Messy Perfection (by Kirkepiscatoid)
Glory be to God for messy perfection—
For things done wrong but worked out right anyway;
For broken hearts patched with duct tape,
Reinforced with chewing gum and J-B Weld Epoxy;
Jokes told at funerals, smiles through tears;
And all moments of bravery in the face of fear.
All things backward and counter-intuitive;
Whatever is human, and heartfelt and real;
With whatever rude tools we venture forth into God's kingdom;
He sees true beauty in the rough hands of our souls:
(Viking key, circa 900)
"Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."
I was thinking this morning how we often see icons of St. Peter holding keys. I can't help thinking of keys without thinking of my late grandfather. He had a route of jukeboxes, pinball machines, coin operated pool tables, and, later, video games, around the Macon, MO area. One of the true blessings of my childhood was an entire shop of broken "machines," as we used to call them, that were only good for parts, and I was allowed to take apart and explore with real tools. That was pretty much how he used to babysit me. He would work in the shop and I would be happily engrossed in my own little world taking machines apart.
But there were always keys. Tons and tons of keys lying around. Some of them were master keys that opened all of one make and model of jukebox. At a very early age, I knew the taxonomy of his keys. I knew tubular keys often went to the coin drawers of jukeboxes. I could tell the keys apart that went to Williams pinball machines, as opposed to Gottlieb pinball machines. I liked having this very specialized knowledge as a child that most adults did not know.
On the other hand, a lot of those keys were useless. Many went to machines that no longer were in service. But he never threw any of them away. He used to say, "You never know what they might end up going to, someday.". Once in a while he was right. Once in a while a 20 year old key worked on a new machine he had bought, and he suddenly had a spare.
He kept all his keys in a big drawer in his desk, and there was always a big ring of his most useful ones in his station wagon that he drove on his route. Even when I was too little to be of much help on his route, he gave me a little ring of keys to some of the machines that actually worked, and I remember walking around with them in my pocket and those keys making me feel like I was able to unlock the secrets of the universe with them.
One of the things I am starting to figure out about this passage in Matthew, is that in the commissioning of Peter, he didn't just build his church upon one man. he commissioned all of us with his action. Look at the back story on this one. There is no doubt Peter was probably the most raw one of the Twelve. He was the most likely to blurt out something, the most likely to stick his foot in it, and often the last to get it. But I like to imagine the other eleven disciples were thinking the same things Peter was, but they were just too cool to blurt it out. They might even have been secretly grateful he was prone to it, and relied on him to express their confusion, also. but here's Jesus, telling the person most likely to get in trouble using those keys, and handing them to him with one admonishment--"You can use these for locking or unlocking, the choice is yours. Just keep in mind, what you lock here, will be locked in Heaven. But what you open here, will be opened in Heaven."
I think back to those keys my grandpa gave me as a child. Really, what kind of nitwit gives a seven or eight year old keys to the pinball machines in town? But I don't recall EVER using those keys to get a free game of pinball or giving my friends free songs on the jukebox. It was something about being given those keys, gave me the conscience to understand right from wrong better. It was a statement of my grandfather's love and faith in me.
When Jesus gave Peter those keys, it provided each of us with a set of our own keys through our baptismal DNA. Keys that we can use to lock things up with, or unlock things up with. These choices are ours. I'm ashamed to tell you, I've not been as responsible with Christ's keychain as I was with my grandpa's. I have probably used those keys more for locking things up than unlocking them. I forgot what a lot of them go to anymore.
But what is interesting is that God never takes the keychain away from us for irresponsible behavior. Time and life lessons give us more chances with those keys. I am learning, in my own life, that keys I thought were useless now open things I did not know existed. Keys that I thought opened one thing, actually open things I did not used to think were related. I am learning to use them for opening more than for locking, these days.
Sometimes, I just need to put my hand in my pocket and feel they are there.
God gives each of us a unique keychain made up of our individual gifts and life experiences. Think of what both this world, and the next, could be, if we simply spent some time pondering what those keys unlock in ourselves and each other!
On the way home from a diocesan retreat/conference, driving through the hills and hollows on the way to a bit of my own personal retreat, I kept thinking of a prayer my Bishop said it took him years to learn. It's a very simple prayer--"God, let me present myself for who I am."
That, of course leads to a very simple question with a very hard answer--"Well, just who the he'll AM I, anyway?"
I recognized this has mostly to do with Self (with a big "S" as in our true and holy Selves, the Self that God sees when he looks at us,) as opposed to self (with a little "s" as in our selves as we think we are projecting to others, the self that truthfully, is mostly a facade of our own making.)
Then I got to thinking how many of us go through what I call the Ayn Rand phase of life. There is a point in many folks' lives, when we are just coming out from under the control of adults, usually late high school or college age, where we read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, and suddenly we get the notion that we can exist in a world that is totally independent of others, that what things are, are how we choose to define them, and that the ideal life situation is one where we only answer to ourselves.
Weeeeeelllll...that is kind of exhilarating and fun for a little while, but most of us get over that one somewhere by age 30. We realize we neglected the little fact that humans do tend to like to feel needed, loved, and appreciated. Even someone alone on the proverbial desert island depends on the rest of the world not to destroy it, and needs other people only if it is to have the thrill of chasing them away.
I remember that phase ended for me when I realized Ayn Rand needed other people to pay attention to what she had to say, and to buy her books so she would have an income. Sure, she tried to pawn it all off as free trade, but the fact of the matter was she liked the adoration and the controversy of her radical views.
These days we see this championing of self with folks like the Freepers and the Tea Partiers. One might wonder if some of our more literalist Christian brothers and sisters aren't engaging in a little Ayn Rand-ian behavior when they interpret certain parts of the Bible in literalist ways, such as when they don't subject the eating of shellfish with the same set of Biblical interpretive eyes as homosexual behavior. It is very easy to simply line up all the things we personally think are icky and morph any of our personal icky feelings in to us not saying they are icky, but ascribing them to a higher authority. But if we don't bother to look behind things, we don't use them to really explore the soft underbelly of our personal morality.
Take something as simple as my 29 year love affair with shiny red Ford F-150 pickup trucks. Over the years, that vehicle choice has defined "me" to myself and others. My friends would think I was ill if I did not own one. I would have a hard time with my ego for a while if my regular ride was a subcompact car. But ultimately, would all that mental gyration affect who my true and holy Self is? Nah. God would see me as the same person.
But in that simple prayer--"God, let me present myself for who I am"--is quite a whallop in terms of what I am asking God to do. I am asking to be exposed. I am asking others to see me stripped of my shiny red truck, my bravado, my fearful hedginess, my bluster, my fear, and all the trappings my ego adorns the projected "me.". Oh, God, make me brave enough to even ask such a thing.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother. ’ ” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth. ” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. ” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
What strikes me as hidden in this verse--we get so fixated on the plight of the man in this story--is that, buried in the words of the story is a very important attribute of Jesus in verse 21: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him."
Jesus was telling this man a hard piece of news but good news--that nothing we can do individually has anything to do with our holy inheritance in as one of God's children--but it was not in a chastising way, a mean way. He truly looked on this man with love. I like to think it's the same look of love that we get from those who are close and special to us, those moments when no words are said, but our hearts are warmed.
In light of this, I became fascinated with the recent work of Marina Abramovic's recent performance work, "The Artist is Present." I suggest you simply, when you are finished with my post, make some time to sit quietly and watch her Flickr slide show of the faces who looked back at her during this project here.
What strikes me in the gallery of pictures are the number of people who have streaks of tears falling, or wet eyes, yet a joyful look on their faces. I like to think it's the essence of what the joy of seeing God in each other is all about. I invite you to simply look...and feel.
(Pablo Picasso, "Girl Before a Mirror", 1932)
"With the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse."
It all started this morning when I was brushing my teeth. I was looking in the bathroom mirror and had the sudden realization that when you look in a mirror, you don't see yourself--you see yourself, backwards. You see everything behind you, but nothing in front of you. Mirrors are not all that useful when we think about what lies ahead. Great for reflecting on what is behind us, though.
Then as I sat down with my morning habit of "The Daily Office" and my systematic, monastic run-through of the Psalms, what should be part of my reading but this tidbit in Psalm 18? (That's the trouble about the habit of regular Bible reading...it leads to thinking. Imagine that.)
As I sat with that thought, what bubbled up was a realization that we DO tend to reflect what surrounds us. If we surround ourselves with abundance and generosity, we tend to reflect those values. If we surround ourselves with the tools of self-absorption, we tend to reflect a self-absorbing nature.
Yet, things bigger than ourselves tend to influence what others see and reflect, themselves. I sat with my coffee, and pondered backwards. Although I could not tell you at what point this shift occurred, somewhere in that process of my becoming a physician, there was a day that I somehow stopped worrying about who I was to become--to "be"-- and thought more about "What do I want to reflect to others?"--and in that process I began to become that person. My best guess is it started to happen at some point when I realized medical students are apt mimics of their residents and attendings--for better or worse. But I remember thinking way back when, somewhere back there, I became cognizant of the fact I wanted them to mimic the good parts of me. It might have even happened when I caught one mimicking something I'd rather they not mimic in me.
I imagine many parents go through the same thing. A day comes when many parents realize that it's important for their children to see parents who reflect the values they want their children to embody. It's a day when they stop reacting and start consulting with their spouse about how to project that image. As that happens, parents mature, and relationships mature.
So it is with the "holy habits" we take on as we recognize regular spiritual disciplines are a part of being in relationship with God--things like regular prayer or meditation time, Bible reading, keeping a prayer list, etc. In the beginning, we take them on because we think we are going to "become something" as a result of the habit--that this somehow will make us more in tune with God. But over time, we come to realize God was in relationship with us all along, and it's no longer to "please" God, catch God's attention, etc. It is more to create a milieu that others can see when THEY are needing to see God's kingdom.
My EfM mentor often has described her experience of having survived a scary time recovering from an often fatal pulmonary disorder called Bronchiolitis Obliterans--Organizing Pneumonia (BOOP.) She knew many people were praying for her, and in her mind, she could see a "net." Part of the process she trusted in her own ability to trust God, no matter what the outcome was to be, was to "lean into that net." She has described how she came to understand she was to lean into this net, that it was not about the net having particular power to control whether she lived or died, but simply that she was to learn to trust its power.
When I think back to this recent article I read, where Fr. Ron Rolheiser describes what he believes to be the ten major faith struggles of our age, it makes me realize that conventional notions of evangelism are like us looking in the mirror--us, backwards. To me, evangelism has far less to do with me personally, or my efforts, as it does to be a part that maintains that "net."
Yes, our holy habits shape what we reflect to others to some degree, and that reflection can be part of what others see as they search for what Rolheiser describes as the four great spiritual yearnings people most seek--a personal morality, social justice, mellowness of heart and spirit, and community as a constituent element of true worship. More importantly, our holy habits shape and maintain the net--it's not so much about "us" as we might think.