(Photo of service bulletin by Thomas Jackson)
I've pasted the Sunday, July 31 sermon from Molly Haws out in California, who presided over our blogging colleague Kirstin's memorial service on July 30. I invite you to take the time to read it before I go on with my thoughts:
by Molly Haws on Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 4:51pm
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Year A (Proper 13)
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
"Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward toward the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it."
--Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tombs of Atuan
We have today the Grand Slam Double Feature lectionary.
We start with the single most famous Big Time Wrestling Smackdown in Judeo-Christian history. We finish with Jesus hosting Picnic-Palooza for, not only five thousand of his closest friends, but also women and children unnumbered.
These are stories that are foundational to our tradition. They are epic.
And yesterday morning, instead of digging into the Hebrew up to my shoulders and wrestling Matthew’s account to the floor until my hip popped out of the socket,
I was presiding at my friend’s memorial service.
But as these things sometimes happen, I found that as I listened to people speaking, and as I myself spoke, about Kirstin at the reception following the service,
she had some things to teach me about Jacob, and blessing,
and feeding humongous hungry hordes.
Kirstin was a brilliant mind
and a gifted writer
and in her writing she spoke with a prophet’s voice.
And like so many of the prophets we meet in the pages of Scripture,
Kirstin in person was, at times, Too Much.
Too loud, too many words spoken too fast, too un-finessed, too awkward, too raw.
Kirstin walked through the world naked. She didn’t know she was naked. We knew. We saw her nakedness and it made us ashamed. And afraid. And our first instinct was, understandably, to cover her up. And when she kept being naked, no matter how many blankets and robes and perfectly good hand-me-downs we gave her, our discomfort grew and grew until sometimes it became resentment.
Not unlike what I imagine being in the presence of John the Baptist might have been.
Even for those of us who were somehow able to withstand her nakedness, who were able to understand that our discomfort was born of our own shame and pain, not hers, that she never demanded we cover her up or rescue her or fix anything for her, that our impulse to try to do those things came from within us, not her—even realizing and owning all that, being with Kirstin was sometimes a struggle. Sometimes being with her was as exhausting as wrestling all night with a nameless stranger.
And it was always a blessing.
I don’t think Kirstin chose to walk in the world naked. I think she just was naked. And she chose to walk in the world.
I don’t think, given his druthers, that Jacob would have chosen to meet his older, bigger, stronger brother—who he expected was carrying a full-grown, twenty-year-old grudge along with his army of four hundred—I don’t think Jacob’s first choice was to go to that meeting exhausted, and injured, and in pain, limping on a dislocated hip.
But morning came, and he was exhausted, and injured, and in pain. And it was time to meet his brother.
We don’t get to orchestrate our circumstances. We don’t get to choose our conditions. We only get to choose the direction of our movement.
Standing still is not an option. Mother Earth is turning toward the morning and she is taking us with her. We can’t change that any more than Jacob could. What we get to choose is the direction we face.
Jacob’s choice was between flight or freedom. He could have tried to run for it. He’d been avoiding his brother for twenty years, after all. He’d given himself in servitude to Laban in order to build his family and his household in safety. And he succeeded. He was safe in servitude. But he was not free. And now, he had a choice: to face Esau’s strength in the moment of his greatest weakness, or to run, and keep running, and never, ever be free.
The choice may be a hard one.
Jacob chose freedom. He chose to turn in the direction of his greatest fear, to walk in pain and hope toward the possibility of reconciliation with a brother who has no reason to accept him.
This is what blessing looks like. It is not easy, nor safe, nor fair, nor particularly attractive. It is making the choice to walk in hope—in whatever condition we find ourselves: injured or afraid; un-covered, un-prepared, un-whole; running or limping or hopping on one foot; moving, in hope, toward the possibility of the unreasonable.
I sat for a while at the reception next to a Muslim man who had worked alongside Kirstin in outreach to the homeless in Sacramento. He spoke of her commitment to this great work and as he spoke his own passion for this ministry shone clear and bright. On his other side was a man who was a member of the congregation at Trinity Cathedral, who said that when he met Kirstin he had been trying for two years, without success, to convince the Cathedral to open its doors to allow the homeless to sleep there in the Great Hall at night. He was at the point of giving up, he said, when Kirstin came along and flung herself headlong toward this purely unreasonable goal.
Trinity Cathedral now hosts homeless people in their Great Hall every night. Kirstin just kept pushing relentlessly toward the possibility of the unreasonable until the decision-makers ran out of “no.” And, Mohammed added, since Trinity began this ministry, 24 churches, one synagogue, and one mosque in Sacramento have followed suit.
"[T]he disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’"
Jesus has a bit of a penchant for the unreasonable himself.
The job is Too Much. There are too many hungry and we simply do not have the resources. Five loaves and two fish? Are you kidding me? It’s not even a drop in the bucket—it’s nothing. We don’t lack for compassion. We know they’re hungry; that’s why the disciples are saying, send them somewhere they can get food to eat.
‘You give them something to eat.’
Jesus, relentlessly pushing toward the possibility of the unreasonable.
Five thousand men, plus women, and children. Five loaves. Two fish. And Jesus, saying, ‘You give them something to eat.’
What can we possibly say in the face of that?
Here it is. Here’s what we have. Here’s everything we have. It’s nothing, and it’s everything there is. Here.
As I read this, my first thought was, "Hmmm. Several of us could lay claim to being tagged as "Too much."" Now, Kirstin had a neurologically legit reason. She discovered well into adulthood that she had a rare congenital neurological defect known as agenesis of the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the main structure in the brain that hooks the left brain to the right so they can work together. People with this defect are often mistaken for someone with Asperger's syndrome or some other diagnosis in the autism spectrum disorders. Even though I never met her in person, I could tell there was something even in her postings that she was a little different, somehow. Turns out it was because her left brain and her right brain didn't have a whole lot to say to each other.
Yet she spoke in the blogging and Facebook world with a prophetic voice. She was also loved deeply by those in her physical live-time life, despite being, admittedly, Too. Much.
Many of us wish we could blame a neurological defect for our too-much-ness. But I'm afraid the vast bulk of us are stuck with the etiology of our being too much, being because we are, simply, too much at times. I know for a fact I wear out my friends. I know for a fact more than one person in my life has thrown up their hands over my too-much-ness and told me to get lost because they no longer wished to have their life defined by my too-much-ness. I have no excuse. I have no neurological defect. I have no Axis II psychological disorder. I have no diagnosis of any of the autism spectrum disorders (although, with my prolific cursing at times, I'd like to lay claim to Tourette's syndrome.) I have no cognitive, behavioral or neurological fallback position, and I know this because more than once in my life I have been evaluated for these things. I keep coming back as "normal, with a few issues, but well within the normal range."
But the people of the world of too much, are, in my opinion, in good company. John the Baptist was too much. Jacob was too much. Paul was too much. Peter was too much. The woman at the well, the woman with hemorrhages, and Jesus himself were all too much.
Christianity is a message of abundance. We're called to act like we have too much and it is burning a hole in our pocket. God asks us to give just a little more of our stuff away than is comfortable, love people who don't appear all that lovable, and worse yet, change our attitudes to the point we appear so naked in it, that people also wish to cover us up to save ourselves from embarrassment we never possessed but others seem to own.
God even uses the people who are too much to spread the Gospel light forward into a dark and dreary world. Maybe God ESPECIALLY uses people who are too much.