Monday, April 06, 2009

What Are You Going To Do?

Rating: GT
Mark 1:9-15
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

Mark’s gospel account reads like a report. This passage is 6 sentences. Seriously. And it covers John baptizing people in the Jordan, Jesus coming to him for baptism, the voice of God claiming Jesus as God’s son, the 40 days in the desert, the temptation by Satan, and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. 6 sentences. Bam.

Mark is not fooling around. He is getting the information down.

To me, Mark’s account conveys a sense of urgency, a need for information. This is not “come sit by the fire and let me tell you the most amazing story…”
Someone wants to know what the hell happened here?
I imagine Mark’s account to be a response to that urgency. It’s dense; it’s telegraphic; it’s just the facts, ma’am.

Someone wants to know, What the hell happened here?
and Mark starts out by saying, chapter 1 verse 1:
“Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”--
That’s verse 1. It only takes him 8 verses to get to “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Mark is telling this story as fast as he can.
Do you get the sense that there’s no time to waste?

What happened here?

It’s a good question for us at the beginning of Holy Week.

Now is the acceptable time, Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians. No more waiting. There is good work to do and there is no time to waste. Right now.

So let’s talk about reconciliation. Let’s look at what happened here, and what it is we think we’re doing here, today. Right now. The hard stuff. Let’s talk about the hard stuff.

I want to talk about where all this is heading. The season of Lent leading to Holy Week leading to Easter.
Every year, we spend 40 days, excluding Sundays, preparing to remember the betrayal of Jesus by his friends. His arrest and crucifixion and death. The burial. The confusion and chaos. The empty tomb.

What I always want to know is,
How did this happen? How did they let it— how is it that things went this far?
Was it necessary? Was it necessary for our salvation that Jesus died in this horrific way, at the hands of human beings? Why?
Who requires? What kind of God requires that level of agony and degradation? What kind of God requires that human beings torture and destroy the innocent as a condition for granting salvation to the lost?

Why did Christ have to die?
Because Jesus was human. And we tied him to a couple of wooden planks, drove metal spikes through his wrists and ankles, and set him upright until he drowned in his own pleural fluid, that’s why.
When you do that to a human, he dies.

It really is, I have come to believe, truly as simple as that.
Why did Jesus die? Because we killed him. That’s all. That’s why.

I say “we,” because even though you and I were not physically and temporally present, we are connected to those who were. We are connected through our shared capacity, in our very worst moments—not all the time, and not exclusively, but in perhaps only the one or two moments in our lives when we are not at all the persons we want to be—our capacity to engage in acts of destruction, acts of which we are later so deeply ashamed that we lock them away and cannot bear to think of them.

It is not my intention to “make” anyone feel ashamed or guilty, or to take on guilt or shame for someone else’s actions. It’s not necessary, because I don’t think I’ve ever met a person past the age of 8 or 9 who was not familiar with shame. There’s already too much pain and shame in the world. What I want to suggest is that each of us look with some compassion at those moments of shame that already exist in our own lives,
and recognize that this is just the way it is for us: this is the human condition--we are not always at our best.
We are not always the people we would like to be. Sometimes we fall down hard. All of us.

Only compassion allows me to look at those moments of my life. Without compassion, I can’t do it. I cannot. I cannot hold that shame unless I realize that this is the hand we are all dealt. None of us gets it right all the time, and we really are all in the same terrifying, open, and very leaky boat.

When I can do that, when I can find the compassion that enables me to look at my own life, then I can engage the story of Good Friday. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there and didn’t do it,
once I realize and face the fact that
if I had been there, I could have done it. If I were at my worst.
If I felt threatened enough,
if I felt betrayed and terrified and angry and helpless enough,
I could have done all of it. I could have sold Jesus out for the “greater good”,
I could have denied knowing him in an attempt to control and contain the damage,
I could have fallen asleep in the garden and run away from the soldiers.

I could have washed my hands of my responsibility for enacting justice.
I could have just followed orders.
I could have done as I was told.
I could have acquiesced to the authority of those in power
and abdicated my agency to stand up and speak out.

Not all the time. Not even most of the time, maybe.
But in my very worst moments, those few moments in my life when I have been least myself,
when I have been the most alienated from my own heart and soul and mind,
when I have felt most helpless and most isolated—
then, yes, I could have. Caught at exactly the wrong moment—
I could have done it.

God does not require Jesus’ death on the cross as recompense for our badness.
We are the ones who require it—-simply by being capable, in our worst moments, of such atrocities.

The good news of the crucifixion is that it is something that each of us, at our worst, is capable of doing. Jesus dying on the cross is the manifestation of our very worst.
We have, quite literally, done our worst--

and God still lives;
God is still God, and God’s love for us is unchanged.
We have done our worst. We have done our worst. Christ has died.
And Christ is risen.
And Christ is coming, again. And again. And again and again and again.

Christ had to die because we are capable of killing him.
It’s as simple and as horrifying and as bewildering and as heartrending as that.
Jesus died because we are capable of killing him.

Because the fact that we are capable of killing him
is why Jesus came to us in the first place.
God knows that we are in such bad shape
that our eventual response to the presence of God’s Incarnate Word among us
will be to nail him to a cross until he can no longer breathe and his heart stops beating. Jesus dying on the cross is the physical enactment of our absolute need to be rescued.
That, right there, is what God moves to save us from—-not by intervening and preventing us from doing it: because we’d still be just as capable of it, we’d still be just as broken.
God saves us by being God, by staying with us through all of it and by being God,
the same God who told Moses, “I am that I am.”
Jesus’ death was not “necessary”; it was simply inevitable.
As inevitable as God being God and raising Jesus from the dead.
Because God is still God: Creator, Spirit, Word, one God.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ is coming again.
We have done our worst; and even our worst cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]
That, my brothers and sisters, is good news. That is the good news that our brother Mark is telling us with such urgency and determination. That’s the story that he is telling as fast as he can.
That is what is happening here. Today. This day.

No matter what we have done or not done, no matter whom we have hurt or failed—-
God is still God.
And we are loved relentlessly.
We can begin again. We can come up out of the water and see the heavens open
and the Spirit descending upon us
and hear the voice of God naming us as beloved children

We can begin again. Right now.
Now is the acceptable time.
There is good work to do and there is no time to waste.
You are loved relentlessly—-relentlessly loved,
Beloved and cherished. Right now.

What are you going to do about it?

yours in the struggle,

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top Books: an honor system meme

Rating: Safe For All Audiences

From punkmonk at Sandals At The Gate , who blogs almost as infrequently as I do, but is SO worth visiting—really good stuff:

What we have below is a list of the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing users. Bold the ones you've read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion

Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Miserables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Tagging Kirstin, Swan, Blue Wren, and Byzigenous Buddhapalian.

yours in the struggle,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Rating: GT
Matthew 22:15-22
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. The reign of the emperor is transitory. So, give to the emperor the things that are transitory. The last 4 weeks have certainly demonstrated just how transitory are the things we give to the government, and to the stock market, and to the bank… here today, gone tomorrow, transitory.

So… what are “the things that are God’s” ? You know what really bugs me about this story, what really gets under my skin? It’s not so much that the Herodians and the Pharisees’ disciples set out with a trick question for Jesus. That’s not nice, but I understand it. It’s a very human thing to do. Trying to trap an opponent with a no-win question is something we see a lot of; it’s something that I freely confess that I’ve done, from time to time, and I’m not proud of it, but I get it and I’m in no position to judge. What irritates me is that once Jesus gives his answer, they go away. I’m left here saying, “wait, wait! Make him explain that last part!”

Really. The first part is so clearly laid out. Jesus says, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.” Great. He’s holding the coin. Very clear. Good.

Give to God the things that are God’s. OK, yes, absolutely… but… what does that mean? Can’t we get a little visual aid for this? It seems pretty important.

I am so profoundly grateful that I am not alone in this whole trying-to-be-a-Christian thing. Community and conversation: I do not know where I’d be without them. My brothers Paul and Timothy have some words of instruction, in their letter to the church in Thessalonia, in which they point out that community’s

• work of faith
• labor of love
• steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ

Hope. Labor. Work.
These are the things that are God’s. Our hope, our labor, and our work.
Where does your hope reside? Is your hope in Jesus Christ, or in someone else? Is it mostly in Jesus, with a little hope set aside in a hedge fund, just in case? Where does your hope reside?

Is your labor made of love, or of something else? Is your labor creative, or is it fearful? Is it in the service of life? Is your labor an expression of the right here, right now reign of God?

Hope + labor = work of faith.

Faith is work. I’m going to talk plain, brothers and sisters. Faith is work. Faith is what we do. Faith is getting out of bed in the morning and doing the work that is given us to do, and lying down again at the end of the day, and going to sleep so we can get up and do it all again tomorrow.
Our lives are a work of faith, made up of labor and hope.

As we go through this week, let’s ask ourselves: Where is my hope? What is my labor made of? Our lives are a work of faith. To whom is that work given? To a transitory emperor? or to God?

Give to God the things that are God’s.

Our hope, and our labor, and the resulting work of faith: Whose name, and title, and image are on the currency of your life?

Your hope. Your labor. Your life.


yours in the struggle,

Friday, October 03, 2008

Debate Prep

Rating: TFPC
And for those of you who enjoyed last night's debate...
OK, even if you didn't:

yours in the struggle,

Sarah Palin Trapped

Rating: TFPC
Check it out:

yours in the struggle,

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Workers, Ministers, Prophets

Rating: GT
Matthew 9:35-10:23

Jesus is giving his disciples instructions; and they’re very clear and explicit and concrete. He tells them to do six things:

1. proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.'
2. Cure the sick,
3. raise the dead,
4. cleanse the lepers,
5. cast out demons.

He’s also very specific about the scope of this project: this particular mission trip is “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That’s your focus. He tells them exactly where to go and then tells them how to go: “You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: to engage with the living God is to become vulnerable. Following the commandments of Christ means experiencing passion: choosing to be affected, at the deepest possible level, by our fellow human beings.
All mission and ministry is born in that place of vulnerability and passion.
There may be actions that are commendable and noble even, but without passion they are not missional.
Service without joy is not ministry, it’s just drudgery.
And while it may be possible to experience contentment or satisfaction from noble acts of service, joy is only born out of a place of vulnerability.

The disciples are to set out on a mission trip to the lost sheep of the house of Israel with no money and no spare clothes and no luggage and no staff to lean on or fend off stray dogs with, which pretty much means that they are going to be vulnerable at every step to all the circumstances of their journey.

So the parameters that Jesus sets up here are very well-structured in terms of action that is missional and ministerial.

Which is good, because some of the things he’s charged them to do are not exactly easy: I’m thinking here of casting out demons and raising the dead… and curing the sick and cleansing lepers are not party tricks either. These are big orders.

And… Jesus has told them that they will be given power to do these things. He’s very reassuring on that point. And given everything that Jesus himself has done up to now, I think I’d believe him. His credibility is very high right now.
So while these marching orders are definitely big deal, big time, there’s every reason for the disciples to have confidence that this thing is doable. And it’s exciting! Mission is exciting. There is good work to do, and there is no time to waste.

But there is something else.
And it is really hard.
Because there are six things Jesus tells them to do.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Man, I don’t know. And I’ve wrestled and wrestled with this.
It is just hard
And --I can’t find my way around the hardness of it.

Jesus tells them, sometimes it is not going to work. Some people are not going to take what you have to give and when that happens, here is what you have to do.

The sixth thing Jesus commands them to do is to walk away.

And that is—that might be really too hard. I’m not sure I can bear hearing Jesus command me to walk away. Everything in me screams that it’s just not right and he can’t ask me to do that.

But that’s what the words say; they’re very clear and not at all equivocal. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.

There’s nothing here to make us feel any better about it. Jesus doesn’t say, “Look, just work with people who can hear you, but don’t worry about it if they can’t, because it’ll be OK, you’ll see.”

That’s not what he says. He doesn’t say anything about what it means
and he doesn’t reassure us by talking about eventualities.
He just lays it out there: there will be times when your current reality is that
it’s not going to be OK. He says really clearly: it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Pain and suffering and tragedy and what I am telling you to do is

Where is the good news in that?

I’m not playing when I say this is hard.
I have staked my life on the conviction that God is Love
and that the way for me to grow and live into my true nature as a physical expression of that Love
is to be found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Incarnate Word of God--who is Love

and this commandment to walk away is --
I’m not feeling the love
I can’t reconcile that.

I don’t know.
Maybe there’s good news in just being honest
In speaking this plain unvarnished hard hard truth that there is
and suffering
and tragedy
that you and I cannot do anything about
maybe there’s good news in just having that said, straight out
and acknowledged
sometimes it’s not going to be OK and there’s not anything we can do about it.

There’s a prayer that was written by Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980, while he was at the altar saying Eucharist.

in one part of this prayer he says
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

We cannot do everything.
In order to do something
we have to leave that which we cannot do
There’s no way to get to the next town where there is work to do,
to proclaim and cure and cleanse and raise and cast out the demon
without walking away from the undone thing

And Jesus knows this and he’s not lying to us about it
There’s no bait and switch here
Jesus knows that when you and I go forth in mission, passionate and vulnerable,
living into our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and respecting the dignity of every human being
that we will encounter tragedies and injustices and atrocities that you and I can do nothing about.
And Jesus knows how hard that is
that there’s no way for it not to be
there’s no way around the hardness of it
not if we’re doing ministry: not if we have chosen to become vulnerable, and passionate
Jesus knows this; that’s why he tells us.
So that we know we’re not alone.
We are not alone. And that is
good news. Doesn’t feel good. But it is good.

because the work of proclaiming and curing and cleansing and raising
and casting out the demon
still needs doing.
There is good work to do, and there is no time to waste. And we are not alone.

Romero’s prayer goes on:
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Workers. Ministers. Prophets.
You. Yes, you. And I. Look around you. That person right there is a worker, and a minister. And a prophet. So are you.
As a worker, you get to choose whether or not you will do the work.
As a minister, you get to choose whether or not you will minister to the person God has placed in front of you.
As a prophet, you get to choose whether or not you will speak truth to power.

And if that sounds scary to you, well, yes, that sounds about right. Jesus promises us that at times it will be scary, and hard, and painful beyond belief.
And that we will not ever, ever
be alone.

Workers. Ministers. Prophets.


yours in the struggle,

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Guys, This Is Why Your Girlfriends Keep Buying You Suspenders—It’s Not To Make You Look Gay

Rating: Despite flippant title, this is kind of heavy. Proceed with care.

Daddy unlocks his buckle
with hard unyielding fingers
steadily draws the supple sword from its silent sheath
whence it shall not return unblooded.

Voiceless black leather is beaten sobbing
against unforgiving flesh
with a memory like an elephant’s.
My impotence savages my anger
and the unwanted bastard child rage
is conceived within my body.
I will feed it my blood
the air from my lungs
the water I drink
bearing it viable in the dark
in hours and years of dry labor

and it cries
it cries
it cries

like a baby on an airplane
as heads are turned
and newspapers snapped
exasperated air huffed out of
lungs constricted by relinquished autonomy
and smiling flight attendants
can’t she do anything with

it cries
it cries
it cries

yours in the struggle,

Friday, July 04, 2008

This Post Deleted Because I Was Wrong

I had the facts wrong. I was mistaken. I apologize.

yours in the struggle,

Pastoral Education: Whiffing

Rating: SL, GT

I am striking out all over.

One is on neutropenic precautions and the nurse must be consulted before I can enter the room. She is on the phone. I cannot get her attention.

One is simply not in her room. The other patient in the room is sleeping.

One zips by me in a wheelchair as I am washing my hands. She turns the corner and is gone, in the direction of another patient’s room, a friend who has also asked for a visit.

One is awake but with his doctor, who is speaking with him in clear, unhurried tones. The patient has a trach tube and cannot answer, but his eyes are fixed with rapt attention on the doctor’s face.

One is with the nurse, who seems to be multi-tasking the patient’s many needs.

I return to check on the patient who was not in her room. I ask a nurse if she knows whether the patient has gone into surgery and am told, yes, she has.

The nurse of the patient on neutropenic precautions is still on the phone, or on the phone again. I try to get in her eye-line without listening to what she is saying.

I have washed my hands five times and have nothing at all to show for it.

Well… shit.
Shit shit shit.

Walking outside, past the outpatient clinic and the mammogram screening offices to the street where I can light up, I suddenly realize that all those things that are frustrating the hell out of me are the exact things I pray for when someone I love is hospitalized. What’s wrong with this picture?

What is wrong with me?


So thank you, God, for doctors who take professional pride in their work; who take time to speak at length with someone who cannot speak in return.

Thank you for nurses so attentive to their patients that even when not directly caring for their patients, they are speaking about them to doctors and loved ones, so intently that it is hard for the chaplain to get their attention.

Thank you for the miraculous blessing of sleep, which is so very hard to come by here, for people whose bodies are traumatized by injury or illness or disease or dysfunction.

Thank you for everyone who has a friend in this place that can sometimes seem so friendless to so many.

Thank you for the surgery that was not delayed by incoming traumas. Thank you for everyone who was kept safe and not in need of emergency surgery.

Thank you for the opportunity to wash my hands
five times
with nothing to show for it.


yours in the struggle,

Pastoral Education; or, This Program is Kicking My Ass

Rating: SL
“God has shown you, O child of earth,
what is right and true in accordance with God’s Word:
to work for justice while judging no one,
with compassion for all,
always remembering that you were born
a vessel of the Divine.”

Gracious God, Conductor of the Universe, what were You thinking???

Reflective listening is not complicated. Basically, you just repeat the last thing the other person said, or you pick out what seems to be the main thing the person said--you know, if s/he's on a talking jag, just pick one phrase--and repeat that back to him/her. It's really just intentional selective echolalia, because you don't actually have to understand what the person meant... you just reflect it back and see what comes out next. It's not rocket science.

So when someone is speaking to me of being deeply betrayed by another, of the pain and anger of being abandoned, it should not be tricky for me to repeat back the words, "and I have such hatred in my heart. I hate [xxxx]."

Yet I cannot. I cannot do it. And I tried, y'all.
Could not make the words come out of my mouth.
But how else is this person, this child of God whom I am here to serve, supposed to expel the pain? How else, except to get it out? And if I can't bear to even repeat the words, how can I possibly help him/her get it out and let it go?

Issues, much???
oh, perhaps.

Edge of the Map

Still moments, soft places.
Little instances of connection.
God of love, hear my prayer.

Infection burst and opened,
to pierce the yielding air with blood and pus
remnants of the dead and the dying
falling and rotting
in the fields of a war buried long ago

I am afraid of the thing I can’t take back.

Beauty is only skin deep
Ugly goes clear to the bone
Anger comes and goes unimpeded by bonds of affection and affinity
and grows only in the presence of love
buds and blossoms and fades and falls
making the soil richer, darker,
more life-giving

But hatred demands loyalty and longevity and commitment
Like La Cosa Nostra
or a tattoo on my
soft place
Once in, never out

Beyond here there be dragons.
Be afraid.
Be very very afraid.

yours in the struggle,

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