Archive for May, 1999
Somebody’s hiding here. Or, truer to tell, someone’s being hidden.
E-mail! All those messages flying up and down the wires. All that urgency of communication. And what’s in these person-to-person packages of such life and death import? Jokes, get-rich-quick schemes, and invitations to porn. Isn’t technology wonderful?
OK, somewhere in there, there are messages that make a difference: memos that matter, real news, love letters, long-lost friends. And there’s that whole class of e-mail whose principal purpose is in the passing on. We’re back to jokes. Someone has a joke from someone and they forward it to you—Rob’d like this—and you forward it to someone else—hey it beats expressing yourself—and pretty soon the original three-liner is buried in pages and pages of headers and “hi”s and all the hokum of electronic intimacy. Is it worth digging for the gold in all the dirt? Is it even going to be gold if we find it? We forwarders of such stuff recognise this because we try and sell the product with our first line—”You know I don’t usually send this kind of stuff but this you’re really going to like.” As if!!
But sometimes the message isn’t a joke—sometimes it’s a call to action, a petition, or breaking news, or a virus warning—but still it gets buried in pages of passed-on waste. Can you be bothered to go looking? And if you do you might easily find that layers and layers of quotation have not only buried the message but transformed it. Somewhere along the line someone has decided that they have purpose for the message that seems to them to fit but which would horrify the original sender. Claims for one cause taken over and used as evidence by the opposition. But that’s cyberspace—you speak and your voice roams the wireways until nobody cares enough to pass it on.
Care is the key. Care is what keeps the message alive and care is what trivialises it, distorts it, uses it for other ends. But somewhere, somewhen, there was a sender.
It’s the sender that’s being hidden today. Only half hidden but enough hidden to frustrate. There’s a God here trying to get a message across but generations of care have overlaid that message with others—well-meaning but bland in comparison, even contradictory. How do we let God speak? How do we let the Sender come out from behind other people’s words?
“What are you talking about?” I can hear you thinking … Well listen to God’s self-description: “Adonai, Adonai, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Then listen to Moses as he is bowed down in response: “oh, we are a stiff-necked people, so pardon our wickedness and sins.” It’s not that he’s wrong, it’s just that he doesn’t seem to be listening to what God is saying so when the message is passed on the meaning is muddied.
Or take Paul. There’s a message in that greeting he uses and the message is pure blessing: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit, be with you.” But Paul has to wrap the unconditional beautiful blessing with well-meaning conditions: if you mend your ways, if you agree with one another, if you live in peace.
And finally, even John, even in this most famous passage, has to wrap the good news in bad. What could be better and brighter than this: God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that all who believe in him will not perish but will have life. God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn us but so that we might find safety.” But then John has to go on and talk about condemnation all the same.
We all do it—we all take the message—and precisely because we care—we send it on with our own words watering down the wonder of it. And all I’ve just said is no exception—I’ve added a layer of language to the voice of God who is beyond all words. But that God wants to speak—I’m convinced of it—wants to shout through the wrappings of scripture and get to us. If we take God at her word, that seems her sole passion in life—to get through to us. And we, we keep on taming God. But he is not tame.—God is beyond tame, beyond wild, just as God is beyond gender. God is the source of all the passion our hearts can only hint at. He is the reality that our deepest desires only dimly reflect. She is the life that will not be contained, wrapped, or watered down. And he—she—anything but it—wants to speak to you today. If Trinity means anything it means that.
God so loved the world that she parted with her only child so that the world might live. He sent him into the world to bring us all back home and not to drive us away.
Who? Adonai, merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the friendship of the Holy Spirit be with you today and forever.
May 30th, 1999
The time may be ordinary but the liturgy still packs a punch. These are sturdy messages to hear after the heated rush and joyful babble of Pentecost. A bit like having cold water thrown in your face. Repentance. Burning desire. And bitter disappointment.
Like I said at the beginning these two turnover times—between semester’s end and vacation’s start and between Easter time’s climax and counting time’s tick—these two coming together make me wonder which is more real, which has priority. Maybe I should be content to let them both be and not bother about rank … but I’m not going to do that because the whole thing reminds me of a question we argued about when I was in philosophy: which has precedence—work or leisure? Which is more real? Which is a human being’s proper occupation? Is it work with it’s own blend of nobility and burden, it’s own opportunities for accomplishment and oppression? Or are we more natural when we are at play, at rest, at ease? Which were we born for? What is ordinary for us?
Is leisure what happens when we run out of work? Or do we work only when play is over? What did God have in mind when we were made? And how does that look different in a world where paradise is lost to us and we must survive by the sweat of our brow or, if we’re born in the right time and place, the sweat of someone else’s?
Questions, questions, questions … “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” “Who can be saved?”
What do you give the man who has everything? You give him a shock! Jesus turns upside down the meaning of “lack.” What the rich man has—all his wealth, all his virtue, all his desire for good—turns out to be what he hasn’t. All he thought was positive is negative. All his presence, absence. All his effort, empty. Jesus looks steadily at him and loves him and gives him the one thing he lacks—nothing. He, poor man, cannot hold the gaze and grows sad, because nothing is too much for him.
“It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the reign of God.” … So why are we trying so hard.
May 24th, 1999
Just what I don’t want to hear after breakfast on the beach—the taste of fish still strong in my mouth—salt and smoke in my hair. Here we go! “Do you love me?” “Yeah, of course I love you!”
“No, I mean it … do you love me?” “Yes! I love you.”
There’s something about those words I resent saying. Shouldn’t they be freely given and not dragged out of me like this? I’m embarrassed. How can my answer mean anything if it has to be asked for? Don’t I have to say, Yes? Why couldn’t you let me volunteer my love—let me offer it in open hands and not have it plucked out like this?
“Don’t philosophise—I can see you! Just tell me—I need to know—do you love me more than anyone?”
‘Don’t you know already? – do you have to ask me?”
“Come on, it’s important: do . you . love . me?”
Well do I? Look at how your insecurity’s rubbing off! Do I love you? Do I really love you? I don’t know now. I thought so, think so … feel so. But you’ve confused me. I know I don’t love you the way you love me. I know I don’t love you the way I want to. Or maybe I do love you that much but I don’t always manage to show it—the way I want. I know I want to. I do want to. Love you.
“Why are you asking this now?”
“Now? Because I need to know. Because it matters to me more than anything. Because I’m going away. Because I won’t be back. Because I need you to stay. Because I need to you to love for me. Because I need you to feed them fish in the morning and broken bread. … Will you?” “Do you love me?”
May 21st, 1999
It seems Christian apostolate is a team sport… and twelve-a-side at that! But thank God we don’t pick teams the same way the Eleven did when they were looking for one more to make up the number. I can feel myself standing there defiantly faking non-embarrassment as one after another gets picked and I get overlooked and left behind. Telling myself it doesn’t really matter, telling myself the shame isn’t meant and means nothing.
But Mathias is lucky I guess—chosen last is better than chosen not at all. Doesn’t your heart ache for Joseph Justus? Brought to the point of choice, acknowledged as having all it takes, and then rejected by on the toss of a coin and never getting to play.
Thank God we as a church don’t do it that way any more. Thank God we don’t train people of talent, recognise their gifts, and then pass them over without a word. Thank God ministry is no longer a lottery.
What really does it take to be an apostle? Communication skills, social analysis, a bustling brain filled with theology? The proper gender, the correct class, the right colour? How should we choose? You have to be a witness. A witness to Jesus. You have to have known him, seen him work, felt his touch, seen his smile, walked his way, witnessed the sweat on his brow, danced with him around the fire. You have to have stood by him through his failures, or wanted to… since we too fail. You have to have known him risen and shared the grasp of ruined hands mending your shattered life. You have to have ready the reason for your ridiculous hope—that he has chosen you and—strange to believe—chosen to be your friend.
May 14th, 1999
A friend of mine back in Britain has just been made head of the British Jesuits. I asked him yesterday what he was going to preach about this morning: “loneliness,” he said. …You may remember David since he’s been here to Mass a few times—big guy, blond hair, my age (you know, young). Anyway, it got me thinking about my experience of this community. The last few years have had more than their fair share of ups and downs for me. Loneliness has been an element. And a sense of incompetence in my work. But the one place that none of that has entered in has been here. I love this place. Whether I’m presiding or praying from the pew, the experience moves me and I don’t feel lost or alone. There’s a presence here. Something about what we do together makes Jesus present for me. And that’s a wonder. Especially since I’ve been sulking in these last few weeks and refusing to talk to him. “That’ll show you who’s boss. That’ll teach you to pull your socks up and be a little more real, a touch more tangible.” … But in truth he does touch me, here in this place, with a gentle hand on my shoulder, a smile for my eyes, a whisper in my heart.
I hope that we all can tell such tales, or better ones. Why do we come to church except that we enjoy it? Except that we can’t imagine life without it? Community. Communion. That great Greek word, koinonia, a way of being-in-each-other.
We bring a lot together this morning.
Here’s Jesus about to leave his friends behind on the way of the cross. Here is Jesus promising to send someone to stand in for him in his absence. And not a friend as Jesus has been friend but a new parent, a new mother or father, so that his friends will not be orphaned by Jesus’ death. “I will not leave you orphans.”
Here’s Mother’s Day. Whether we are one or not, we all have had one—even if unknown or gone, whether the experience has been blessing or curse—we all owe our lives to someone else. We come from a source outside our ourselves. We come into this world at another’s bidding. But even though we are bidden to birth our lives are a gift. Both given and received. Our presence in the world is given at another’s hand. We are not self-made.
Here’s Easter still. Jesus, in our readings, may be looking forward to his death, but the gospel itself is a memory—the memory of a community gathered around a Jesus who, though he has gone, is still present in the spirit. The spirit who gives birth to us in baptism and gives birth to Jesus over and again among us. He has not left us orphans. And he means that quite tangibly. “You will see me. Because I live and you will live, you will see me.” He expects us to see him and feel his presence this morning in and through what we do together.
And this morning especially, when we make these guys more a part of us and more a part of this incredibly vulnerable job of making Jesus present in the world. We initiate them further into Jesus among us. We invite them to taste him and see him. But we can only give what we have; we can only give away what we have already received from someone else. We rely on the generosity of others and we invite our new communicants to imitate our own.
The community of the gospel of John was very inward-looking—still nursing its wounds at being thrown out of the synagogue—and it looked for Jesus to be made present right there among them … and nowhere else—God help the rest of the world. Our task is bigger—to make Jesus present for each other so that we can together make Jesus present for everyone.
Now “make” is an awkward word here. “Job,” “task,” “work,” too. We are to make Jesus present. But this making isn’t manufacture: there’s no factory to mass-produce the final product—not in making Jesus present and not in making new communicants. There’s at least as much of invitation as there is of making. Inviting Jesus to do what he wants to do—live in us. We make a space of a special shape and let that invite Jesus to be here and make his own presence felt. Our making is as much play as it is work, as much art as labour, as much given to us as made by us. Just like our lives. We cannot do without each other because we cannot do without Jesus. And Jesus cannot do without us.
May 9th, 1999