Archive for May, 2000
I love the poetry but it disturbs me deeply. It’s something about seeing … and seeing where you belong.
Elizabeth sees only honour and blessing and joy in her kinswoman’s womb. But Mary is more canny. Of all her people’s heroes she might have identified with, Mary claims kinship with Hannah and echoes the song the once barren mother sings not when she is to give birth but when she has to leave behind the child she has borne. There’s nothing given that doesn’t have it’s price.
There is joy, yes! Mary, full of her burden of life, chooses to name herself with Hannah. One barren who has been made fruitful. One low who has been raised high. One hungry who has been filled. One who has waited till she found her longing.
But there’s a hard edge. A true child of her race, every bone of her is political. Her child to come is destined for the falling and the rising of many. She knows the way of it. No one finds pride but that another is humiliated. No one rises without another’s fall. No one is fed but another goes hungry. No one finds their heart’s desire but that another is thwarted.
There is no level playing field. Wealth never trickles down. And, no, we can’t all be on the same side.
I love the poetry but it disturbs me deeply.
May 31st, 2000
Everything we’ve just heard should cut off, once and for all, any avenue of escape for us. Because I think we all want to escape from being loved by God. Sounds stupid, I know, but everyone I know does it. I catch myself doing it all the time. It usually starts when I’ve disappointed myself—done something I’m not proud of—or not done something I really felt it in my heart to do. I feel a little guilty, a little sad, and I want to hide away from myself. And then I remember all the other times I’ve felt this way and the feeling just grows until maybe I can’t even remember what started it—I just know, on the inside, that the world is divided up into two halves—the ones God loves and the ones God is ashamed of.
But the world isn’t divided up like that. In God’s eyes there are no second class citizens. Like Peter says in the first reading—”I see now that God has no favourites.” Or like the second reading tells us—what’s important is not that we love God but that God loves us. Or like the Gospel says—we are not to think of ourselves as slaves but as friends—God’s friends.
The world isn’t divided up into the people God loves and the people God hates. There are no second class citizens.
And I get uneasy about that. It sounds stupid, I know, but it can be uncomfortable being loved like that. Not always—sometimes it makes me really happy—but sometimes I’m sitting in my harsh judgement enjoying feeling bad and I don’t want to be disturbed. There I am enjoying feeling lousy. It doesn’t feel like enjoyment but it must be or else I’d get out of that mood as quick as I could. But I always stay longer than I need to. God has to really kick me out of that mood. God has to really rub my nose in how much he loves me before I’ll budge. Stupid!
So what’s the pay-off? Why is it so hard to believe that God loves me even when I don’t love myself? Well here’s one thing for a start. Staying put in shame and sadness means I don’t have to bear much fruit, to use the words Jesus uses. It’s a lot safer not believing that God loves you because you can keep you head down. Not do much wrong but not do much good either. If we really believed that God loves us no matter what we do—if we believed nothing at all could ever separate us from the love of God—if we believed that God has no favourites—then who knows what dangerous things we might get up to.
Look at Peter in that first reading. He’s been forgiven so much. He’s learned the hard way that God loves him even if he runs away, even when he turns traitor. So he’s ready to believe that even unthinkable people can be loved by God. Even people who aren’t Jews, even a high-ranking Roman officer. Peter makes a decision then and there that affects us here and now. He sticks his neck out and accepts the first non-Jewish convert. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t! But what happened for Peter afterwards was enormous too—his path took him to Rome to eventually die alongside his new converts. That’s the love that lays down its life for another.
Or look at Jesus. Look where his love led him. He would never be the victim some wanted him to be and he would never be the man of violence the way others wanted him to be. Out of love he did all sorts of inconvenient things. He broke his religion’s commandments. He spoke uncomfortable truth to the rich and powerful. And chose to eat and drink with people who were considered dirty, bad, and dangerous. He stuck out his neck so many times that he ended up giving his life for us all.
That’s why it’s easier not believing in God’s love. If we did who knows where it would take us? It took Peter to Rome. It took Jesus to Jerusalem. Where would it take you or me? It’s so much easier to think that we don’t matter much. That God can’t love us much. That we are better off keeping our heads down.
But the words of scripture don’t leave us any avenue of escape. We matter. Each one of us. God loves us. Each one of us. Enough to give his life for us. (And, who knows, maybe with practice we might even get to enjoy being loved that much.)
God loves us. Enough to give his life for us. Enough to give his life for anyone. Even for the people you or I wouldn’t give the time of day to. But for God the world isn’t divided up like that. In God’s eyes there are no second class citizens. God has no favourites. What’s important isn’t that we love God but that God loves us. There are no slaves any more—only God’s friends.
So let’s be proud of that. Let’s lift our heads up high. And who knows where that might take us. Who knows what we might do. But wouldn’t it be good to see!
May 28th, 2000
I have to admit that I’m secretly pleased with that picture of Paul getting all discombobulated at being taken for a god—and Hermes indeed because he was the one doing all the talking. Very telling.
All we know of Paul are his words—and we have plenty of them. His own words, the words of people imitating him, or like here words spoken about him, tales told. Makes you wonder if he ever shut up.
So it’s nice to get this glimpse of him from someone else’s angle—in between the words. The frustrated minister—halfway through his spiel when he realises that not a word has gotten through. He may be convinced by his own eloquence but the poor people of Lystra—whom he calls “friends” and “fools” in one headlong breath—well, they hear all the words but what they see is the miracle. And what they see moves them. Gets them moving. And all the words are wasted.
Theology is more words than miracles. We hear a lot more than we see. But what we see usually drowns out the word. We wrestle with texts all year but what we remember are the pictures. Thank God for pictures!
So maybe there’s something for us as another semester bites the dust … what are the pictures lingering with your from the last months. The glimpses between words that have moved you and maybe want to move you still. Bring on the silence!
May 22nd, 2000
“Remain in me or wither.”
Runner number 19933 in today’s Bay To Breakers says that this morning’s gospel gives incontrovertible evidence that Jesus knew all along that he was God. Why? How? Well Jesus says, “I am de vine…” Groan …
Runner 19933 lives in my house and is prone to bad jokes. Luckily for us all, running naked isn’t one of them. But if he were he could have turned to the Chronicle for its essential advice to unclad athletes—exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate! This helpful clipping also recommends where to buy your artificial tan, your fake tattoos, and your body paint.
“Abide with me.”
“It just caught my eye,” said the lady who’s just paid $12,500 (or was it 125,000?) to have a teaspoon of her eventual ashes space-rocketed to the moon. All the thrill of space-travel without the preparation. No training required … you just have to have the cash … and be dead. You get to rest forever in utter, exclusive, dusty silence.
“God is greater than our hearts.”
Harris County, Texas, is concerned about the recent overturning of several established rape convictions as a result of DNA testing. How many more wrongfully convicted men are incarcerated? How many more rapists have got away with this horrible crime? That’s not Harris County’s worry. They are going through their warehouses destroying old evidence to save themselves the effort and embarrassment of being caught out locking up the wrong people.
“I am the true vine.”
Scientists who have recently introduced firefly genes into mustard plants have observed that they glow in the dark shortly after being handled gently. Plants, it seems, like being touched. It helps them grow up healthy and not turn out stunted or leggy. The next step they say is to use jellyfish genes so they glow will be brighter.
“If you remain in me you will bear much fruit.”
Apparently, Senator Jessie Helms is on record as describing humanitarian aid to struggling nations as “throwing money down a rat hole.” The annual US donation to Africa, for example, amounts to something like $1.25 per African head.
OK! Forgive me for rambling …The way we show ourselves to the world isn’t everything. But the choices we make do say a whole load about us. And none more than where we choose to stay. Americans have always been a mobile lot. So many of us are immigrants anyway. Resting here after long journeys, whether made in haste or carefully chosen, so we move and move on looking for the right place to settle down, to put down roots.
Roots are ambiguous though. Tearing them up hurts like hell. But let them be shallow and we wither. We need the sap that seeps up through our roots and nourishes heart and soul but who knows what else rises from the soil we are planted in to colour our lives or taint our fruit.
In the past it was only the absurdly rich and powerful who had the choice to shun the soil. The rest of us knew it daily, smeared on the brow or grubby under the fingernails. But these days we can all afford to float a little above the ground. Never touching soil. Buying washed, peeled, and portioned food. Touching our neighbours only when we choose. And finally going to our eternal rest, not under earth, but in the sterile dust of the sky.
But God is a gardener. And a careful one. Knows the value of dirt. Lets nothing go to waste. Achieves with touch and time and tenderness what chemicals and gene-splicing can only imitate. That touch makes us grow. Makes us glow. Not without the pruning shears and not without sometimes being up to our shoulders in …manure.
Who are we? Our DNA is ambiguous as our roots. We share just about 99.9% of it with every other human being. Heck! We share 98% of it with chimpanzees, over half of it with fireflies. But it can single us out as guilty. Or innocent. No matter how much we protest it wasn’t us. No matter how much we fear it was. But God is greater than our fear, greater than whatever condemns us. Greater than the embarrassment we feel at standing alongside the politicians, sharing their genes, knowing we grow in similar soil and would make their compromises our own if we had to.
We are in this together. Not mustard plants in separate pots of sterile growing medium. But branches of one big messy vine rooted in dirt, assailed by pests, yet tended by God, a gardener with a difference. This one shares our DNA, this one knows from the inside all about vines, what it is to grow and wither, what it is to feel the knife, what it is to scent the new rain.
God alone knows how to be human. But given time God can even make us human too.
May 21st, 2000
My life ended that morning. Right about the time he called for something to eat. If you’d asked me I’d have said it ended a few days before when they arrested him. Or, being more honest, when I ran away; ran away and left him and left the others and left my dream of myself behind.
All that was bad enough. Him dead and my life dead. Worse was when the women were saying he wasn’t dead. And then Peter and John. And the others. And then daring myself to begin to believe. But even believing would he want to see me again—coward, fool, traitor.
But then he was with us—doors and walls be damned—and scaring the bejesus out of us. Christ! he has a nerve—creeping up out of nowhere like that and saying “sorry did I startle you?” like it was all a big joke.
I thought by then I’d begun to believe. But seeing him in the flesh—wounds and all—I realised how little I had. God! we must have looked a fright because the grin on his face just grew and grew. “Something wrong guys? Seen a ghost?”
Seeing is not believing. I see dead people! Breathe! And again!
“You got anything to eat? I’m starving!”
There was some leftover fish to push over to him. Hardly hospitable. But he took it and savoured it’s smell and said the blessing and licked his lips and took a mouthful. And a look of such bliss took him. And then the fool near half choked on a bone—bent over coughing, spluttering, red in the face. And I was with him, holding him, pounding him on the back, panicking lest he choke to death. And then my life ended.
Because he was real. He was alive. And as vulnerable as ever and, as ever, beyond restraint. Untouched by crucifixion—no not untouched—but at risk from a fish bone! And I remember the thought welling up—”this changes everything.” But more than that I remember the feel of warm flesh under my hands and him standing straight again and wiping the sweat from his brow and the grin again and his arms around me. And I remember laughing, laughing till my guts hurt and my giddy heart danced.
Later, when we’d all settled down, when we’d all had our fill of holding him, and he’d almost had his fill of holding us, and we’d said too much and not enough. Later, he took bread—the way he’d done a lifetime ago—and he gave God thanks and praise and he broke it and he passed it among us. And we held it and tasted it like we’d never tasted bread before. And looked at him. Tasted him. “This is the bread of new beginnings, my friends. Eat it and never be the same.” Then the cup brimming with the best wine we had. “This is the lifeblood of the promise between us. Drink it and never be sober again.”
“From this moment,” he said, “you are my witnesses. My witnesses.”
He was right. Nothing has been the same since. We have been his witnesses. Standing up for a truth certainly—though even then we all said it differently—but deeper, farther, truer—standing up for an experience—no! more even than that. He let us touch him. And we still feel that touch, that weight, that warmth. And through the ages we have given witness with our own flesh. Death is real—look at our wounds!—but life is realer still. There is always time for a new beginning. Always a cup of life to share. A forgiveness, a fresh start, a promise kept, a word of peace, a gale of laughter.
We have been witnesses and we have handed that on, generation to generation, in wine and wheat—and, yes, in water.
(… baptism follows …)
May 7th, 2000