Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Take Me With You

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

~Mark 14:17-25

Do you feel it? Do you feel the urgency, the ambivalence, the unfinished business? 
40 days of Lent
Palm Sunday
the Last Supper
the Trial
Keeping vigil

Oh, I prefer Thomas
whose joy was tempered by
How can this be?

There is a story we read with the youth called The Ragman by Walter Wangerin. It is the story of a man who trades new clothes for old rags in the city. With the new clothes comes healing, and when the ragman puts on the old clothes he takes on the wounds of the people he trades with. At the end of the story the ragman dies, and then comes to life again--the narrator witnesses the strange sight of this man and asks for his own miracle--to be dressed by the ragman and to be healed in the act.

My colleagues weep at the end of this story when they read it, and I love them for that. But my attention is caught in the middle of the story: 
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
The narrator is drawn to follow the ragman beyond the city limits, desperate to see what happens next.
But I want time with the weeping, bleeding, drunken, sick ragman, skittering through the city on spider's legs. I want to hear the stories, I want to bring him soup, I want to see what he sees.

And I am so aware of time! It rushes by so quickly--Christ's ministry was three years only! I have been here in New Jersey now almost eight years--how is that even possible? My children are nearly grown!

So much to be done, so many loose ends, so many things left unfinished. I wake early in the morning sometimes, overpowered by the nagging sense that I have left things undone. And I am right! This is no false anxiety--there is no end to this work, to this life, to the ever-present need of the people and world around me. And if I am honest, there is no end to my need.

A therapist once told me that the only two things an adult needs are oxygen and water, and perhaps a little food. I understand his point--but he was wrong! We cannot live by bread alone, and so there we go, skittering through the city on spider's legs, seeking love and care however we might find it.

What else could have inspired the disciples to follow Christ? What else could open the purses of the women who loved and cared for Jesus and his band of stragglers? 

And now a last supper, full of tensions and unfinished business. How do we read Jesus in this last meal? Full of enough love to include Judas in the dinner, but angry enough to curse him. Intimate enough to wash their feet, distant enough to not fully explain. "I will be with you always." "I will never drink with you again in this life." Come to the garden, but you cannot come all the way. My time is ending, but please God, if it is possible, let this not be! (And was this not Peter's same plea?) The certain knowledge the disciples would betray him and his forgiveness for that, juxtaposed with his frustration that they could not stay awake in the garden to wait for his late night prayers. 

So many unanswered questions! So much love not fully expressed!  And now, in these last days, not enough time for farewells or last embraces. Was Mary not at the last supper, even? A last intimate moment with Mary Mag? 

Could any of them move about in familiar places without thinking of Jesus in the days to come? Did his presence linger in every doorway, every meal, every habit of life?

Skitter on ahead to the death and resurrection, if you must, but I want more time with his life. I am deeply drawn to Jesus' fleshly existence--I cannot sit with his death yet. I won't be ready tomorrow, either. And by Sunday, with the trumpets sounding and the sanctuaries full of lilies, I will still be stunned at the tomb. 

It is too soon. Won't you sit a while, Lord Jesus? And if you must be hurrying and skittering, take me with you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Short and Sweet

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,
     be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
     Your face, LORD, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
~Psalm 27:7-9

Though I struggle often with your words,
Holy One,
It is your silence I cannot bear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Indeed, this is our boast, the testimony of our conscience: we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God - and all the more toward you. For we write you nothing other than what you can read and also understand; I hope you will understand until the end - as you have already understood us in part - that on the day of the Lord Jesus we are your boast even as you are our boast.
~2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Sometimes I read Paul, and his arrogance and condescension pour out from the text. This cat is too cool for school, called out apart to serve, and deigns to drop by in person or by letter for an occasional drive by advice column.

We call her DevilCat, but her given name is Bast.
A friend, who is a medium, consulted the spirits
and they told her this was my cat.
How do you say no to that?

Mining Paul's gems out of that mess is like trying to just eat the meat out of a bowl of chili. You might as well just eat the whole thing, cuz you're gonna get pieces of onion and beans, no matter how hard you try to pick it out.

This is amazing chili, by the way.
The last of the leftovers shall be had for lunch.

But if you swallow Paul hook, line, and sinker, you come to these passages where his overconfident lectures give way to incredible love and delight for his communities of care. 

Consider this paragraph from 2nd Corinthians (and consider too, that I take artistic license with scripture--biblical scholars, do what you will with this). I shall paraphrase:

Because God has favored Us, We have been completely authentic with you people.
With the wisdom of God behind Us, We have tailored our letters to you, so that although you are babies in the faith, and not terribly literate, you might understand Our pearls of wisdom.

Gratuitous cat lady picture.
It doesn't make my ill-considered point.
But you are smiling right now, aren't you?

But oh my friends! Look what he says in the last sentence:
I hope you will understand until the end...that on the day of the Lord Jesus we are your boast even as you are our boast.

In the end, here is what we will tell the Lord: 
Do you see who I loved? Do you see who loved me?
I delight in these people, as they have delighted in me!
We have fed each other and clothed each other,
through our most difficult times we have stuck by each other.
Listen, God! Whatever else our transgressions,
we have loved--
and loved deeply!

This is my boast--YOU are my boast!

And that is why I cannot dismiss Paul utterly.
Even though he is a pompous ass of a man.
Even though he uses too many words
in convoluted patterns even the Creator can't untangle.
Even though he uses the Royal We.

Because in the end, Paul would have delighted in me.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Boy Kings and Temper Tantrums

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it...

In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

"Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses."

~Mark 11:12-14, 20-25

Ruining a perfectly good fig tree
just because it didn't see fit
to produce fruit
at the last minute
out of season
to please a boy king

I'll tell you what, a person gets tired
of pleasing boy kings
soothing their temper tantrums
knowing one's place
walking on egg shells
producing fruit out of season
because His Highness is hungry

y'all ran out of loaves and fishes
that you gotta wreck the poor fig tree
before it's time?
what's next?
you gonna come into Martha's kitchen
and grouse about how she's not serving you right?
oh wait.
you did do that.

when all is said and done,
you'll be holding your hand out
saying "trust me--walk on water"
and I'll be thinking about that fig tree
knowing that taking your hand
carries significant risk
of drowning

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I Might Owe the Lord $32.10

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo...

"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate," says the LORD of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, says the LORD, two-thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one-third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, "They are my people"; and they will say, "The LORD is our God."

~Zechariah 12:1-11, 13:7-9

It was Palm Sunday today, and the weather has turned. We are nearing the end of Lent, and therefore, nearing the end of my lenten practice of blogging daily about grief. 46 days of releasing grief, I said, in order to make room for joy.

Truth be told, by now I am tired of blogging about grief--the daffodils are blooming, and it is warm enough to sit on my porch. Just two weeks ago the high was 39 degrees, and now I'm sitting pretty at 78. I am reveling in the summer warmth that is nearly here!

We sang Hosanna! And we waved the palm branches, while marching around the sanctuary. We had a brunch with mounds of good food--and I love good food! A friend was over last night, and then another friend this afternoon. The cherry tree across the street has burst into flame with pink blossoms (and the allergies that come with it). My tattoo is healing nicely, and I have resolution to a few things that have troubled me these last few months.

Oh, we are nearly done with this season!

But not done yet. We are almost to Easter with the trumpets and triumphalism. Almost to the egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. But not quite.

A person could miss it, this last week of Lent. You could go to church today and see Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey--a humble king, but King to be sure. And then next week you might go to Easter and see Jesus resurrected from the tomb.

From joy to joy! From glory to glory! Palm Sunday to Easter! King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Glory! Hallelujah!

Except that on Thursday there will be a last meal, and betrayals negotiated. There will be a desperate prayer in the garden, which goes unanswered. There will be a farce of a trial in the middle of the night, and no reprieve. Torture and death, a terrible thirst. The veil in the temple will be torn in two. An earthquake. Relationships among Jesus' inner circle will be altered, irrevocably, eternally. Three years of work, down the drain. More betrayals, a burial. All will be lost, between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Glory to Glory. But more properly, Foolishness to Utter Despair and Madness to Confusion. Jesus on a donkey, coming in the back gate--some king! Somewhat predictably, Jesus's death. Then an empty tomb. Don't be fooled by false spring!

The greatest joys come from the greatest sorrows--I have yet to understand why this is so. No mountains without valleys. No yin without yang. No joy without grief. What a lousy system! I don't know if you can't do it better, or you won't, O Lord, but either way, I do not approve!

I suppose it is not mine to know. So I'll go back to eat, drink, and be merry. 
I found a grey hair today
frolicking in plain view
sticking out the way the rest of my hair doesn't
send me more of those grey hairs, Lord Jesus
I triple dog dare you.
No hair dye for me.
I have a name for every wrinkle on my face
A story for every inch that I sag.

My mother and my sister lived together for a few years.
They kept a tally of who owed what.
My sister's rent went in one column
In another, the milk, the cereal, whatever else at the store.
The dry cleaning, a phone bill
Back and forth
who owed what.
At the end of those years
they tallied it all up
and somebody owed somebody
or some such.

If by the Lord's hand
I have been scattered,
turned against, cut off, abandoned,
if I have been refined and tested
in the fire of the Lord,
what do i owe Jesus?
what does Jesus owe me?
this is a fair question
that cannot be answered by the tomb
empty or not
but I'm keeping $32.10 on hand
just in case.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Is There No Other Way?

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, "Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die." Moses said, "Just as you say! I will never see your face again."

The LORD said to Moses, "I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away...

<Moses speaks aloud the Lord's promise to murder all the first born children in Egypt>

"Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites - not at people, not at animals - so that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, 'Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.' After that I will leave." And in hot anger Moses left Pharaoh

~Exodus 10:27-29, 11:1, 6-8

The frogs weren't enough to abandon the fruitless quest to own people?
Every plague worst than the rest
No really, listen, THIS was the desperation of the people
manifested in all the ugliness God could muster:

The water in all of Egypt turned to blood
the rivers, the ponds, the drinking bowls and cups.

Gazillions of frogs poured out of the rivers
into the houses, the bedrooms, even into the BEDS
on top of the people, in their ovens, the bowls in which they made bread.


Flies, swarming through the air
inside and out, covering the ground
have you ever been to the Great Salt Lake?

A murrain upon the livestock
Like anthrax
dead animals everywhere.

Boils. The Lord covered them with boils. 
Sores upon their bodies in all sorts
of uncomfortable places.

Thunder and hail
such as had never been seen
since the foundation of Egypt.

Locusts, so thick they couldn't see the earth
and they would eat everything
that the hail had not yet destroyed.

Three days of darkness
such that all the Egyptians could not leave their homes

And finally, desperately, vengefully
the death of the first born of everyone
and everything
from Pharaoh's house to the slums
to the beasts of the fields

How stubborn must one be to withstand such terror?
The Lord had me at lice. LICE!
I've kissed a few frogs in my life, anyway
but LICE!
How did Pharaoh's people just sit in complicity
while everything around them turned
to death and misery?

How complacent/complicit are we?
Do we think that because the frogs are dying out
that The Lord cannot find some new, fresh plague?
The bees are dying too, you know
and three nights of darkness is impossible to find
with the flood of light we pour out on this earth
but there isn't fuel to last forever
what will we do when the night presses in
in the hell we created for ourselves?
do we not see our own part
in systems of oppression and violence
as we wholesale grant our collective strength
to those who eat our slice of pie anyway?

And Moses--was there no other way
than to murder the first borns?
Was there not?
Your temper was legendary
And you left Pharaoh
hot with anger

Be careful what you wish for
because later a voice was heard in Ramah
and still later in Bethlehem
we reap what we sow
even to the 10th generation and beyond

Have you seen War of the Roses?
Kathleen Turner
Michael Douglas
Danny Devito
Love turns to hatred
escalates to vicious, petty horror
ends in death
for both parties

Beneath the hardened hearts
beneath the hot anger
is there no other way?
then we might as well have slit our own throats.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Love of Ghosts

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.
~Exodus 9:13-18

I wonder what were the justifications in Pharaoh's mind
that he wouldn't let the Israelites go?
what did he tell himself in the quiet of the night
pondering his options?
I have some sympathy for his plight.
we like to say we live in a kinder, gentler age
that we have learned our lessons about owning people.
but let us look, shall we, to our own house?
wrapping expectation and obligation
like vines around trees
slowly strangling the life out of the people we love
until they cannot catch the sunlight
choking off their oxygen supply
until like animals cornered they lash out.
or die.

Children, lovers, friends, colleagues
brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors
we pin them in neat little boxes 
and tape them shut
expecting them not to claw their way out
surprised when they cut us in the process.

I sat last night thinking about this
and the Lord said
You are still exalting yourself against my people, 
and will not let them go
but I am weary of the plagues and calamities
so let me open my hands.
blessings on your journey.

"I know by now that the love of ghosts in not expectant, and I am coming to that. This Virgie of mine, this newfound"Virge," is the last care of my life, and I know the ignorance I must cherish him in. I must care of him as I care for a wildflower or a singing bird, no terms, no expectations, as finally I care for Port William and the ones who have been her with me. I want to leave her openhanded, with only the ancient blessing, 'Good-bye. My love to you all.'"
~Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter