Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Spiritual Dissonances: Ground Zero and the W Hotel Bar

9/11 Memorial

Today is the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Probably the closest thing for my generation to that surprise attack by Japanese planes on Pearl Harbor in the year 1941 is 9/11.  On Saturday evening a friend and I visited the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero.

When the taxi dropped us off at the entrance, we had to follow a quarter-mile of signs through a maze of temporarily erected dividers that cordoned off the site from the rest of downtown New York.  It was a pilgrimage of sorts to walk the long passageway: security guards peppered the path, ushering us through after checking our passes, followed by a baggage inspection line and then more walking, until finally the long serpentine path opened up into a wide, open space under the night sky.  There, under the city lights we, maybe a bit like medieval mystics having traveled a great distance in search of a meeting place with the sacred, had found our own modern-day shrine.  No, our destination was not the relic of some long-dead saint. But it was, in a sense, holy ground.  Holy ground because here, in the tragic deaths of those who had gone before us, we were reminded of our own fragility.  Our woundedness not just as Americans but as human beings.  Those two dark, gaping holes in the ground, their cavernous mouths drinking in an endless fountain of tears, and all around, inscribed in black marble, the names of nearly 3,000 persons who died when the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell in the deadliest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, were a perpetual reminder of both our lostness and our hope for salvific meaning.

We stayed there for a while listening to a guide rattle off some trivia about the site. He pointed to the new World Trade Center buildings now under construction.  1 World Trade Center would be America’s tallest building.   “Was it a tribute to the indefatigable nature of the human spirit or a sign that in our hard-headed pride we never learn?,” I wondered.  Maybe both.

Then after paying our respects we were back retracing our steps through the labyrinth to the gift store where we watched a short video narrated in the words of 9/11 survivors.  The fountains of tears were distilled here in these few very personal accounts of loss- the sudden, violent tearing away of of siblings, children and lovers. These were the rivers of grief magnified in their parts as drops of tears.  The words that Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov puts in the mouth of his character, Ivan, a hardened skeptic in matters of faith, now come to mind: that Ivan would have to “return his ticket” to paradise if it required the tears of even one child. Evil after all seems perhaps most cruel and unacceptable when distilled in the tragedy of just one person, one child of God.

Our pilgrimage had come to an end.  Now we were looking for a bathroom.  The one closest to the memorial seemed to be at the W Hotel next door, which meant that we had to take an elevator up to the hotel bar.  We stepped out of the elevator directly into another kind of darkness, this time the swanky black lines of a club, heaving to the loud, electronic beats of dance music.  The waiters with their trays of cocktails passed by in black like shadowy muses, their offer much more than that of just drinks. Here was the promise of human sophistication in the form of whatever I would like it to be in the moment.  The siren calls of wealth, power, style and unending youthfulness.

The dissonance between this concocted, artificial paradise and the picture we had beheld only minutes earlier in the lights under an open sky was striking.  I had again been transported into another world, one that pretended that human fragility and loss and the pervasiveness of evil and our passing away were mere phantoms. Here in the dim light of a W hotel bar the only thing that seemed real was our own self-importance.  Still, I couldn’t put away the images we had just seen.  Images that told another part of the human story.  They had made their impact.

 

 

“I Gotta Have Faith”

"I gotta have faith." - George Michael

When gay singer George Michael recently put off his tour because of a bad case of pneumonia that landed him in the intensive care unit at the hospital and drew family and long-time partner Fadi Fawaz to his sick bed, members of the group, “Christians for a Moral America,” reportedly prayed for Michael to die as God’s judgment on his “satanic lifestyle” (The Huffington Post).

The latest reports suggest that Michael is “steadily recovering,” and contrary to rumors circulated by the above-mentioned group that Michael has AIDS, Michael has “no other underlying condition” besides pneumonia.  Which I guess means God isn’t answering their prayers quite as they would have liked.  Maybe if they put their petitions to a beat, something edgy, with a sprinkle of the “religious” in its lyrics, something like “Faith,” or “Like Jesus To A Child,” they’ll do better at persuading God to strike George dead with AIDS.  Or, if not AIDS, maybe a thunderbolt?

I suspect this is just another example of how we Christians are obsessed with sexual sin over all else. I wonder what would happen if we used our voices just as loudly to decry the evils of war or economic injustice or human degradation, and did so with a view to fanning the flames of God’s new life as it springs forth. New life in war-torn streets and for families who have lost their homes to foreclosure. Rebirth in places where oppression has crushed the human spirit. Recovery for people who find themselves on dead-end roads. Hope and healing for the sick regardless of their circumstances, no matter how they ended up there, because we worship a God who is God not of the dead but of the living (Matthew 22:32).

 

Backhanded Compliments: Weird Sayings Continued

"Can I take this off yet? It's starting to itch." -John the Baptist

“I’m telling you the truth: John the Baptist is the greatest mother’s son there ever was.  But even the least significant person in heaven’s kingdom is greater than he is.”  Matthew 11:11 (translation is N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone)

It can almost sound like Jesus is paying his buddy from birth a backhanded compliment here.  Sure, John may be an exceptional prophet.  He may even be an Elijah (11:14).  As one who gestures to the coming kingdom of God, calling on God’s people to repent from his post in the wilderness, John stands in a long line of Jewish truth tellers; and like any good prophet, he is about to be killed for his message.  In only a short time his head will be served on a platter to Herod Antipas in exchange for a stripper’s cheap tricks.

But “if you think John is great, you ‘ain’t seen nothing yet,’ now that I’m here,” Jesus seems to be saying.  And there is a sense in which our impression is true. Jesus is paying his quirky cousin with the hair shirt and a palate for locusts and honey a very big compliment with a twist. He is dispensing high praise with a curve ball at the end of it.

Because for as much as John has faithfully lived out a life under God’s rule, he has yet to see the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.  John’s career is ending just as Jesus’ has begun.  John has caught glimpses of that kingdom, a divine order in which the blind see, the lame walk and those in bondage are set free, but he has yet to see the full implications of a “God with us.”  He has yet to catch the full meaning of a God who dwells with God’s people in the person of Jesus Christ.  He will not live to see Jesus crucified as one “high and lifted up,” parodied as “the King of the Jews;” nor will he witness the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ.

And now it is as if Jesus is saying that all that John has pointed to is here in the flesh. So that all that John represents, in the way of the prophets and the law and centuries of talking and dreaming about a time when God will dwell among God’s people, is incredibly important and meaningful because it has anticipated this “God-with-us” moment in Jesus.  Apart from Jesus, John, the prophets and the law are not inconsequential; they represent the greatest human efforts to incarnate God’s love and care for creation; but in the god-man Jesus their truth finds its greatest, fullest, realest embodiment.

And in this new divine order that God is unleashing in the person of Jesus, the “least” of those who see what God is doing and join God there are “greater” than John the Baptist.  The “least” of those who meet Jesus and get to know Him- and in doing so fall in love with and hitch their lives to a God who never gives up on us and loves us to the end and beyond- will be “greater” in the kingdom than John the Baptist.

What a wild, unfathomable mystery- that in Jesus the kingdom of God is fulfilled, that in Jesus, we discover God’s kingdom over and over again, that in Jesus, we can be there with each new moment, as if being reborn again and again to the Spirit-breathed reality around us.  My gratitude for this gift is beyond words.  Even so I still can’t help feeling a little sorry for the guy in the hair shirt.

The Advent Conspiracy: Weird Jesus Sayings Continued

Black Friday shoppers line up at Macy's in Manhattan.

“Foxes have their dens and the birds in the air have their nests.  But the son of man has nowhere he can lay his head.”  Matthew 8:20

“Black Friday” has come and gone, but the staggering figures remain.  Americans spent a whopping $11.4 billion, averaging $400 per consumer- the most ever spent on a single day, according to an NPR report.  The pictures corroborate this: 9,000 people lined up outside Macy’s in Herald Square, New York to be the first to get in on the deals.

And here Jesus offers a strikingly discordant reality.  Which is really a claim on the lives of those who would follow Him.  One that is truly peculiar.  Peculiar for a peculiar people.

If even foxes and birds have their homes, Jesus is as one even poorer- or freer- than they.  He- “the son of man”- has “no place to lay his head.”  A bit weird and a bit cryptic, don’t you think?

Because whereas we, or a great number of us, as the statistics would suggest, enrich ourselves with an extravagance of things, Jesus travels lightly, making his home along the way with the poor and the forgotten of our world.  While we, many of us, captivate ourselves with more and more stuff, Jesus invites us to leave our captivity for a free stretch of highway, our windswept hair and the thrill of the ride keeping us alive more than any new set of shoes or the latest piece of technology will.

The adventure is full of pain and glory, Jesus seems to be saying. But when we join Him we add our names to an undercover party of “co-conspirators” with an important job to do.  A job that involves being “on the move” in the world around us. We are “peripatetic” insofar as we make ourselves available to God’s mission of healing and restoration rather than let ourselves be weighed down by our possessions. We are “refugees” to the degree that we find ourselves out of place in a mall at midnight the day after Thanksgiving, camping out to shop as if our lives depended on it, and instead go where Jesus roams.  To the places where Jesus finds welcome. Among the poor, the sick, the afflicted and those who wish to “see.”  In a smelly stable just outside the outskirts of town on the margins of power.

When we go to those places we will hear God’s voice.  We will hear God speaking to us.  A bit like the tender sounds of a small baby nursing at his mother’s breast.  It is even possible that then we will drop our bags- all of those material things that weigh us down and have told us who we are- and worship God.

To learn more about how you can join the Advent Conspiracy, go to www.adventconspiracy.org.

Can I Get a Witness?

"I hate silence when it is a time for speaking." -Kassia

If there were any doubt that women were preachers before the twentieth century, this should put it to rest once and for all.  The ninth-century nun, Kassia, was probably the most famous in a line of women preachers who put their sermons into musical poems of sorts and sang them. (I, for one, am relieved that we Presbyterians haven’t borrowed this particular strain from the Syrian homiletical tradition!)

Tradition holds that Kassia used her voice so much that it landed her in hot water (or helped her elude some close calls, depending on how you look at it): as one of a handful of candidates for royal marriage to Emperor Theophilus in 830, she reportedly passed up the opportunity (whether knowingly or unknowingly remains unclear) by speaking out on behalf of women. Then she went on to found a monastery in Constantinople in 843 and become its first abbess. (You go girl.)

Kassia’s hymnic sermon, “To the Harlot,” is both personal, in its moving identification with the woman who anoints Jesus with expensive perfume before Jesus’ death, and universal, in its invitation to share in this woman’s worshipful repentance. The sermon eventually made its way into the Triodion, the Byzantine church service book for Lent:

Lord, the woman who fell headlong into a multitude of sins still recognized your Godhead, and joined the ranks of the Myrrh-bearing women.
Dropping tears she carries myrrh for you before you were laid in the tomb; crying out: Alas! what dark night envelops me; what gloomy, moonless, madness of abandonment is the lust for sin I have.
But take this offering of my spring of tears, you who guide the waters of the seas through the paths of clouds.
Stoop down to me, for the great grief my heart bears; you who made the very skies bow down, before the face of your ineffable self-emptying.
How I shall kiss your immaculate feet! and once again I shall dry them with the hair of my head; those feet whose steps Eve once heard, at dusk in paradise, and then hid herself in fear.
Who can ever sound the depths of my sinfulness or the profundities of your judgments, O My Savior, the Deliverer of our souls?
Do not pass by this your handmaid, you who have such boundless mercy.

For more on Kassia, see John McGuckin, Standing in God’s Holy Fire: The Byzantine Tradition (New York:  Orbis Books, 2001)

Stay tuned for next weird Jesus saying tomorrow:  “Foxes have their dens and the birds in the sky have their nests.  But the son of man has nowhere he can lay his head.”

Kingdom of Heaven Acrobatics: Weird Jesus Sayings Continued…

“Don’t suppose that I came to destroy the law and the prophets.  I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them!  I’m telling you the truth: until heaven and earth disappear, not one stroke, not one dot, is going to disappear from the law, until it’s all come true.  So anyone who relaxes a single one of these commandments, even the little ones, and teaches that to people, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But anyone who does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  Yes, let me tell you: unless your covenant behavior is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get in to the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:17-20 (Translation compliments of N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone)

If there were any evidence that could possibly draw into question the claim that God cannot contradict God’s Self, then this would be it.  On the one hand Jesus seems to be saying that strict adherence to the commandments in word and deed will make a person “great” in the kingdom of heaven; on the other, Jesus holds up a bar that not even the Pharisees in their rigorous application of the law can reach as criteria for entrance into God’s kingdom.

Which can leave us asking, “which is it, Jesus?”  Weird indeed.

Unless what Jesus is doing here is introducing a totally new paradigm.  A “revolution” as N.T. Wright puts it, in our whole mode of living and being in the world.  An existence to which the commandments point, as trail markers of sorts on the way to a full revelation of God’s justice, but one which also requires a complete reversal of old habits of thinking and living.

Because we like the Pharisees, I suspect, can easily slip into patterns of relating to God that ultimately point back to us and our own efforts to measure up.  To play by the rules.  To live within a certain rubric of conventional goodness.  So that if we’re not stealing or committing adultery, we can convince ourselves that we’ve got it together.  That “we’ve arrived.”  Or, in a similar stroke, if we are stealing or committing adultery, we can persuade ourselves that there is now no hope for us in the kingdom of heaven.

But notice that Jesus does not set up a paradigm by which one’s entrance into the kingdom of heaven depends on how well one keeps God’s laws.  Sure, those of us who have been exceedingly “good” may find that we are “greater” in the kingdom, just as those of us who have been a bit more “naughty” may find that we are “less” there. But the ultimate paradigm shift is in the notion of how we find ourselves in the kingdom in the first place. Because what Jesus seems to be saying here is that we find ourselves in the kingdom not by making our goodness or lack thereof the focus, but rather by joining the revolution that Jesus has now begun in his life, death and resurrection.  A revolution that begins with God’s remaking of our own hearts and ends when the heavens and earth pass away, and when God, with just a little help from us, has finished restoring the whole world to the way it was meant to be from the very beginning.

So there’s a sense in which Jesus is taking all that the Pharisees have come to understand about their world and reinterpreting it for them: he is validating their experience of God’s love and care in the prophets and the commandments, but also setting it out under the light and asking them to take another look at it, this time with a bigger, God-breathed perspective.

And the beauty and adventure of a relationship with Jesus are that we, too, have the opportunity to let God hold up the things that we, like the Pharisees, enshrine as necessary for entrance into God’s kingdom, that place where God’s justice and mercy kiss each other and where our hearts beat with God’s love.  We have the chance to let God shine God’s light on these same things so that they appear as if for a first time to us.  So that we, in the process, are “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” as the apostle Paul describes (Romans 12:2).  In that moment, we can choose to exclaim with wonder and gratitude.  Or, we can keep on lighting incense at the old shrines.

 

 

 

 

A Thanksgiving for Emmy

We were sitting across from one another in the monastery dining hall, eating our lunch in silence per the rule.  We hadn’t met yet.

“Would you like to come to my party?,” she blurted out.  Loudly.

Heads turned.

“I’ll think about it,” I whispered back, a bit embarrassed.

Two days earlier we had been sitting in a room full of other strangers also there to retreat.  I was there to begin writing a book, but upon suggestion chose to sit in on one of the weekend sessions.  A funny thing, really, because it was one of a series of workshops on the topic of “Boundaries.”

There we were, each of us familiar only with the sound of our own voices which we had been instructed not to use too often while there.  We were here to escape the noise of the world outside the walls of this place.  To open our ears to what God might be saying to us in the stillness.

“I take lithium for bipolar disorder,” she turned around to say to the couple behind her, strangers like the rest of us.  She said it loudly enough for all of us to hear.  “The last time I was here I had lithium poisoning,” she exclaimed with almost mischievous glee, like someone who having been afflicted with something for so long can actually see the humor in it.

Some of us exchanged nervous glances.  Others laughed awkwardly.  I was thinking, “It’s a good thing she’s here– at a retreat on boundaries.”

Earlier, during the question and answer time, she had issued another exclamation: “Have you noticed how the windows of the church are blue, but it looks yellow inside?”

It is amazing how community can form even in silence, though, when the silence is worshipful and orients around God in our midst.  At first, I was afraid of her, maybe of how her experience with bipolar illness touched the circle of my own struggles at times with depression- but by the end of my weekend at the monastery, I was grateful for her.  Grateful for her transparency in the same way that I was grateful for the boundaries that separated us.  That cordoned her off as a unique child of God, with an experience that witnessed to the pain and glory of Christ in our brokenness.

In a few minutes she had told me her life story.  How at the age of 19, while in film school at New York University, she had had her first “manic” episode: she chased a truck barefoot through the streets of Manhattan and ended up in bed with one too many men.  How after that there were the drugs- she had tried all kinds.  She had even given herself away to some loser guy for a bit of cocaine.  Which had landed her in a halfway house, where she had a nervous breakdown.  She had been clean for nine months but then relapsed.  Because of the same loser boyfriend.  For years she had fought the diagnosis of “bipolar disorder.”  But now, at the age of 36, she had written an autobiography about how through these experiences she had “overcome.”  And now she was writing a second book.  On pigeon tongue. (Apparently her second degree was in linguistics.)  Hmm, I thought, wondering how much of this was grounded in any reality.

But I listened.  And as I listened, her eyes latched on to me with an almost furious intensity: they were the eyes of someone struggling to find some sort of authentic connection from a place far away.  I wanted to help her even as I wanted to turn away.

On the last day we were in the church for noon prayers with the monks.  She strode un-self-consciously over to Father Michael.  “Look at my new tattoo!,” she exclaimed with childlike enthusiasm, baring the right side of her arm with pride to the priest.  He patted her shoulder.  “Emmy (a pseudonym), you are a very courageous girl,” he said, gently.

Some of us couldn’t help but smile.  And be grateful.  Grateful for this person made in God’s image.  Grateful for her courage and her joy in the midst of a life that had dealt her cards that we would have all liked to give back for her sake.

For Emmy and for all those like her who this Thanksgiving struggle with mental illness or any kind of affliction, I give thanks- and ask God to bless them.

 

 

 

 

Food for Thought: Would You Agree?

"Jesus doesn't hang in corporate board rooms, he hangs in McPherson."

 

Stylito Heels: Weird Jesus Sayings Continued

"If a Stylite falls in the wilderness and nobody is there to hear him, do they make a sound?" -Simon

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13,14

It is both funny and endearing, comical and touching to reflect on all of the ways we human beings strive to encounter God.  In my (the Christian) tradition, there is plenty of fodder for laughter and inspiration.  If you haven’t read John McGuckin’s book, Standing in God’s Holy Fire, I would commend it to you as a great little introduction to the Eastern church’s holy men and women who throughout history sought to embody and articulate what it means to “enter through the narrow gate.”

Which is a bit like training for the spiritual Olympics.  These early monastics were the best in their sport.  They had honed certain spiritual practices- some of them a bit odd to say the least- to a tee.  Take, for instance, the fourth-century Syrian ascetic, Simon Stylites.  He was the most well-known of a group of Christian monastics called “Stylites,” who practiced the spiritual discipline of stasis, which was essentially prayer over long hours in a motionless posture.  Simon had a knack for sitting on top of high pillars when he prayed.  For hours, even days.  In the desert.  I have to imagine a sore bum, aching back and bad case of sunburn went along with the exercise- as well as a quick end to any vertigo issues.

When Jesus instructs us to enter by the narrow door, I suspect he doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to find high pillars or their modern-day equivalents to sit around on.  Elsewhere, Jesus advises that when we wish to pray, we should go into our rooms, close the door and pray to our Father in secret (Matthew 6:6).  But I can appreciate the genuine sentiment here of Simon Stylites and all of the mystics who have preceded and followed him in their unbridled desire to commune with God.  Because a mystic need not be a monastic.  A mystic is anyone who seeks an encounter with God’s presence in the ordinary stuff of life- for whom the common, daily material of our world can become “sacraments” of sorts.  Mediums of God’s grace.

Mystics can be all of us, really.  To the degree that our eyes and ears are open for God to meet us as God chooses.  In the sacred profaneness and profane sacredness of our lives.

So that when Jesus issues this reminder, it is really a description of and a warning about a reality.  The reality that to do this kind of seeking- to be available to what God would say to us 24/7, to “pray ceaselessly,” as the apostle Paul instructs in 1 Thessalonians, to listen and obey not just in “church” or in our “holy” places but everywhere- is really, really hard.  It’s the narrow way.  When we forget to be intentional about our relationship with Jesus, or pretend we don’t need to be, or when we allow ourselves to be carried along by life’s currents without actively looking for and clinging to the One who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” then we can easily self-destruct.  We can lose the Way, miss the Truth and rob ourselves of the Life.

For as much as I am inclined to laugh when I read accounts of saints like Simon, I am also inclined to feel a bit nostalgic.  Because I suspect that the church today needs a few more “holy fools.”  Folks who will go to any length, no matter how embarrassing or foolish it might look, to do something radical for God in their worship and service.  Folks who, mindful that Jesus can meet them at any hour, at any moment even, are like the “wise virgins” who ready their lamps, all the while waiting with great expectation for their Bridegroom to come and consummate their love (Matthew 25).

This kind of vigilance, this quality of choosing to live as “set apart” for God, is rare today.  We inculcate it when we ask God to unplug our ears to hear God’s voice in those around us, in our circumstances and our world. Or when we open ourselves to God’s call to us, in our workplace, relationships and various walks of life.  Often, to do this requires a regular practice of learning to be still before God.  Of doing nothing but being silent in God’s presence.  Of learning to listen.

I’m only a beginner in these things.  And thus far I haven’t received any divine summons to walk in Simon’s shoes.  If you see me levitating on Stone Mountain or perched on the top of the Bank of America in fervent prayer, then it will be a surprise to all of us.  But a girlfriend of mine has been encouraging me to wear heels.  At 6’0″, I have tended to avoid any platform that might earn me the epithet of “the fifty foot woman.”  (I haven’t seen the movie, but apparently there is one.)

12 inches closer to God.

But “stylito heels” are a different story.  When I put these on- (and while I am thinking metaphorically here, I might be persuaded to wear real ones as the uncomfortable spiritual discipline of a postmodern “holy fool”)- I am straining upwards to give God a smooch. This way God doesn’t have to come down quite so far to kiss me and enter in.

 

 

 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”  1 Corinthians 12:12,13

“Body dysmorphic disorder.”  Have you heard of it? Apparently it’s when a person becomes so concerned about his or her body image and convinced that he or she has a defect of some sort that they spend crazy amounts of time in the mirror and find it hard to function.  So, for example- and we women are probably more susceptible to this, thanks to the messages the media sends us, but men are not immune either- an average-sized woman with an average-sized waist will look in the mirror and think she’s huge.  That is body dysmorphia.  It’s a bit like looking in a funny mirror and thinking what you see is reality.

Sometimes I wonder if the church has body dysmorphia, too.  Sure, we at least pay lip service to the notion that we, the church, are “the body of Christ”- “one body” with “many parts” as the apostle Paul describes (1 Corinthians 12:12)- but then we spend far too much time looking in the mirror complaining about our nose.  Or our breasts.  Or our love handles.

We spend far too much time looking in the mirror when we could be looking at Him who is “the Head,” as Paul describes.  We could be looking at Jesus.  Instead, these so-called “blemishes” become easy excuses for not staying focused on Jesus and what Jesus wants for us.  They become the obstacles we put up to Jesus’ invitation to join Him in the real world where the real action is.

If you’ve ever been around Christians who stare at their navels rather than gaze at the world around them, then you know what I’m talking about.  If you’ve ever sat in a group of other “body parts” and found that the conversation revolves around the problems with just one body part and how things would all be different in the church if that body part were not there or underwent major plastic surgery, then you know what I mean.  If you’ve ever been the body part that all the rest of us would like to cover up as “private” when it’s as obvious as a birthmark on the forehead, then you have an appreciation for what I’m trying to say.

Because wherever there is a church, there is a body and a “mirror” of sorts.  The stories we tell ourselves about who we are.  The people in our congregation we look to to define us and those we would prefer not to.  The ways we see ourselves that clarify who we are and how we live.

But what if, instead of obsessing about ourselves in the mirror, and doing all we could to change certain body parts because they’re annoying or ugly or embarassing, what if we looked in the mirror and saw the face and head of Jesus?  How would things change?  Would we still be inclined to complain and belly ache about our church and its defects?  Or, would we start to talk differently about all of the unique characteristics that make us who we are?  The scar on our knee from a childhood bike-riding accident.  Or, the way our shoulder clicks every so often when we move it.  Or, the lazy eye that shows up sometimes in pictures.  And what if we learned to claim these things as good and lovely because they belong to a body with Jesus at the head?  What if we chose to do this, even if it felt uncomfortable or against our nature?  What if we prayed to be able to do this?  What would change?  How would our life together look?

When I was a kid I had to wear braces because I had a crooked smile.  My mother took me to an orthodontist for an evaluation: after asking me several times to bite down, smile and say “ah,” all the while quizzically looking at my jaw in relation to my face, he turned to my mother and explained that while, at the whopping cost of $5,000 they could fix my crooked teeth, they would not be able to fix the assymetry of my face.  At that, my mother, who is one of the most soft-spoken, patient and slow-to-anger people I know, exclaimed that my face was “just right,” that there was nothing wrong with it, and that we would not be needing their services.

When Jesus is “the Head,” there is a sense in which we don’t need to worry too much about whether we’re “just right” or not.  We can rest in the assurance that we are.  That because Jesus loves us and has called us to Himself, and has gathered all of our broken parts together to be in Him, we are okay.  We are accepted.  In fact, we are more than okay and accepted.  We are lovely and loveable.  In the same way that a mother can exclaim at the perfection of her child.  And this assurance in itself should be enough to help us start acting more like we really are- not what we think we are- in the world around us.  More beautiful.  More loving.  With parts that, with all their eccentricities, come together to make up Jesus and function like it, too.

 

 

Previous Posts

Jesus and the Rich Man: A Sermon on the "Hitler" of Passages.
It's rare that I find myself thinking about Sunday's sermon midweek. This Sunday our pastor Drew Ditzel preached on the familiar story of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10). The rich man, who says he has kept all the commandments perfectly and has lived a righteous life, comes to Jesus asking what mor

posted 10:40:08am Sep. 17, 2014 | read full post »

The Lie of Invulnerability
This last week has been insane. Family sickness, repairs, car issues, multiple calls from school nurses, including one in which the nurse expressed concern my 7-year-old son had been bitten by a brown recluse spider...and just when I thought it couldn't get worse...viral pinkeye. Two puffy, leaky, r

posted 11:00:49am Sep. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Humor Relief for Religious Extremism
Once again, humor and satire are coming to my aid this morning, this time in response to the twisted and evil extensions of religion that seeks to coerce and control with violence and worldly forms of power (best embodied these days in the form of ISIS and its affiliates). The Palestinian televis

posted 10:36:57am Sep. 03, 2014 | read full post »

"AA" Recovery Groups—Spirituality for the Non-Religious, Hope for the Church?
[caption id="attachment_5326" align="alignleft" width="271"] Bill Wilson co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Dr. Bob Smith in 1935. Their affectionately called "Big Book" is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold more than 30 million copies since its publication. (Photo credit: Haze

posted 11:27:26am Sep. 02, 2014 | read full post »

Thoughtful Christians—They're Around, Via Fare Forward
The cover story from the latest (July/August) issue of Christianity Today offers a refreshing antidote to all the gloom and doom that often accom

posted 2:39:15am Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »


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