About Timothy Brown

A pastor. A writer. A dreamer. Occasionally a beer brewer.

Hugs and Hand Grenades

download“Do you need a hug?” my five year old asked as I sat on the couch staring at the TV.

He must have seen it on my face.  The President had just finished his Rose Garden address and, as if watching a split screen of dual realities, before the final words of his horrifying speech the pops of smoke grenades and screams of tear gas victims rang out.

Holding shields and charging the peaceful protest, the public park was cleared to make way for the President.

He was going for a stroll.

Having been sequestered in a bunker last night (welcome to our world, Mr. President), he now wanted to show strength…he feared being seen as weak.

And flanked by the Attorney General and his security advisors, he walked.

To where?

An empty church left vacant by both the pandemic that still plagues our land and the fire that raged last night in its basement, mirroring the rage in so many hearts at the reality that the plague of racism still has no vaccine.

I mean, that’s the truth, right?  We’ll get a vaccine for Covid-19.  But to extinguish racism and white supremacy we need a collective heart transplant, and unfortunately elective surgery is still not happening in many places…

Well, and most aren’t electing to have such a transplant, anyway.

On a friend’s social media feed she posted that we need to teach our white babies not to shoot or harm black and brown babies.  Immediately the feed was pounced on by well-meaning but fragile folks who reminded her that “no one should shoot or harm anyone” and “that’s what we need to teach.”

Ok. But we need to start with our white babies…because, well, read the headlines.

Read history.

And so he walked from the Rose Garden after a speech that could be generously described as taken from the papers of an aspiring dictator, and strolled to stand in front of a vacant church.

And there he held aloft a Bible which was, I kid you not, upside-down. At least, upside-down for him, making it not only unreadable for him, but also no more than a prop of some sort.  It was backward for everyone…but both backward and upside down for him.

And just stood there.

Backward and, for him, upside-down.

I mean, I’m not one to think that symbolism is everything; it was obviously a mistake.  Who holds up a book backward?  What reader reads a book upside-down?

But, who knows? Maybe the book just refused to cooperate.

The scriptures have been known to do that.  Too often they don’t cooperate with what I want them to do and say, either, in the end.

It’s like the book was an unwilling participant.

Wait, no. As someone well-versed in the stories of that bound volume, let me be clearer: it was an unwilling participant.

Because the scriptures are always unwilling to participate in oppression.

When the military is used against civilians, it should be in order to protect their Constitutional rights.  Historically, that’s what it has been used for.

Eisenhower did this in Arkansas over school integration.

Kennedy did the same in Alabama.

And sure, in times of riot the Guard has been mobilized in an effort to control the situation.  Notably this happened after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the 60’s, and the military came to Chicago, Washington, and Baltimore as outrage spilled out of the homes and onto the streets…understandably so.

But even in those cases the military at least gave the appearance of using force to quell a situation that was bubbling over (and again I say that the bubbling over was UNDERSTANDABLE).

But today the military was used against peacefully protesting civilians so that the President could take a walk to a vacant church and get his picture holding up a backwards Bible.

So, yes Alistair, I need a hug for multiple reasons.

Because today the rights of those people were hijacked.

Because today the military was forced to do something that, arguably, is unconstitutional.

Because today the scriptures that I have dedicated my life to studying were used in a publicity stunt.

Because today a church building, a sanctuary, was used to provide the backdrop for someone who has made it part of their political platform to deny sanctuary to immigrants.

Today Christianity was once again used as a prop in the ongoing narrative of white supremacy and oppression in the United States.  It, along with our current pandemic, is a plague upon the land. What is it with this penchant for prop-holding that politicians do with our scriptures and creeds, turning them upside-down for their own political agendas?

So yeah, I could use a hug.

In the battle between hugs and hand grenades, I still contend that hugs will overcome.

But today was not that day…so bring on the hugs, because we’ve had enough of the political, and literal, hand grenades for June 2020.

Already.

 

On Anger Getting the Best of Me (An Apology) and Keeping it Compassionate

67784A few days ago I let anger get the best of me.  It’s not pretty when that happens, especially publicly.

It was on a social media post, something I never encourage and usually try to discourage…but anger got the best of me.

In a season of great frustration: pandemic, politics, the politicization of a pandemic…well, there are tons of reasons.  No excuses, mind you.  Just plenty of reasons.

It felt bad. In the clear light of the morning, I took down the whole post and exchange.  I had to.  None of us were at our best in that moment.

Part of what kills me about the current state of politics is the seeming disconnect between what our vote, our support for a candidate, seems to say about us…and it’s something I struggle with.

Because the candidate I will vote for (and Lord, I pray he has a good, solid, exciting running mate) has an accusation of sexual assault against him, which he denies.  And he recently made a careless remark about race (which, while not racist, was certainly careless…and for which he apologized for).  And, while I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, I mean…c’mon.

The more laughable/sad part of it all is the supposed outrage by the other side that he’d say something like that, but their deafening silence when their candidate has done far worse.

But I don’t like “whataboutisms,” and there’s no excuse for the above.

In a normal voting year, I would not be voting for him.  This is frustrating for me.

But I don’t see this as a normal voting year.  Because the current occupant of the White House not only has an accusation of sexual misconduct against him, but has 24 such accusations.  And this all comes after a weekend where he (once again) re-Tweeted posts calling another politician a “skank,” fat-shaming another female politician, and disparaging mental-illness.

On top of that he has continually made racist or misogynistic remarks, not to mention supporting policies that continue to keep the marginalized on the margins (low unemployment numbers for African Americans are empty when the jobs are not living-wage jobs…that’s all gone now, anyway).  Did you forget the “Muslim ban?”  Did you forget how he remarked on Hillary Clinton’s backside?  Or his disparaging comments about the appearance of Carly Fiorina?  Have you forgotten how he made fun of a physically disabled reporter in front of thousands who cheered?

Do you laugh at that kind of thing?  If you do, I don’t want to know…

On top of that, we’re nearing 100,000 dead in this pandemic, and will soon surpass our dead from World War I, and the delayed response from this administration still does not have anyone taking any sort of blame.

And on top of that, I see a politician continually manipulating my religion for his benefit…even though he doesn’t even practice my religion, though he claims to.

And on top of that he has cruelly suggested putting alligators in a moat across the Southern border, or “shooting to maim” people who cross the border, or even punishing women who have an abortion somehow…it almost seems like cruelty is the point.

And on top of all of that, he hasn’t even adhered to the fiscal responsibility the party he leads has repeatedly championed, unmasking that responsibility for the clanging gong that it is: a political ploy without conviction.

But what frustrates me the most, and what made me the most angry the other night, is that I’m having a difficult time divorcing a vote for him from the support of his rhetoric, his racism, his fat-shaming, his misogyny, his bald-face lying, his inability to accept responsibility (that “The Buck Stops Here” sign Truman championed found its way to the trash), and his constant politicization of everything (do you even wear a mask?).

For me it’s a spiritual issue.  In our spirits, how can we support with our vote, with our rally, a candidate who exemplifies our basest inclinations?

I’m having a hard time not seeing the people who vote for him as racist and misogynistic and absolutely OK with being lied to and manipulated.

It’s just true.  And it makes me angry.

It makes me angry that I’m having a hard time divorcing him from those who vote for him.  It makes me angry, and makes me afraid: are his supporters like him? Deep down inside, do they think those things?

And, if I’m honest, it makes me angry that now I will cast a vote for someone who has been accused of sexual assault, too, because he is the lesser of two evils (unless he chooses an awesome running mate, which could turn a sad vote into a glad vote).

That anger got the best of me the other night…and I regret that.

I’m sorry for that.

Instead of just letting it hang out there, I thought it might be good to give you a glimpse into what’s going on behind the scenes in my heart and mind.  I think it might be important to put out there that I’m not sure how to divorce the candidate’s rhetoric from the voter’s vote, you know?

Like, if my friends and family members who vote for the current President are as racist and misogynistic and willing to laugh at Tweets and comments that tear people down…well, I don’t want to know that about them, you know?

It makes me angry to think that they’re someone who would do that, because frankly, I don’t want my kids around that.  Hell, I don’t want to be around that.

That’s not what my family is about.

And maybe you feel stuck, too, right?  Maybe you feel like you’re stuck between two bad choices, and Trump is the least-bad of the choices.  I can understand that feeling, I have the mirror of it, and would welcome that conversation.

But the gleeful support?  The cheering and goading on of the terribleness? The re-posting of the heartlessness?

Some people say that he’s “raw and real.”  Mike Rowe feels raw and real to me.  Hell, Joe Biden feels raw and real to me.

Our current president feels “rude and manipulative” to me.

Are you rude and manipulative?

Do you laugh at racist jokes?

Do you allow your children to pick on other children?  Then why would you allow, with your vote, your president to do that to other people?

This is where I’m coming up short, and it makes me frustrated.  It feels like a vote for him is a vote of support for the racism he espouses (would you ever call a White Nationalist a “good person?”), and for the misogyny he exudes, and for the heartless proposals he’s put forward…and I don’t want to think of you as blatantly racist, sexist, and heartless.

I don’t want to…but I’m having a hard time not doing that because, well, we’ve seen four years of it, and you want to sign on for four more?

Maybe the damage is done…

But, I have to say that, I feel like I’m being manipulated in all of this, too.  Clear-eyed, I see it now.  The mantra “Keep them angry” has been running through my head.  It’s a mantra that an operative used to describe the tactics of our day that push out the vote by the Right, but it certainly could be applied to the Left, too.

And anger always gets the best of us.

There’s certainly a ton of reasons to be angry, and good ones, too.  But I’m deciding to go in a different direction.

I’m deciding, today, to “Keep it compassionate.”  Compassion for the people being demonized, demoralized, and degraded will spur my vote this year.

Compassion even for those folks who might vote for the other side, because I have a desire to break the anger-spell driving the divisive politics of our day.

By the way, I don’t see compassion as weak.  In fact, I think it’s about the strongest thing you can be because, well, it’s easier to give into the anger, honestly.

I’m still frustrated that I don’t have a better ticket to vote for (Yet!  That running mate could do it!), but I won’t let the anger get the best of me…or, at least I’ll try not to.

But I do want to ask, absolutely without a shred of rhetorical questioning: how do you separate the vote from horribleness?  How do you separate the vote from the cruelty?  Is a vote for a candidate a vote for their words, beliefs, and ideas, too?

I know it’s not always a vote for their actions…we all make mistakes.  But what if there’s not only no remorse, but indeed a doubling-down?

I don’t know what to do with that, because a vote for that feels like rubber stamping, or even agreement with, those ideas.

And we can’t just say “it’s about the policies,” because as I point out above, the policies seem to be laced with that vitriol, too.

But even in this case, then, I’m going to go with compassion.  The kind of compassion that says, “God, they know not what they do.”

I’m still angry at the injustice…but that’s on all sides. No one is not guilty of that.

But when I enter the booth this year, I’ll be “Keeping it compassionate.”

On Essentialism

786C82F7-7A2F-438A-9CCC-D0A703E5B4E8Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today not to bury the Church, but rather to bury our illusions of what the church was.

We may have thought of the church as our safe space.

We may have thought of it as our sanctuary, a shelter from the storms of life.

We may have thought of it as our reliable friend, companion, and guide through the storms.

Surely it is all of this. Yes.

Yes.

But it has also been our training ground for discipleship. Slowly, but unyieldingly, you have repeated in word and deed, through hymn and creed, that you are about your neighbor and the tough work of loving your enemy into friendship.

You may have thought that it was just practice. A weekly ritual (monthly? can we be honest?), but it has not been.

Slowly but surely your swords have been molded into ploughshears…and if they haven’t, you’ve been attending a political rally, not a church.

Slowly but surely  you have prepared for the moment when the church would be pushed into exile, whether by pandemic or politics, and your sensibilities have been honed to detect the bs from the psa.

Do you see? Have you not heard?

Individual rights do not Trump (word used on purpose) communal responsibility.

We have been prepared for a moment like this since our last national crisis. Will we shirk back into kowtowing to the political winds because it is expedient?

Or will we trust the Gospel?

Will we imagine we are like Target and Walmart and Kroger’s?

Or will we admit we are not them, and are often against the profiteering they stand for?

Will you, Beloved, stand up for your baptismal vows? Or kneel before the calls of so-called liberty that bear no resemblance to your freedom in Christ?

This is the question.

Stay home. Trust science. Keep the faith. The faith that says being last actually means you’re first. The faith that says the meek inherit the earth.

The faith that says we are dying to live for our neighbor.

Attending to the Little Deaths

IrishWake_iStock_48838408I was running today, listening to a podcast where they were discussing one of my favorite Buddhist authors, Pema Chodron, and her book When Things Fall Apart.  It is not an exaggeration to say that Chodron’s book has changed my life, and saved many parts of me over and over again.

As the discussion unfolded using the book as a map, the host and guest noted that Chodron’s notion of the Buddhist maras, or “evils,” includes the “fear of death.”  And the guest went on to say, “And that doesn’t just mean the big death. That’s also all the other little deaths.”

And I stopped running.

I stopped running, put my hands on my knees and sighed a big sigh. I just decided to be for a brief moment, huffing and puffing, sweat cascading down my face.  I took a second to honor a little death right then and there: the death of my routine.

Yes, you might think it’s a small thing, but I hadn’t honored it yet.  I have deluded myself, using the drugs of “one day” and “soon” to shove my grief aside, but I have to come to grips with the fact that my routine, the one I knew, is dead.  I have been afraid to honor it because, well, that would mean I’d have to admit it is really dead.

It is.

And for me this is no small thing.  I live and die by the calendar and the clock. For as flexible as my schedule is, I make it inflexible purposefully because I need fences to organize my life.  It’s ironic, really: I don’t like fences when it comes to my thoughts, beliefs, or ideas, but I need them when it comes to my daily rituals.

We must have roots somewhere if we want to grow, right?

And it got me to thinking that all around us, in our homes, in our workplaces (or lack thereof), in our civic engagements (or lack thereof), in our patterns and practices, there are a thousand little deaths at this moment, and so many of us are just “waiting it out.”

But, Beloved, this is a Wake, not a pause.  This is a Wake.

The Wake, especially in my Irish heritage, was where you sat up all night with the body of the deceased, usually laid out on your kitchen table, and you drank, and played cards, and made a ruckus, trying to rouse the dead person from their prone position just in case they might still be alive.  Everyone likes a party, right?  And so if they were “mostly dead” and not “fully dead,” they’d rise to join.

They’d wake.

Well, in March we thought maybe our routines were just “mostly dead.”  But now, in May…well, my friends…it’s time to start organizing the funeral.

We need to honor these little deaths.  We need to stop pretending that things can go back to the way they were.  I mean, even if we wanted them to, and I’m not sure we really do because, let’s be very honest: the system wasn’t working very well for many, right?

But even if we wanted them to, they can’t.  We’ve seen too much.

We’ve seen how quickly the elderly have become expendable.  We’ve seen how fragile our “robust economy” actually was.  We’ve seen how grocery store clerks belong in the same sentence as fire fighters, nurses, and doctors, and we’ve noticed how glaringly other so-called “important professions” are missing from the term “essential worker.”  We’ve seen how our political system and our politicians, with some notable exceptions, will politicize a pandemic.

We’re not waiting out this virus, Beloved.  It’s killing things.  People, yes, but also our illusions, and we have the choice to numb ourselves with platitudes, or we can do the hard thing and no longer shelter our lives from the pain it is causing.

We must honor the little deaths, even if we do so in little ways.

It is freeing for me to say, with such frequency, “I don’t know.”  I say it all the time with my kids now.  My partner and I say it to one another regularly, especially when we talk about things happening in the summer months and next fall.

I don’t know when we’ll get to go to grandma and grandpa’s house again.  I don’t know if we’ll be at our nephew’s graduation party.  I don’t know when we’ll resume swimming lessons.  I don’t know if we’ll keep our jobs.

I just don’t know.

One of the little deaths I’m having to grieve now in this Wake is the death of so much certainty I thought I had, so many plans we had already made.  Like my ancestors at an Irish wake, I raise a glass to that certainty saying, “Cheers.  You had a nice run, old pal.”

Because it’s gone, and in many ways that’s both OK and so not OK, but either way it’s just damn true.

We must attend to the little deaths, Beloved.  We must free ourselves to grieve, to tell stories of what was, and be present in the waiting for what will be.

What Does the Church Look Like Without Communal Singing?

silent-and-semi-silent-vowels-in-japanese-devoicingHow can I keep…from singing? the old, old song asks.

Well, turns out you keep from singing because it might infect the alto section…and Lord knows no song is complete without the alto section.

If you don’t believe me, just ask an alto.

The very idea that communal song will be put on hold for a while, even after churches can gather in person again, breaks my heart.

Music is at the heart of what makes worship a thing.

Music is, some would say, what makes a church service tolerable.  And if the music is good?  Well, that can make a tolerable church service enjoyable, even.

Music was always the fallback for a pastor who gripped a sub-par sermon in their hands.  “Well,” they would think, “at least they’ll see Christ in the liturgy…”

The loss of communal singing in church will be great, indeed.  Where else, save for the bar, do we sing communally anymore?  Gone are the glee clubs.  Gone is classroom singing.  As the Fine Arts disappear from school curriculum in deference to STEM courses, gone is the peculiar mathematics and social intelligence that communal singing, both the learning and the doing, offer humanity.

And, sure, I’ve seen many the stoic pew-sitter stand obediently during a hymn and never move their lips.  But that is the exception, in my experience, not the rule.  It’s not that some have chosen not to sing in church, it’s that now we must choose not to fill the void those lyrical objectors create.

What will we do?

Well, we won’t stop music, that’s for sure.  In fact, one of the beautiful things about the liturgy lies in its repetition.  I only need to hear the introduction to Setting Four of This is the Feast and the song of my heart begins intoning, even if only in my mind, “This is the feast of victory for our God…

To be honest, one of the reasons the liturgy is repeated week after week is just for this reason: so your heart knows how to sing when your lips, for whatever reason, be it tragedy or overwhelming joy, cannot stir.  The liturgy is kind of like your familiar road home that you take, and though your mind drifts as you drive it, you arrive safely back in your garage before you know it because your body knows the way.

Your soul has memorized it.

That does not, of course, replace communal singing, but it is a bit of comfort, Beloved.

No, we will not abandon music, but we will do what communities have done since we first began purposeful gatherings: we will ask someone to sing on our behalf.

After all, what is a pastor but the person called by the community to lead them through the parts, sometimes offering them on the community’s behalf?  Who is the cantor but the person commissioned by the assembly to encourage song, arrange song and, if need be, sing for the silent community?  And, like the elected representatives currently fulfilling (or not) their duties in our government on our behalf, these people will take on the role of speaking for the community, singing for the community, until it can again.

This has happened in small ways, always.

I remember our musician playing an especially emotional rendition of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” one Sunday morning and, when his voice gave out as the tears choked him, the whole community started singing the song for him.  It was more than beautiful.

This will be that, but in reverse.

And I remember a particularly troublesome bout of laryngitis that afflicted me one Christmas Eve, leaving me no voice for my favorite Christmas hymns, as I had to save it all for the sermon. On that O holy night the community sang for me.

This will be that, but in reverse.

And surely wise leaders will take the opportunity to safely incorporate soloists, distanced duets, and whatnot for those gathered.

Crisis is the mother of ingenuity.

What will it look like?  I don’t know yet…but you can’t stop the music, Beloved. It dances inside you. It lives in the heart of our spirituality.  The Christian Celts claimed God sung creation into being and, as Jesus said, if this virus silences the disciples, the very rocks themselves will ring out in song, vibrating with the energy of sun they’ve absorbed every day of their existence.

The crickets chirp the soprano line. The wind rushes through the trees as an able tenor (which are hard to find!). The opening petals of the flowers and their almost imperceptible cracking will replace the bass pedals of the organ if they have to…though they won’t.

They won’t, because we’ll find a way.

It will be sad, it will be difficult, but it will be done.

You will sing for me, and I for you, until we can sing together.

 

Justice is on Trial

merlin_171694110_ab8d0f6a-5a84-4062-9ead-342a03b23d83-superJumbo

The cross Arbery’s mother set up. Photo credit: Richard Fausset/The New York Times

“What have you done?!” the Lord asked. “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

That question, “What have you done?” cuts both ways in America. It always has, if we’re honest.

If you think for one damn minute we live in a post-racial society in the (dis)United States, explain to me why we still see Confederate flags at Reopen Michigan rallies.

Explain to me how a man in a KKK hood in California shops for produce in compliance to the face mask ordinance.

Explain to me how this pandemic has, in its very spread, cut itself along racial lines…doesn’t that make you scratch your head?  Doesn’t that make your heart hurt?  Doesn’t that objectively indicate that there is disparity in our system, forcing the spread of disease in communities of color?

Explain to me how a man can go jogging in a neighborhood of moss-hung trees and modest ranch houses and, just because of the color of his skin, is stopped and accosted by white residents armed with weapons.

No, not just accosted…hunted.  They saw him running and, like seeing an animal they wanted to get, grabbed their guns, hopped in their pick-up, and gave chase.

And if you think this is an isolated incident, need I say the name Trayvon Martin?

Need I say the name Alton Sterling?

Sandra Bland?

We may have outlawed lynching, but it took two months to get an arrest in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, with the prosecutor originally advising that no charges be brought because the murderers acted “in self defense.”

Apparently being black in a predominantly white neighborhood is threatening.

Actually, the above statement is exactly correct in my personal experience.

Not too long ago someone visiting my house looked out our window and, seeing a person of color in the cul-de-sac casually said, “Someone’s in the wrong neighborhood…”

The person is our neighbor. I mean, literally they are our neighbor, but this person who shows up weekly in a house of worship should also understand that word in a different way.  Did not Jesus say “love your neighbor” and, when pressed on the issue, gave a wide-sweeping definition of that word that undoubtedly included those who don’t look like you?

Let’s face it: most Christians have deified their prejudices, their political policies, and their bankrupt morality, not God.

The question, “What have you done?” weighs on me though.  Because when that person made that casual remark in my home I just said, as casually, “Oh, that’s Mr. X. They live in that house,” pointing down the road.

What I should have said was, “Yes. Apparently you are in the wrong neighborhood if you think we talk like that.  Apparently you are in the wrong neighborhood if you think this family puts up with that.  This isn’t the house, or the neighborhood, for that.”

Combating racism starts at the level of the heart, the head, and the mouth.  So many white people gather at Arbery’s grave not to cheer a miscarriage of justice, nor to protest it, but rather just to go home shaking their heads, preferring guilt to responsibility.

Be responsible.  We are responsible, in all the ways that word can be used, for this mess.

Justice is on trial, Beloved.

And for Christians, this issue needs to be personal.  Not only because our past is complicit in the problem, but even more so because we claim (emphasis on that word) to worship a God who fell victim to a miscarriage of justice.

The story of Jesus is one of a loving God going walking in the wrong neighborhood, a neighborhood that preferred violence to peace, preferred division over unity, preferred vengeance over service.

So, the question I’m asking myself, and I’m asking you: what have you done?!

 

Solid Ground is Overrated

solid-javascriptOn Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…

I love the hymn, but it lies.

It doesn’t mean to, of course. It means to tell a deep truth…but I think the way it is put in practice, at least, is a lie.

Because while we may talk about God as “solid ground,” and the God seen in Christ as “solid ground,” we also talk about God as breath and wind.

So which is it?  As Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can this be?”

Well, it is because it’s not true…it’s deeper than truth.  It’s more than true.

What I’m getting at is: it’s all metaphor. God may be unchanging, but is also the “wild goose” of Celtic wisdom, running roughshod and rampant across existence.  “God can’t be boxed in or pinned down,” we say, and yet we sing of God as “the rock.”

Faith turns into lunacy when the metaphor becomes the idol.

And let’s be honest: you don’t want solid ground.  Solid ground is difficult to till.  Solid ground is brittle, and breaks but doesn’t give in the way you need useful ground to give.  Solid ground may not shift, but living things need shift.

You cannot root in solid ground.

You cannot breathe in solid ground.

Solid ground is a tomb which could not contain the Christ.

The quest for the spiritual seeker, then, is not to find the solid ground and build a house there, but rather to embrace the uncertainty of life and living.  Hug change and keep it close.  Learn to keep your heart nimble, to dance when the “earth moves under your feet” as St. Carol of the Kings sang.

Because God is only solid ground insofar as existing in God allows you to shift and move with the waves of life.

Because God is only secure insofar as rooting yourself in God pushes you toward the skies, toward change and growth…and nothing alive escapes change, Beloved.

Base religion speaks of God and God’s ways, “God’s laws,” God’s edicts as airtight and immovable.

And yet the Christ spoke of God’s ways as moving mountains (Mark 11:23) and likened them to weed infestation. (Matthew 13:31-32)  Dynamic, not stoic.

I knew someone who told me that they, when visiting Colorado, had told a mountain to move.  They stood at the base of a mountain and did this. They were so secure in their faith, they said, that they were certainly hopeful, if not certainly certain, that it would shift ever so slightly. Or, perhaps, a stone would fall at that very moment.

Something.

Nothing happened, of course, because the analogy is not reality. It is truer than reality…we have trouble grasping that, but that’s kind of the point: it can’t be grasped.

Instead of viewing God as a solid rock, or an old man in the sky who sent a memo in the form of the Bible giving instructions for life (which, honestly, is largely what base religion has taught us: that God is just a more perfect version of the most powerful self we know, giving orders), try viewing God like a doe deep in the woods who you have trouble seeing, but chase after.

Imagine the chase as being the goal, the pursuit. Imagine the tracks you find here and there, as enough evidence to give your soul hope and nourishment that something is worth following, and that the playful way the prints dance gives you a hint that the doe knows you’re following, knows you even, and desires the chase, too.

And when you spot the doe, those times that you do, you only do so because the doe lets you watch it eat, and you’re still enough to notice it.  Both things have to happen.

Solid ground is overrated, Beloved.

God is only solid in being fluid.  God is only secure in God’s wildness.

I mean, it’s almost like the kind of paradox Jesus spoke about all the time, right?  That “lose your life to gain it” thing?  I mean, it’s almost like Jesus was dropping hints, making tracks for us to follow the whole time, but we were too busy making him into an idol to see it…

 

Frozen 2 Almost Said Something True About Reconciliation…Almost…

34605751714_d713169d14_bFrozen 2, you were so close.

Let’s be honest, this shelter-in-place has given a lot of us the unwanted time (and responsibility?) of watching, and re-watching, a variety of children’s movies over and over and over again.

And after some…lengthy…”research,” it is indeed my estimation that: Frozen 2, you were so close.

While most watchers were dazzled by your exquisite animation (seriously, topnotch…though, can we all agree that everyone’s eyes are about two-sizes, too big?) and your earworm of a musical score (the ode to 1980’s music videos in Kristoff’s ballad had me longing for jams and slap-bracelets again), I was drawn to the story itself.

Because the plot of Frozen 2 is basically a metaphor for racial reconciliation in the United States, both in form and its largely failed outcome.

Yeah, yeah…I know you think it wasn’t meant to be a commentary on contemporary issues, and maybe you even think that I’m reading too much into it all, but I don’t think we should underestimate the subconscious mind’s ability to influence our work and our play.

Quick plot recap, ready?

Something is wrong in Arendelle. The ground is no longer stable, there’s menace in the air, and everything seems to be out of balance.  Elsa and her companions go in search for the reason for all this unrest, leading them to an enchanted forest where they meet a people they’d only heard of, but never actually seen.

And in that new territory where these people are seen and known they find out a terrible truth: the people of the enchanted forest have been oppressed for the benefit of Arendelle.  They were promised parity and equality.  In treaties long ago they had been assured of partnership, ending years of animosity.

And they were lied to.  They, and their way of life, was instead attacked.

I mean, do we need a clearer example of our treatment of First Nations people?  Do we need a more on-the-nose example of the slave trade, of Jim Crow and “separate but equal?”  Do I need to point out how ironic it is that on the streets of America you can drive on Robert E. Lee Lane and pass by Confederate monuments, all while people claim that “we’re past all that…” and act like everything is normal?

Driving on a street named after a General who worked hard to keep you working hard as a slave is a continual attack, in my estimation.

Back to Frozen 2…

This truth is devastating for Elsa and Anna, as they must wrestle with the reality that their beloved grandfather was a liar who participated in, and even instigated, this oppression.

This truth is devastating for Elsa and Anna because they must wrap their heads and their hearts around the fact that their whole world, Arendelle, and their whole way of life, is built on this oppression.

They have overlooked these people, but now that they’ve been seen they can’t unsee them.

The remedy?  They must find the blockage in society and destroy it, allowing the creative forces that they had dammed up to flow freely again.

I mean, I took the plot line out of cartoony language, but can we agree that this is pretty much it?

Up until now I was all in on this movie.  I was like, “Yes!  A Disney film with actual, cultural import!  In Frozen they tackled the misogyny of the traditional princess story, and here they’re going to tackle the hard reality of true reconciliation!”

But they didn’t.  They chose a fairy tale ending.

See, here’s how it went: the earth elements destroyed that oppressive dam that prevented true life from flowing, and as those waters flooded the valley, the result was clear: Arendelle was going to have to be destroyed by the coming tide.

The people of Arendelle were alive, of course. They would live. But they’d have to find a new way to live and be in this world where the truths of oppression had been exposed.

But…that’s not what happened.

In the end Elsa uses her magical powers to spare Arendelle, saving the structures of the society built and sustained on the oppression of the people from the enchanted forest.

And in that moment, the plot was blown.

Because here’s the truth: once the inherent oppression of a society is exposed, once the way the system works to keep the powerful powerful and the disenfranchised largely unseen, you cannot go back to “the way things were.”

You cannot keep the structures in place in the same way.

Arendelle, as they knew it, had to be destroyed.

Or, if it wasn’t, the salvation of the structures could not come from the oppressors, but only with the cooperation and permission of the oppressed.

Because no magic can right this kind of wrong. It takes hard work.

How cool would it have been to see the aftermath of Arendelle’s destruction where the two people come together in actual unity to create a new society not built on subjugation but on an actual dependency on the skills, creativity, and beauty of each other?

Yeah, it’s a fairy tale…I get it.  But, ugh, it could have been so much more.  It could have been a teaching tool for a society who has deluded itself into thinking that just acknowledging the dam that keeps whole people and demographics parched is enough (if we want to continue with this analogy).

It’s not enough to say there is a problem.  And it’s not enough to point to the dam of inequality and racism and wealth disparity.  We can’t just name it!

Acknowledging the dam is step one.  Step two is destroying it and letting it do its thing.

Step three is coming together to rebuild a new way of being that actually repairs what the dam, and the people who built it, destroyed.

See, here’s the thing: I was really thinking that through this film they might get a message, subliminal as it would be, that spoke a deep truth.

Actually, they did…but not like I wanted them to.

They were told the reliable, and unfortunately just as deep, truth that if given the choice, humanity will always choose the fairy tale ending instead of tackling the hard realities that change, justice, and righting wrongs actually requires.

Frozen 2, you were so close.

The Passion According to St. John

I worked on this with Rev. Jason Chesnut, Rev. Lenny Duncan, and Tracy Radosevic so, if they needed to, churches could use it at the center of their Good Friday virtual worship.

Or, for anyone actually.

Take a listen.

“The Passion of Christ as told by the writer of John’s Gospel stands at the center of the holiest three days of the Christian year, the Triduum.

It’s a drama, and is not read so much as told. It’s told because it’s a story worth passing on, worth hearing in all of its intrigue and inflection, in all the ways it challenges presuppositions, powers, and principalities just in its very recitation.

The Passion of Christ is not a Biblical reading so much as a word to a weary world about the Word.”

Jesus Died on a Friday, Right?

ET_ecQpXsAEESMcJesus died on a Friday, right?

I don’t think so.

In fact, I’d say, probably not.

Maybe, though…

In yet another file on “the scriptures aren’t internally cohesive and that’s OK because they weren’t written to be,” we take a quick look at the Last Supper-Crucifixion-Resurrection arc in the gospels.

Also: don’t @ me, bro.  I know you may not like what follows, but…well…pastors really should be more intellectually honest about this stuff.

This question is particularly timely for two reasons.  First, it’s Holy Week and these events are on the minds of Christians today.  And secondly, tonight begins the Jewish feast of Passover, so it is especially timely.

There is a third reason, though…but I’ll get to that in a minute.  Just wait.

I should note that Passover and Holy Week don’t always align, though…and Christians are surprised to hear this.  Passover in the Jewish calendar is on a fixed date. But on the Gregorian calendar the date of Passover changes because the lunisolar calendar, on which the Jewish calendar is based, doesn’t align with the Gregorian calendar precisely.

Easter is also based on the lunisolar calendar, but on a fixed sign: the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Confused?  Yeah, there’s a lot of qualification there…

Bottom line: they don’t always line up, and aren’t meant to.

And maybe it’s better that they don’t always line up because, and here’s the big kicker: Jesus was preparing for Passover in Jerusalem when he was arrested, tried, and crucified, but his “Last Supper” was actually not the Passover meal.

Probably.

I know. Your Sunday School teachers and parish pastors oversimplified things a bit, but it is more than likely, in my estimation, that Jesus was not celebrating the Passover at the Last Supper.

In fact, and here’s the other reason that I think this conversation is important today (Wednesday, April 8th 2020) of all days: I’m pretty sure that tonight is the memorial of the Last Supper for Jesus…even though Christians will celebrate Maundy Thursday tomorrow night.  Which means the Last Supper was on a Wednesday, and Jesus may have died on a Thursday.

Why do I think this?

Well, tonight starts Passover on the Jewish calendar.  But they won’t they eat the Passover meal until tomorrow night, right?  That’s the important thing to remember: though Passover starts tonight, they won’t eat the meal until the end of the day (sundown-sundown).

Today is all about preparation.  In the gospels Jesus sends his disciples to go and prepare a place for them to celebrate the Passover meal…which they do, in all the Gospel accounts.  And it says they finish preparations, and then have a meal.  But is it the Passover meal?  It never indicates it is.  It just says they make preparations and then share a meal.

This is a pretty important detail to leave out of the account.

And because it’s never clearly spelled out, and for the reasons below, it actually seems more likely that the meal that Jesus shares with his disciples is actually the meal before the Passover meal, not the Passover itself.

Another indicator that it’s not Passover, but actually just the meal before, is that Jesus is not celebrating with his mother and sisters.  As the head of the household, he wouldn’t miss celebrating Passover with his family.

It’s also worth noting that the word used in all of the Last Supper accounts for the bread, artos, points to a regular yeast-loaf.  Were it the unleavened bread of the Passover, matzos would have been used.

Now, despite all this, Matthew, Mark, and Luke do present the Last Supper in such a way that it would be easy to point to Jesus dying on a Friday and the Last Supper being a Thursday Passover.  In fact, it may be that those Gospel writers did think that, though they also could have had a copyist make revisions, placing it on Thursday-Friday-Saturday path (which is a long story…primarily about a copyist adding the word “again” into a certain line in Luke 22:14 to do all this, but we need not go there today).

John seems pretty convinced that Jesus died on a Thursday, though.  How do we know?

He writes that the Last Supper happened “before the festival of Passover.” (John 13:1)  The writer of John’s gospel also notes that, when they handed Jesus over to the authorities, the accusers wouldn’t enter Pilate’s courtyard because they would be unclean and therefore unable to eat the Passover “that evening.” (John 18:28)

It’s also worth noting that, after the crucifixion, they wanted to remove Jesus’ body from the cross because it was a Sabbath day of “great solemnity.”  Now, to the untrained ear, that would be an “ah-ha!” moment pointing to a Friday death.  Sundown on Friday is the start of the Sabbath, yes?

Except…

There are other marked Sabbaths in the Jewish calendar, including any Passover.  And in this particular year it appears that there are two Sabbaths back-to-back, which does happen (as it does this very year, 2020!): there is the Passover Sabbath break, followed by the weekly Sabbath break.

In addition to the above, the indicators outside of the gospels themselves point not to a Passover, but to a meal before the Passover.

In 1 Corinthians, which provides for us the language of the liturgy, the Apostle Paul, a Jewish leader, does not mention that Jesus was at Passover when he took the bread and blessed it, but rather notes instead, “on the night in which he was betrayed…” (11:23)

Why would he leave that important detail out?  And his writing was the first one we know about on the matter.

Another little tidbit comes from one of the only extra-Biblical sources of the time that mention Jesus at all (a blog for another day), the Talmud notes that, “They hung Joshua the Nazarene on the ‘eve of the Passover.'” (b. Sanhedrin 67a and 43a)

And finally, though not really finally because we could certainly go down the rabbit hole farther, it’s important to note that the tradition that Jesus was in the tomb “for three days and three nights,” which is internally consistent in the gospels, cannot be accurate by the Jewish calendar if Jesus died on a Friday.  If Jesus died on a Friday, assuming he was placed in the tomb just before sundown, he was actually only in there about two days and two nights.  I mean, while this little detail could be chocked up to hyperbole or whatnot, it’s worth noting that for this particular arc of the Jesus story, the days and nights are significant because it tied Jesus back to the salvation story of Jonah, which they wanted to do.

By this point you may be asking yourself: why does any of it matter?

Well, I think it’s significant for a couple of reasons.

The first?  It’s further evidence that any attempt to say that the scriptures are inerrant or infallible is a fool’s errand.  They are internally inconsistent in a number of ways, and the magical “innerancy/infallbile” cults are literally ruining the beauty and complexity of the religion not only for the rest of the faithful, but also for the unfaithful who can’t even begin to look at a faith they find so ridiculous on the face.

The second?  There’s no such thing as a “Christian Seder,” and we really shouldn’t be celebrating them.  It is absolutely fine to attend a Jewish Seder as a guest and enjoy the hospitality of our Jewish sisters and brothers, but to usurp a sacred festival for our own use is something Christians just shouldn’t do.  So many Christians think they can Christianize a Seder based off of the Last Supper account…but we can’t. And shouldn’t. It’s not ours.

A third reason?  The connection between Jesus and the Passover lamb is important for the faith, but only in analogy and not in actuality.  We even sing that Jesus is the “lamb who was slain,” but when we do so we sing it as a point of theological reference, not necessity.

What I mean is: Jesus was not sacrificed for humanity.  Jesus was certainly killed by humanity, but what that means is complex, not simple.  It’s not an exchange of blood for blood. God is not bloodthirsty. And when we make Jesus the Passover lamb, and only that, instead of just use it as an important tool of imagery that would have connected with the ancient people, we make God a bloodthirsty deity who demands sacrifice.

According to the prophet Micah that’s not what God desires, right? (Micah 6:8)  So why do we continue to make Jesus exactly what God does not desire?

A critique on all this comes from theological corners concerned with our sacramental theology.  “Didn’t Jesus change the Passover meal to be about him?” some sacramentalists would ask.

I mean, maybe.

But the sacrament of Holy Communion, while heavy on Passover imagery, remains just as heavy utilizing Sabbath meal imagery.  Jesus may be seen and spoken of as the Paschal lamb, but the bread of life is not sacrificed every Sunday in a Christian church.

Praise is sacrificed.  This is why it’s probably the best practice to not break the bread at the altar during the Words of Institution…it sends the wrong signal.

Note: this last critique is heavy on the insider imagery…I digress…

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it appears that Jesus may have been celebrating the Passover.  In John, where Jesus pretty clearly dies on a Thursday, it appears he was not.

So what day did Jesus die?

I don’t know.  No one knows.

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Passover?  I don’t know…but I don’t think so.  No one knows.

The Gospels don’t agree on it all.  And those first scholars who put the Gospels together surely saw that it was not internally consistent, and it didn’t really bother them…so it probably shouldn’t bother us either, right?

But if Jesus did die before the Passover meal on a Thursday, then it lines up with this year’s Jewish calendar in such a way that’s it’s pretty poetic, pretty interesting, and, I think, pretty beautiful.