I guest-preached at my church this morning. Thought I’d share…
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In case you hadn’t noticed,
it has somehow become uncool to sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you’re – like – saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)’s - and – (you know what I’m saying)’s – have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren’t, like, questions? You know?
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true,
as opposed to other things that are, like, totally, you know, not (?) —have been infected by a totally hip and tragically cool interrogative tone?
As if I’m saying, don’t think I’m a nerd just ‘cuz I’ve, like, noticed this, okay? I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions? I’m just, like, inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty? …
What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest? You know?
Or do we have, like, nothin’ to say?
Has society become so, like, totally, like, whatever!
That we’ve become the most aggressively inarticulate culture
to come along since . . . you know, a long, long time ago!
So I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you:
To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply
You have to speak with it, too.
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I didn’t write that. It’s from Taylor Mali, slam poet and middle school teacher.
So… What do you think about that?
To be honest, I have mixed feelings. It’s difficult to talk about “authority” and “conviction” today, isn’t it? Folks speaking with conviction and authority have done a lot of damage. I have personally spoken with conviction… and been terribly wrong. And done real damage…
Especially for the progressive church, these words seem to imply a narrowly defined brand of certainty few of us have.
But the poem here reveals a reality in the world around us: some of us are comfortable with questions and ambiguity, but many others – like the poet himself – need a more… substantive thesis. Is that something we can offer, or do we quietly allow those people to gravitate toward bigger banners, and louder advertisers who have no qualms about “speaking with authority,” whether they’re right or wrong?
Today’s Scripture reading is excluded from the Lectionary, probably with good reason: few contemporary scholars or theologians believe it actually belongs in the Canon – certainly it did not appear in the earliest manuscripts. Theologian and activist Ched Meyers suggests that the reason we find this second half of Mark 16 in the Canon at all is because many in the early church could not reconcile Mark’s ambiguous original ending – in verse 8 – with the rest of the Gospels.
Mark 16:8 reads, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome, encountered the man dressed in white, sitting in Jesus’ tomb. He told them not to be afraid. He told them to tell the other disciples what they’d seen. But they didn’t. They fled and said nothing, “for they were afraid.”
While preparing for this sermon, a friend told me, “I wouldn’t preach on that. I don’t like the theology.”
But I’m curious about what we do, then, with Mark 16:15-20.
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Some of this text is unique to Mark, but most of it can be found elsewhere. It echoes Matthew’s story of the Great Commission. Bits of Luke and John are there too. The snake handling? Well, I’ve attended churches that take this as a literal exhortation (have fun with that), but in Acts 28 Paul is building a fire after surviving shipwreck, and a viper attaches itself to his arm. Coolly, almost casually, Paul shakes the snake off and survives again, unharmed.
This isn’t new stuff we’re reading. The early church is being reminded of what it has already heard, probably because Mark didn’t “close the deal.” Someone redacting the text wants to remind us: “it can’t end with a question! There has to be a victory!” In contemporary language: “make your pitch!”
Now, I actually like the verse 8 ending: they were afraid. They were silent… would they tell anyone later? Would they overcome their fear? We know that somehow, the story got out, that’s why we’re here this morning… but the humanness – the ambiguity – of verse 8 shows us more often as we are. Without the triumphalism and fanfare.
Does there need to be a sales pitch?
A conservative pastor online writes: “Liberal churches do not believe in evangelism. Liberals believe the world is already saved, even though it may not know it, so they do not think they need to evangelize.”
I don’t want to speak for any of you, but I’m a liberal. Do we believe that? Do we believe this world doesn’t need saving?
I don’t know any liberal Christian who thinks victims of sex trafficking don’t need saving.
I don’t know any liberal Christian who thinks refugees from Syria, Somalia, and Sudan don’t need saving.
One of the problems is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by others – and by what we’re not. Conservative Evangelicals say, “Liberals don’t believe hell is real,” and we let it lay because we’re not concerned about God’s wrath. But we neglect to articulate what hell is. Hell is Rwanda, 1994, or it may be something as personal and intimate as addiction… or the mundane-yet-crippling loneliness of living without any “Good News.” So I guess I do think we all need saving – and I think we’re all in various stages of being saved… or being marginalized, overlooked, forgotten… Evangelicals call this being “lost.” Yes, I believe in the Great Commission of taking God’s love and hope to the whole world. No, I don’t need to force my beliefs, or handle snakes, to do that…
Still, when asked whether I’m a Christian or not, I find myself wanting to say, “Yes, but…!”
“Yes, but I’m not that kind of Christian.”
“Yes, but I’m not a homophobe.”
“Yes, but I don’t believe Scripture is inerrant.”
What’s the problem here? I’ve allowed my Christian identity to be defined by what I’m not, rather than what I am.
So folks say: “Liberal churches don’t believe in evangelism.”
See, I think the broader Christian world needs permission to believe its own conscience. And we have to give that permission.
Because most of the evangelicals I know don’t hate gays and lesbians – they’ve spent their whole lives being told they have no choice but condemnation: “If I want to be a Christian, it’s all or nothing.” Package deal. And now they’re afraid. Are you and I showing them a different way of being Christian? Or do I just tell them they’re wrong?
Most evangelicals I know actually care about the poor. But they’re surrounded by a theological system paid for and perpetuated by folks who use “Gospel language,” but care more about power and wealth than “the least of these.” Are we connecting dots about what exploitation and inequity mean through the lens of the Gospel?
I spend a lot of time with my actor-friend Chris in Portland – and I can’t ever quote him verbatim, because it wouldn’t be appropriate to drop the “f-bomb” that many times, especially from the pulpit. But Chris spends most of his time hanging out with the most interesting people. Theatre people. And he always introduces me as “Walker, the pastor.” And I’ve stopped getting surprised that every time I’m introduced – at a bar, a restaurant, a party – people immediately latch on to the “Christian thing.” They’ve got plenty to tell me about Christianity – how it’s hurt them, how angry they feel… how bad their religious childhood was – but they’ve got lots of questions, too.
Questions like, “What do you think about homosexuality?”
“Why are Christians so angry?”
And maybe most importantly, just “Why?”
Why are you a Christian?
And they’re not indicting me. It’s not hostile. It’s more… cognitive dissonance – or maybe fascination – that I’m in the midst of a bunch of liberal, gen-X hipsters, and manage to still align myself with a religion identified by James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum. Because these are the folks most successfully (and tragically) defining Christianity in popular culture.
Why are you a Christian?
I tell them what I live for: hope, equality, grace, peace and love. They say, “I didn’t know there were churches like this!” In Portland, Oregon, folks don’t know there are churches like this!
Honestly, in Corvallis, folks don’t know there are churches like this.
UCC minister Yvette Flunder speaks as a lesbian, a black woman, and an unapologetic Pentecostal when she preaches “conviction” from her pulpit in San Francisco.
She says (and I’m not doing her any justice here):
“It’s not good enough for us to get free!
There are thousands of folks who should be in this church right now. And they’re languishing in churches and institutions and faith based organizations that are beating the hell out of them right now! And we’ve got a message in our mouths and in our lives, yet some of us are still a little reticent. A little fearful… to go back to some of the places that we’ve come from, and declare the truth of God…
“The truth of God.” That’s subjective, isn’t it?
There’s been a huge advertising campaign in Corvallis and Albany and surrounding communities. There are billboards all over town, on the highway, there are radio ads… they’re advertising rock music, skateboarding, and a message that’s never overtly mentioned until the young people actually show up: “that the most important decision in your life is whether or not you have sex outside of marriage, and if you make the decision today to resist that temptation, to wait for the heterosexual partner God has for you, life is going to be okay…”
And thousands of people have attended this event across the country.
If it were that easy – if God’s purpose for the Incarnation was to teach teenagers to take cold showers, women to remain second-class citizens, and our LGBT sisters and brothers to live in hiding, why didn’t Jesus just say so?
If it were that easy, he could have avoided the cross altogether.
If we – liberal/progressive Christians – don’t speak loud enough to offer a visible alternative to the Rock Concert on the billboards with its bait-and-switch social agenda, folks around us are left with two options: fear-based faith, or rejection of religion entirely.
Today’s text, whether it belongs there or not, reminds us that the world needs to hear us speak. And folks take desperate measures – and desperate theology – when serious questions are left unanswered.
Yes, some of us are fine with unanswered questions. I am. And that’s the beauty of Mark’s theology and prose, where Christ almost hides his identity as he goes about the business of salvation. But we can’t stay there on principle. We have to speak up for those who need to hear – for those who need permission to believe what 1 John tells us, that “perfect love casts out fear.”
When I visualize a Great Commission for today, for progressives fixed more on hope and liberation than fear and condemnation, I think of a quotation from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’
I’m re-reading On the Road, and rediscovered this line. It’s haunting, and I had to share:
“The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and grown and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death. But who wants to die?
I think when we seek the Divine, in whatever context we choose (or are thrown by geography, culture or lottery) we are often compelled by that same remembrance of some lost bliss…
Instead of obsessing over which is the “RIGHT” belief (hopeless, indeed, and an adventure in missing the point of life and religion and being human, I think) I think it’s better to choose the belief or praxis that does the most GOOD.
I first started listening to the Euro-synth duo Erasure in early middle school, and had no idea then that beginning in 1986, lead vocalist Andy Bell was one of the first openly gay music stars in the world. Because of his openness with his sexuality, Erasure’s success with US record labels was severely hampered. The studios still sold their records (they still took their money), but publicity was muted, and noteworthy Erasure music videos featured Andy tragically singing to women. Gentrified for American sensibilities.
There are all sorts of ways that we take people’s money without affirming them. We marginalize them as we profit from them. We do it in our churches. In our universities. I used to attend a church whose denomination claimed to affirm female pastors, but whose large pastoral staff of eight full time ministers were all male, and whose board would not even consider female deacons. I attend a seminary that, for all its virtues as a well-intentioned emerging Evangelical institution (and it’s been very good to me) does not affirm my queer sisters and brothers (even though at LEAST one has paid tuition and she sat in classes next to me – she doesn’t attend anymore. I miss you Adele).
What exactly is at stake? Biblical coherence? A literal six day creation? Women’s subordination to men? A premillenial rapture? I mean, how is this gay thing the linchpin of our whole theological system? How is it the one final holdout, as we peel away slavery and racism and drinking alcohol and working on Sundays (or Saturdays) and believing in evolution and doing away with biblical inerrancy (we did most of these, right?) and empowering women (we try to)? Why is is this gay thing the one thing we just can’t stand for? Why is it different? Why this issue, when all the others have already fallen away?
Takes awhile for this song to get going, but it’s awfully beautiful.
Is there a connection between art/creativity and Christianity? Is creativity spiritual in nature? Is there such a thing as “Christian Art”? Does creativity have anything to do with spiritual formation? What is needed for art to qualify as Christian? Is our theology shaped or influenced by creativity/art? Is creativity/art vital to our faith? How does creativity/art impact Christian thought and/or Christian praxis? Is there a particular form of art that has impacted your spiritual journey? Should there be a distinction between sacred and secular art? Is Christianity experiencing a “creative crisis”? Is creativity and our knowledge of God connected?
Great questions to be asking, and it’s hard for me to separate my answer from my own immediate, contemporary experience. At present, Western Christianity continues to be the mass distributor and repository of some of the worst, tackiest, most belabored and derivative art and entertainment produced en masse.
Plus One, the Christian boyband knockoff of boyband knockoffs;
the Left Behind book series,glorifying hyper-American Christo-centric violence and selling millions upon millions of copies, making multi-millionaires out of bad writers (and, incidentally, bad theologians);
K-Love Christian radio mass-distributes Christian pop that makes the TV show Glee (which I incidentally do enjoy) seem like high art;
or why not just Google Image “Christian Art” and try counting how many bad paintings of lions, muscled-Jesuses (“Jesi”?), angels, or people hugging Christ you can count…
I don’t mean to sound callous, but it’s like walking through the religious greeting cards section at Walmart. That’s not the fault of people who shop at Walmart – they’re being told what it means to be American (and, it follows, to be Christian)…
Yet going back, further, through the history of Christendom, we can find some of the most gorgeous examples in existence of artistic creativity and brilliance. Now, it could certainly be argued that under a thousand years of absolute papal power, and hundreds of years of continuing church rule, there was little option for artists to do anything but create under the auspices of Christian Empire… and that argument would be largely correct. Nonetheless, the church – throughout the ages – was a proponent - of artistic beauty and exercise. It even aided in the development and protection of artists (often looking the other way, ignoring bohemian sins and excesses for the sake of the beautiful images that resulted from their eccentric creators).
I would love to answer the questions above with an emphatic, “YES! OF COURSE Christianity, deeply connected to the Spirit of the living, creative God, instills in us a creative spirit that inspires and compels us to create beautiful things.” And I actually believe that about God. I believe that the God I seek after is indeed a creative being who loves beauty and is revealed to us through beauty. But I don’t believe predominant Christian culture has any concern for making beautiful things. We’re too preoccupied with counting how many new attendees we’ve managed to attract from Sunday to Sunday, what our visibility in the community is, and if our current marketing campaign closely aligns with contemporary pop-cultural trends. Better that our worship services feature hits from the latest WOW Christian Hits compilation, which might sound like the latest MTV Party To Go compilation (if they were lucky)… except that they aren’t making WOW compilations anymore… or MTV Party To Go albums anymore… but none of that matters as long as the 40-somethings in our churches (those are the young and hip) think it seems “funky.”
But my short answer? There is no separation between sacred and secular. Christianity can be a safe place for genuine art when Christianity lets go of its agendas for trying to manipulate art to meet its short term conversion, budget, advertising and attendance goals. Art and religion can and should overlap – at times – but they should never be required to. There is so much more to life than religion, and I’ll bet God gets damn depressed when folks never leave their churches – their cloistered communities – sterilized pews and sanctuaries – and never turn their radio stations from K-Love. There’s so much that’s beautiful in this world to experience without a Jesus fish stamped on it! Thanks be to God.
I’m sure it’s pretty clear from reading this blog that religion – Christianity – is one of the strongest driving forces in my life. Even if my Christianity doesn’t look like yours. There’s little in my life that comes close to taking the passion, the time, the thought, the care or the love that my faith does. But it’s because Christ is so important to me that I find injecting Christ into inappropriate places, in tacky, thoughtless ways, so vulgar and inappropriate.
Ours is a creative God. I hope we can be a more creative people…
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Here are some other participants in this month’s Synchroblog:
I've decided not to complete an entire review of every song on Kanye West's new album. First, I've already set up a bad precedent. There are other albums I care more about, that I think demonstrate more artistic talent, or have more lasting appeal. The Fugees The Score is one of those albums. So are I Say, I Say, I Say by Erasure, Release the Stars from Rufus Wainwright, Depeche Mode's Exciter, and 2Pac Shakur's All Eyez On Me (all of these come from the last two decades, demonstrating my own limitations in taste and perspective).
When people ask me about hip hop, they usually want to know, "What's it about? What's the rapper saying? What do the words mean?" And I can often point to some meaningful lines here and there. For example...
I don't care what your musical taste is. You will appreciate this:
Yo, there's a war in the mind, over territory
For the dominion
Who would dominate the opinion
Skisms and isms, keepin' us in forms of religion
Conformin' our vision
To the world church's decision
Trapped in a section
Submitted to committee election
Epedemic lies and deception
Of the highest possible order
Destortin' our tape recorders
From hearin' like underwater
Beyond the borders
Fond of sin and disorder
Bound by the strategy
Of systematic depravity
Heavy as gravity
Head first in the cavity
Without a bottom
A fate worse than Sodom
What's got him drunk off the spirits?
Truth comes, we can't hear it
When you've been, programmed to fear it
I had a vision
I was fallin' in indescision
Apallin', callin' religion
Some program on television
How can dominant wisdom
Be recognizing the system
Of Anti-Christs, the majority rules,
PhD's in illusion
Masters of mass confusion
Bachelors in past illusion
Now who you choosin'?
The head or the tail?
The bloodshed of the male?
More confidence in the tale?
Conferences in Yale
Discussin' documents of Baal
Causin' people to fail
Keepin' a third in jail
His word is nailed
Everything to the tree
Severing all of me from all that I used to be.
But it is rare for rap lyrics to remain so consistently poignant and targeted. Even Lauryn Hill herself admits in another song, "so I add a motherfucker so you ignorant n*ggas hear me!"
So-called "socially conscious" rappers like Nas, Common and Talib Kweli decry social injustice, misogyny and abuse of women, violence, and materialism in one verse, but are prone to turn around in even the same track and commit identical sins. No rapper is more guilty of this than Kanye West in "Diamonds of Sierra Leone." He was widely lauded several years ago for bringing worldwide attention to the blood diamond trade, in the first verse of the song: "I thought my Jesus-piece was so harmless, till I seen a picture of a shorty armless, and here's the conflict..." But the second verse undermines any positive affect:
People askin'me is I'ma give my chain back?
That'll be the same day I give the game back.
Translation: "I'm keeping my Jesus-piece, armless children or not." Nice, Kanye.
But my argument, cruel, heartless and insensitive as it may sound, is not that these questions are unimportant, but that they are not central to what hip hop is musically -- genetically. What's often misunderstood in the craft of rap, as much as in the enjoyment of rap, is that the words themselves function as lyrical instruments. Rappers use rhyme, alliteration, dissonance, repetition and tempo to build sounds, not just to tell stories. Too often, listeners try to find meaning in the words, and miss the music ("forest for the trees..."). It's like trying to identify the color palette in a painting without noticing the actual painting.
The other consistent feature of rap music, from its beginning, is its own self-celebration: rappers celebrate rap. They celebrate their own craft and artistry. They point to the thing they are doing. They differentiate themselves from others. They self-aggrandize, posture, and brag... but "celebration" is the most generous way of describing it. It's an aggressive medium, to be sure sure, but it's one that demands to be noticed. It has a cultural chip on its shoulder - expression of the oppressed.
When art conveys something offensive, I think we should be brave enough and honest enough to name that and speak up. But it's important to recognize what is actually being said:
When Kanye West raps about his sexual exploits with easy women, we need to be specific about what needs critique. He would be wrong to use his power, fame and platform to manipulate and exploit his female fans. He is certainly wrong for speaking about them so disrespectfully. He is also wrong for allowing his celebrity-based sexual experiences to impact his respect for, and treatment of women in general. Is he a bad person for sleeping with lots of fans? As a Christian I say he's practicing destructive, unhealthy behavior, but that's not behavior I find worth decrying an artist for. Should we protest him rapping about the fact that he has lots of sex? Not necessarily. While it's not classy, I'm not sure that's inherently oppressive.
We need to be clear about what we're protesting.
When Andres Serrano took a photo of a crucifix in a jar of his urine ("Piss Christ") he obviously stirred the pot and earned all sorts of international Christian hatred. But what exactly was he doing? Serrano himself was coy about his intentions, but a nun came forward in the midst of the controversy in the 1990s to argue that it was not blasphemy, but a poignant commentary on what we (contemporary society and religion) have done to Christ. So what's left to protest there, unless one thinks society has been respectful and pious toward the image and character of Christ?
I'm not naive, but I believe that art tells us something. Sometimes it tells us a specific story. Sometimes it is very intangible -- more a story about us, and our own responses than about the piece itself (plenty of artists will tell you that their art "isn't about anything" and that's legitimate, but impact is unavoidable). It's probably not healthy to dwell on negative, caustic, hostile expressions of art. I don't spend as much time listening to the angry music I once listened to, but it still plays an important role in shaping my worldview. As disappointing as Kanye West's misogyny is, he provides a great reminder -- cautionary for us all -- of how far we have to go before we live in an equalized society.
2Pac Shakur once said, "They didn’t even want to stop the Vietnam War until people saw the pictures of how horrible it really was. So I said to myself, that’s what I’m gonna do with my lyrics: I’m going to paint a picture of the horrible aspects of life, and maybe then they will try to stop it."
Pop art today is showing us a lot of reality that needs to be stopped. Somehow, in a beautiful, dark, twisted, ironic way, the most powerful art is telling us those hard stories in ways that are perversely beautiful and disturbingly compelling.
from:Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (Susan Griffin)
Prologue He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part of this world, that he was set on this world as a stranger. He sets himself apart from woman and nature. And so it is Goldilocks who goes to the home of the three bears, Little Red Riding Hood who converses with the world, Dorothy who befriends a lion, Snow White who talks to the birds, Cinderella with mice as her allies, the Mermaid who is half fish, Thumbelina courted by a mole. (And when we hear in the Navaho chant of the mountain that a grown man sits and smokes with bears and follows directions given to him by squirrels, we are surprised. We had thought only little girls spoke with animals.)
We are the bird’s eggs. Bird’s eggs, flowers, butterflies, rabbits, cows, sheep; we are caterpillars; we are leaves of ivy and sprigs of wallflower. We are women. We rise from the wave. We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale, lilies and roses and peach, we are air, we are flame, we are oyster and pearl, we are girls. We are woman and nature. And he says he cannot hear us speak. But we hear.
His Power He Tames What Is Wild
Is it by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation when beholding the milky way? (herman melville, Moby-Dick)
And at last she could bear the burden of herself no more. She was to be had for the taking. To be had for the taking. (d.h. lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover)
She has captured his heart. She has overcome him. He cannot tear his eyes away. He is burning with passion. He cannot live without her. He pursues her. She makes him pursue her. The faster she runs, the stronger his desire. He will overtake her. He will make her his own. He will have her. (The boy chases the doe and her yearling for nearly two hours. She keeps running despite her wounds. He pursues her thorough pastures, over fences, groves of trees, crossing the road, up hills, volleys of rifle shots sounding, until perhaps twenty bullets are embedded in her body.) She has no mercy. She has dressed to excite his desire. She has no scruples. She has painted herself for him. She makes supple movements to entice him. She is without a soul. Beneath her painted face is flesh, are bones. She reveals only part of herself to him. She is wild. She flees whenever he approaches. She is teasing him. (Finally, she is defeated and falls and he sees that half of her head has been blown off, that one leg is gone, her abdomen split from her tail to her head, and her organs hang outside her body. Then four men encircle the fawn and harvest her too.) He is an easy target, he says. He says he is pierced. Love has shot him through, he says. He is a familiar mark. Riddled. Stripped to the bone. He is conquered, he says. (The boys, fond of hunting hare, search in particular for pregnant females.) He is fighting for his life. He faces annihilation in her, he says. He is losing himself to her, he says. Now, he must conquer her wildness, he says, he must tame her before she drives him wild, he says. (Once catching their prey, they step on her back, breaking it, and they call this “dancing on the hare.”) Thus he goes on this knees to her. Thus he wins her over, he tells her he wants her. He makes her his own. He encloses her. He encircles her. He puts her under lock and key. He protects her. (Approaching the great mammals, the hunters make little sounds which they know will make the elephants form a defensive circle.) And once she is his, he prizes her delight. He feasts his eyes on her. He adorns her luxuriantly. He gives her ivory. He gives her perfume. (The older matriarchs stand to the outside of the circle to protect the calves and younger mothers.) He covers her with the skins of mink, beaver, muskrat, seal, raccoon, otter, ermine, fox, the feathers of ostrich, osprey, egret, ibis. (The hunters then encircle that circle and fire first into the bodies of the matriarchs. When these older elephants fall, the younger panic, yet unwilling to leave the bodies of their dead mothers, they make easy targets.) And thus he makes her soft. He makes her calm. He makes her grateful to him. He has tamed her, he says. She is content to be his, he says. (In the winter, if a single wolf has leaped over the walls of the city and terrorized the streets, the hunters go out in a band to rid the forest of the whole pack.) Her voice is now soothing to him. Her eyes no longer blaze, but look on him serenely. When he calls to her, she gives herself to him. Her ferocity lies under him. (The body of the great whale is strapped with explosives.) Now nothing of the old beast remains in her. (Eastern Bison, extinct 1825; Spectacled Cormorant, extinct 1852; Cape Lion, extinct 1865; Bonin Night Heron, extinct 1889; Barbary Lion, extinct 1922; Great Auk, extinct 1944.) And he can trust her wholly with himself. So he is blazing when he enters her, and she is consumed. (Florida Key Deer, vanishing; Wild Indian Buffalo, vanishing; Great Sable Antelope, vanishing.) Because she is his, she offers no resistance. She is a place of rest for him. A place of his making. And when his flesh begins to yield and his skin melts into her, he becomes soft, and his is without fear; he does not lose himself; though something in him gives way, he is not lost in her, because she is his now: he has captured her. The Lion In The Den Of The Prophets She swaggers in. They are terrifying in their white hairlessness. She waits. She watches. She does not move. She is measuring their moves. And they are measuring her. Cautiously one takes a bit of her fur. He cuts it free from her. He examines it. Another numbers her feet, her teeth, the length and width of her body. She yawns. They announce she is alive. They wonder what she will do if they enclose her in the room with them. One of them shuts the door. She backs her way toward the closed doorway and then roars. “Be still,” the men say. She continues to roar. “Why does she roar?” they ask. The roaring must be inside her, they conclude. They decide they must see the roaring inside her. They approach her in a group, six at her two front legs and six at her two back legs. They are trying to put her to sleep. She swings at one of the men. His own blood runs over him. “Why did she do that?” the men question. She has no soul, they conclude, she does not know right from wrong. “Be still,” they shout at her. “Be humble, trust us,” they demand. “We have souls,” they proclaim, “we know what is right,” they approach her with their medicine, “for you.” She does not understand this language. She devours them.
Family relationships are complicated, messy, and often painful. While I consider myself pretty well-adjusted, no household is without it’s pain and drama/trauma. Probably because of my personality more than my actual environment, I have spent a lot of my young adulthood wrestling through wounds, hurt feelings, and what was probably an excessive amount of bitterness. Bits and pieces of that carried through to recent years – I suppose no one ever really “gets over” big injuries caused by loved ones. But I’m hardly blameless – I know I’ve hurt them too…
Yesterday we spent Thanksgiving with my parents for the first time in a couple of years. Just a year ago, we spent a lot of time deliberately processing through a lot of emotional shit. Painful, face-to-face, venting, explaining, apologizing, reconciling, sharing responsibility… and finally, commitment: not to let our relationships disintegrate to that point, again. We said out loud (something to the effect of…) “I know we’re going to hurt each other again, and some of us are going to get offended, and we’re going to misspeak and misunderstand and disappoint each other…” (all of this, in fragments spoken by different people) “but we are going to remind ourselves, and each other, to believe in the better intentions of each of us. We’re going to fight the urge to presume the worst. We’re going to choose to love each other for who we are, not for the way we wish they were.” And there were lots of tears, and after a few weeks of that, we drove to the Portland Grotto to look at the Christmas lights (www.thegrotto.org/christmas), and we all felt lighter and closer than we had in a long time.
The Grotto Lights
The year following hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been better. We haven’t spent as much time together as I hoped, but it was more than previously. It was better.
Around the Thanksgiving table last night, we took turns saying what we were thankful for. Sort of cheesy, like a Hallmark commercial, or Folgers Coffee: a bunch of white people in sweaters, the Chihuahua sitting at the table in my mother’s lap. But it was sweet, and reminded me again that I’m thankful for the way my family communicates out loud, even when it’s really akward. For better AND for worse, feelings get shared, and at times like these it’s a gift.
These feelings don’t undercut my ideological struggle with the history and meaning of Thanksgiving. Some of my friends have been frustrated with observations I made here and on Facebook. I get that. It’s easy to be an armchair ref (or judge) in the blogosphere. But I’m not speaking from some dualistic vantage in this area, ignoring one perspective on the holiday – and on this country – while I feed the other perspective. Life is complicated, just like family. We love and mourn at the same time. Morality is complicated too. We do our best, day-to-day, while people suffer, and we hope to make the world better in our spheres of influence, but we prioritize the people in front of us, and there’s always more we could have done. It’s a cruel reality, but somehow, life can be lovely. Maybe that’s where dualism is unavoidable.
Found this bit of a Rumi poem. It’s really beautiful…
Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child! How could a zephyr ride an ass? Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream. Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity. Remember God so much that you are forgotten. Let the caller and the called disappear; be lost in the Call.
When I got home from work on Tuesday, I found that the large baskets of flowers hanging above the outside walkways on each floor of our apartment building had been replaced. They had only been here for a couple of weeks. For the last few days, the flowers had been drooping. Jen and I did our best to water some of them nearest our apartment, as it appeared our apartment manager (who lives offsite) was only coming weekly to tend to them. On hot days, that’s just not enough.
Apparently, our unsolicited efforts were not satisfactory.
All of the large baskets – 12 or so – have been replaced. Beautiful, lush, colorful new flowers. Where did the other ones go? The trash heap?
I’m reminded of articles leading up to the 2008 Chinese Olympics, highlighting Chinese efforts to paint their desecrated, strip-mined mountains green to look pretty for the event.
We live in a world that wants beauty without effort. We surgically “fake” real beauty, stretching, pulling, sucking and augmenting everything natural to look… unnatural. We call it “beautiful. Like flowers that go unwatered. As a society – and now perhaps a species – largely addicted to consumption, we throw out what can’t survive unfed, untended and (perhaps?) unloved. Like Jonah, we only rejoice at what we are fortuitous enough to encounter:
But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.” (Jonah 4:10)
I believe we have a responsibility to tend what is wilting, to love what is unloved, to preserve what seems burdensome or inexpedient, and to care for things perhaps more easily discarded. I wasn’t sure where this post was leading, but I’m reminded that my commitment to Christianity is NOT because it’s always such a lovely, beautiful, “convenient” organism. It often is not. And there are countless incarnations of spirituality and personal philosophy that may seem more… hmmm… progressive? Modern? Relevant? Fashionable? Dare I say “hip?”
I’m the first to admit: the Christian faith looks too often wilted and ugly. But I don’t want to replace this flower. It doesn’t mean I don’t see beautiful flowers elsewhere. But I’m going to keep watering this one. I don’t mean to sound narcissistic here. My water is no better than yours (I do believe there is living water to be found). I want to remain resolute – ready to roll my sleeves up and keep watering. Keep buying fertilizer. It may take awhile. But there are still some blossoms left…
Welcome to EmergingChristian.com
I’m an M.Div student at George Fox Seminary, and a contributing writer in Spencer Burke’s Out of theOOZE (NavPress), Leonard Sweet’s Church of the Perfect Storm (Abingdon Press) and Christian Piatt’s Banned Questions About Jesus (Chalice Press).
I’m a liberal, an egalitarian, a deconstructionist, an Outlaw Preacher, and a loudmouth. I want to be your friend...