My mom is dying.
She has had a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer for over a year now.
The progression of her disease has been like an accelerating locomotive, like a gathering hurricane, like a little bit of rubble shifting, sliding down, larger, larger, larger until it is a full-blown avalanche.
It seems very sudden and brutally inevitable, but now we are here. Hospice. Semi-consciousness, most of the time. Delusions. Sadness from all of us. Past the bargaining and most of the rage. She isn’t eating or drinking much. Her bald head seems drawn tight across her scalp. Her skin looks paper thin. How could she be so frail? She’s my mother. She is not supposed to be this frail.
There are things I could wail about. Why does she have to suffer so long? How do I help the kids through this? Why can’t there be more time?
There are blessing I could count. Sometimes I find the courage to do this: we knew it was coming and have the luxuries of saying our good byes. Her husband and my brother are engaged in acts of super heroism to keep her as comfortable as she can be. We have access to medical care and support.
I was so angry at God last Sunday that I couldn’t sit in church and worship. I showed up. But I couldn’t sit through the service. I waited in the car and closed my eyes and felt angry and sorry.

I am at this point with God that I have been with loved ones so many times. The fight is over. But I am still holding on to my anger. There is something just so… lovely about being angry. Among other things, anger is something I control. It is my thing, on my terms and on my timing.
Just like in earthly arguments, I know how the rest of this plays out. When I am ready to be humble I will approach the other. We will own our errors and mistakes. (OK. That part won’t happen with God because he’s perfect.) We will accept the others errors. We will feel maybe even stronger than we did before.
It is so amazing, how you can turn over anger, deep and dark anger, and God does judo on that anger, he does alchemy on that anger, he takes it into himself and he turns it into something else.
If Jesus did anything on that cross, it was just that: he took the anger into his physical body. He transformed it by experiencing it, and turned it into something amazing in doing this.
As I grow nearer to making my peace with my heavenly father in this thing, I am reminded of something. I have this idea, that I have been wrestling with. Maybe it’s God’s work in me. Maybe it’s a product of my own little addled synapses. (I suspect the distinction is much more complicated than it seems.)
The idea is what I’ve come to call undercoming.

The world gets its victory through overcoming. Through working the rules to dominate. I hear the Bruuins were overcome last night. Their rivals used the rules and out played them. The ultimate example of being overcome is one where a team is shut out, shut down, never even appears on the board. The winner was clear from the very beginning.

Undercoming is this greater thing. It doesn’t rain down from the sky and it climbs up from the ground. It doesn’t dominate for the whole game. It comes in, from behind, desperately behind, the horse in the race that everybody discounted and counted out.

God’s victories come up when it seems like Adam and Eve had damned humanity for ever. They come up when all of the brothers have been assessed, and founded wanting, so somebody, perhaps on a lark, calls over to the shrimp of the family, that wacky David. Gods victories come as those loyal to him land in an impossibly hot furnace, it comes when the whole world is flooded, all it’s inhabitants drowned, except for a tiny outpost, boarded away on a little square boat.

This is how God works.
And when people are so near defeat, I am learning to listen for something, to feel for something.
An expectant moment, like the one between when the wick swishes down into the firework, like the car engine revving revving at the stop light, not yet slapped into gear. Like a video game character, where your holding down the button so that he gathers up power for his super weapon: and then, it is all unleased in a blast, a firework, a revved up car zooming down the streeth.

Mom doesn’t look like these things much; something hovering with potential, threatening to just awaken into loudness, space. Buut that doesn’t change it. She is headed to this greatness, this glory.
And I think in a way that promised glory is proportional to just how down we were. For mom, that Glory? It will be a great thing.10286873_791578664186994_4962932084508675216_o


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Undercoming”

  1. This is so sad, but also incredibly beautiful. “Undercoming.” I hope you share this with the whole congregation. This would make a BRILLIANT guest sermon. You are an incredible person, Jeff. You know I don’t share your religious beliefs, but even in my own secular way, the idea of Jesus transmuting anger to love is a beautiful and totally possible idea. Your children are so lucky to have you as a father.


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