Last Words

Removed, as they were from the garden…

They thought the names arbitrary things.

He laughs at them

Gently.

He shakes a little,

In his body.

In his voice.

 

“Each new thing.”

He says it again.

“Each New Thing.

It reached… within.”

 

He sees in their eyes that they do not understand.  

He stirs the coals in the fire.

His thoughts are a little disobedient, now.  Sometimes.

He tries to line them up again.  

The others all watch respectfully.  Patiently.

He hates that.  A little bit.

 

“That great naming.

It was an act of listening.

It was an act of listening for a name

Which had already been said.

In the Time Before.”

 

Recognition in those beautiful brown eyes?  

Perhaps it was recognition.

Seth was always the sharpest among them.

 

“We have so many words now.

So many that you might lose one for a moment.

That feeling…  When you have lost a word.  

When you are so close that you can taste a word,

But still not find it’s sound…”

 

“That is what it was like.

To look upon The Creations.

And name them.”

 

It is not only Seth who nods now.

The old man knows what he knows.

He knows that this is not sympathy, here.  Now.

He is thankful for that.

 

It inspires him to continue.

He wishes them to know so much.

His time.  After so long.  Is running short now.

He continues.

 

“There was something within me.”

“A name that wished to burst forth from my lips.”

“I tried it on so many things, in my mind.

But it was never time.  Never time.

Never time to say it out loud.”

 

“And so other names erupted out and around it.

I held that name in my heart unsaid.

Until she came.  Your mother came.

But then came our dying time.  Our casting out.

After our time of mourning was through.

I remembered that name within me.

I said it out loud.

And it was her name.”

 

He is lost for a moment.

They are lost for a moment.

Looking in the flames.

Ignoring the smoke.

He does not care about the tear that slides down his dry cheek.

When did he stop caring about things such as this?

 

“It was good to name her Eve.

I would have thought that was the end.

But it was not.

That garden is gone, now.

That time is is gone, now.

It will never return.”

 

A spit-crackle.

They watch him so closely.

This is the thing he hasn’t wanted to tell them for so long.

He does not know what any of this means.

 

“There is still a name.

A single last name within me.

But the time of the naming is done.

Somewhere.

There is a something,

With out a name.  

And there is me.  

With one word extra.”

 

A time.  A timeless time.

Later.

He died in his sleep with a single last gasp.

 

A tender hand.

Reached within him,

Even as he returned to the dust.

It took that unspoken word out of him.

 

And a time.  A timeless time.

Later.

That word?

That word was made flesh.

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A Bumbling, Stumbling Attempt at a Theology of Gender.

Lots of smart people have said lots of smart things about the ways in which our views of ourselves mirror our views on God.  I am thinking, today, about gender.

My own developing views about God’s gender are not that different from my view of gender in people.  I think I am not alone in this.  And also, I am still figuring it all out.  As I try to explain where I am at, and where I am headed, I am sure I am going to say things in a way that might be offensive or incorrect.  I hope that you, reader, can chalk this up to ignorance on my part, and not malice.  I would very much appreciate corrections, suggestions, and counterpoints in the comments below.

The most literalistic readings of scripture within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are that God is male.  So is the first person he makes.  Femaleness comes next.  It is the single alternative to maleness, a revision on that basic theme.

This parallels the world view I grew up in about gender in general.  Maleness is better.  Femaleness is the alternative.  I am trying to stay away from using the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ because it seems like part of the whole idea was that our physical bodies always mirrored how we identified within.

And this was one of the first ironies I noticed in this whole affair, as I tried to work it out for myself.  The Christian world normally wanted to proclaim the existence of a soul, and the idea that there is more than just materialistic existence.  The non-Christian/secular world was generally more reductionistic-materialistic.  Yet suddenly, the Christians were saying, “No, the physical aspects of the body is all that there is.  If you have a penis you are fully and totally male.  If you have a vagina you are female.  All the way through.”  Meanwhile, the secular world was proclaiming that their is this non-material part of us, that might identify in a way that is not consistent with our biology.

This irony was only the first thing for me.  I think what happened next was the recognition that I and so many others had, as we began to recognize that literalistic understandings fall apart pretty quickly.  God, is of course, not physically male.  God is not embodied.

People can try and suggest that it is not about the physical.  They can try and suggest that there are differences in personality between men and women.  But here we return to the irony listed above.  Because now, the question to be answered becomes, “Well, what happens when that personality doesn’t match up with the biology of a person?”

Just as the first thoughts might seem pretty simple, “God is male.”  The first pages of the bible seem pretty straight forward to.  Because at first, as suggested above, God seems to make Adam first, in his image, and then Eve from Adam’s rib.  But a couple pages in, there is a director’s cut on the creation account.  And it seems that both Adam and Eve are made in God’s image.   God, it seems, has a feminine side.

Countless images in the bible build this case, comparing the creator to all manner of feminine images.  And this only stands to reason.  He is able to be everything good, all at once.   It seems like most people, most of the time, want to find themselves somewhere along the spectrum between 100% masculine and 100% feminine.  Some people move to different places over time.   But maybe this is the fundamental difference between God and humans.  God is everywhere on that spectrum at once.  Us little people, we, at any given time, are only occupying one little spot.

 

What’s the Going Exchange Rate for a Dying God?

There is this idea that Jesus’ death bought something: that he was a unique currency, only ever redeemable once.

There is a part of me that recently wanted to throw this idea away far away from me.  And in some ways, I had good reasons.  There are some questionable ethical things happening, if this is how it worked.  It seemed rather suspicious than American, Evangelical Christianity would become rather obsessed with a financial-economic view of what Jesus was doing.

Today, I am holding this idea outward, with an open hand.   Perhaps it will stay.  Perhaps not.  I see some language in the bible that suggests it.  I see some value at it.  I can be a bit fickle.  Perhaps I will be ready to throw it away, again, tomorrow.

But the thing that got me thinking about all this was a podcast I was listening to this morning.  Michael Gungor, one of my heroes, started talking about transactional relationships with God.  I assumed what he said next was going to relate to Jesus’ death.

But he went a whole different direction.  He was talking about the deals we make with God.   ‘God please do this for me.’  ‘God, if you do x, I will do y’, ‘God I need…’  Gungor goes on to suggest that the alternative foundation for connecting with God is embodied in Mother Theresa’s often-quoted description of her prayer life: she states that she listens to God listening to her.  (Forgive the vast oversimplification of Mother Theresa’s words; it is worth looking up.)

I am thinking that maybe there is a connection between seeing Jesus’ death as transactional and seeing our relationship with him as transactional.  On a broader level, I know that some of my own relationships with other people have been ones where we abided in a love for each other, like Mother Theresa.  Others have been built around mutual exchanges and need.

Most, of course, are somewhere between these two extremes.  But the older I get, the more sure I am: I would rather engage in loving than exchanging stuff.

 

 

 

God the Mother

God reached into the dirt, and kissed it.  And suddenly, it was alive!

That first human was made in the image of God.  It seems that it came with the breath itself.

I have been thinking about how Eve was made from Adam’s rib.  And wondering how God’s image works through all of this.

It could be that God’s image was just copied into both of them.

But given all the stuff that is said about sex and marriage, and it seems like maybe a separate part of his image ends up in both of them.  God’s image isn’t copied, it is broken in two, and Adam and Eve each get a part.

(This seems to connect with the second creation account, that occurs later in Genesis.)

Here’s the pretty amazing thing about this possibility:

It puts to bed all the talk about God as a ‘he.’  It locates the divine in the feminine and the masculine.

God the father and mother!  So much more robust and liberating then just choosing one or the other.  A pretty cool thing.

 

Torrent

This torrent comes crashing down,

A wild thing from up so high.

Niagra would look with awe at this fall.

 

Here, below.

Mostly we gather on the shore.

And the holy men in their hip waders bring the little cups.

They grimace as they fill them and bring them back to us.

The spray and the run off have soaked them.

They walk slowly.  Slowly to us.  

Apostles and apprentices towel them off solemnly.

There are so many of us here now.

We wait.  And the water is so much of everything.

But the cup is emptied so soon.

 

I do not listen to them as I step into the water.

I discard my clothes and I do not care that they are watching.
I stand beneath the waterfall with my arms stretched out wide.

They make a wide space for me,

As they continue their conveyance to their followers,

Back and forth, back and forth.

My Advent

Everybody tells me that I am supposed to get excited for Christmas.

And really, there are so many possible entry points.   I could be all consumeristic and get excited about the sales.  I could take the nostalgic route and listen to the songs.  There is a brotherhood of rather dramatic folks who bond over cynicism around the holiday.  There are stories about the manger, connections to unwed mothers.   Apparently I could get upset about some sort-of war on Christmas, or I could join the larger group of people getting upset about the fact that people are claiming that their is a war on Christmas.  I could take the theological route, or the charitable one…

And none of it is speaking to me, this year.  I am not even passionate about being grinchy this year.   Charlie Brown’s wailings about the real meaning of Christmas…  These are no more interesting to me, right now, than a man-child-elf guy running around with a bag of spaghetti.

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I was pondering, and reading, and looking, though, and then I began to think about some things that I already new:

Once, the world had been silent for centuries.

There were these people who felt like they had been chosen by God.  They told these stories, where he entered into their lives.   They practiced these traditions.  They did the things that they had been told to do.

They were conquered and beaten, occupied.  The collection of holy stories that they revered must have begun to seem stale.  Generation followed generation into the grave.

The promises of deliverance must have seemed so hollow.

Then he came and turned everything upside down, entering the world in this new way that changed everything.

It is not this story, by itself, that speaks to me, this year.  It has before.  Maybe it does for you.  If so?  That’s great.

So often when I think about the ancient Isrealites, I realize that their story is my story.  This is no exception.

There are ways that I feel like my world has been silent for centuries.

Though I have felt chosen by God, sometimes it feels like all I have is these stories.  I feel myself growing more distant from God’s entrance into my life.  I feel myself growing more desperate for him to come into my world in some new way.

And so this is where Advent is for me, now.  This hope that God that invades the places we think he has forgotten about.  This knowledge that he comes in these new, backwards ways that cause us to completely see him anew.

I know that there is this hope that Jesus will re-enter the cosmic world outside of us; I know that people link his truimphant return to his initial entry into the world.

But right now?  Right now, the thing I feel ready for is this quiet entry into my own inner world.  That is where advent is for me, this year.

What about you?

My Internal Landscape

Sometimes, you can stare at things for a long time, and suddenly realize that some hidden image has been sitting patiently and waiting for you to notice it.  Some of Salvadore Dali’s art is this way.  And also lots of optical illusions.  And they say that those annoying 3-d images, if you squint long enough, that a picture pops out of them eventually, too.  (For the record, I am not sure I believe in that last one.  It has never ever worked for me.)

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My internal landscape is like this.  Things sit and wait for me to discover them.  Sometimes, it is a connection I never saw before.  Other times it is a feeling I was busy pretending I didn’t have…  Joy at something sad, sadness at something happy, guilt at something I earned.

I recently had this kind-of realization about my pain.  I was quite shocked to discover that I was upset at others when they did not take responsibility for fixing my hurt.  I told myself what I wanted was empathy from the people who love me.  Because asking for empathy from the people who love me is a pretty reasonable request.  In fact, if somebody didn’t have empathy for me, it would be fair to ask if they loved me at all.

In fact, what I have wanted is something much more.  I wanted others to make it thier own mission to fix me.  As I realized this, I realized something else, kind of interesting:  apparently, to some part of me, a pain-free Jeff is a good Jeff…  even a fixed Jeff.

As I came to this understanding, I realized something about my feelings.  And also, I think, I realized something about your feelings.  (Perhaps you’re a bit wiser than me and have already worked this out.)

It’s not pleasant to experience pain: sadness, mourning, depression.  There is a reason that these are all connected with a condition they call the dark night of the soul.

Yet…  they have a place.

They are guides.   Emotions, perhaps especially the unpleasant ones, are direct lines to our inner landscape.  There is no other way, I think, to get a status report from the very deepest part of us.

If others had some magic word that would take my pain away, they would be robbing me of something so important.  As I spent all this time wishing the pain away, I could have been exploring it, and I think I would have been made better, and wiser because of it.

Today is Thanksgiving.  And so I guess the thing I am saying is that I am going to work on thanfullness for the pain.

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There is so much more that ought to be said here, and I think I will be posting some of that in the near future.  But I feel like I ought to follow up with a caveat.

Sometimes depression, sadness, and mourning want to become the captain of the ship.  These things don’t harm us directly; they are like an immune deficiency, that paves the way for other things which very much do hurt us. Prayer, Support from friends and professionals, and medication are incredibly important methods to recover this balance, at the times that feelings want to stage a mutiny and become the captain of our ship.