The Second Easiest Thing

The second easiest thing to do is to be angry. To hold on to hurt, disapointment, victimhood, and anger. The second easiest thing is to fight back, hard. To cause the pain that was caused to you.

The easiest thing, of course, is to love somebody back they way that they love you. The easiest thing is when it all works out the way you both want it to.

Before I took communion this morning, I had this terrible realization. I was holding on to hurt because it was a way to hold on to them. I was grabbing on to my anger with them because I could not have the person themself. And somewhere, deep inside, it seemed like the next best thing. The closest I could have to what I really wanted.

If I could be assured that the person will always loom large in my life, if I new in my heart that there would be… something… I think I could let go of needing to have it on my terms. But the real fear is that if I let go of what there was, and if I let go of the anger, too, then there would be nothing, utterly nothing between us.

The irony is that I was really having a relationship with my own fear, and anger, and disapointment. These precluded in actual, living relationship with the real person, in the now: a relationship rooted in the reality of what is, not the world I want it to be.

I ate the wafer and drink the juice this morning. But only when I knew I was at least taking those first steps toward something fuller, deeper, and more pure than what I had been doing.

Cleansings

Jesus turned the water into wine.  And that is a mystery.

I think that contemplating some things about that mystery deepen our appreciation for it.

For example Jesus had them fill the containers that would have been used for ritualistic cleansing.  It was a party!  And they’d emptied whatever the other wine came in.  It seems like there should have been an alternative to using those containers.

Imagine today if somebody busted out the communion cups at a church potluck because they ran out of paper ones.  People would have an entire dairy farm worth of cows about this.

Jesus use of these vessels suggest several things at the same time:  On the one hand,  it suggests that he is somehow above the old laws and expectations that God expected: otherwise he wouldn’t have felt free to use them.  But at the same time, it asserts the fact that Jesus was doing God’s work.  He feels free to use God’s instruments.

Equally paradoxical is the idea that on one level, they were just relaxing and having a party.  But Jesus chose to use items that suggest  there is some element of purification and cleansing involved in what Jesus is up to, when he turns the water of our lives into the wine of our lives.

The other thing that’s interesting to me is that this passage immediately precedes Jesus’ clearing of the money changers outside the temple.  Jesus at his warmest and fuzziest comes right before Jesus at his most righteously angered.

Having our lives turned to wine isn’t all fluff and light.  There’s a burden connected to it, a demand.  I’ll explore that next time.

Water, boredom, and mystery

I know how much we need it.  I know that we live in a chronically dehydrated society.  I know that there are people dying because they don’t have access to it.  I know that someday soon wars may be fought over it, in the same way we fight over oil today.

But none of this changes a very simple fact:

Water is boring.

It’s boring, I suppose because I’m spoiled.  It’s boring because I’m short sighted.  It’s boring because I don’t have the maturity to appreciate what a blessing it is.   But none of this changes the fact either:

Water is boring.

As we wonder through the wider context of communion, that’s a place I’d like to begin.  Water is boring.

And part of water’s boringness is not a function of where, when, and how I live.  Part of water’s boringness is universal.    It is colorless and tasteless.  It is the most basic building block of everything we drink.  In some ways, in ancient times, water might have been even more boring than it is today.  Thousands of years ago, there were no vending machines, fruit punch mixes, sport drinks, coffee shops, juice blends…

There have been times in my life that have been much like water.  Tasteless, odorless, flavorless.  Through these times I have had blessings that others only dream of, and yet, these blessings have seemed like a lot of nothing.  Just as the ubiquity of water is so very easy to overlook, just as the blessing of having access to enough drinking water to stay healthy is a luxury, so too the health I have had, the freedoms I have had, the friendships I have had… Sometimes these have not felt like enough.

I am not on a “We should do a better job of thinking about the third world and feel grateful for what we’ve got rant.”  I’m just setting up an exploration of a mystery: water can be boring.

And life… Life can be boring, too.

The problem runs deeper than boring.  That word trivializes the whole affair.

Life can seem empty.  It can seem pointless.  It can seem tastless colorless and stale.

In my own life, there have been times when I had all this freedom and enjoyment.  It felt like all I could ever need.

But suddenly? It wasn’t enough anymore.  I needed something more.  All these things that I was doing, they had their price.   Once they had been vibrant, ecstatic even.  But eventually… eventually they were like water.  Odorless, colorless, joyless.

We all know that when the old thrills stop be thrilling we have two choices.  The first is to step things up a notch.  Intensify our greed, lust, and desire.  Seek out more of our old poison in order to feel the same old effects.  The second is to shrug our shoulders, give up…. And just go through the motions.

We can live off water.  But who would want to?  Sometimes, in life, it’s like our whole diet, our whole world is boring, room-temperature water.

The Flip Side of the Fast

The mystery-filled flip side to the fast is communion.

Jesus speaks of us abstaining from food.  And he also speaks of us eating a supper in remembrance of him.  One of the things about mystery is that it calls us to consider wider contexts and connections, even if we can’t quite express these connections in words.

There is mystery in Jesus words and actions about blood, water, and wine.

It’s no big secret that Jesus first public miracle was the turning of water into wine.  But It’s worth contemplating this in terms of what happens later.   For example, there is the Lord’s Supper: Wine is no longer just wine, but it is Jesus’ blood.  And there is Jesus telling us that he is the living water, and if we drink from him we will never be thirsty.

I don’t think this is precisely a cycle.  It’s a little more like an apparent duality, except it’s with 3… A triality?

Jesus coming into the world is his turning the water into the wine.  And his death is the turning of the wine into his blood.  And his blood is the living water, from which we can drink and never grow thirsty.

I think that there are many aspects to this mystery.  I think it’s worth noticing that our boring, natural lives, outside of rebirth and Jesus are water.   But there is something in the process of going from grape to wine that is emblamitic of Jesus’ sacrifice and our own rebirth.   In the age before wine was made thousands of miles away and purchased at a store, they would have been much more in touch with this.  The grape is smashed, killed, destroyed.  That which lay dormant within the grape is released through this death… and it combines with something else, in the process of fermentation, to create a substance which, when imbided, brings us outside (a little bit) of our mundane reality.

Communion

Somewhere along the way, the importance of food in myths and legends was pointed out to me.  More specifically, the traveler’s advice “Don’t drink the water” is incredibly true to figures on magical journeys.

In Greek myth, Persephone eats just a few seeds and as a result Hel ends up with claims on her soul.  In the amazing animated film “Spirited Away” the protagonist’s parents begin eating the food in the magical world and are turned into pigs as a result.

To eat the food in a place– whether it is in our “real” lives or in myth– is to start to become a citizen of that place.   To begin the process of becoming a citizen of a place is to submit to the laws and other claims a place makes on you.

On a biological level, there is of course equally important things going on.  We are taking in the substance of this new place.  It will be digested by our body and become a part of us.

Perhaps this is the real importance of the Kosher laws in the Hebrew tradition.   If the ancient Jews had fully immersed themselves in the food of the countries they were in, they would be sacrificing some of the ways in which God set them apart.

One of the things I love about God is that he so often uses these mythic elements, but he intensifies them, turns them upside down, imparts this whole new meaning to them.

So it is with communion.

Instead of this being a thing to avoid about the new world we are standing on the threshhold to, it becomes a thing to go after.  we are invited to step through the door and into this new world.

More strikingly, instead of the food being a cultural artifact of the new world we enter, the food is identical with that new world itself, and that new world itself is identical to the figure who will lead us into it.

But more than this, the new world is built not only on the overall person of Christ, but also on his act on the cross.  If his body had not been beaten and broken, we could not have the bread.  If his body was not made to bleed, we could not drink the wine.

But if Christ’s death was the last word then this would be a meaningless act of cannibalism.  It is not just the crucifixtion, but also the resseruction, which are evoked in communion.   If he had not died we couldn’t take the substances in.  Yet if he had not lived there would be no reason to do so.

Persephone ate seeds and digested them, and so that world became a part of her.  How much more true is it of me: I drink his blood and eat his flesh (as ghastly as that sounds) and in doing this, I am reminded that he lives in me… And most specifically, his death and reseruction live in me.

In other words: Unlike the more general mythological idea, we don’t enter into only a new world, we enter into a new identity.  And we don’t enter into just an identity, but we also enter into two of the great acts of this identity.

From Passover to Easter through Communion

While reading scripture before taking communion last week, this passage jumped out at me:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

I found myself reflecting on what I might have said in these circumstances.  It probably would have gone something like this:

When the hour came, Jeff was whimpering at the table like a sad little girly man.  And he said to them ‘I have allowed my fear in what is to come to utterly overshadow the joy I might otherwise have experienced here and now, in sharing this Passover with you.’

I don’t mean the above as flippant.  My point is that Jesus knew what was coming.  And it was horrible on every level imaginable.  Somehow, though, he found joy.

Perhaps part of it was that he was not only celebrating Passover– he was in fact rebooting it: not doing away with it but in fact deepening it unimaginably, bringing a whole new dismention to it.   In his later instruction to repeat that evening in remembrance to him, Jesus was setting into motion a commemoration that would stretch across the milenia.  There is some profound sense in which he was not only breaking bread with the 12… In some way that table stretched across space and time.  In some way all of us who do that in remembrance of him were known to Jesus, in some strange way they (we) were present at that table.

And the whole act would have been as ghastly as it appears if he had not been destined for reseruction.   This is probably an incredibly macarbe way to put it… But it is Jesus living flesh, not his dead flesh, that we take into our bodies.  He is alive in us…

And so, he had reason for joy at the occasion.

(This is not to say that I’d have been able to find the joy, if I’d been in his shoes.)

Drinking blood

When Jesus toldhis followers to drink of his blood, I wonder if they thought about Leviticus 7: 26-27.  It says, “And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal.  If anyone eats blood, that person must be cut off from his people.’ ”

I wonder if there was some sense that they were choosing to be cut off from others, that they were choosing be to cut off together.  A sentiment not altogether different from when Jesus’ biological family came for him and Jesus said “The people who follow me are my real family.”

It’s also not too distinct from the idea that to be Holy is to be set apart from God.  And it’s so perfect, so consistent with the way that Jesus progresses in such a counter-intuitive, backwards-appearing way: It’s a way to say “You’ll be set apart by God because the rest of society won’t want you.”

Even more on “The Worst Story Ever Told”

Marty has been leading us through a sermon series on Judges 19.   I have been thinking about the middle portion of the story, where the Levite cuts the concubine up into 12 pieces and sends them to all the tribes of Israel. 

First off, I have been thinking about power dynamics, rape, and homosexuality.  Stories like this one are often used to demonstrate the “abonimation” of homosexuality.   Like many rapes, this is not really about gender, homosexuality, and heterosexuality at all.  It’s about the Benjamites demonstrating total domination over the visitors. 

If it was a sexual thing we’d expect a gender preference to be expressed.  The Benjamites ask for the man at first, and they initially refuse the women.  I’d suggest that this refusal occurs because the women are considered to be of lower status than the men.  Ultimately, the bandits “settle” for the concubine.

We’re not told why they end up settling on the concubine when they initially refused that idea from the owner of the home.  One possibility which I admit there is only a smidgen of evidence for:

Perhaps they somehow barricaded themselves in after throwing the concubine out. 

My smidgen of evidence: the concubine is on the door step at dawn and they do not come out until then, though it seems that she has been lying there for some time.   This image is even more horrible: the idea that the cowards inside would not let her in out of fear that the bandits would follow her in.

At any rate, my next question about all this:

Was the concubine dead at that point?  I have a few small pieces of evidence in this direction, as well:

#1) Scripture doesn’t say that she was dead.

#2) It says that he put her on the donkey.  “Put”, at least in English, doesn’t imply that it was much work to get her to stay there.

#3) As a Jewish guy, presumably informed on the scriptures, would he have touched a corpse at this point?

The Jewish people had quite script expectations around not touching dead flesh.

Of course, he had to touch her dead body at some point, as he chopped her up.  But I wonder if she died on the journey home and that this pushed him over the edge into madness.  It’s one thing to suppose that he had possession of his faculties if he’d only sent the corpse to the 11 other tribes.  Strangely, scripture states that he sent pieces of her to all 12 tribes.  If he was rational, what would be the point of sending it to the Benjamites?

It’s interesting that the whole dead-flesh thing never even comes up.  By our standards today, I’d feel pretty gross and manipulated if somebody sent me a chunk of a human body.  It was a much bigger deal for them to have touched a dead body.  Yet nobody gripes to the Levite about this.  I wonder why?

Would readers at the time take this is as yet another sign of how decadent that society as a whole had become?  Did they believe the Benjamites sent the pieces of the concubine?  Were they manipulated into such a rage that they never stopped to realize what they had done?

I don’t know.  I don’t even have a teeny-weeny piece of evidence in this direction.

My last thought on all this:

Fast foreward a bunch of centuries.   Jesus sits having dinner with his disciples.  They were versed in the scriptures.  When Jesus says “This is my flesh” Do the disciples think about the Levite?

It’s an startling comparison between the new covenant and the old.  In the first story, the man chops up the woman whom he didn’t marry.  The pieces of her flesh lead to the 12 tribes focusing on each other, going to war.

In the new version, the man is offering his flesh to the people who will come to be described as his bride.  (The church)  This flesh is not meant to antagonize us into making war with each other.  Rather, we’re supposed to eat it.  And in eating it, we realize that we are the enemy, or atleast we were before we took him into us.  (I’m not suggesting that the literal act of taking communion saves us.  I’m suggesting that communion is a representation of taking Jesus into our hearts, and that this saves us.)

My happy place

     The breeze ruffles the curtains.  It carries the smell of the sea and salt.  It lands on my skin. 

     The room is long and narrowish and light and high.  Ten rows of bnenches fill up the majority of the space in the room, but mostly they escape notice.  The butt and back of the benches are lined with thin burgundy cushions.

     The stage is half a step above the rest of the room.  The cross is bigger than life, which is as it should be.  The sunlight comes in through the skylight and casts a rectangular, God-made spotlight on it.

      This rectangle is echoed across the room by six rectangles of light which fall on the pews and into the aisles.  There are 3 on each side; the long windows let more than just the breeze in.

      It is modest, this place, and some would say small.  I smile as I walk out the front door and take it in from the outside.

       The white paint on the outside is not brand new but the church carries a well-loved air about itself.  It’s the sort of place, that if you put any thought into it, you would just know that it’ll get repainted before the whiteness begins to actually chip.

     The building has a minty green trim.  The shape of it is close to the shape of a capital “L”, except that the horizontal, lower portion is a bit to small and stubby.  This added on room– the horizontal part of the “L”– has no door from the outside but it does have large windows.

      I could walk across the green (but not perfectally manicured) lawn and step between the bushes that hug the perimeter of the building.  I could look through the window and peer at the simple wooden table that dominates the room.    There is a copper platter just to the left of the center of the table.

      Two-thirds of a loaf of French bread sits on the platter.  The reflection of the simple overhead light on the platter is broken by the few crumbs gathered by the open end of the bread.  A mostly-full bottle of wine sits close to the right edge of the table.  The sun has dried most of the condensation that once clung to the bottle.  Only a few drops remain where the neck widens.

 

The above was this image, incredibly clear, and powerful, that just popped into my head.  I decided to get it out of my head and write it down.  It’s a place I’ve never been to, but I love it there.  It’s my happy place, this little perfect church in my heart.  I’ve gone back there, every now and again, to get away from everything. 

Do you have a “happy place?”

 

Untitled communion poem

The grotesqueries are the point.

It is a cracker, yes,
but it is also His Flesh
being ground to grit between my molars.

Not the Jews (or for the Jews)
Not the Romans (or for the Romans)
but me
for me

And yes,
it is simply lemon tea (instead of grape juice, we’re out)
in a chipped mug but
it’s also his blood
in my mouth
and down my esophagous

that full warm tang
surprises me
shocks me
sickens me
nourishes me

I am a canibal-vampire.
And it seems that this is how it must be.
And so I offer my thanks to God
for it.