Post Hoc Musings from Palm Sunday

Okay, so this week I’m getting back to more explicitly religious stuff . . . as my blog claims to be about . . . but anyway . . . (I’m also kind of personaled out for the moment.)

Palm Sunday - Triumphal EntryOn Sunday we kicked off Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday (a.k.a. Passion Sunday). First we’re praising Jesus and singing Hosanna, and then we’re yelling, “Crucify him!” and sending him to the Cross. We welcome Him; then we kill Him. What gives?

Usually, preachers will say that the same people waving palms as he entered Jerusalem were the same ones who later cried out for his death. On the other hand, last year the celebrant at my parish added a few comments just before the Liturgy of the Palms. He said that those yelling Hosanna, the marginalized,  were not necessarily the same ones with murder on their lips, the powerful. I hadn’t really thought of that before.

419px-William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Flagellation_of_Our_Lord_Jesus_Christ_(1880)However, things rarely are that simple. Not everyone who greeted the King also later wanted to kill Him. Likewise, it’s also much too easy to make a clear distinction. Some did welcome him as a savior and wept at his execution. Others feared his coming as a threat to their position and rejoiced at his elimination. Then there were probably some who cried out for both. Some people expected Jesus to arrive as a conquering Messiah and were angry when he failed to act as they wanted. Other people maybe just wanted to be around any sort of excitement and didn’t really care who or what it was.

And then quite possibly there were also the sort who enjoy nothing more than building people up and then tearing them down. Maybe I’m just viewing this through 21st century celebrity media culture eyes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people like that have existed throughout time. I’d even go so far as to say that most of us have been guilty at times. We laud a famous person as this great and wonderful person worthy of adulation. Then there comes a point when we turn on that person and latch onto them in a death grip, not letting go until they’re utterly crushed. Then we repeat the process with someone else or even the same person.

Do we ever do that with Christ? I’m not sure if we necessarily take explicit glee in His death, but maybe each of us does bear some responsibility at times. I know I can find it honor someone who’s safely deceased. It’s much safer that way than dealing with a Risen and Ascended Lord. It’s easier to keep Him in our own little boxes than to let Him spring forth and lead us along paths unknown.

Jesus Leaping

Decision Time

Sorry for the wait. I’ve had about 18,576 things on my mind lately. (That particular number, btw, comes from my high school band director.) I had the initial interview for JVC NW and a follow-up a week later. So several of the thoughts have involved that. Could I actually live in community after living by myself for so long? With a bunch of (mostly) 20-somethings? Could I really get by living so simply? What if I were to get in a placement and hate it? What if I were to get a really great job offer between now and then? And all of that is happening at once. (Yeah, for the record, never come to me for certainties or simplicities.)

Another thing to consider would be my true motivation for applying. Do I really want to be doing the JVC program, or was it simply an opportunity to move to the Northwest (where I want to be) without being in the difficult situation of finding a job and a place to live at the same time after moving to a new area. Plus, there’s the little (okay, not so little) extra of the cross-country trip I’ve wanted to take for some time. (I’ll post more about that sometime later.)

Ultimately, after a lot of thought and wrestling and prayer, I came to the decision not to do JVC. That means I will most likely be staying in DC for another year. (I know, I know, it’s a disappointment to all of you.) A lot of times when I change my mind about something, I go through a lot of wondering whether or not I made the right decision. This time, there’s a lot of peace. I’m all right with not doing it. And that’s something to pay attention to.

So what are the next steps? Well, let me get through Holy Week, and I’ll let you know.

Babylonian Questions (Finale)

technomage

Technomage Elric and Capt. Sheridan

Also not as famous a question, but still an important one and asked by Lorien at the end. “Where are you going?” is intimately connected with “Why are you here?” and the others. (Seriously, you haven’t figured out by now that I can’t see things without drawing connections?)

Not an easy one to answer or able to be separated from where one has been or is now. It’s also a question that can make even the strongest tremble, especially when put together with where you’ve been and where you are now. As Emperor Turhan also told Sheridan, “The past tempts us. The present confuses us. The future frightens us. And our lives slip away moment by moment, lost in that vast, terrible in-between.” The last-several years have often felt like that in-between. I’m tired of that.

JVC-Northwest-LogoNow I’m not a big risk-taker ready to jump off into the unknown, and maybe that abundance of caution has held me back. Longer-term, I can’t really say for sure what is ahead, but maybe there’s something in the shorter-term. Not a lot of people know this yet, but it’s probably time to come out about it, so to speak. Last month I applied for a placement with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. (That’s Pacific Northwest, not Northwest DC.)

A large part of me looks forward to the chance to live in community with others and have a chance to do something that really impacts the lives of people. In addition, the Ignatian spiritual tradition of finding Christ present in the world, spiritual discernment, and active service really appeals me now, especially the discernment aspect. Spirituality, specifically Christian, is such a huge part of my life that I  need that kind of grounding in my life. From time to time I have to find my way back to that in a more intense way. Also, as an INFJ (though with strong INTJ tendencies), it’s hard for me to be satisfied with work that doesn’t have some sort of larger purpose or involve service to others.

Seattle-Washington-Downtown-CBD-Skyline-with-Mt-Rainier-in-the-Pacific-northwestern-USA-1024x487Plus, despite having grown up in the South and lived here in DC for almost 10 years (longer than any other one place), I really miss the West Coast. (Living in the San Francisco Bay Area can do that to a person.) Nevertheless, it’s the Pacific Northwest that’s had a special draw. There’s the climate. (Yes, I like clouds and rain.) There’s the pace of life. There’s the natural beauty. (Whenever I’ve seen the Twilight movies [don’t judge], I sit there mooning over the moss on the trees.) Of course, I’m more of an urban-living person. I’ve visited Seattle, and it was one of the very few places where I’ve immediately thought, “I could see myself here.” My preference for placement would be either Seattle or Portland, but I’d go where they’d need me. (Mind you, DC is the coldest place I’ve ever lived; so some places, such as Alaska, might be a challenge. A temperature of 20 degrees is really cold for me. Negative 20, I can’t quite comprehend.)

At the same time, it’s scary. It’s a huge leap for me. I’d be leaving friends (particularly my best friend, with whom I’m probably closer than most married spouses are to each other) and my parish family at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. Right now, I’m pretty far from my parents down in Mississippi, but I’d be even farther. Since they’re getting on up there in age, that becomes more of a concern for me. Luckily, my brother lives in New Orleans, a lot closer to them; and they’ve said that sometimes I do need to do things for myself. And then I also really hate the process of moving and then settling down in a new place.

Nevertheless, I’m still excited by the thought of making this kind of change even if it is a scary risk. I don’t know what will come after that year, but I hope to have a clearer idea. Now, the JVC year would start in August, but I do have plans for the summer that have been in the works for some time. More on that latter.

 

Babylonian Questions (part 3)

turhan

Emperor Turhan of the Centauri

Okay, so this might not be as famous a question as “Who are you?” or “What do you want?” it’s still an important one. For one thing, it’s one of the questions Lorien asks Sheridan toward the end of the series finale, “Sleeping in Light.” However, he is asked it a few seasons earlier by the Centauri Emperor Turhan. As an emperor, he never had any choice in life, having been born to his position and having every word and action dictated by others or the needs of his people.

Luckily, I’ve never experienced anything quite like that. Nevertheless, as you’ve read from a previous post, I’ve been much better at answering “What am I supposed to do?” than “What do I want?” Likewise, the question of “Why?” is very much intertwined with that of “Who?

“Why am I here? Why are you here? Why are any of us here?” Talk about existential . . . and multi-faceted. One aspect has to do with how you got here. Why am I here? Well, I was born at a certain place and a certain time. I grew up. Some choices were made for me. Some I made myself, especially from college onward. Most of those choices were also influenced by outside circumstances. For example, I didn’t get into my first choice of college, but going to Emory set me on the path I’m on now. I do seem to have a habit of not getting my first choice, but for a while at least, I seemed to manage to get on a better path each of those times. (Mind you, the jury’s still out on my going to Catholic University for doctoral work.) Whether for good or ill, all of those choices have brought me here.

At the same time, there’s the larger question of purpose. Am I here for some reason? Are the words to the prophet Jeremiah true? “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5) Or does existence precede essence as the existentialists suppose? At one time when I was younger, that idea total freedom to create myself really appealed to me. (Gee, not surprising that a late-high school, early college student would like that.) Nowadays, I want to believe there is some sort of purpose, maybe not in the sense of a plan laid out from the beginning. I’m convinced there is some level of choice involved in navigating life. However, as I’ve written before, I want to believe in some sort of call, one intimately tied up with who I am as a child of God, a song that resonates in my being in relation to God and the world. Needless to say, I still haven’t figured that one out over the last few days.

So I guess that the question of “Why am I here?” looks both backwards (“How did I get here? Is there some sort of overarching design?”) and forwards (“If there is a design, am I being guided along somehow to a particular destination?”). So “Why am I here?” then slides into “Where am I going?” That question, however, remains for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

Babylonian Questions (Part 2)

Since yesterday’s question was “Who are you?”, fans of Babylon 5 probably know that the next question is that of the Vorlons’ adversaries, the Shadows:  “What do you want?”

Morden

Mr. Morden, agent of the Shadows

Well, what do I want? That’s always been a difficult question for me. The dominant question was more often “What am I supposed to do?” In some ways that’s tied up with the previous question, “Who are you?” I’m the older child; so I’m supposed to be the responsible one. I’m the star student, one of the smartest kids in the school; so I’m supposed to get straight As and push myself harder. I’m supposed to go on and do great things in academia.

So much of my identity was wrapped up in that last part that it was a dominant part of my identity. To then lose it meant losing that identity. There were, of course, other parts of it, but the keystone had been lost. However, I still got caught up in wondering what I was supposed to do, what my call was. Perhaps I got that question wrong.

Maybe “call” has less to do with what I’m supposed to do because that’s who I am and more to do with what is wanted. Less about duty, more about desire. But whose desire? Since we call it, well, a “calling” or “vocation,” someone has to be the one calling. The easy answer is God. I believe that is correct to an extent. God does have desire, and one of those desires is for our flourishing. The greatest flourishing occurs when the song of His creation is in harmony with the song of our being, when our desires mesh with His.

However, it can be so hard to hear that song. To be honest, I often feel like I can’t hear either one. If I don’t recognize my own, how can I recognize God’s? Just what is it that I want? There’s the larger, overarching desire . . . whatever that might be. However, there are also other, smaller desires. Well, “wants” might be a better word. I want a comfortable life. Not extravagant, just more comfortable than what I have now. I want to have a job that I can look forward to going to each morning. Well, at the very least, I want a paying job that I can be reasonably satisfied with. (I suppose one’s vocation might not necessarily translate into a paying job but can be filled in other ways.) I also really want to be able to travel more, to see more of the world or even just this country. Is it wrong to want all that? Does the larger desire have to conflict with those? On the other hand, how much are those desires based in my own soul, and how much are they based in comparing myself to others?

In a much used (and hopefully not cliched) quote, Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where do I find my deep gladness? I still don’t know. Perhaps I don’t trust myself enough recognize and accept it. But then there’s the aspect of the world’s greatest need. Maybe that’s a way to find my deep gladness. The danger there, especially for me, is to then get lost in that need. “Aha, there’s a need. I must attend to it.” (See above regarding the “supposed to” question.)

So we’ve got the three parts: God’s desire, my desire, the world’s desire. How do those mesh without any one of them being lost in the others? How do the three songs harmonize while maintaining each individual voice? Wow, I guess I’ve come a long way from how this post started. Maybe I need to find some way to come out of the shadows I find myself in.

[To be continued . . . ]

 

 

 

Babylonian Questions (Part 1)

Well, I suppose it’s time to out myself. Babylon 5 is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. It’s also a show that takes seriously religion, faith, and the struggle to find meaning and uses them as central themes. (Ironically, the creator, J. Michael Straczynski, is an atheist. Nevertheless, he believes that all people should be treated with respect and integrity, including their beliefs.) Airing during my late teens and early twenties, it came at a very formative period and influenced quite a bit of my development Throughout the series, various questions are asked, and I continue to ask them to this day.

kosh

Kosh, Vorlon Ambassador

The Vorlons ask the question, “Who are you?” It’s a question that most of us ask at some point or even all the time. I certainly do. Kevin? That’s just my name. Son, brother, etc.? My relationships to family members. Receptionist? My job, what I do. Vestry member at church? Also what I do. As I’ve written earlier, so much of my sense of who I am was caught up in what I did. I still have trouble with that. All of that seems tied up with my identity. Can I even answer the question without tying myself to someone or something else? Can I even say there is a fixed identity? Am I the same person now as I was when I was 20? As I will be when I’m 60? Yes. And no. If we’re made in the image of God, then perhaps that’s one thing we can’t fully grasp this side of the veil. That actually reminds me a little of something from the last season. Dr. Franklin tells G’Kar, “Can God create a puzzle so difficult, a riddle so complex, that even he can’t solve it? What if that’s us? Maybe a problem like this is God’s way of doing to us a little of what we do to him?” If we can’t put God in a box, then maybe I can’t put myself in one either.

There are more questions, but dealing with all of them would make for a very long post; so I’ll break it into a series. Come back tomorrow for “What do you want?” . . .