Sacred Weirdness

I recently saw a post on The Living Church’s Covenant blog titled “Evangelism of the Weird.” Wow, both evangelism AND weird. At first glance, it seems like no better way to scare people off . . . well, except me. (I’m rather fond of both.) First glances, though, are not always correct.

If you really think about it, having faith and actually practicing it in our current society are pretty weird (at least in a number of areas).  (In this case, I’m specifically talking about Christian faith.) We worship a God who’s three but also one. We believe in a guy who’s both God and human and who died and then came back to life and will supposedly return at some point. And that’s not even getting into burning bushes, parting seas, multiplying loaves and fishes, etc.

Then there’s all the stuff about believing this world isn’t all there is, that we’re more than just a bunch of atoms floating about. We have an intimate link to our ultimate Creator, one who is more than a distant watchmaker but rather deeply involved in the warp and woof of our lives, albeit in often mysterious ways.

Of course, for a lot of people these days see Christianity (or at least Christians) as a different kind of weird. Many view right-wing evangelicals as the face of Christianity in this country. Increasingly, the image in their minds is one of bigotry, homophobia, hypocrisy.  One of people who care more about passing anti-abortion laws than making sure children get adequate health care or education, who believe “religious liberty” is a license to discriminate. It’s not just weird but, frankly, immoral.

With all of that, it be be hard to tell others I’m a Christian. In some places it’s actually easier to come out as gay than as Christian. However, just as coming out as an LGBT person is vital, especially in areas where it’s less accepted, coming out as Christian is also needed. As an Episcopalian, I can tell you that we can appear a little weird. We gather on Sunday mornings. We sing. We wear funny clothes and funny names for things. We consume special bread and wine that somehow represents the presence of Jesus. (Or actually contains his presence, but we can’t seem to agree on that.) For crying out loud, we even wash other people’s feet once a year!

Some want to tamp down some of that weird and focus on social justice causes. Well, the latter is good, and I do see it as a Gospel imperative. However, lots of groups work for social justices; so what makes us different? Well, I think a lot of what I mentioned above plays into that. We have a firm foundation for what we believe and what we do. We’re not just making it up as we go along but also draw on a long tradition. What we have to proclaim more effectively is that it’s a living tradition with many strands that is always evolving. It’s one that involves all of who we are — mind, body, and spirit. We have to proclaim that none of us are alone. We are connected with each other, both now and in the past, in a larger body. Can there be anything weirder in this hyperindividualistic culture-of-now? I for one embrace that weird.

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Oops, wrong kind of weird. Never mind.

Friday in Easter Week

Ever had one of those times when you want to be able to write something, but nothing appears? Yeah, that’s how it’s been. I had hoped to do a couple of Holy Week-related video projects but didn’t get those done last week. I’m still working on them, though, and will post them when they’re ready.

For now, however, I’m getting ready to fly down to Mississippi to visit my parents. I’m definitely looking forward to it. Even though my relationship with my home state is, well, complicated, I do like spending time with my parents. Hopefully, I can do some more writing and work on the videos during the trip. Anyway, take care, y’all.

easter-eggs-mississippi

Maundy Thursday (a day late)

Reposted from last year. This time on Maundy Thursday itself.

Sacred Wandering

Yes, I know it’s Good Friday, but I had some thoughts about Maundy Thursday last night; so please forgive me for the tardiness. Anyway, here it goes:

There’s a LOT going on at the Maundy/Holy Thursday liturgy. It’s often seen as celebrating Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. At the same time, we have a ritual of footwashing as a liturgical enactment of Christ’s example in the Gospel of John. Of course, there’s also the Stripping of the Altar and, depending on your particular parish, an Altar of Repose where the Sacrament reserved for communion on Good Friday is placed so that people can keep watch and pray or meditate upon Christ’s Body. However, I’m going to focus on the first two, Eucharist and footwashing.

Not surprisingly, it can be hard to keep a whole bunch of different themes running at once, kind of like juggling several…

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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.