What’s “Good” on This Friday? (Day 39)

As I try to visualize the events of that Friday, I can see John, Mary, and their small group of friends standing near the cross. It seems that standing is not the standard deportment that we would expect from people in a part of the world where, as socio-cultural studies tell us, mourners are expected to show their pain visibly through lamentation and wailing. Instead, as the story is described, they are holding the pain as if to absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it. 

The Interrupted Meal (Day 38)

John tells us that He gets up in the middle of the meal. Other gospel writers did not want to interrupt the supper, but the youngest disciple thought it was important to let us know that, somewhere between the appetizer and the main course, Jesus cannot continue with the meal. Something is wrong. The host is petrified. (Codes of hospitality were, still are, in the highest esteem in the Middle East.) The problem is not with what is or isn’t on the table. The problem sits around the table. The disciples are breaking bread together, and they are also dividing up Jesus—or better said, they are hoping for a helping of the Messiah’s prestige and power. 

Little Things (Day 37)

In the opening sequences of one of my favorite movies of all time, The Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King, we are given a brief history of the character we have come to know as Gollum. At this stage in the story, though, he a little different. Through the first and second movies, Gollum has been depicted as a small, emaciated, sneaky creature, but here he is none of those. In these opening moments Gollum is . . . well . . . healthy. To be honest, he looks like a completely different character. In this brief moment of backstory, we learn Gollum wasn't always Gollum. There was a time when he was called "Smeagol," and he enjoyed simple things, like fishing with his brother.

But everything goes wrong. 

What Happens After We Die? (Day 36)

What happens after we die? I think this is a question that we all ask. Although we have theories and things to say when we are asked this question (or when we ourselves ask this question), I believe there is always a lingering sense of being unsure or of wondering what really does happen. 

Over the last 6 years, no matter how many funerals I’ve gone to, death is never easy. Even after hearing coroners’ reports for expected and unexpected deaths, I always leave a little bit disoriented from a loss. Death in so many ways feels so final. Even though, at least in our Adventist tradition, we have a hope that we will see our loved ones in a day of resurrection, still we wonder. 

Jesus Cleanses the Temple, Again (Day 35)

This year, having spent five weeks blogging through a book celebrating liturgies, both ordinary and formal, I hear Jesus’ impatience with fruitless religion as a cautionary note. Worship, rituals, practices—beware the fruitless kind. Beware the sort that are more akin to a consumer marketplace than a house of prayer for all people.

Later this week, we enter 4 Days with Jesus, the most meaning-packed ritual in our congregation’s liturgical rhythm. It’s a significant investment of time and energy for both planners and participants. (When else do you attend church five times in less than four days?) A question that lurks just beneath the surface is, “Does this ritual bear fruit?” Or another, “Will the ‘specialness’ wear off after eight years of repetition?”

Choose Your Parade (Day 34)

It wasn’t until I read The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan that I came to understand just how much my childhood view of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem missed the point.

Rather than a nice story about the crowds hailing Jesus as King, this procession marks the intensifying clashes between Jesus and the Roman and religious authorities, which ends with Jesus’ execution a few days later. Jesus is not a passive bystander following the whims of the crowd here; he is the orchestrator of the events that unfold.

Borg and Crossan point out that two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day during Passover in the year 30 . . .

Bedtime duty. Currently a multi-hour endeavor. Kisses, chattering, hugs disguised as full body tackles. (30 minutes). Currently, two out of four fall asleep easily and quickly. One child is willing to sleep only under precisely managed and negotiated conditions—dark room, one drink of water, one parent, preferably of the mommy kind. (30-60 minutes).  One child has been recently initiated into existential anxiety via the fear of nuclear annihilation. Physiology and psychology, deep breathing and essential oils, I use all my hard earned knowledge and summon all my Mother Presence, then I release my child into the lonesome valley. Repeat process as necessary. (15 minutes-3 hours. Varies by night).

This chapter is a celebration of pleasure. That’s right, a Christian celebration of delightful, sensuous, pleasure—and not in the once-a-year sex-sermon way. This is, as will be familiar now, a focus on the ordinary-everyday experience of pleasure—“the slight bitterness of tea, the feel of sunshine on the skin, a ripe avocado, a perfect guitar lick, or a good plot twist” (129).

Also familiar will be reciprocal relationship—Tish calls it “symbiotic cross-training”!—between the school of the ordinary and the school of gathered worship. She once again ties these two together. 

‘They say’ that people paste on a fake cheerfulness at church and hide the uglier truth of their reality beneath the ubiquitous “I’m fine, thank you,” or a plastic, “Happy Sabbath."

But it simply isn’t true. 

First, I would like to posit that smiling while you’re struggling is not a sign of being fake. Plain common sense tells us that it’s not usually the best choice of action to begin weeping in the coffee line. 

Second, some situations are better suited than others to emotional vulnerability. People carry their lives with them wherever they go and most of us are just waiting for a safe person in a safe moment to allow these things to be seen. To allow ourselves to be seen. 

Church, at its best, is a call and response between friends, a sense of belonging. That’s how Tish puts it in Chapter 9. But it can also be in community that we hurt each other. I spent a good portion of my life in an Adventist community where who I was allowed to be was often, well, squished. Smushed. Corseted and quieted. If I had questions—perhaps I just needed to listen more. If I was unsure—muster up more faith. If I needed a safe place to express pain—perhaps I wasn’t long-suffering enough. Angry? God forbid. There was little room for anger in that space. I learned that in order to be accepted, I needed to match the pleasant and subdued exteriors of the congregation around me. It didn’t take many years for me to leave those confines and swear off of church forever.

The subjects of time and patience bring to mind a great story.

Some years ago two Princeton University psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, decided to conduct a study inspired by the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. They met with a group of Princeton seminarians individually, and asked each one to prepare a short, extemporaneous talk on a given biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building to present it. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an ally, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. Who would stop and help? 

For many work can be boring and mundane, a somewhat mindless punching of the clock and a never-ending set of daily tasks. For others work is engaging, fulfilling and often, all-consuming. Regardless of the level of engagement or fulfillment, work (for most of us) rarely if ever resembles our worship time or any kind of sacred practice. But the subtitle of the chapter “Checking Email” is, “Blessing and Sending.” The idea is, “We are fed in worship, blessed, and sent out to be ‘hints of hope.’ We are part of God’s big vision and mission—the redemption of all things.” 

This is a pretty significant challenge, since we tend to compartmentalize our lives. The work/vocation compartment may bear little resemblance to the church/worship compartment, and that somehow feels . . . wrong. The common denominator of the two compartments is: ME. Or, more accurately, the Kingdom of God in Me. Let me explain what I mean with a personal story.

“What does worship have to do with my everyday work?” she asks. Often our everyday work seems tiring, boring, and insignificant. The chapter points out that one of the outcomes of the Reformation was the notion of vocation. “The idea that all good work is holy work was revolutionary.” Our everyday work is indeed part of God’s kingdom mission.

The real challenge is integrating faith and the everyday work we do each day. Too often we see them as two different worlds, but the author argues that these two “are intrinsically part of one another.” 

Chapter 6 on passing the peace was written for me this week. I resonate with the feeling of losing one’s cool with a loved one, as it was something that happened with one of my siblings after church this past Sabbath. It feels odd for me to say this out loud and publicly, as I spend much of my time mentoring young families and couples to find peace in their relationships. And yet here I was on a Saturday night being unable to extend peace towards my sibling.

Ann Lamont is correct in that we have to practice reconciliation with the people closest to us before we go out into the world trying to share good news. This sounds great in theory, but the practice of it is much more difficult.

In our hurried modern life, we tend to think of a meal as a time to refuel. We try to get sufficient nourishment to get to the next pit stop, without overdoing it too much. If we get to share the meal with a friend or family, we appreciate their company, but the food takes priority. Not so in ancient times, or even in modern times for many cultures around the world, where the companionship takes first priority and nourishment is a side benefit. Even our language reflects that social aspect: the words “company” and “companion” derive from the Latin com (with) and panis (bread).

When I first read this sentence, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Girl, please, you have no idea.” Yup, that was bitter. In fact I felt so bitter that I decided not to continue reading. I made pre-conceived notions that this author (who appears to come from a privileged background and have at least “fair” health, as evidenced by her ability to have both a job and a family) would not understand people like me—that is, those of us who battle chronic pain and autoimmune illnesses everyday.  I was afraid that my hardships may be belittled unintentionally, or that, even worse, I may miss out on an uplifting message because I just wouldn’t be able to relate. But, I am happy to report, I was wrong.

“Having a body is a lot of work.” Yep, it’s right there on page 37, in case this is news to anyone. Just a body’s maintenance is a lot of work, to say nothing of those times when it doesn’t function the way we’ve grown to expect. It’s no wonder, then, that much religion and spirituality—strands of Christianity included—seek fulfillment apart from the inconveniences of having a body. Saving souls and purifying beliefs, for example, may seem attractive alternatives to the hard work of tending to bodies.