The subversive power of resurrection

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Part of my Lenten journey included the Stations of the Cross most Wednesdays. It was a blessing to make that journey-within-a-journey week after week. If you’ve ever participated in this service you are familiar with the verse and response: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” Saying those words on my knees, over and over in the darkness of the Wednesday evening liturgy got them into my gut in a new way. O Christ, by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

So here we are, on the first day of the week, on the other side of the cross. Do we feel redeemed? What about the world? What would a redeemed world look like? I think most of us would agree that it would look different from our world.

I could tell stories of terror and violence on the other side of the planet, in Brussels, Istanbul, or Jakarta, but I don’t have to; it’s all around us. We could look at poverty and desperation in another hemisphere, but we need only walk around our block. We can read about broken hearts in the daily news, or we can find them in our neighbors, our friends, and sometimes, in ourselves. We could look toward another era, an earlier time, for fear and civic unrest, but it’s here, in our time. More and more people I speak with talk about their fears for our own nation, our place in the world. You don’t need me to tell you stories of bad news.

the-empty-tomb

We live in a time not unlike the time and place where Jesus’ first disciples encountered the empty tomb, a time deeply entrenched in a system of racial and religious prejudice and economic inequity that made everyone powerless to effect change.

What do we do about this? What do we have to say about this on Easter morning? If you get together with friends or family later today and talk to them about your morning, and if they say—as my friends often say—“Oh, yeah, it’s Easter….I forgot,” is there anything to say to them about this day that connects with the rest of life?

Yes. Tell them about the “subversive power of the resurrection.” I’m borrowing the phrase from New Testament theologian Nancy Claire Pittman, who has written that resurrection is “an invitation to live as Jesus lived, a doorway to a life in which meals are shared with enemies, healing is offered to the hopeless, prophetic challenges are issued to the powerful. Only now it is not Jesus who does these things, it is we ourselves who see … the subversive power of the resurrection in order to live it now.”

Tell them about the subversive power of baptism.

Years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the baptism of my two-year-old niece. It was a complicated situation. My niece and her big brother were not churchgoers; my sister-in-law was having them baptized to please her father, who was dying three thousand miles away. My niece was having none of this. She screamed and cried all the way through the procession to the font. She hadn’t had her nails trimmed in a while and her mother, who was carrying her, had scratches on her neck.

The priest used a line I’ve borrowed whenever I’ve baptized a fussy baby. He said: “We all respond to God this way sometimes…” When it came time for the actual baptism, she struggled even more. The priest turned toward the congregation with a big smile and said: “I think we’re all going to get a little wet.”

In a few minutes, we’re all going to get a little wet. There are cathedrals that do asperges with giant branches of water from a swimming-pool sized font, and everyone gets soaked. This water is a tangible reminder of who we are, why we are here, and who we belong to.

When we blessed the water earlier this morning, we remembered the water of creation, the water through which God delivered God’s people into the land of promise, the water in which Jesus himself was baptized. This is the same water that fills our font, the water with which we washed each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday, the water we used to wash this altar.

The water is the same water drunk by our enemies and those who wish us harm, the water that bathes the person with whom we are angry, the person who has hurt us, the person who doesn’t know we exist.

Remembering these connections across time and borders has never been more important than at this moment in our common life. Through the call-and-response of the baptismal covenant, we become active participants, stakeholders in the life of the one who rose from the dead and who goes before us in the transformation of the world.

LS20120612_stpaul_005-smallWe adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. The cross itself is redeemed: God turns a shameful death into triumph over death. Hence the crucifix hangs right here where we feast and celebrate. God redeems our sin and alienation, exchanging them for love and hope.

Easter does not erase suffering. Easter says that God never stops being present in suffering and that we, too, as followers of the risen Jesus, can be present for those who suffer, can be present in vulnerability, in love, in the mighty, subversive power poured onto us in the waters of baptism.

Before dawn, we heard the Exsultet, an ancient hymn of praise that proclaims our Easter faith: This is the night when you brought our ancestors out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land….this is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave.

We don’t say “that was the night,” but this is the night. Every time we proclaim resurrection we proclaim liberation of the oppressed, food for the hungry, good news for the downtrodden. The resurrection is now. The life we covenant to live in baptism is now. Like the prophets and storytellers whose words fill this day, we bring into this moment all the suffering and fear around us and we take from this moment the life that cannot die, the life that, as George Herbert says, killeth death.

The angels of the Lord ask: why do you look for the living among the dead? Witnessing and experiencing the subversive power of the resurrection, the subversive power of baptism, is as important now as it has ever been. Unless we’re going to live out our lives inside the empty tomb, we must find ways to wield our baptismal identity for good.

Maybe redeeming the world is redeeming fear and turning it into courage. Perhaps redeeming the world is about redeeming doubt and turning them into good news. What if it’s redeeming complacency and resignation, to turn it into outrage and action? What if redeeming the world is about finding stories of love winning, and telling those stories. Maybe redeeming the world is about being those stories, living those stories. Let’s find out.

 

 

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Time takes time

I’ve been inspired, the past few days, by the generous continuum of ways people think about, express, and adopt resolutions for the New Year. Or not. One friend posted: “This isn’t Lent, folks!” Which reminds me of a conversation in early Lent about giving up and taking on for Lent. Someone in that group said: “that sounds more like a bunch of New Year’s resolutions than penitence and renewal.” They’re both right, of course.

resolutionsI tend to either pass up the opportunity provided by the turning of the calendar, to make change, or I come up with a long list doomed to fail. Historically, I’ve an an all or nothing gal. Like most people, many of my resolutions tend to be around health and fitness. I’m not alone here, I know. I think two years ago I wanted bench press my body weight, learn to do handstand push-ups, and train for a Tough Mudder event. Like a lot of people, my New Year’s resolutions historically have a touch of wanting to turn myself into someone else; a younger, more serene version of myself, perhaps.

There’s no such thing as a clean slate. We bring all of who we are into each year and each endeavor. Sure, I have too many unfinished knitting projects I should bind off in 2016. I’d like to pack healthy snacks more often. I chronically want to lose five pounds. But I am who I am and I’m kind of done with failure.

This week, I was chatting with a wise person about my fitness goals for the coming year and he gave me some profound advice. (“Profound” may just be another way of saying he said exactly what I needed to hear.) He said: “Think about what you want to be really good at ten years from now, and work toward that.” I immediately knew what that longterm goal was. Not that I’ll never tell; I don’t want to jinx it.

timeAnd the point is not so much the goal as the long view, the nudge to remember that time takes time. Transformation takes forever. Whether it’s moving to a new city, embedding oneself in a new community, making new friends, doing a better job of loving one’s neighbor or sharing wealth or staying healthy and injury-free over a long period of time…all of these things take time. Sometimes, forever. And that’s good news.

Accepted wisdom is that most people have broken their resolutions by the third Monday in January. But imagine that it’s not about breaking or keeping, but being faithful to a larger vision. Bring it on.

 

Ten things I learned about Mexico City, myself, or both

1) I love this city. Before I came, I knew only what most people know about Mexico City: it’s crowded (20 million at last count), with terrible traffic and smog. What I didn’t know until I got here is that it is monumental, as in full of monuments, like Washington, DC, or Paris. It is sprawling with hundreds of distinct neighborhoods that seem to go on forever, like London. It has its own distinct food smell, like Taiwan. It’s got that particular urban intensity that one finds in, say, Times Square. And I haven’t seen a bit of smog.

2) Unlike the only other part of Mexico I’ve been to (Puerto Vallarta, which hardly counts, really), I spent most of a day wandering throughout the most touristed parts of the city and saw only a handful of people who looked like they came from the U.S.

mexicomap3) Mexico City is really far away. Take a look at a map sometime. It’s pretty far south and east of most places people I know go in Mexico. This may explain why hardly anyone seems to speak English here, even in the areas that seem to cater to out-of-towners.

4) I must learn Spanish. I’ve always insisted that it’s easy to get around in places like this because a) everyone speaks some English (but they don’t, duh) and b) I can usually pick out every second or third word in written Spanish. (Big difference from generating speech. Duh.) On my first morning in Mexico City I put together the most spoken words in Spanish than I ever have in my life: Buen dia. Por favor: habla Ingles?

IMG_29955) There’s constant noise, and it doesn’t seem to bother me. For one thing, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by spending two or three hours knitting in my hotel room while the life of the city goes on around me, because I can hear it. Street preachers, vendors hawking tamales and tacos, police directing traffic with their whistles, groups of children squealing with delight, street performers drumming and singing…all of it is right outside my room. The sounds change only slightly as the sun goes down, leaving more and more of the Catedral out my window in shadow.

6) The guidebooks aren’t kidding when they say it gets cold after the sun goes down. This morning out my window I saw people in down jackets, hats and scarves. By the time I went out around eleven, it was warm on the sunny side of the street. By three, everyone was in t-shirts. By seven, when I ate dinner at a rooftop terrace restaurant, I wished I had a hat and gloves.

7) My French is much better than I thought. Three years of high school French forty years ago has stood me in good stead. The problem is, it comes out when I’m groping for a word in Spanish. Hardly ever helpful. I love it here, but maybe I’m overdue for a trip to Paris sometime before my memory goes. Or Italy. Seems I know how to say molto bene and it keeps coming out when I mean to say something else entirely.

8) It’s much more fun traveling in a non-English-speaking country when I’m with my husband. He knows how to say please, thank you, and beer in about fifty languages, and much more than that in Spanish, French, and German. And he’s generally into adventure and learning. I’m not.

9) When you’re me and you’re traveling alone in a country where you feel awkward and out of place because you can’t speak the language and because, unlike every Mexican woman under the age of 80 who is not a nun, you don’t dye your hair, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate every little victory. Getting a new watch battery. Finding the best side street café. Finally getting up the nerve to order and eat a street taco (and learning the difference, once more between picante and caliente—the former refers to spiciness; the later to temperature). Like when I bought postcard stamps, making hand motions for how many I wanted and even messing up the hand motions so the clerk both started laughing. She typed numbers on a calculator, showed it to me and asked: Quatorze? Si, quatorze! Gracias.

10) When I arrived I wondered whether I’d made a mistake to plan a couple of days here alone before joining a group for an 8-day retreat in Cuernavaca. Did I really want to spend 48 hours feeling vulnerable and stressed in a this crazy-stimulating place when I’m in a wee bit of internal turmoil due to recent changes and losses in my own life? How would I do in a disorienting place when I am interiorly disoriented to begin with? Turns out it’s been the perfect place to unravel and then collect myself in the middle of this hot mess of a city and get grounded. I love this city.

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

In 1971 I etched those words with a pocket knife in the green enamel of the bridge railing where the main road crossed Rondout Creek (“crick”) in Alligerville, New York. My father had a sprawling old farmhouse there, which he escaped to from the city over weekends and summers. The creek divided a gravel road lined with houses from Frank’s store. The thing to do, if you were twelve in Alligerville in the summer, was to walk across the bridge to the store. Several times a day. I’m guessing our gang of five or six bored kids accounted for at least half of Frank’s non-gas business. For days on end we subsisted on popsicles, soda, cigarettes, and jerky, bought with spare change mixed with pocket lint, pooled together with the occasional crumpled dollar bill.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. (I guess every day is. That’s the point, right?) But today was my first day untethered from a wonderful job I held for five years. Today is the day of wondering: what am I doing? What’s next? I feel a bit like Adam and Eve thrown out of Milton’s paradise: “And the world lay all before them.”

So what’s next? Only God knows, has been my answer to this habitual question from colleagues, friends, and parishioners.

IMG_2975Yesterday I walked from my car to the cafe where I’ve had a quick latte and journal-spew every Sunday morning before church for the past few years. These shoes caught my eye. They remind me of so many things: who I longed to be back when I was twelve, summer feet toughened against the hot tar as I stood barefoot scratching words on the bridge railing. Who I tried to be for a season or two in college, metallic blue eyeshadow caked on in layers before heading out to a dive college town disco. They remind me of an imaginary younger self: flashy, nimble, and daring.

I love loving those shoes, but I don’t ever have to wear them. They’re not even my size. But on this first day of the rest of my life, everything is up for grabs.

It’s been a long time….

spiral clock…since I’ve blogged on this site. (I’m sure you’ve never seen that before, eh?) Which is not to say that there’s not lot going on in my little world. I’ve been busy over at Define Fitness, and continuing the journey of integrating and holding together the various pieces of life: personal training, parish-priesting, fun with other churches in my work with the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, working on my memoir (will it ever end? doubtful), and, last but not least, hanging out with my beloved menfolk every chance I get.

PassageOfTimeSepiaI hope that the handful of you who regularly read this blog are having a similarly rich, full time, and experiencing many blessings and much peace. And stay tuned.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

I’ve had an ongoing conversation with myself about “the entrepreneurial spirit.” The question that sparks the conversation is “can it be taught?” Can one impart to another a set of abstract skills that result in successfully implemented new ideas that expand or enhance the mission of an individual or organization? In lieu of actually studying the matter, I simply keep having this conversation with myself.

Most university classes in entrepreneurship are about starting or growing businesses. I’m interested in what the secret is to starting or growing….anything. Because I’ve been accused of being an entrepreneur, I dreamed up some little classes for people who are interested in building their entrepreneurial muscles. Mostly, we sit around and toss ideas back and forth like popcorn down a row of high-schoolers at a Saturday matinee.

The other day I was out for a run and the conversation popped up again: Can the entrepreneurial spirit be taught? What I realized in that conversation with myself is that what I consider entrepreneurship is really just imagination. Other people imagine characters in a novel or scenes to paint. I imagine weird ways for established institutions to do the needful. I find that I do my best imagining in the company of others, building off their ideas while they build off mine. So perhaps entrepreneurship is about having the right conversation partners.

What are your favorite flavor ideas to dream up? Who are your best conversation partners?

What the heck is God up to?

I mean, really. What was God thinking about the day this flower came to be? Makes you wonder….Yesterday when my friend and I encountered this flower, which I can only assume is a kind of clematis although I can’t find the variety (anyone?), we imagined God sitting around bored, maybe a little high (on life, of course), picking up shards from a kaleidoscope somebody broke, breathing life into them and turning them into this very public and somehow ridiculously geometric helicopter of a reproductive system.

I define theology as the question What is God up to?

(I owe this definition to Richard A. Norris, 1930-2005, who was an amazing theologian and teacher and who, shockingly, is not listed in Wikipedia. If you look him up on the Amazon website, his books are rather hilariously intermingled with listings of books about Chuck Norris. I’m guessing he would take this as a fitting tribute to our insignificance as humans.)

What is God doing in creation? What is God doing in beauty? What is God up to when we suffer? When we procreate? When we die young, or live longer than it seems like we were ever intended to live? What is God up to in wartime? What the heck is God up to in the churches?

It begins with the questions. With paying attention to the world around us enough to suppose that God is up to something, something that at times delights, at times perplexes, at times infuriates. When we ask someone “What are you up to?” and mean it, we’re in relationship. The more curious we are about the answer, the better the relationship.

What are you up to? What do you think God is up to?