The Body

You know those plastic little communion 2 in 1 bread and wine cups? They must have really seen a boom in sales since Covid. The wafer is a tasteless styrofoam, the juice is consistently a little sour. But it does the job. Depending on what you believe the purpose of communion is, it does the job. If you believe it is a symbol of our participation in the body or if you believe it is a more literal demonstration of participation in Christ to form us sacramentally into His body, it may or may not get the job done.

This weekend I tried to take communion. I opened the plastic but somewhere in the attempt, I opened only the juice portion of the cup. And somehow the plastic film covering the wafer was a little harder to get to, or get into. So I struggled, juice shaking out onto my fingers, the plastic film getting damp and me fidgeting for several minutes trying to open the top. To try to get the order right, to try and partake of the body before the blood. And I recognized in that moment again, how hard it can be to commune. Something that should seem so easy, that I have done hundreds of times, something that fits in the palm of my hands reminded me how hard it can be to find yourself in a broken body.

The way Jesus gives his Body and Blood to his brothers makes it seem like He was broken so the body would not have to be. “Unless you eat and drink you have no part of me. Unless you share in this cup of suffering. And you will share. And you will suffer. And it will probably be from among your own.”

TrueVine Chalice Prefilled Communion Cups - Gluten Free Bread & Juice Sets  (Box of 100)

Did you sign up for wounding among a being perfected people?

Most people don’t know what they are getting into, joining the Church, becoming a Christian. Some of us who have lived comfortably and continue to live comfortably have little to no concept of the invitation to suffering that we are invited. Most of us or maybe just me, have too high of expectations regarding my own or others sanctification, too little expectation of the mystical internal transformation of the person of the Holy Spirit, the Magic Spirit.

So I’m trying to get it opened and by now I am weeping while everyone else is standing because they did not struggle as much with the cup that I did in that moment. Their suffering, though deep was not triggering their remembrance in a way, that saddened them. Perhaps I am misremembering. Perhaps as I struggled to open the plastic film covering the tasteless wafer, I did not have to reflect on how hard it has been, to fit in, to be a part, to be rejected by the church and how hard it probably will continue to be to reintegrate into an institution that I am suspect of.

It may have been easier to just get a new cup, to find my way to commune in another way or another place or not at all. So I negotiated, I told God I understood, it shouldn’t be this hard, maybe I made it hard. Maybe I opened it the wrong way, or was not careful enough.

By now the juice/blood has stained my fingers, some has dripped onto the floor as I continued to weep. And I feel no closer, no closer to Communion, reminded of my lack of participation, aware that no one could possibly notice or be aware of what is triggering my emotions.

(should I just get a new communion cup, should I ask for help, should I continue to struggle, should I do some other mental gymnastics to recover, to get it together, should I apologize/repent more for my sins, it must be my juiced stained fingers, I must reconcile the wrong way, I will open the plastic film to get into the body, it’s not that serious)

And this is why Paul is careful to remind us that the Holy Spirit and the Word be our guide when it comes to remembering how we are united to the body. What brought us in was not our great behavior, what brought us in was our belief in the person and work of the Son of God Jesus Christ. I cannot open enough communion cups correctly or incorrectly, I cannot guard my heart and mind, eyes and ears, body and soul enough, if I have not communion and communication with the Father of all Creation. I cannot strive enough to be part of the body in which Christ is the head. I cannot claw and grind and bleed enough to be accepted as the Beloved into His being perfected body.

And I cannot expect the body to be something it was not meant to be. The Church is not the Savior, the sustainer of intimacy or joy because it did not author Salvation. It is merely the vehicle of the faithful and unfaithful in which we coexist and are brought together because we are foolish and filled enough to believe the same thing. Other than that we are still the source of each others wounds, rejection and disregard and we choose to stay.

Finally, after enough friction, the plastic film came apart and I got to the wafer, stale and damp and I drank the cup, small as it was so there was nothing left. I stood up and sang and returned to my life of sinful behavior, poor attempts to love, with reminders of the past and some hope of progress, relationship with Jesus and a lot of the same things I bought into when I first believed.

Maybe it’s the same body I’ve always remembered.

Reconstructing a Crushed Spirit

In my 8th grade Social Studies class, I am teaching (talking to myself) about Reconstruction. It’s interesting how this period of American history still feels like a largely incomplete endeavor.

One slide in particular that stuck out was the ones defining the word reconstruction. I have not taken the time to think about the definition since starting this blog 10 years ago.

Reconstruction is defined as a thing that has been rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed, whether that is a country or an ideology of an American ideal or a person or victim of circumstance, the act of reconstruction seeks reparation.

US Congress could use Reconstruction-era civil rights powers to protect  black lives today

Another definition is: an impression, model, or re-enactment of a past event formed from available evidence. Some re-enactments are simply displays of what happened; some re-enactments seem to play out with similar consequence by recreating damage or destruction.

I find some semblance of evidence in my life for all the definitions included in reconstruction.

It might come as a surprise to you, but I am a rather sensitive person. I would not say I am saddened easily. I would say I am grieved by things longer and express my grief with greater intensity than most.

I would also suggest I am easily susceptible in getting stuck in cycles of hope and high expectations of individuals and institutions and become disillusioned by abuse and neglect. I’ve become especially sensitive to the way humans use and exploit others to achieve their own ends, whilst veiling an honest assessment of what has been done.

To be fair, I think some do this to avoid the reality of their choices so that they don’t have to take a step in making restitution. People love to gain power and wealth through exploitation and hope for a wave of the hand forgiveness. Or in some cases, individuals just want to construct a narrative where they are a hero and “good” despite how they’ve used others for their gain and prosperity.

They are led to believe that their confession is enough when what is in fact is required is restitution. And as a result they leave the oppressed without the very thing they’ve taken from them.

I’m a fan of exposing darkness to the light so damage can be healed. I’m also for tangible ways to restore relationship and to better the person who has been hurt.

What I’m finding is that humans are either ill equipped or unable to or simply refuse to make restitution. We rely on God, a miracle, or put our hope in a community that we pray will make a merciful or gracious judgment.

And if these things don’t come in the way we expect, we perhaps learn to become content in our present suffering. And I think that is a more realistic description of what a life led by Jesus looks like. We share in a suffering that does not steal our joy. Or to see it another way, we make a radical choice of joy amidst our suffering. I’d rather suffer with and for you than to be without you. That is the way of Jesus.

But to suffer by you or because of you may require less of my commitment and simply my forgiveness. Our forgiveness which is my responsibility for my own reconstruction might never yield restoration of relationship. Some things are not guaranteed. Jesus and Stephen can offer forgiveness to their murderers without guarantee that it will be received.

Reconstructing starts I think by not crushing yourself under the weight of holding onto anger bitterness and withholding forgiveness.

Freeing myself from the need for revenge or even from what I want allows me to rebuild with what I have. And that requires an assessment of what is left. And it might be with much less than you expected, but where else can we go if who we have in Christ is promised to be enough.

Letter to a Beautiful Woman

You Dear,

look like a friend from antiquity

the one in whom the seasons changed us more than they change themselves

I’m sorry I could not circumvent the grief we’ve shared and caused

Our rotation caused collision

and carried us further and further and further….

Kind Hearted Woman by Keelyart Paintings

and then away

I keep looking, staring really, passed the painful parts

the lovely parts too,

yet there is the image of your face floating in my hope

I’ve asked it to leave with you towards whatever boundary

you can run to without looking back.

Looking back

my affection for you became the trowel

digging away, grinding the roots of my insecurities

unconvinced that any hurt would wed itself to my identity

and I, helpless under your hand, try to shield myself from

the kindness, the unmatched countenance, the tenderness

to keep myself from whatever goodness would prevail in me.

I would fight you to the death instead of

laying down and dying

to the same result

just without rest.

I would fight for you but you’ve run a race

finishing at a line that was not the one

where I pray you into the place of choosing

and you carefree in your tears

attract an audience

with the songs, the sonnets, the sentiments

that the world (or at least mine) has signed its salutations

What’s Changed?

I’ve been asking the question lately, how much anger is too much anger? How much am I allowed to have that is considered righteous before it crosses into the mental murder that is sin? And how do things or people change? What causes them to subtly become different, less engaging, less or more caring?

Coming off the heels of the anniversary of the Reformation, which many laud as a great turning point of the Church, we can nostalgically assume this happened in such a way that Luther peacefully nailed something to a door and walked away to start a return to true and pure religion before God the Father. But Luther was pissed. Luther was angry about a lot of things he saw around him, some of which were not in the slightest helpful, some of them reformed the Church.

St. Augustine said that, “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

Some of us are so conditioned that anger is bad that any sign of it we just alert ourselves to the fact that anger is present and we ignore it and try to subdue it as quickly as possible so long as we are not actually confronted by what in fact might be wrong. Lying is wrong, coercion and using people is wrong, manipulating circumstances and people is wrong, exploiting church members to increase one or a few peoples wealth and status is wrong.

But if something is wrong and we allow ourselves to understand our anger rather than immediately quell a God-given emotion we might gain the courage to do something. We must do something with our anger. People say strength restrained is the definition of meekness. However, anger restrained may protect a persons sensibilities, but it might change nothing. People love to point to Jesus flipping tables in the temple. It’s a good story. Jesus is mad and he does something about it. He’s mad that people have turned a place of worship into a place of profit (In modern times we have found a way to make worship music itself profitable. It’s a strange world in which we live).

But sitting in and with anger can be dangerous. It can cause us to do the wrong thing. It can push us to a place where we destroy rather than transform or restore. Jesus’ anger sought to restore the temple to its proper place.

Peter got angry, or so I imagine, when he took a wild sword swing at someones head. This anger was less helpful seeing as he tried to kill someone.

But the other beautiful daughter is courage.

My roommate Caleb calls me the conduit of courage. I call him the conduit of joy. I carry around a cowardly lion notebook and have the cowardly lion action figure on my shelf that I bought in Portland as a souvenir of a time I went there. Why? To remind myself to be courageous. To take steps of faith and to hope in the midst of the perception of rejection. I have required courage to make many of the decisions I have made in my life.

I find it increasingly difficult to do so every time I take a step of faith and fall. But anger alone doesn’t bring us to the point of seeing things change. Courage is what is required to insure that things do not remain as they are.

Courage creates a catalyst for change. Some things need changing. Courage is required for change. Courage defined is the ability to do something that frightens one or strength in the face of pain or grief. The only way for courage to be present is to simultaneously coexist with fear, pain or grief. Quite honestly, when you are doing something right without fear, pain or grief you don’t need courage, you are merely being a self-aware human being.

It was said of Jesus that he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow, and he courageously stepped into rejection and disappointment among his own for the sake of love.

Love is having the courage to give up yourself, acting in the hope of a transformative good for the ones whom which you have deep affection.

What changes is choosing courage.

For When Your Head is Cut Off

Recalibrating.

Taking a deep breadth

becoming smaller, but hoping not to retreat so far inward that I’m unable to live free.

I feel I’m still trying to find my way back to some sort of stable center. The last time I wrote I had a fair amount of responses all supportive and seemingly filled with empathy.

Things can be both cathartic and filled with consequence.

And while I am not yet aware of any obvious consequence, they inevitably come.

People get defensive, have their own versions of their history and experience and futures.

In the gospel of Mark 6:14-29, Mark recounts John the Baptists beheading. It’s interesting because what prompts Marks retelling of the beheading is this assumption that John is raised from the dead and performing miracles. I’m not sure if there was precedent for this or folklore in which someone was raised from the dead before, but this is the mythology people believed.

Herod had John beheaded and believed John was raised from the dead and doing what Jesus was in fact doing. Then without much more commentary we pivot to how John was beheaded.

It was a story of John confronting Herod for marrying his brother’s wife which got him arrested leading to a sensual dance from Herod’s step daughter that leads to the request for John’s head. People in power hate to be confronted. But perhaps even more, as evidenced by this story, people associated with the people in power hate it even more (Looking at you Trump supporters *wink*).

We love creating heroes out of people who yield hard power, who are suave with manipulation.

In Mark’s account, it is clear who the villains and heroes are. The heroes come from the oppressed. The heroes plead the cause of the oppressed, the broken, the sinner. I’m just not sure that is happening in many churches. I see a lot of pleading the cause of the healthy and wealthy and put together.

But John was a locust, honey, sackcloth, ashes and not put together kind of guy. A forerunner. A man who died for the cause, for a cause that he even had his doubts about while he was in prison. He sent out disciples to find assurance that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messiah. He had moments of doubt from inside a prison cell, unable to tell if in fact he had prepared the way.

I think this is a lot of what prophetic ministry is, preparing the way with a humble uncertainty of whether or not I am right. I think it can devolve into some sentimental metaphors that become hard to comprehend or know what to do with. But John was clear in his message, “Look for and toward another (Jesus), and turn from your sin, humble yourselves, and get cleansed. He’s coming with the Spirit.”

He was clear about where the hope lies.

And he had to be because he lost his head.

And we hear nothing about the psyche of John leading up to that moment.

And I think that silence is good because there was nothing left to say. He prepared a way and then Jesus came.

One thing is certain for me after this last season. I need Jesus to come, by His Spirit and do something only He can do because I have come to the end of myself.