A Child and A Chalice

Usually, when I write, I start with some small spark, some small story or daydream, and then I title a piece and then I type it out — the proverbial cutting open of the vein, letting the words contained within the blood plink to the desk and sort of spread out until their meaning becomes clear.

Usually when I write there is a picture in my mind that I want to to give to you.

This weekend, away at school, was easier in some respects, and more difficult in others.

Today in the car, on the way home with my Cohort (which is the technical name given to a group of people like mine) I was nodding off. The sun was so warm, the patter of conversation in the backseat so soothing, to know that I was in this little Subaru cocoon, with these people I could disagree with and still love… I felt absolutely safe.

I treasure these hours between the center where we go for school and the parking lot where we meet up. We get to open up these small, paper wrapped boxes that we’ve been given over the weekend and discuss them.

I thought about repacking my drawer, and I thought about deconstruction.

The first thing I’ve put back into my drawer is love. Like a pressed flower, dried and papery between the pages of a book. This is a love I have experienced in varying forms all of my life.

I realized, in my nodding off way, that my drawer is still a mess. It’s a jumble, not a junk drawer exactly, but you get my meaning. There are not neat and orderly rows, there are jumbles of gold beads and shiny buttons, battered books and hair pins, photos with crinkled edges. There are the times that I talk to much, the times that I have too much to prove. There are the things that I know to be true, necessary items, and there are memories.

We had some very challenging theories this weekend, and I will admit, I did have a brief chat with my brother, because I needed to hear from someone that I know, and from someone who knows me, what is true.

In the tradition we grew up in we were to be on alert for false prophets, and I find that this is still true. I find that I haven’t become gullible, and that it takes me a long time to accept certain ideas. So I am realizing that I am in a state of constant disbelief, which is as tiring as it sounds.

The most challenging of all was that a loving God would not purposefully sacrifice His child.

Not for me and not for you.

The most challenging of all was that this was something that we could debate. This was something we could hold differing views on. How is this possible? This story on which the salvation story of the world hangs?

If He didn’t die on the cross for our sins, what did He die for?

And where is redemption found?

And what is the point?

What if it could have gone another way? What if Jesus chose this path, trusting fully in the ultimate redemption he would see?

We can choose to follow prophets who were not the Messiah, we can choose lives of service and devotion in another space, under another name. But to my knowledge there is only one prophet who was killed, descended to the dead, and then rose again.

In recent human history it seems like many stories are redemptive, many stories are allegorical or metaphorical Jesus stories. You have the Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia, even Harry Potter.

These are stories of sacrificial love and how people are somehow redeemed because of it.

We have all this music, are you washed in the blood, in the soul cleansing blood of the lamb? Jesus lamb of God, have mercy on us, the lamb that once was slain…

We discussed how our perceptions of God are different. Some people have a loving and beneficent God. And I am almost confident in not being labeled a heretic and run out-of-town tarred and feather to say that I don’t think that we can comprehend how God loves.

I wondered if the character of Aslan the lion in the Narnia series, who somehow is the embodiment of the trinity, who bares his furry maize colored chest to the witch on the stone table… if that tells us something about the trinity. Did God really send His son to die, or did He die himself?

It had not occurred to me that there was any other way to think about this.

At the time I thought I was ok, now I feel a little, ok, a lot, rocked.

But I am also firm in my conviction.

The God that I serve is not our definition of a loving being. The God that I serve brought a flood, he turned a woman to a pillar of salt because she looked backward at her sin. It reminds me of a favorite song where the singer says she doesn’t  know how she came to be at the feet of some dark deity no one ever told her about.

The late Rich Mullins talks about the “reckless, raging fury we call the love of God”.

We are a people with blood on our hands.

The blood of our ancestors, of slaves of every kind, the blood of Christ.

We slice ourselves open with kitchen knives and stubborn nails and badly placed hammers.

We slice ourselves open when we birth babies and they are pulled, wailing and still connected to us by a slimy and bloody cord, from the bloody interior of our bodies.

We maim and we kill, many times in the name of God.

We have sticky blood in the crevices of our palms, in the spaces between our fingers.

So I don’t, really don’t, believe that the God we serve loves in the same capacity that we do.

And it is not mind-blowing to me to believe that Jesus died to redeem the world, because He was human and God at the same time. And that that work of redemption falls now to us.

The love of God is a fierce and a terrible thing.

We talked about Father Dan drinking water from the Flint River in front of his congregation, water that is so contaminated that it contains fecal bacteria and lead.

We talked about Undie Sundays, where underwear are brought in to give to kids and food for pantries and drives put on the altar with the bread and the wine and the offering and blessed.

The Arch Deacon told a story about a woman with a crying baby, and people giving her dirty looks during church, how the woman left and the deacon chased her out and asked her to come back. How she refused, but somehow, inexplicably, trusted the deacon with her child. How the table was set that Sunday by a deacon with a baby on her hip. Because we need deacons who are fierce and unafraid and able to balance a child and a chalice.

We don’t like to think of Christ this way, as a baby on the hip of a woman who was herself living on the margins. We don’t like to think of all the babies on all the hips in all the world who are crying out in hunger or sickness. The need is too great.

It is better to, as Stephen King would say, to  “turn from all we know and fear. We study catalogues, watch football games, choose Sprint over AT&T. We count the birds in the sky and will not turn from the window when we hear the footsteps behind us as something comes up the hall….”

But we have to start somewhere.

And we talked about how it is to be in a community where you can be an individual but still in community, to not have to be told to conform.

I see an aerial view of a woodland and a meadow.

Some of us are in the woods. We have slogged through hip deep, dew-drenched ferns. We have turned ankles on roots and slogged around and through swamps. We set up our camps in the evenings and we light our feeble and smoky fires.

Our fires manage to drive back the wild creatures in the wood. The ones who make the leaves crackle, who stalk us hungrily.

Others of us are in the meadow, where blue jays wheel and dive and screech, where the sun shines brightly. Others of us are scared of the woods.

Others of us have pitched camp in the meadow, where you can see the sunset and all around you, where there isn’t anything really scary.

I would invite you into the woods. We don’t have much, but we’re good company.

We don’t have the answers, but we are seeking.

We can’t fix the world all by ourselves, we need you.

We need you to become bloody. We need you to drink that Flint River water, we want to wade with you into its depths.

Love is sacrificial, it truly is. Love is laying down your life for others. Love is laying down your life for the one who laid down His life for you.

Love is setting the table, with the paten and the chalice, arranging the bread and the wine and the offerings, hearing the choir sing an anthem that you maybe think is terrible but heartfelt nonetheless. Love is doing this with a child who was told he was not wanted on your hip, as a living symbol to hierarchy and privilege.

Love is the blood that won’t come out from under my fingernails, the harmony that a choir can sing, a community made of individuals.

This is a lot. And somehow it’s only the surface.

I love you still.

I see things, that’s all. Write enough stories and every shadow on the floor looks like a footprint; every line in the dirt like a secret message. 

 

 

 

 

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