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Tag Archives: Unapologetic

A Wanderer’s Rest and Reflection in the Moment Between Grief and Joy

From last year, a favorite.

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Holy Saturday is a pause. It is the narrator of a tragic tale silently waiting on stage refusing to leave. And the Christian watchers have already had the ending spoiled for them. At the Episcopalian service that I attended last night, the liturgical service ends in silence. We were to leave the sanctuary dark like a tomb, but stilled and at peace. The effect was diminished somewhat by parishioners chatting gaily upon entering the vestibule. It was the first time in a long time I felt I belonged, if only for now.

Allow me to recap the end of my conversion story. It has been a long time since I’ve been to church. I mean sure, there have been the stop-offs at an Easter Vigil here and there. (Say what you will about the Catholics, and I have, they know their ritual). And there are the funerals and the weddings…

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A Wanderer’s Rest and Reflection in the Moment Between Grief and Joy

Holy Saturday is a pause. It is the narrator of a tragic tale silently waiting on stage refusing to leave. And the Christian watchers have already had the ending spoiled for them. At the Episcopalian service that I attended last night, the liturgical service ends in silence. We were to leave the sanctuary dark like a tomb, but stilled and at peace. The effect was diminished somewhat by parishioners chatting gaily upon entering the vestibule. It was the first time in a long time I felt I belonged, if only for now.

Allow me to recap the end of my conversion story. It has been a long time since I’ve been to church. I mean sure, there have been the stop-offs at an Easter Vigil here and there. (Say what you will about the Catholics, and I have, they know their ritual). And there are the funerals and the weddings, including my own religiousish ceremony. But I’ve resisted going back to church for a long time. The last church I got close to “belonging” to disintegrated and in a way I felt relieved. I took a long hard look at myself and I didn’t like what had happened to me there. So I wandered out. My Christianity became, is, always was that of a wanderer through the scrub. I followed the work, or the flock or the mirages. I may enjoy the temporary hospitality of churches and fellow believers, and I must share what I can in return. I named it, I now call it, had always sensed it was, Christian Nomadism.

Last night, I went to church for the first time in a long time with the hope, the intent of resting for a while. Christian Nomadism isn’t meant to be a denomination. It is both a temporal state of being actively unchurched and a disposition in relation to Christ, whether in church or out of it. And it is meant to keep me searching not just staying away. I’ve long reached the point where the trauma from the last church has faded and I’ve been selfishly keeping myself away from the Body of Christ, my brother and sisters in the ecclesia for too long.

Folks, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Body is in some trouble and the ecclesia is not getting along well with itself. For a bunch of people convinced that on a tomorrow long ago a dead man broke death with love and in a very literal sense lives on, not in but as us (but also outside in the nonplace where there is no outside or inside) you would think that… well I’m not sure. But you’d expect it to be better right?

Well. No. Maybe not. Maybe we’re just that much more aware of sin. To riff on Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s riff on Francis Spufford’s reimagining of original sin, Christians are supposed to be specially aware of that Human Propensity to Fuck Things up Because We Like It. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Because we think we deserve it, whether riches or punishment. We are the reason that we can’t have nice things. You can be “good without God”, says the atheist placard. Well, we think we have God, and we’re still not very good at being good for any length of time. Maybe they should have a sign “It has been 57 days since our last fuck up.” Our signs read 0.

Imagine that group, that team of losers, that International League of the Guilty, that endless meeting of Fuck-ups Unanonymous, if the story ended on Saturday. There was a preacher, he preached, he was crucified as an example to all others who might challenge the Powers, he died, and now we’re really quite sad, but live on following the teaching of our great moral teacher.

Jesus wasn’t a great moral teacher. He was a lunatic. Jessica Kantrowitz at Ten Thousand Places has a useful reminder:

What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? But Jesus is not worried about any of that:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also,” he said. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
[…]
If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two.

Christians, our Jesus said to not only follow the law, but to rise to a higher standard of love. Christians should be the FIRST people baking cakes — for everyone who asks us. We should be known for our cake baking. People should be saying, “There go those crazy Christians again, baking cakes for everyone. They just won’t quit!” Then, when we share the reason for our wild, all-inclusive love, people will want to hear it. “Let your light shine before others,” said Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

But, but, don’t we hate the sin and love the sinner? No. You can’t hate “the sin” in Christianity and be right with God. You can, at the very most, have a stringent disagreement with sin. You can lament sin. You can identify something as sinful. You can get into vociferous debate about the degree to which sin is corrupting our government and laws. But fingering “the sin” or “a sin” doesn’t work, and hating it definitely doesn’t work, even if you promise to love “the sinner”. Hating the sin and loving the sinners is the sort of thing great moral teachers tell you to do, probably after mellowing out with some great weed, man. It’s the careful virtue of righteous comity. Francis Spufford reminded us about this in Unapologetic. “God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.”

I’ve been out of church because I wanted to preserve my virtue from the evils of groupthink, of reactionary bigotry, and of the mind-numbing jargon of Christian religion. Well that’s not right. That’s sin too. That’s fucking up by being afraid of fucking up.

Holy Saturday is a pause. A moment I take now for reflection and commitment. Easter is coming.

Good Friday and Passover

Good Friday happens to fall on the day preceding the first night of Passover this year. That makes it a good time to remind everyone that Christian Church is, in Francis Spufford’s words, “The International League of the Guilty”.

Good Friday should be the day should be the day of all days in the Christian year when we are ashamed of even our tiniest and most necessary cruelties — seeing before us the image of their consequences. But instead, grotesquely, it was often the day for pogroms; a day of heightened emotions which could be resolved, for Christian mobs pouring out o of churches, into a search for Jews to kill. Then Easter was celebrated with smoke and screams and Christ re-crucified. The final catastrophe of European Jewry, in the twentieth century, wasn’t just powered by religious anti-Semitism, but it played its part. The is the greatest shame of Christian history; the most disgusting misapplication possible of the story of compassion unto death. My own church and most of the other mainstream branches of the universal ecclesia too, now insists that on Good Friday we all of us in the building shout out “Crucify him! Crucify him!,” to remind us whodunit, and that it wasn’t Them. – Francis Spufford, Unapologetic

Christianity is more than mere tribal affiliation, even of Christians themselves are often tribal. It is in fact, an idea that reaches beyond tribe and into universality. And we need to be reminded that in a particular time, in a particular place, each and every one of us finds ourselves consistently on the side of the angry crowd and of the high priests, with or without the Powers of the world pushing us along.

for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. – Matthew 25:42-45, NRSV translation

We can barely manage charity for the people we know and like. And we never recognize the face of the divine when it is right there in front of us. We are not with the apostles, and even if we were, the apostles weren’t with Jesus in the end either. As Jews celebrate Passover, in remembrance of their tribe’s liberation from slavery and bondage, we need to remember they needed to be liberated from people just like us. And we are doing it, to someone, somewhere, right now. We are doing it to Jesus.

Good Friday is the darkest part of the story. The hero is dead, and we killed him. Thank God Easter is coming in spite of us, and for us.

Unapologetic and the Mythteller’s Truth

I’m in the midst of slogging through Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic: Why , Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense while the wife and in-law’s cavort at the Magic Kingdom, spared from my heat-aggravated boredom-induced grouch. “To slog” is a verb I usually reserve for pieces of writing I dislike but find important or necessary to consume – sort of the media consumption equivalent of shlep. For Unapologetic, it is a verb I use to indicate both profound suffering before difficulty and profound gratitude before salvation (as the text has been reminding me, these emotions come together for the Christian). My pace through the book has been incredibly slow because it is overwhelmingly good. Not a chapter has gone past without me needing to put the book down to let myself pause and digest.

Easily my favorite thing about Unapologetic is also my favorite thing about Christianity, because Spufford isn’t writing about Christianity, not really. Christianity, world religion has not yet made a significant appearance thus far in my read, and I do not expect it to. Neither has Christianity, Christmas-to-Easter-to-Pentecost narrative, although I’m sure that will come up. No, Spufford has been telling me the better Christian story, the age-old one about people, you, me, the not-quite-best of us  and the not-quite-worst of us. This, really, is the truth (both capitalized ‘T’ and uncapitalized ‘t’ versions of the word) that moves me as a Christian, the exact same sort of truth that the great myths tell.

Christianity is by the most useful definitions of the words (both subject and object of this sentence) a myth, but it is one I believe to be true, just as I believe that the truest expression of human nature is heroic, as the Ancient Greek poets, saturday morning cartoons and George Lucas all described in the only way they could, in story. Empirical data, never mind the empirical sciences that have sprung up as our tools for discovering and understanding that data, belies my belief in love and heroism and I know it as well as you do. Humans in the world. This is why the sciences, why “realism” is an essentially flawed tool for describing reality – because though we are ape-cousins-in-the-world we are also more than that. What is real about life is more than just the world, it is, at the very least, our aspirations and our awe. I want to talk about the whole of humanity, a real vital thing, more than random preferences stacked on top of biology and biography. For that, we need art to tell us the stories, tainted mirrors that can show us our true reflections.

I’ve had more than a few rationalists in my life look at me with irritation when I talk about myth and truth like that. As if I’ve gone daft, dumb or have just pulled some sort of dastardly deception – a bait-and-switch, complete with nefarious cackling and Fu Manchu mustache. I’ve never really known how to properly explain it, any more than even the most literate of deep water fish could explain the sensation of the ocean. My religiosity is not half my age, but my embrace of stories is older than my memory. (Really, it is atheists that seem to manage capturing the sensation best – Aaron Sorkin and J. Michael Straczynski are two of the best writers I’ve ever read when it comes to religious themes and characters.) All I can do is hope that the incredulity and incuriosity do not escape the silo labeled “religion” in their mind. Stories will take them like a thief in the night, burglarizing the non-place of their heart-of-hearts whatever they say and do in the world. Or so I pray.

Of course, stories have villains too – and worse they have tragedies. (As the Ancient Greeks and Lucas know well). I’m not sure joy could mean anything without despair in theory, but I’m sure it doesn’t in the world. It is imperfections, trade-offs and absurdities that stories transfigure into archetypes so that we may understand them. I dislike quoting from Unapologetic because Spufford has written something that can nearly only be read in full, against even the most ruthless of minimalist editors digressions survive. I think I must however, leave you with this:

If you tell somebody that, as a decent person, they cannot have done anything questionable, you may mean to be nice, but you are in reality denying them sympathy. You are refusing to go to them where they are, you are declining to join them in the emotion they are finding painful. Somebody who is accusing herself or himself of something may well be mistaken, factually or morally, in that particular instance; but not because they are incapable of wrongdoing. No one is incapable of wrongdoing, and we have to be allowed our capacity for HPtFtU if we are to have our full stature. Taking the things people do wrong seriously is part of taking them seriously. It’s part of letting their actions have weight. It’s part of letting their actions be actions rather than just indifferent shopping choices; of letting their lives tell a life-story, with consequences, and losses, and gains, rather than just be a flurry of events. It’s part of letting them be real enough to be worth loving, rather than just attractive or glamorous or pretty or charismatic or cool.

As with any man, it goes with Men.