A Eulogy In-Between // All Saint’s Sunday

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a

Gospel Reading: John 11:32-44

Greetings in Christ to you, dear people of God, on this especially humbling All Saint’s Sunday,

 . . . This week I found myself thinking back to a day a couple of years ago, when I was a live-in assistant at a community for dis-abled adults in Argentina called El Arca. The oldest member of our family was a seventy-two-year-old man named Osvaldo, Osvi for short. One part of our daily routine at the home was a period of rest after lunch, followed by afternoon tea. So each day, after a very welcome nap, we assistants would get everyone up for the meal. 

Many afternoons when I went to wake Osvi, he would already be out of bed, singing, laughing, or working at his desk, in a bedroom which was covered entirely with the blue and gold of his favorite futbol club. On this day though, he wasn’t up yet, so I knocked on his door and asked the customary “Permisso?” before entering.. I moved into the dark room, the shade still drawn over the window, and heard no response as I said, “Osvi.. Boquito mio.. Es tiempo para levantarse.. – Buddy.. It’s time to wake up..” Still hearing nothing, I clicked on the light to reveal that familiar room of blue and gold. Even the bedsheets and quilt bore the colors. Now, Osvi could be a hard sleeper sometimes, and I repeated the wake-up call as I moved closer to his bed. No response. As I got up next to him now, I furrowed my brow, and felt my stomach sink a little bit. Like I said, Osvi could be a hard sleeper, but man.. He was out today. On top of that, he has a very thin frame, and while sleeping he doesn’t have his dentures in, so his gaunt face looks even more so. What’s even worse is that his eyes don’t quite close when he sleeps, so he’s got these little slits of white for eyes, and now I panic for a moment. I can’t see any movement of his chest. I shake his shoulder a bit, saying, “Osvaldo?? Osvi, Che – es tiempo para levantar – Bud. It’s time to get up.” I shake him again, a little harder now, definitely panicking and suddenly feeling really sweaty. And just as I am about to call out to one of the other assistants in full panic, I hear an “Ahhhhhhhhhhh..” as Osvi lets out a sigh and rolls over, sluggishly waking to the world. “Ay, por DIOS – good GOD”, I remember saying, and storming out of the room to laugh off my remaining fear to one of the other assistants. 

Now, Osvi’s little Lazarus moment ultimately gave us all a good laugh that afternoon, and another chuckle to me as I thought back on it this week. However, in our readings for today, it’s not laughing, but tears.. that we find again and again throughout the scriptures. . . . Yet, they’re also mixed with words like “rejoice” and “be glad.” What a strange day isn’t it? All Saint’s Day? This mix of life and death, sadness and joy. I suppose that’s what you get when you add in a reading from the book of Revelation though, huh? You know, a funny thing about Revelation is that in Spanish bibles it’s known by another name: “apocalipsis”. Love that. Nothing says “Good News” like ending the Bible with the apocalypse. But that word, “apocalypse”, which seems to come up all too often in news and conversation nowadays has a very different meaning in the biblical sense. It comes from a Greek word which means to peel back a layer, to reveal what lies beneath. It’s partly from that “reveal” that we get our English name for the book – “revelation”. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of language throughout apocalyptic literature on the end of the world, that’s true, but it’s much more about revealing a new way of seeing things. About showing a deeper meaning hidden within what we thought we understood. It can be a comforting thing, right? To hear a deeper meaning in the midst of a world that on the surface is often so full of fear and pain. A world which right now groans against the burden of climate change. Against this continued pandemic. Against another year of losing those dear to us. Apocalyptic literature like we read in Isaiah and Revelation was intended to be a comfort for ancient peoples, and for us too – stories of a God working beneath and within all that to bring about our salvation. To “destroy . . . the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; [that God] will swallow up death forever.” That’s the whole thing behind the Messiah right? That our God would save us, God’s own people, from the unbelievable brokenness of our own messiness.  

The question often on my mind for the last eighteen months then, is so what the heck happened? We’re supposed to be the people of God founded in this community in Christ, right? Where new life has broken into the old world. And maybe like some of you, after the first year of the pandemic had passed, and as the vaccine rollout began, I was starting to feel like maybe this was possible; that our rescue and salvation were close at hand – my aging family members were finally fully vaccinated, and my own first dose was on the calendar. 

Then, on the week of my birthday last April.. even as my own arm was still sore from the shot, I received a WhatsApp message from Flor, one of the Argentinian assistants at El Arca. A number of folx in the community – despite an abundance of care, had finally tested positive. Osvi was one of them. Even before I got to the part of the message saying he had been hospitalized, I knew that the outlook wouldn’t be good. For someone as old and weak as Osvi was, the best practice was prevention, not treatment. As is often the case when hardship arrives, I prayed more that week than I had in months. Monday came and went with a blur of emotions amidst my normal classes. On Tuesday we got another text from Flor – Osvi’s condition had worsened. I remember praying that he would see his own birthday on that Wednesday. His was that same week, only two days before my own. The day came and went. And then Thursday morning on the 15th of April, the news came. Though with the help of a ventilator, Osvi had made it to seventy-three, and then passed in the early hours of the next morning. . . . 

“‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” 

. . . Or so we are told Mary said. “Where is the God of Isaiah now?”, I imagine she wondered. Where is the, quote “LORD for whom we have waited”, unquote? I imagine many of us have felt that. Over the last two years, or in some other part of our lives. God knows . . . that I felt it that week this past April, and many times since . . . We’re told that when Jesus heard and saw this grieving for Lazarus, that he was “greatly disturbed”. But a truer translation might be that he felt anger. Some scholars have said that it was an anger at those around him for their lack of faith, but one of my professors this week offered a different understanding. What if Jesus was angry at death? At disease and sickness and the unfairness of it all? . . . Now, the “four days” mentioned in the Gospel text are important – Jews believed the soul of a person remained around the body for three days before leaving to the heavenly realms. It was on the day when the miracle should have no longer been possible, the fourth, that Lazarus was resurrected. And as miraculous as it is, it wasn’t exactly the be-all-end-all, was it? Lazarus wasn’t raised immortal – we can’t find him in some market in Jerusalem today to ask him how it happened. He had to die again. Jesus’s “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” was offered to Mary not just as a promise of the now, but also of the future. The Apostle Paul says that we Christians are an “already, and not yet” people. And I wish with all my might that I could make sense of this “already and not yet” sort of day, but I can’t. Except to point us again towards the Christ, both above us and within our midst. 

If I had to point to one person in my life who best exemplified Jesus’s joy, it would undoubtedly be Osvi. Never have I known a person to live in such genuine gladness – and the hundreds of other people who have met him would say exactly the same. Christ’s own face shone in the grin of that bent and fragile man – who, at the sight of a friend or neighbor, would often smile so broadly that his dentures popped right out of his mouth. Since Osvi’s death, I have found myself more than once struck with the thought of him setting his eyes on Jesus for the first time. I’ve said more than once now, that while I don’t imagine there are dentures in heaven, I’d give a lot just to see how far they’d fly as he rushed to embrace the Messiah.  That is the bitter-sweetness of All Saint’s, dear people of God – knowing those we love are both present and apart from us, until the kin-dom of God comes crashing back into Creation. In the midst of the evil in this strange between-time, we are to look not just at, but for the Christ present in our neighbor, however hidden that Christ may seem, even as we cling to the promise of how the story will end. . . “God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away . . . ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.’”

Amen and Amen

Photo Credit: Flor Carabajal

In peace to you and to all whom we remember on this day,

Eric

In the Midst of the Messiness

First Reading: Genesis 2: 18-24

Psalm 8

Gospel: Mark 10: 2-16

For the moment, let’s put a pin in all that adultery talk and come back round to it after bit. Last summer, after spending the first 8 months or so of the pandemic quite isolated from everyone and everything else, my friend Jacob, the executive director of a camp where I was working at the time, came to the staff with quite the treat. There was a man we’ll call Isaac, who had a relationship with Jacob through a hunting outfitter. It turns out Isaac had offered an invitation to Jacob and our summer staff to come and stay with him for a few days on his property. That “property” turned out to be 11,000 acres of land along a mountain valley in the front range of the Rockies. We were absolutely floored. More than that though, probably because of the combination of the isolation and endless routine resulting from the pandemic, we really knew what a gift it was to do something like this. So many of the experiences on that trip are still deeply holy to me. The Psalmist this week certainly seems to share in my wonder at the majesty we’re blessed to find in the natural world sometimes. 

My most profound memory of that week, though, was actually our last evening on Isaac’s property. We were all inside the kitchen of the tiny, century-old inn that served as the ranch-house, preparing dinner, when Isaac pulled up and said, “Everybody come on. Get in the truck. I want to show you something.” We told him, “Dinner will be ready any minute.” And then Isaac said calmly but sternly, “Turn off the oven. It’ll be fine till we get back.” Now Isaac was an imposing guy – middle aged, strong-bodied, tall, and though he was quiet, he had a power to his voice that, even after only a few words, you knew to take seriously. So we piled into Isaac’s pickup, finding some buckets and a big bag of feed pellets as we did so, and started rolling down the valley towards the front of the ranch. Isaac – with orchestral music, no less, playing over the Ford F-250’s radio – tells us that we’re going to be hand feeding the herd of cattle he just brought into pasture for the night. As we round a bend, and the cattle come into view, Isaac cuts the engine and we roll quietly to a stop. Fast forward five minutes, and here’s the scene: 

The wet grass, the cattle, and the crisp mountain air filled our noses. A few of us, buckets in hand – rattling with the sound of some feed, are on our knees, making our way knee-step by knee-step through the tall grass of the pasture. The cattle, bells clanking lightly round their necks, aren’t all that used to people, and so are skittish – clearly wanting the food, but hesitating to get too close. So as we encourage an animal or two at a time, we talk in low, calm voices – the cool grass wet with dew brushing our clothes, the humidity condensing out of our collective breath into wisps of fog all along the valley. The sound of a slight breeze filled the air, rustling through the grass and off away into the tree branches on the valley slopes. The soft clomp of the cattle’s feet, and the quiet burble of the stream can be heard running along the center of the pasture. And all of this is seen through the deep purple veil of those last few minutes of daylight, as the sun, long hidden by the mountain peaks, drew nighttime over the whole valley.  

Now, just as I am getting within arm’s reach of the first animal, I feel my right knee go into something soft, and quite wet, and very very warm. But the bull’s neck is craned, his nose nearly to my hand now – I don’t have time to think about whatever it is I’ve just kneeled in. So I move one last, small step towards him as the bull timidly takes the pellets from my hand. His nose is soft and cool on my palm, but that quickly gives way to the warm and very slimy tongue that I feel against my fingers. As I ease the pellets into his mouth and pull my hand back to move to the bucket for more, his large flat teeth rasp against my knuckles. The tension has been broken now, the other cattle, seeing things are safe, are won over by their eagerness for food, and so over the next few minutes we all empty our buckets, handful by handful, into the wet and rough and slimy mouths of these beautiful creatures. 

It really was an incredible experience – certainly the closest thing to a St. Francis moment I’ve ever had. But romantic as it might seem in my telling, it wasn’t a “petting zoo” experience, was it? By the end of it my knuckles were raw, my back was sore, both of my knees were covered in… freshly digested grass… Yet, in that moment I felt more firmly connected to God’s presence than I had in the eight months before and the fourteen since. Why?  

Throughout all of our readings today, we hear words pondering the nature of intentional and Godly relationship. Relationship between humankind and Creation, relationship between humankind and God, and relationship between human beings. What does that mean for us? Maybe some of you spent more time intentionally outside over the past year. Many of you likely spent more time with some of your loved ones. Maybe what felt like too much time with some of your loved ones. (pause) Maybe some of you were kept from spending time with your loved ones, or harder still, lost someone dear to you. Maybe the pets and animals around us helped lift you up when the people of the world were too much, or too far away. Our readings speak of relationship, because relationship is the foundation of what it is to be created by God. 

However, to be in relationship is also a colossal challenge. It opens us up to the risk of pain and hardship. Of loss. God knows this. God knew in giving humanity free will in the garden that it meant risking sin breaking into the creation God had made. Yet God created anyway, and indeed we see in Christ just how far God would go to restore the relationship we had broken. To take on relationship is to pour love into a central part of ourselves and others. Something that connects us to everything around us. Perhaps that’s one reason for why Jesus emphasizes marriage so bluntly in our Gospel text; that the emphasis isn’t on the laws or the “cans” and “can’ts”, but the love between the people. That still leaves many unanswered questions though, I admit – questions not easily answered. I myself am a child of divorce. I have dear friends who have heard this text used to further ensnare those already trapped in abusive relationship. Yet note that strangely the gospel ends, not in critique, but in the blessing of children. I believe that to wrestle with the text is important, and quintessentially Lutheran. Quintessentially human too, I’d argue. Take Isaac, for example. The first night we arrived at his ranch, after all the other staff had gone to bed, Jacob and I were sitting with him around a campfire. 

To our surprise and horror, he told us of the necessary reality of disease – that he doubted the severity of this novel coronavirus, and that, in any case, pandemics were a part of life; sometimes they happen, and sometimes people die. Now I would learn in time that Isaac had experienced profound loss and pain, which might have encouraged him to think with such cold logic. That said, there is no excuse for his words – and I still wrestle with them from time to time. However, his wisdom also brought us to the valley that night, to the cattle, to rooting ourselves in the creation from which we came, not ignoring the crap on our knees or our red knuckles, but tentatively reaching out to another, again and again – that we might find God in the midst of that messiness. May God continue to bind us together in relationship and in love as we navigate that mystery. Amen

This sermon was recorded this past Sunday during worship at Irving Park Lutheran Church. If you would like to watch the recording of the message, you can go to this link, time-stamped at 20:04:

https://youtu.be/AZ-orsoSW3c?t=1204

Fair warning – the audio quality is less than ideal.



In Grace and Peace,


Eric

A Eulogy That Shouldn’t Have to Be

When last January, it became clear that the novel coronavirus was going to change our lives and our world, five grandparents quickly came to my mind. One lives in Wamego, KS, two more in Paducah, KY, one in Appleton, WI, and the last, a continent away in Buenos Aires.

In many ways, I am blessed to have made it so far having lost so little. When last week I received my first vaccine, I nearly wept in the back of that Walgreens. But today I received a text I’ve been dreadfully fearful of, even though I had felt in recent days that the danger may finally have passed.

Osvi, amigo mio, no tengo las palabras para describir el impacto de tu vida. //

Osvi, my dear friend, I don’t have the words to describe the impact of your life.

En tu sonrisa, viva la alegria de Cristo. //

In your smile, lives the joy of Christ himself.

El hombre de mil amig@s. //

The man of a thousand friends.

Que descanses en paz. //

May you rest well.

The world contains a little less joy today, in the wake of your passing. I will spend the rest of my days treasuring the infinite good you managed to pour into Creation, in spite of incredible odds, but today I lament the loss of a family member who, like so many, was unjustly taken from this world by the evil of this pandemic.

Though God has prepared a new seat at the heavenly table, we have lost a seat at ours. I pray that your spirit and the Spirit Sophia will accompany us in this time of mourning and cherishing your memory.

Osvi, I suppose you won’t have your dentures in heaven, but the thought of them popping out when first you set eyes on Christ, el amigo tuyo, would be quite the sight. The bitterness of my tears is made sweeter at the thought. Perfect smile met with perfect smile.

I do not know why you had to go this way, but I find myself left with a small flame of faith, and the words of your dearest friend:

Creo en Dios, Creo en Dios
Como creo en la amistad y en el amor
Como creo en el camino
En el hombre en el destino
Más allá de todo creo en Dios

Creo en Dios, Creo en Dios
Como creo en la lluvia y en el sol
Como creo en la mañana,
En el viento, en la montaña
Más allá de todo creo en Dios

Yo creo en Dios
Más allá de mi alegría
Y también del dolor
Yo creo en Dios
Y no sé si muchas veces
Yo merezco su amor

Creo en Dios
Creo en Dios
Como creo en los hijos y en el sol
Como creo en el consuelo
En la tierra y en el cielo
Más allá de todo creo en Dios

I believe in God, I believe in God
Like I believe in friendship and in love
Like I believe in the journey
In the mankind in the finale
Beyond it all I believe in God

I believe in God, I believe in God
Like I believe in rain and in the Sun
Like I believe in the morning
In the wind, in the mountain
Beyond it all I believe in God

I believe in God
Beyond my joy
And also my pain
I believe in God
Though I don’t know if many times
I’m deserving of His love

I believe in God, I believe in God
Like I believe in the children and the Sun
Like I believe in the redemption
Of the earth and the heavens
Beyond it all I believe in God

To read more about Osvi, click the image above, which will take you to a piece I wrote two years ago, while still living at El Arca.

Until we meet again. //

Hasta la mañana, Boquito mio.

ESMA ~ EEUU // Worlds Collide

When folks first heard I’d be spending my year in Argentina, I, like so many of my YAGM siblings, received some worried looks. At least one person even asked me, “don’t they have a dictatorship?”

(No, they don’t.)

But there was a subtle fear that trickled out of the fabric around us before we left for our years of service that most of us volunteers likely haven’t forgotten. This worry and concern for the danger of anything foreign, while ignoring the danger amidst us, is such a common United States mentality. Matthew 7: 5 comes to mind in hindsight.

Now the reality is, back in the 1970s, Argentina did have a dictatorship. A military coup (Junta) took over the government, and what ensued left a scar on both Argentina and her people, one that endures to this day. Given political power to “annihilate” the left-wing political factions of the nation, armed government soldiers and police began assassinating, and kidnapping any person who opposed the current government. They were taken from their homes, from their work, from the streets, in unmarked vehicles by federal soldiers and police. What followed was a decade-long cycle of kidnapping, imprisonment, torture, and murder of between 15,000-30,000 political “dissidents” against the Junta.

The majority of these people were in their twenties and thirties – a political movement, a generation, cut off at the knees.

Each Thursday, the aging mothers of these desaparecidos (“disappeared”) children fill the plaza before the Casa Rosada, before the seat of government, and speak the names of their lost loved ones. As we watched them march one rainy August afternoon, now old, supported by others, hair white as the handkerchiefs which represent their movement, the feeling was one of confusion, sadness, disbelief.


Now I find myself, just two years later, reading of militarized police and federal soldiers taking young adults like myself off the street into unmarked cars. I watch videos of their friends fearfully asking what they’ve done, why this is happening. I watch soldiers beat a veteran of their own country down, for asking a question. I watch mothers stand in the street, arms linked together, protecting the young people behind. Some of these stolen people protest for equity – something our president calls “radical-left”, a movement he eagerly admits hoping to destroy. Others are simply going about their lives when they’re taken.

And I’m shocked. Sad. Scared. Because this is what my family, my friends, strangers, were worried might happen to myself and my YAGM peers as we lived, worked, put down roots all over the world. And yet so many now ignore the frightening reality of our home country. My heart has been heavy, in recent days, as this reality washes over me. When I think of Argentina, I think of warm empanadas and mate, given abundantly by people who owed me nothing, yet gave me so much love.

Brokenness and evil come from willing ignorance of people, not from their differences. I implore that we find the Christ in our neighbor, all across the lands and seas of a world which feels so large, and yet is such a fragile refuge in an ocean of stars. I pray that we wake up. I feel as though there is a storm on the horizon.

//

Ahora buscarme, solo dos años despues, leyendo de policía militarizada y soldados federales que estan abductando los jovenes en la calle y los poniendo en autos sin notificados. Ví videos de sus amigo@s con temor preguntando, “Qué hizo? Por qué es esto pasando?” Ví soldados del nacíon golpean excombatientes de la misma nacíon, solo porque los hizo una pregunta. Algun@s de estos desaparecid@s protestan por igualdad – una cosa que el presidente dice es del “izquierda-radical”, un movimiento político que el es re honesto que quiere destruir.

Y siento sorpresado. Triste. Tengo miedo. Porque esto es que mi familia, mis amig@s, extraños fueron preocupad@s que va a pasar a mi y mis amig@s de YAGM durante nuestr@s vidas, trabajos, y pusemos raízes a través de todo del mundo. Y a lo mismo tiempo no miramos al realidad que es pasando en nuestro paíz. Mi corazon es re pesado en estos dias, en el centro de este realidad. Cuando pienso de argentina, pienso de empanadas calientes y mate, da con generosidad de la gente que a mi tiene ningun deuda, y a lo mismo tiempo a mi dio tanto amor.

El quebrado y el mal viene de ignorancia conciente de gente, no de sus diferencias. Pido que buscamos El Cristo en el otro, en todos lados, a través del tierras y oceanos de un mundo enorme, pero a lo mismo tiempo es un mundo tanto pequeño en todo del espacio de este universo. Pido que despertarnos. Siento una tormenta en el horizonte.

Tormenta_Sunset

With fear for the past, and hope for the future,

Eric

 

The One About Anger // Volcan-Theology

On a sunny-but-cool spring morning in late April of 2017, myself and a couple dozen of my colleagues found ourselves slowly winding through the excavated streets of the Roman city of Pompeii, listening to our guide discuss various aspects of the history and culture that had been preserved in the ash of Mt. Vesuvius’ famous eruption nearly two-thousand years ago. As we turned down a small side street, I glanced to my left, and through the ruined stone of a long-since-forgotten structure, was met with the sweeping upward-curves of the volcano, framed perfectly by ancient walls. And in the foreground, growing from the dark soil that still filled the ruined plot, were the waving blooms of bright-red poppies. Struck by the symbolism, I lifted my camera, and twisting the lens into focus, snapped a picture.

A few hours later, I and a few of my friends would be panting heavily, our deep breaths matching the rhythm of loose stone crunching under our feet step-by-step, as we crested the final slope up onto the rim of Vesuvius itself. The warmth of the morning sun had not held out, and the grey sky above even elicited from us exclamations of alarm, as white flecks of ash fell lightly onto our faces, only for us to realize they were, in fact, snowflakes. With the mountain steaming quietly to my left, I hiked round to the far side of the caldera, and stood there in wonder, looking out onto the cities of Napoli and Torre del Greco, whose urban fabric tightly hugged the flanks of the mountain below, even as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum sat in their midst, warning quietly of threats yet to come.

Now this week, it was Wednesday night, and I was laying in bed. My eyes were focused upward onto the dark ceiling of my bedroom, as the tumult of the world around us again found itself raging within me. I’m sure many of you know the feeling by now. The burning uncertainty, the anxiety, the stress, so – much – stress, as the prayers I offer up to the Lord during the day don’t seem to be enough anymore to ease the frustration welling up within me. For someone who is so often emotional, I’ve been remarkably stone-faced over the past few months. And that has worried me. You see, I’m not an angry person. I’ve never been able to hold on to grudges, even when I’ve desperately wanted to. I tend flee from anger. But as this pandemic crisis continues, and as I witness the destruction it wreaks on so much that we hold dear, I’ve felt such fury, but then, before I can let the anger go, it will suddenly recede deep within me. Then, sometime later it will burst back upward, bubbling even higher and closer to my mouth, and then again, for some reason unable to escape, it will dive back down to the depths. I felt it well up suddenly this week as I read these words from our Psalm for the first time: “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us just as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid heavy burdens upon our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,” and then I reached the next few words: “but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.” And my anger fell back within me.

All across our planet, we find volcanoes, these stone vents for the power that still churns beneath Earth’s surface. I’ve always been fascinated with them, if my romanticizing Vesuvius wasn’t enough of a clue. In particular, I’m amazed at the way some mountains, like the Hawaiian Islands, or Mount Etna in Sicily, release magma fluidly and constantly, while others, like Vesuvius, or Mt. Saint Helen’s here in the United States, explode suddenly with incredible power. If you’ll humor my metaphor a bit further, I’ve learned over the years that the difference comes from the magma itself. Some liquid rock is very fluid, and hot, with little gas trapped within it, and so it spills out onto the surface, flowing as quickly and as far as gravity will take it. But the rock inside mountains like Vesuvius is different – it’s only slightly cooler, but much more gummy and plastic, and most importantly of all it’s full of trapped gases, so it sticks up beneath the mountain, clogging the vent, and building in pressure until the energy is so great that it bursts outward and upward, in whatever direction it can. Think of the “mentos” and coke experiment we often did as kids – the foam has to go somewhere.

So as I laid there in bed Wednesday night, my anger welling up within me, nearly bursting from my throat in a sound that, for my mother and sister’s sakes I’m glad didn’t erupt from me that night, I thought back onto a conversation from the young-adult study I’ve been a part of for the last eight weeks. Abide, the group is called, taken from the text in John just after our Gospel reading for this week. You see, I recalled that three weeks ago, our Abide groups spoke about the holiness of anger. And it was in that moment for me that everything clicked. You see, so often in the church, and especially I think, as Lutherans, we shy away from our anger. We are afraid to acknowledge that, as a God-given emotion, anger is holy. Anger is good. It certainly can manifest dangerously into hate, and wrath, but so too can any good thing be twisted by brokenness into a sinful thing. Good food into gluttony. Sexual pleasure into lust. But anger, in and of itself, is a blessed thing. This week we read in the Gospel of the Spirit, our Advocate. This Advocate is not arguing in our favor to God, but instead is God pouring God’s-self into us. Walking with us and filling us. Bestowing us with the Godly power we so desperately need to live out Christ’s example. This ancient energy does not come from without, but from within us. And it is powerful, bursting into the world from our hands and voices and bringing newness to the Earth.

When a volcano erupts, it’s the same transformative Spirit power of our planet bursting onto its surface. So often in the Western world, we view fire as evil, but so many cultures and native peoples, and certainly we Kansans, know that fire is a cleansing thing – necessary for the health of the prairie and the things that live upon it. It’s because we as humans try to manipulate that power, rather than celebrate it, that we often find ourselves in the path of its destruction. Look at Pentecost, which comes to us so soon. Fire is the Spirit, and the Spirit is fire. Christ understood that the time after his ascension would not be easy. You can feel the concern, love, and reassurance in his voice this week when we read “‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me”. Jesus knows the difficult trials ahead – a world which without Jesus’ physical body can often leave us feeling overwhelmed and forlorn. But Jesus goes on, saying to the disciples and to us, “but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” In the meanwhile, my dear siblings in Christ, I want to bless your anger. I want to bless my anger. Because yes, if we’re not careful it can level towns and take lives. But the beauty of anger is in its power to transform us. The beauty of our Earth’s volcanic spirit, is that from lava comes new life. The nutrients of that fresh ash and rock yield lush grapes for good wine.

And so I close with a question: Do you know why the poppies at Pompeii struck me so, blowing in that spring breeze years ago? Because the poppy also bloomed one hundred years earlier, at the end of the First World War. A time which saw more death and destruction and unhealthy wrath than perhaps any other in human history. A time which also brought a pandemic, one far worse than ours. And yet, from the churned-up soil of the battlefields of France, came a flower which bloomed so completely and fully, that whole fields and hillsides were covered in nothing but its blossoms. Amen

 

9PompeiPoppies

 

In anger, pursuing peace,

 

Eric

Indecision // Accompaniment // Emmaus

These last few weeks, I have been wrestling furiously with my own inaction. Because, as at least a few of you can sympathize, it seems like the longer that this pandemic carries on, the harder and harder it has become to do, well… anything. Getting up at the normal time, brushing my teeth and showering, devotions, emails, sermon writing, all of it. Bit by bit, week by week, I have felt my energy draining lower – and lower – and lower… Until this week, when even the core parts of my daily routine and self-care, things that bring me enjoyment, even they began to lose their lift on my spirit.

All the while, the world raced on around me, as we all fight to overcome this virus. This pandemic, which has taken so much from us. And I felt angry – I felt angry that I didn’t know what to do. That I could see injustice and brokenness in the world welling up to the surface in so many black geysers, and yet I felt I had no strength to fight. Now for me, this has been really really hard. Because the biggest revelation in my faith over the last year or so, has been that evil thrives when others are apathetic, and do nothing. And so my brain, my greatest ally, and also my greatest enemy, has been criticizing myself endlessly for not doing enough, for not saying enough, for not being enough. But then this week, as I began to drag my feet again through Sunday or Monday, or maybe it was Tuesday? (let’s be honest, how many of us even keep track of the days of the week anymore?). Well it was sometime early this week, that I stumbled across a realization while digging into our texts – I was struck by a sudden and powerful sense of fellowship with these two disciples on the road.

Over the last couple of years, this Road to Emmaus passage from Luke has become a mainstay in my life. It’s through this story that our Latin American siblings brought the message of “accompaniment” to our church, a message which now serves as the cornerstone of our Global Mission in the ELCA, and it is from this story that the spirit of the YAGM program was born. So of course, I’m going to be a little biased towards it, but the reason that I so love this text is because, until the very end of the story, God’s presence feels all but nonexistent. Now of course for us readers, this text couldn’t be more full of God’s movement among us, but for these two disciples, for Cleopas and his friend, they are feeling as though they are walking alone. Their journey, is the after-Easter slump, but without the Easter. Though I can’t know for sure, I imagine their movements were somewhat sluggish, trudging along, discussing, questioning, lamenting. Their teacher, the one they had hoped was their Messiah, their friend, he was dead, dead and now also missing. The story was over, so it was time to go home.

However, we soon see that while on the way, the resurrected Jesus himself comes among them. The one person these two people would have most wanted, most needed to see. But for some reason, Jesus hides his identity from the disciples, and for a long time while I was growing up, that bothered me about this story. Why would Jesus do that? Pretend to be someone else, so that his sad and grieving friends wouldn’t immediately get to experience the joy of the resurrection. At one point I wondered if Jesus does this just so that he can lecture the disciples on their lack of faith. That really bothered me. At another time I wondered if it was just so Jesus could have a bigger “Taadaa!” moment later. That bothered me too. But then during YAGM’s placement event, a pastor spoke on this text, and placed it in a new light for me. Jesus comes to these disciples through a person they do not expect, gives them deeper knowledge and understanding of God’s loving plan for our world, and in the end God’s holy presence is only revealed to them through the breaking of bread with this, a stranger. You might start to understand how global mission would tie into that message, and if not, that’s okay, though it’ll have to wait for another sermon.

So, this week when I first read through these texts, I originally was met again with God’s loving presence in the face of those I do not expect. But as I read and reread the Gospel lesson, the new meaning that embraced me this week, from looking into this text in the midst of this pandemic, was Christ’s meeting his disciples in the midst of their grief, and their confusion. At Jesus’ asking about their conversation, they stop moving, still and sad, and pour out their lament to this stranger. What struck me particularly this time round were their words: “But we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” I could ask you all what hopes and dreams of our own have fallen to the wayside recently. Vacations, athletic tournaments, graduations, proms, weddings, time with friends, time with family? This is what so gripped me this week. That Jesus comes to his disciples, though they have lost faith, though they have missed the point, and just listens to them. Walks with them in their uncertainty and their doubt. And then with a strange sort of loving-scorn, that feels a bit like a parent who kneels down with open arms towards their upset child and says, “Oh for heaven’s sake, come here” Jesus offers them yet another explanation of his teachings, just to help them get it.

These disciples missed the signs Jesus had left, telling them he had risen. The signs in the scriptures, and their disbelief at the women’s words from the angel. These disciples were human; how many of us are likely to behave any differently than they had? The world we live in has a way of eating away at faith and hope – sin and brokenness are so very powerful that way. However, God comes to us, in the midst of our worrying or our fear, and listens to us. In Psalm one hundred and sixteen we read this week that God “inclined his ear to me”. How loving. How intimate. That our God would lower God’s-self to hear us, and that each time we fall lower to the ground, God comes closer to us still, even to Earth as one of us, even to die as one of us. This has been the great comfort for me this week, as we continue on in the midst of this draining time.

My mental health, which is so often a gift, has also so often broken me down these last few weeks. Anxiety preventing my uncertain hands from confidently doing the simplest of things. Yet God comes to me, to all of us, always encouraging us to do more, but also always offering grace and love, when we say “today, Lord, I can’t”. The resurrection message for us this week is a constant and eternal outpouring of grace amid the brokenness that grips this world. God’s quiet roadside message of, “I love you. And I walk with you. In all that you do, and all that you cannot. But when you again find the strength to walk further down the road, I will lift you up, and I will joyously pour my love and wisdom into you, my dearest ones. And at journey’s end, in the breaking of the bread, you will see my face, and know that death is but temporary, for through me eternal life has come to all.” Amen

RoadCapital

 

In peace, here and on the road,

Eric

The Cornerstone // The Christ

1st Reading :: Acts 10: 34 – 43

Psalm 118: 1 – 2, 14 – 24

2nd Reading :: Colossians 3: 1 – 4

Gospel :: Matthew 28: 1 – 10

Almost everything about Easter has felt wrong to me this year. I mean, yes, work in congregational ministry inherently means that Holy Week will feel different than it did before we were the one in the pulpit or at an organ console; we understand that leaving the pew behind is part of the job, and that the shift from laity to clergy (and yes I know I’m a long way yet from ordination) also comes with some wonderful new additions to our faith. But this year… This year is different.

It’s not just that prerecording services means I don’t get to wait until Saturday to actually write my sermon (let’s be honest – I definitely take a leaf or two from Pastor Kristin’s book), no. The difference was decorating the sanctuary for Easter two weeks early to record a favorite hymn, in case we weren’t able to leave our homes this morning. It was recording Good Friday service, and then going home to find my family joyfully cooking together the day before Palm Sunday. It’s the preaching of an Easter sermon to an empty room. I ran across a Tweet this week from the Reverend Dr. Emily Heath, who said, “The first Easter didn’t happen at a church. It happened outside an empty tomb, while all the disciples were sequestered in a home, grief stricken and wondering what was going on. So we’re going to be keeping things pretty Biblical this Easter.” And that Tweet, those couple of sentences, they hit on a chunk of reality that I’ve been chewing on these last few weeks. Because all of the rapid jumping around, from Lent to Easter, back to Lent, to Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, and then back to Palm Sunday. It’s been pounding all these different chapters of the Passion into my head in new and strange combinations. What’s more, we find this pandemic exposing many deeper secrets and truths that we, our nation, and our world have long attempted to hide within ourselves. Really, to me, that there is the Passion of Jesus Christ: our deepest secrets and truths laid bare, while we sit at home – grieving, isolated.

You know, at K-State, when I was studying architecture, there was one thing that came up again and again. We heard it as we began our first week of freshman design studio, and kept hearing it all the way through to the end of our thesis designs five years later: you’re never done designing. It’s a common idea in many professions I think, and we students began to understand its truth pretty quickly. The design process up to the final production of your project is an endless sink of creative energy – a bit like a black hole, to be honest. You can pour and pour and pour yourself into your idea, and it can grow and shift and change, but there’s always more to do. The thing was though, that we kept getting into the habit of saying “alright, my design is done” when the time came to build final models, or to sit down for critiques. Now this was much to the delight of our waiting professors, because they could sniff out that “finished design” mentality a mile away, and they were always ready to let – you – have it.

So what am I getting at here? After all, Jesus’ last words from the cross on Friday were literally “it is finished”. Why bring up this whole “the work is never done” idea, and ask all these questions when God seems to have already given us the answer through Christ’s life, death, and now joyful resurrection? Stick with me.

Because on the one hand, Easter really does mark an endpoint for the Creator’s whole plan of deliverance. God’s covenant with Abraham, the safe passage of the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, in and out of exile – God’s people seem to have experienced every possible twist and turn to finally reach this point: their Messiah who has finally come into the world, and saved it from sin through his death and resurrection on this, Easter Sunday. And see that’s the thing – In many regards, God’s work is done. The tomb is empty. The body is raised. Death has no enduring power, and we are once again brought back into the fold, the flock, the kingdom. But the thing is, on that first Easter two thousand years ago, that flock was still pretty small. The early church, much like the Messiah – was of God, and filled with incredible power and beauty, but was born into this world isolated and frail, tiny and human. That church of a dozen or so Jews would need time to grow in strength and wisdom, and at first didn’t even see their deliverance as something for everyone. But that would soon change…

You might have noticed that our reading from Acts this morning is actually one we read a couple of months back. And if you remember any of my sermon from that weekend (absolutely no judgement if you don’t), you might recall that there was a really cool thing about the translation of Peter’s words in this text. Peter doesn’t really say “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” in the Greek, but instead says something closer to “I am truly beginning to understand that God shows no partiality”, a difference which might seem unimportant, but is actually incredibly – stinking – cool. Because Peter, the apostle and faithful Jew – Peter, who is in the household of a powerful Roman centurion: a foreign occupier of Peter’s nation and people, the very empire which helped nail his Messiah and dear friend to the cross, a man who is supposed to declare Caesar as Lord, not Jesus. It’s to this man, and his household, that Peter casts off the exclusivity of his God and his Messiah, which had been a key piece of his culture and religion for centuries, to say now that all people, and all nations can be brought salvation through God and Christ. Church, this moment for Peter points to a greater movement of the Spirit in our world. She is showing Peter that there is far more work to be done. Christ has died and is risen, but God’s tent needs to be stretched much, much wider. And my dear siblings in Christ, it’s here that I arrive back at the now, the us.

During this next part church, you are welcome to disagree with me, but these last few weeks I have thought – honestly, I have prayed, that this pandemic might show the people of our country a dark secret, a truth we have tried to hide for a long time now: that, like architecture students, we have been pretending our design is finished. Because for so long, I have heard, heck I have joined in with, the scorn against the words “Black Lives Matter”. But now I look to the reality that in Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 fatalities are black. And I look to the almost non-existent statistics for coronavirus in people of color (it’s worth nothing that those with power only tend to record the facts we consider to be important), and I see the reality that African Americans in this country are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus than someone who is white. And persons of Latino descent are 50% more likely to die than a person with the color of my skin. I look to our industrial prison complexes, which are full to bursting largely because of minimum sentencing and because people who commit petty crimes cannot afford their bail. I look at the apathy towards dismantling those institutions, while at the same time the single greatest concentration of global coronavirus cases is in Cook County Jail in Chicago. And to me, this isn’t partisan, it’s human life. I look to global efforts against this pandemic, and read news of the research going on in Senegal and so many other countries to create a home test-kits, because we Western nations wield our power and privilege to purchase nearly all manufactured coronavirus tests for ourselves, leaving others with next to nothing. Folx, these aren’t new problems or situations, it’s simply that the coronavirus has dressed them up vibrantly enough that we are actually forced to notice them. Yet the urge for so many of us is going to be to decry these colorful outfits as nothing more than a clown. Dear church, I beg that we don’t.

Our Psalm today declares that famous phrase, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” Christ is risen, “it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The foundation of faith and salvation has been laid through the resurrection of Christ and it is our one firm foundation. But church, we’ve still got to design the building that goes on top of it. And the reality is that – the design is never finished. You know, the Greeks originally built all their temples out of wood, but they didn’t stop there. They went on to master masonry, and rebuilt all those temples in beautiful stone. And then the Romans learned from them, and invented new ways of building – concrete, and the dome, and indoor plumbing. And then that empire fell, and those secrets were lost for hundreds of years before we began to rediscover them.  This art of design is a process of trial and error, but that’s why when we Lutherans fall, we lean into God’s grace, pick up our tools back up, and continue the work.

We so often declare ourselves saved by grace, rather works. That is the chief joy of our faith. Christ has died and risen, taking the burden upon himself so that we do not have to carry it. I asked earlier why I should bring up this idea of “the work never being finished” in the light of our redemption? But it’s precisely because there is always more celebration, joy, and love to pour into this world, that our Christian work is never done – just as God has poured endless life and grace into us on this Easter morn. It’s the joy we find in Christ’s lifting the yolk from our shoulders, that drives us, as church, to follow the way of Jesus in our own lives. Now for some reason, as I was pondering all of this, the words to the preamble of our nation’s constitution came to mind. But let me tell you how I read the mission set before us by that famous “We the People”: That we human beings, in the full scope of our diversity, in order to celebrate the beauty of that diversity, to live in equity and equality, to ensure peace for this family, to defend and sacrifice ourselves for one another’s safety, to lovingly lift up all members under our roof, and to protect the blessing of freedom for us and all who follow us. That is what I have always seen as the witness of our congregation. That is our resurrection message. That is the Easter message that Reformation shares with the world, if only we can cast off our privilege and realize that there is no country, party, or flag tied to this kingdom we are to pursue.

No, there is only the kingdom of Christ, whose realm no wall, no mountains, no ocean can divide. A kingdom of boundless grace and love, for which we waited so long. But finally Easter has come, and Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Let us ever more ardently strive to share that peace and joy with the world. Alleluia, Amen

daffodils

 

In peace, in love, and filled with resurrection joy,

Eric

Wakefulness // Lazarus

Our Lectionary Readings from this week ::

Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Psalm 130

Romans 8: 6-11

John 11: 1-45

If you’d like to see these readings and this sermon read aloud, you can find that on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq-G43scrbcZjx6veG3_IUg for RefLuthKS. And if you’re here to read, read on:

Dear church,

Let’s not kid ourselves. The scripture readings this week are heavy with the weight of death. Within them, and within us there is confusion. There is sadness. There is anger and there is fear. But there too is life. Rebirth. Redemption and hope. So at the beginning of the message here today, I offer this: much of the road ahead may be dark, but we musn’t forget the light we know comes at its end. In just two weeks, Lent will be finished, and the Resurrection will again burst upon the world. But today, we walk yet in the wilderness. Let us give strength and encouragement to one another, trusting in Christ as our hope even as we look fearfully ahead to the cross.

I want to place our focus onto a single sentence spoken by Jesus in our (very long) reading from the Gospel of John: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” I point our attention to this one phrase, because I think Jesus utters it to lay a scriptural cornerstone that will remain solid during the uncertainty that lies ahead. Here on Earth, there is some debate amongst cultures and peoples about death, but it really is one of few things we agree is pretty absolute. We know this, and Jesus knows this. But he also knows that God does not come from the Earthly realm – death to God is simply a state of being, not unlike wakefulness, or sleep. It has no real power when compared to the strength of the Creator of all, and so Jesus, with an almost alarming level of coolness, waits two days before even setting out to see his dying friend. Because he knows death is no real barrier for the God given life that comes after it. And when finally he begins the journey back to Bethany, he offers that line, “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” And the question, church, that has been sitting heavily on my chest this week is, are we awake? Or are we asleep?

When I applied to the YAGM program, I was a privileged, ignorant starry-eyed seminary-hopeful. The only time I had experienced outside my native culture and people was a semester abroad in Italy, a nation which I love, and for whose people my heart aches in the face of this pandemic. But I wouldn’t dare to say, that those four months traveling Italy, living with more than a few creature comforts, even came close to breaking me out of the fortress that was my “American” privilege. No, really it just fed a hunger I’ve always felt: for learning, seeing new places and new people. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But it’s that excited hunger for travel, that drove me to apply to YAGM, all dressed down with the humility of the phrase “global mission”. But that wasn’t what God had in store, and I’ll never forget the moment that I first realized my YAGM year would be something altogether different than anything else I’d seen before.

You see, when I was first accepted to the program, YAGM was planning on sending me to either the United Kingdom, or Southern Africa for my year of service. And the biggest part of your placement decision comes from two interviews you have with the respective country coordinators. As I sat down with Reverend Alex LaChapelle for my Southern Africa interview, he asked me a number of questions about my life, my upbringing, my passions, and my reasons for applying to the program. And then Alex asked me a question that, at the time, blindsided me a bit. With a kind smile on his face, moving smoothly from the previous sentence, he asked me, “Are you racist?” And that was the first time I felt God strike my bubble with his fist. Because with that question, I felt every excuse, defusing comment, and rebuttal leap into my throat, urging me to scoff and say, “no!” But the time I had spent in discernment that weekend, talking with my global colleagues, and just listening to them meant the integrity of my shield had been broken, and that now all of Creation (not just the privileged United States part) was poured into me, and I now could see my fear, my insecurity, and my ignorance, and knew the answer to Alex’s question really was “yes”. Even though, if memory serves, I actually just sort of sputtered nonsense for about thirty seconds.

I think this is why, a few years back, the word “woke” came back into the common use within social-justice circles – a term meaning, “one’s alertness to injustice in society, especially racism”. The thing is, a person doesn’t get to declare themselves “woke”. It can only come from somebody else, because to put it simply, if you’re asleep it’s awfully hard to know whether you’re dreaming. It takes something shocking. Something surprising. Sometimes something horrifying, to help us distinguish between dream and reality. Sleep and dreams play heavily into scripture, from Jacob’s Ladder, to this week’s the Valley of the Dry Bones, to our Gospel. Wakefulness versus sleep, death versus life. So in John today, it isn’t all that strange to hear Jesus referring to Lazarus as “sleeping”, knowing well that his friend was already dead. So often though, we assume phrases like, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” or “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” We take those to mean that God does these bad things just so that later Jesus can perform the miracle. Mari mentioned the same dilemma just last week in the story of the man born blind. But instead I look at it in a different way. All through the time and space of Creation, God takes bad things, terrible things, that happen throughout human history, and uses that painful and heart-rending brokenness to create new opportunities for life and for love. Letting free will take its course, letting chaos roam, but making beauty wherever God can in the aftermath.

Now church, I want to pause for a moment, because I won’t pretend to have the answers for every bad thing. I can’t tell you why Lazarus had to suffer for days, and finally succumb to his illness, while Jesus took his sweet time getting to him. I can’t tell you why I had to watch my grandfather’s body wither and die to the demon of cancer. I can’t tell you why right now thousands of people’s lungs are around the world are scarring, failing to draw breath against the onslaught of this virus. I can’t tell you why we so willingly took sin onto ourselves and brought brokenness into the flawless beauty of the garden. I deeply feel that pain, the anger of not understanding. But church I can also tell you, that our God struggles so violently for us against evil, that God took on an Earthly body, and let his own lungs fill with fluid and fail upon the cross, so that we might breathe eternal life. Not with lungs but with the Spirit – the Ruach, the divine breath that fills the bodies around Ezekiel in that valley dreamscape today. God pursues us, regardless of the danger – after all, Jesus knew going to see Lazarus meant returning to a town that had just tried to kill him. Our God always pursues us, to enter into our brokenness and pain, so that the Creator might cause new life to burst from the cracks. I know that doesn’t answer everything – goodness how I wish it could right now, but we must leave it there, letting that Lutheran “What does this mean?” dwell in us, and come back to today.

Are we awake? Or are we asleep? I think most of the world is sleeping. I think I am still sleeping. I just wish it wouldn’t take things like the coronavirus to wake us up. For us to realize our neglect of our bodies and our minds. Our neglect of our families and our relationships. Our societal neglect of our fellow human beings, both the millions here in the United States who live paycheck to paycheck and now face absolute uncertainty, and moreover the hundreds upon hundreds of millions around this planet who do not have the privilege to “react” to a global pandemic, and quite simply face life, or death. Our global body is cracked and broken. I would ask where that leaves us church, but Paul has already given the joyful answer: “But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead [, or rather if the Spirit of him who raised Lazarus from the dead] dwells in you, he who raised [them both] from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

That is the answer church. We need to keep letting God’s power and Spirit flow through this broken body that it may again have life. That we might remain awake and in God. My siblings in Christ, and all across the world, I end now with that Lutheran twist to the recipe – the reality that this is not something we’re going to be able to do perfectly. There’s a lot of brokenness in this imperial, patriarchal, homophobic, white supremacist body we live within, but when we find our fear and fragility catching in our throats, that is a time to rejoice in the grace of our Creator, which gives us strength and hope, not to utter a no no, but a yes yes! And it’s to that joyous truth in the face of our struggle that I give an amen.

atlas

 

In peace, grace, and acknowledging coffee plays a role in the wakefulness too,

Eric

Cuarentena // Quarantine

Dearest church,

Dynamic shifts, uncertain steps, the balance of our lives thrown askew – these last few weeks are unlike anything our country, or indeed our world, has experienced across most of our lifetimes. That said, on and on our blue planet keeps spinning, its wobbly axis tracing its path ’round the Sun, and even as I write this, the first beams of spring sunlight fill my living room with their warm glow. Yet, as a warm morning breeze fills my nose with the scent of rain, the word “pandemic” flits again across my mind. Forty days Christ walked in the wilderness, this Lent. Latin America calls it cuaresma, taken from the number forty, cuarenta. And as my Argentine home too has begun feeling the effects of the virus, I’ve noticed that the Castellano word for quarantine is cuarentena. I wonder if the similarity is a coincidence.

Humor me for delving again into my YAGM experience, but if I’m to honestly talk about things that jarred me, that tested my faith and trust, last year stands a head above the rest. The rhythm of my life at El Arca was not my own, which may at first sound like criticism, but I don’t intend it to be. There is no question that life in the hogar, home, wasn’t without its distractions and chaos, but the beauty of living in a L’Arche community, is that the beat of your own heart melds with that of your new siblings. You commit to one another, they to you, and you to them, sharing table, sink, home. And like any family, that commitment becomes a dance. Now sometimes yes, that dance means avoiding a certain someone during their first waking hour of the morning, and for another it means singing with them in the shower during the washing of feet, but it’s in those moments that the threads of life intertwine to form tapestry.

However, it’s easy to lose oneself in the joint movement, the chaos of L’Arche life. It’s easy to forgo your daily exercise when Osvy starts singing fifteen minutes earlier than usual (his signal that he’s awake) in the middle of your workout. It’s easy to close your devotional and set it aside when Maxi wants to ask you about yet another superhero movie at the breakfast table. Day in day out, you begin to lose your own identity in the midst of the many, and suddenly one day you find yourself feeling drained, overwhelmed, trapped within the walls of the single building in which you now both work and live. But that realization becomes an opportunity to strike a new balance. With time, I began to reshape my identity within my site placement, but what that meant more than anything was to reacquaint my body and mind with the spirit I had lost somewhere beneath all the life raining down around me. Those two scrambled eggs I had for breakfast each day became sacrament for me – shared, buttery, delicious sacrament between myself and my creator. So too was my nap each afternoon, restorative energy given so that I could tackle the evening boldly. And that’s all my spiritual practice was at first, and it was good. And soon, balance found, I brought back daily devotion to scripture and prayer. The playing of music and the beauty of poetry filled the cracks in my mornings, and they too were good. Then finally, at end of day, in the silence of the house, save for perhaps a mosquito buzzing or Maxi snoring down the hall, I began to meditate again. Just five minutes at first, but then ten, fifteen, all the way up to a half an hour each night. And goodness let me tell you, it was good.

The chaos that we feel now in our lives. The disruption. It is human and worldly and difficult, but it is also beautiful. I dare you to think for a moment of the last time America was told to pause, to stop, to shelter in place. Dear church I wish it were under better circumstances, and church I wish it wasn’t so hard to fit Christ into the chaos, but this is the way it has always been. God filling the cracks, seeping into the brokenness and the fear. Let God fill them. Let divinity fill you. Find time to focus on your own intimate connection with the Creator, one that no virus or evil can break, and nourish it. Read, create, pray, meditate, play. Goodness me couldn’t this whole high-strung country we live in use a bit of time for play. And do that how you feel moved. Do it alone, or do it with others. But above all, do it with God. And church, relish in the Spirit you find thriving in that practice.

ocean

 

In peace, shelter, and practice,

 

Eric

Mother Mary Magdalene

The Advent season has wrapped within it, some of our church’s most beautiful traditions. The nostalgia of driving to a warmly lit church on a cold, dark evening, as Holden Evening Prayer’s meditative tones fill the sanctuary, Advent is something that fills my heart with wonder as we share in this time of Holy Anticipation, looking ahead to the arrival of the Christ at month’s end.

The celebration of tradition, especially in this time of preparation for Christ’s coming into the world, is good and meaningful for us as Christians, however a part of the Advent season is also an attentiveness for the arrival of the divine into the world, an arrival that two-thousand-years-ago defied all expectation for what the coming of the Messiah would be. Tradition is a beautiful thing, but like the Pharisees and Herod, it can also blind us to seeing the new and usually unconventional means by which God speaks to us here on Earth. Because the history of Scripture is also that of patriarchy and empire, we often forget or outright ignore the diversity upon which Christ built the church, which is why, during these next few weeks, we will be meditating on the ways three of scripture’s women brought incredible life, and in the case of tonight’s focus, the Christian faith itself, into the world.

Mary Magdalene is a name rarely mentioned outside of Holy Week; in fact, only passing mention is made of her throughout the Gospels, in which scholars now increasingly agree that the Mary who anoints Jesus’ with nard, another, who sits listening to him while her sister Martha prepares the meal, and a third, who visits the tomb early Easter morning are, in fact, one and the same disciple. Mary’s life is beautiful one, fraught with brokenness and holiness, a real humanity and a genuine desire to follow Christ and lead in his ministry, but also one that has been often misunderstood over the ages. The most important of those misunderstandings being that: it’s now generally understood that she was likely never a prostitute (though her ministry would be no less significant if she was). However, multiple Gospels do note that she was possessed by seven demons, and that Christ had cast them out. This language though, is layered with meaning and symbolism. Demonic possession was a common explanation for physical and psychological ailment in Jesus’ day, and the number seven in scripture heavily implies symbolism of fullness or entirety. You can therefore make a solid claim that Mary had fallen completely away from God as a result of mental or physical trauma, and that Jesus was able to bring peace to her body and mind. How incredible is it then, to think of the possibility that Mary Magdalene, rather than a sex worker possessed by demons, was instead a non-neurotypical (that is, someone who struggles with their own mental health), a non-neurotypical woman playing a leading role in the church. Her presence in Christ’s ministry is deeply inspiring, and makes a profound commentary on the diversity of leaders God calls to the church.

This realization is made most impactful during the death and resurrection, where Mary Magdalene is mentioned most clearly by the Gospel writers. In these most-solemn moments of Christ’s ministry, as he hangs from the cross, where do we find his followers? Peter has denied him, and like most of the other apostles has fled in fear deserting their teacher. Yet we find Mary and the other women with him at Golgotha, mourning but remaining at Jesus’ side as the life leaves his body. And it is here that we find the most incredible piece of Mary’s story, one we know well: her role in the resurrection story. On Easter, we see her fear and confusion as she finds the empty tomb, and even as her announcement of the risen Christ is dismissed by the men to be an idle tale, Mary Magdalene gives birth to our faith. To quote Reverend Lenny Duncan, “From the time when [Mary] left the empty tomb to the time she told the men cowering in fear that she’d witnessed the resurrected Jesus, she was the entire Christian message and the only one who knew the stunning truth: Jesus Christ of Nazareth was alive. For perhaps hours, she was literally the mother church.”

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Mary Magdalene was a woman of devotion and conviction, she dwelled in Christ’s presence while he lived on Earth, and after he had left it, she remembered what He had told her sister Martha, went out into the world with resilience of faith, and began to build the body of this church. Advent is a time to celebrate the ways we can prepare for Christ’s arrival into this world, and a time to nourish that body as it grows in strength and power. I look with such awe and humility at Mary’s ministry, and believe we have much to aspire to in following her footsteps. Though we live in an age that so often feels full of brokenness, it’s comforting to know that the disciples too struggled with the brokenness in themselves and this world. And that ultimately this Advent, rather than a season of sadness, is truly a time of anticipation and hope for the celebration to come.

 

In patient expectation, and devoted action while we wait,

Eric

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