Sunday, December 13, 2015

an incarnation story (spoiler alert. Jesus gets born)

picture from:

Hey Y’all — spoiler alert. Jesus gets born. And we’re gonna talk about it two weeks early. Sorrynotsorry. 

But it seems like a cruel joke to make the Eeyore of the church staff preach on the “Joy” day. We need Tigger, or Buddy the Elf,


 or intern-Rich, or that porcupine eating the pumpkin on YouTube, or basically anyone else. The Advent season is flying by and I’m still in October, wandering around looking for my lost tail…

So, instead, I’m just going to tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a land, broad and wide, gorgeous and plentiful, where an emperor created a most powerful system of haves and have-nots, so much so, that 1% of the world’s population owned more than half of the world’s wealth.  This 1% controlled the land, the seas, and all of the resources the earth provided. And with this wealth, they began buy power. First, through rivers and rainforests, farmland and mountains. Through coal and oil, diamonds and corn. And then through credit default swaps and high frequency trading and attractive websites. And as they amassed so much wealth, they needed people to retrieve it, to maintain it, to count it, and to offer themselves to it. And the people believed that if they worked hard enough, they, too, might become as powerful as they. 

And in those days, there came a decree from the emperor that every person should be counted, for they wanted to see what they would buy, how many taxes they’d have to pay, how many times they’d click on that link from the dying princess in Ethiopia who wants to give them all of her amassed wealth. And so all went to Facebook and Google and instagram and pinterest, and even the grandparents opened their juno accounts and clicked.  And the ads came. Switch your cell phone plan and save. Update your insurance plan with our new low rates. Win Christmas with this flashy electronic gadget. Free shipping on chinchilla fur lined black leather pants when you spend $100 on fingerless gloves and argyle toe socks. 

And so they clicked. And they were counted. And they felt hollow and empty unless they clicked, like they didn’t count for much anymore. They stopped reading books for fun. They forgot how to grill a really good steak. They felt awkward with eye contact. They couldn’t remember when to plant the tulips. They squinted under fluorescent lights and breathed stale conditioned air. They looked at all the pictures they clicked and they suddenly felt fat, and lazy, ugly and old. They began to think that the clicks were the only way that they could get any of it back.

And the emperors of power, maybe they had a bright orange combover,

or maybe they kept their financial accounts in Switzerland or the Caribbean, maybe they were mostly old white men, began to line the pockets of the civil servants with cash, with land, with sweatshops in India, with mediterranean cruises, with bought elections, with chinchilla fur lined leather pants.

But once, a long time ago, there was a young couple, getting ready for a baby, getting ready for a marriage, getting ready to start a life together, who travelled the eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to be registered, to be counted. Mary left her Target nursery registry and her Honda Odyssey, her “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” she left the safest mahogany crib with properly spaced bars and without bumpers or blankets or teddy bears so as to prevent SIDS. She left her pump and her comfortable pajamas and her lanolin cream all behind.

And so, nine months pregnant, poor Mary waddled through the desert, trying to do as she was told, trying to do what is expected of her by the powers, trying to please the emperor in her own small way, trying to be counted, trying to click all the right links, trying to meet expectations and get an A+ in this mother-of-god-thing, trying not to make Joseph stop every fifteen minutes so she could pee.

And in that tiny town, it is said that Mary gave birth to her child. Without the retracting hospital bed or ice chips from a plastic pitcher. Without chocolate pudding or that apple juice in those tiny little cups. No lanacane spray. No warm shower or heart monitors. Without a doula or a push present. Without an iv or a petocin drip. Without an epidural. Without those cute little onesies she’d ordered from that Etsy shop. She didn’t have a car seat or a college savings account. She didn’t have waldorf inspired toys or one of those black and white mobiles to hang above the baby to stimulate brain activity. Without a room or a bed or even a chair to rest. 

She had a kind of basement barn,
ANCIENT HOUSES,HOUSING,TENTS:BIBLE ARCHITECTURE: Model of interior of a four-roomed house
a lower level where folks would keep their animals and tools and lists of things that must be done before the end of the week or before the in-laws come or before the rainy season. With the sound of people stomping above her, dust from the rafters falling with each heavy step, she looked around. And saw what she had.

She had her two hands. And a lot of pain. And moans. And swaying. And blood. And this barn for the hired hands and the beasts of burden. She had sweat and a terrified husband. She had a promise from an angel that she now wonders was all just a first trimester morning sickness delusion.

And so she did what she had to do. She crouched down in the straw and felt for his head. The soft fontanel and birth waters and blood. And she pushed again. And then she caught her baby. 

Alone and terrified and anonymous in a strange town, a tiny speck of dust amidst the swirling universes, she caught her baby. And she breathed. And she smelled his head. And she rubbed his back until she heard him cry. And then she put him against her chest and showed him his food and thought, this is enough. It’s enough. I don’t have a crib or a video monitor or even a proper blanket. I have a manger, a trough where the animals are fed, and some strips of cloth, and exhaustion. And it is enough. It is enough.

And it was a kind of quiet joy.

And striving to do and be and click all the things for all the powers didn’t seem so important anymore. Comparing ourselves to magazine photos and other’s savings accounts and fancy cars and parents who keep up with their blogs and their exercise and their date nights, begins to fade away.

God became flesh through a young girl in a basement barn covered in straw and droppings and the wet exhales of sheep and donkeys. And it was enough. 

The fleshy power of the incarnation started the avalanche that someday, someday, will cancel out all the oppressive structures and negative self talk, and sense of failure and self doubts. All the need to amass more stuff, more accolades, more zeroes on our paychecks.

All the small things. All the small, inconsequential, fleshy, grounding, boring things of this world, suddenly had the smell of a new born’s head, a stroke of incarnation, the hint of a God become human, the kind of power that principalities and corporations and governments and terrorist groups will never have. 
The power of the incarnation. The power of enough.

And with that enough, Mary is more powerful than Caesar Augustus and Octavius and Donald Trump and the Koch brothers and the whole Walmart corporation and even the new Dow/Dupont. 

So powerful, in fact, that this fleshy, contracting, sweating, bloody birth began to pull a thread from the tangled sweater of corrupt power structures, so that with every cup of tea and quiet moment and trip to the park and sincere apology and trashy romance novel and potluck and smelly dog fart and mud pie and truce between enemies and up-cycle Etsy shop and roadside lemonade stand, there is enough. Enough for this moment. Enough for right now. Enough to participate in the destruction of the power systems. Enough to see God in all of it. Enough to count. 

The incarnation of enough. Ooof. I want so bad for it to be enough.

Jesus Christ. A tiny baby covered in amniotic fluid, landing, thump, on a dirt floor covered in straw. Laid in a manger. In a barn. Below folks who are upstairs on the internet or switching the laundry or writing the dissertation or drinking the fifth or watching Wheel of Fortune, clicking, clicking, trying to count. Being counted. Not realizing that enough is so close, so near, so ready to be welcomed in to the world. 

It’s a quiet kind of joy that doesn’t seem so far away anymore. 

The power of the incarnation.

The power of the incarnation is the power to infuse every inch of our lives with the spirit of God. The power to upend every oppressive social and economic and political structure just by showing up, just by looking around, by refusing to buy what they are selling. By living in to the present moment, just as God has given to us, right here, right now. It is enough.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A (Therapist's) Commission

This is the charge I have for all of us. Well, ok. I stole it from my therapist. But hey, I've got to get something out of my copay, right? (Seriously, y'all, this woman is worth every penny. I'd give her a kidney if she needed it. But not both kidneys, because, you know, mental health.)

Put down our garden hoses.

Let me explain. 

We run around this world as if it were on fire. We race to appointments, we check the facebooks, we pay the bills and do what we’re told. We are busy, doing doing doing. We are busy trying to live up to expectations and pass tests and prove ourselves — even in the name of ministry, even — maybe even most often — with the excuse that we are doing this because we are serving God. 

We go to the meetings and we neglect our spirits. We attend the functions and we miss out on family dinner. We skip just one sabbath because we had that emergency at the beginning of the week and we didn’t get a good enough sermon done. 

We sacrifice our mental health for a deadline. We give up ourselves in the name of pleasing others. Of meeting expectations. 

We try to prove to others — and to ourselves — that we’re good enough for the job, for the friendship, for the marriage, for the parenting. 

Therapist says it’s as if we are in the middle of a forest fire. And we have this garden hose. And we’re trying to put down the forest fire with a garden hose. And it never really gets us anywhere. It’s not really effective, putting a fire out with a garden hose. But it keeps the fire off of us just enough to make us think that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. That we’re meeting expectations and earning good marks and pleasing others. And we think that that is what God calls us to. 

But I think that God calls us to let it burn. 

To let the seed die so that new life can grow.

I think God wants us to drop the garden hose and just let it burn. Burn down our unhealthy expectations, our feelings as though we don’t measure up, even our need for security. Let it burn. 

There are these pine cones, from the Lodge Pole Pines. And these cones hold their seeds so tightly that they cannot let them go unless they are under extreme heat. Not a hazy, humid Pittsburgh summer heat, but a scalding, raging forest fire heat. 
They need the fire. They need the heat, so new life can grow.

So, Us, let the seed fall to the ground and die. Let the forest burn. Put down the garden hose. Let it burn. So new life can grow. 

Model how to do that for your people.
People, model how to do that for each other.

Because Jesus doesn’t call us to become another Christian Organization. Jesus doesn’t need another nonprofit or another church run just like a fortune 500 company. 
Jesus wants something completely different. Completely alien to the corporate models and quarterly projections and grade point averages. Jesus wants way more from us than a couple of hours on a Sunday morning. Even more from us than doing all the things that the world tells us to do, but in the name of Jesus. 
Jesus doesn’t call us to be “christ flavored.” 
Jesus calls us to radical transformation, the kind of transformation that requires a seed to die in order for new life to grow. The kind of transformation that requires that we do the hard work of putting down the garden hose. Radical transformation requires that we drop the hose and wait for new life to grow. 

So, Us - in whatever we do, may we do it because it is going to change our hearts, may we do it because it is leading us, and each other to radical transformation.

That is the story of Christ on the Cross.
That is the story of Christ on the third day.

That is the story of all of us, if we seek God, if we let it burn.