Jesus, Superhero

The people of Israel forget and remember God.

They live when they remember.

The church has its bones.

But it didn’t believe what it said.

Instead, it made rules and pointed at the unclean people,

But it did not say,

God flows through you.

Though you have been spiritually dead,

Sleepwalking,

Like a zombie,

King Jesus has wakened you.

 

It said very little. It was consumed in its causes, rummage sales and dinners.

 

But this does not mean you,

If you are Lazarus,

become a Zombie,

or that Jesus is King Zombie.

Instead, Jesus is like the Hulk.

Or a Transformer.

 

Mary and Martha got mad at Jesus.

He could have saved his friend,

but he wanted to show people he was a superhero.

 

It was a little self indulgent, but the work was done,

and I’m sure Lazarus just needed a bath. Even though that part isn’t in the scriptures.

 

Perhaps Jesus modeled what life could be in church.

We bring our frustrations and anger, and just let them be.

We don’t hide them, but focus them.

We become a space

where others can simply be unburdened.

They don’t have to worry about being contained.

 

We don’t wag our fingers.

We don’t give them a list of rules.

We don’t ask them to be in the vestry or hand over their wallet.

 

Instead we let them be, offer a meal, and

trust that the rock will be moved,

And we’ll feel the living God flow through us again.

 

Perhaps He always is,

But we’re just sleepwalking through it.

 

 

Rebuking the Demons

On Tuesdays, I’m the chaplain to the my congregation’s branch of the Episcopal Church Women. Before they begin their handcrafter’s guild, we do a rite of healing. I don’t stand over them and ask them about their illnesses, do a diagnosis, lay my hands and them and call them healed. But we do remember those who are ill and we do a laying on of hands with one another.

I’m not sure what happens in the service, but the ladies insist, and I’m glad to be of service.  When we initiated the service, we discussed what it meant to be “healed,” the social and psychological consequences of being ill, and how people get better. 

Maybe the ritual diminishes the impact of feeling alone or abandoned. It could be a formalized representation of care. Physiologically the work of saying the words opens up the mind to better allow the body can do whatever healing it can do. The words and prayers may invite a cascade of chemicals into the body that benefit.  We know that words can hurt us and make us sick and stressed. The words we say together are healing words, and at the very least, words of hope.

Today in the Daily Office, Jesus exorcises a demon. Right after Jesus begins his ministry, he gets some guys to quit their family vocation and they go to Capernaum, where they see him rebuke an “unclean spirit.” I asked the ladies what they thought “unclean spirit” meant. Did they simply forget to take a shower? Did they break some rules?

One said, “mental illness.” Another said, “addiction.” Another said, “Alzheimer’s.”

We’re not in a culture where we see many exorcisms. If I were to lay my hands upon someone who was addicted to heroin, I doubt it would change their status. Nor would a liturgical prayer restore someone’s memory.

I wonder if “unclean” here is not merely about the chemical imbalance and physiological realities of mental illness. We only know that the man was in the synagogue, and that Jesus represented a certain kind of authority.

 I once had a congregant who would come into my office, sit down, ask me questions, and offer advice. After he’d meet with me, he’d take whatever I said, exaggerate it, and add a few false rumors to the mix, usually resulting in a flurry of phone calls. He made the congregation, and me, crazy. But he’d been around a while, so it was hard to change all the relationships who had become to rely on him.

So I began to share ridiculous stories, exaggerating them myself, which he could not possibly retell. Pretty soon he realized I was being uncooperative.

And for a while the craziness died down. Admittedly, I was a young priest, not quite able to handle conflict directly, and I didn’t know what to say. But when he whined about me not sharing with him all the troubles of church, I said to him, “it must be hard to be you. I’m sorry, but I find our conversations to get altered when I hear them back.”

I don’t recommend being ridiculous in such conversations, however. Being too flip or whimsical could escalate the conflict. It’s not a replacement for the power of being direct.  Fortunately, the other members of the church had begun to realize that he was, himself, unreliable.  Simply put, they stopped asking me if what he said was true and began to ignore him. And soon he left.

It’s not merely about causing trouble: sometimes that’s what truth tellers and whistleblowers do. If anything, in Jesus we see something about how the truth can cause havoc on a system. When someone stops drinking, starts taking care of themselves, often their relationships go through a change and people resist. Trouble can be good.

Perhaps Jesus liberated the system in the congregation, identifying the problem, naming the elephant in the room. Perhaps the miracle is how Jesus takes authority in a new way. Or even, the miracle is what happens after the man has been freed. That story is the one we live in.

Original Sin and the Apple

Sometimes I wonder if it’s human nature to feel like Eve.

If I’m told, “you really shouldn’t have another bite,” I want to eat it. It gets worse if it’s from a thin person, because I resent their slenderness. If it’s from a big person I ignore it because, what do they know?

Unsolicited advice?  Why not respond, “thank you, but I intend on doing the exact opposite.” It’s instinctive. Instead, the person who encourages us to rebel, to take matters into our own hands, that’s the person really on our side.

Admittedly, when I get the advice, the warning, the friendly feedback, I take a breath and remind myself the person has my best interests at heart. I consider if there is any truth in what they say. I play with the alternative – what if I took the advice? What if I ignore it? Continue reading “Original Sin and the Apple”