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shut up. wash feet.

chasing-francis-cover

wild goose chase…

This stop turned out to be the community’s home for men dying of AIDS. When I discovered where we were, I was surprised by how apprehensive I felt. I’d spent a lot of time around dying people, so that wasn’t it. Maybe I was self-conscious about being around gay men and needle addicts.

“Most of the men who live here have no one to take care of them,” Angelina said. “Their families have disowned them, and their friends have stopped visiting. We help them die with dignity, and hopefully they see Jesus in us.”

The house was quiet except for a cat meowing in some faraway room. The three of us walked up the stairs to the second floor. Through open doors, we could see men in different stages of illness. Some were propped up in bed reading; others slept. At the top of the third-floor landing, a petite young woman with close-cropped hair and a beaming smile was waiting for us.

“This is Eva. She’s a volunteer in training from one of our houses in Germany,” Angelina said.

Eva shook my hand. “You’ve come just in time. We need to give the men baths,” she said.

“Maggie, why don’t you go downstairs and look in on some of the men? They love visitors,” Angelina said. I knew we’d soon hear laughter coming from the floor below.

“Can I go with her?” I asked.

Angelina placed her hand on my arm. “We could use you up here,” she said.”

My heart was beating like a drum against my rib cage, just at the idea of giving a man a bath. I scrambled for a reason why I couldn’t possibly help, but I wasn’t fast enough. Angelina took my hand, and we went into a room where a young man lay on a bed, staring blankly at the ceiling.

“Buongiorno, Amadeo,” Angelina said. “I’ve brought a friend today.” Angelina removed the blanket that covered Amadeo’s body. He was a naked stick, mute, his almond-shaped eyes filled with that pitiable mixture of panic and confusion. His pallid skin hung flaccidly — he must have been six feet tall once, but now he surely weighed less than a hundred pounds. I felt a rush of both shock and sadness. I looked at Angelina for help, and she smiled at me reassuringly.”

“Let’s put Amadeo in the tub,” she said, as she repeated in Italian so that he and I would both know what we were doing next.

Eva dipped her hands into the water to make sure it was the right temperature, while Angelina and I lifted Amadeo. I tenderly placed my hands under his shoulder blades. They felt like sharp-edged clamshells cruelly implanted in his upper back. I was afraid his skin would tear like tissue in my grip. The bones of his pelvis stuck out through his skin like six-shooters in flesh holsters.

We lowered him slowly into the bath; the steam that moved across the water parted as his body passed through it. Amadeo winced as the open sores on his body made contact with the tepid water. Angelina spoke to him soothingly while sponging off his brittle frame.

She handed me a rag. “Would you mind washing his genitals,” she asked evenly.

I was speechless. The stick-man looked at me as if to say, “What will you choose to do now?”

There is a tensile surface on water that’s always fascinated me. I’ve ruminated before about that infinitesimally thin layer of resistance when preparing for baptisms. Is the water giving the candidate one last chance to go back, a last-minute opportunity to pull away and say no to the intense yet life-giving drowning that lies ahead? Or is it a reminder that there really is a separation between this fallen world and the next?”

“As I pushed against my revulsion and plunged the sponge beneath the water, I thought of it again but refused its invitation to hold back. I’d passed through a border into the depths and found I could still breathe there. My terror and embarrassment was replaced by peace, edging toward sublime joy.

“Did you know that Francis had a phobic aversion to lepers?” Angelina asked, continuing to wash Amadeo.

I wrung the water out of my rag. “I’ve read about it,” I said quietly.

“He was so disgusted by them that whenever he saw one, he’d cover his mouth and nose and run away. One day, he was riding his horse on the outskirts of Assisi and saw a leper. He was tempted to take off in the other direction, but then he heard Jesus telling him to get off his horse and kiss the leper. He did, and it was a breakthrough moment in his conversion.”

Angelina and I lifted Amadeo out of the tub and placed him on the bed, where Eva had placed fresh towels. We patted him dry and gingerly dabbed ointment on his sores. Amadeo closed his eyes, and his expression softened into something resembling peace. I wasn’t sure which was the more soothing to him — the cleansing, the salve, or the sensation of people touching him.

When we were finished, Eva put a warm fleece blanket over him. Angelina put her face close to his. “Good-bye, my friend. I will look in on you tomorrow.” Amadeo opened his eyes and stared at her. His lips moved, but no words came — only the sound of air passing over his vocal chords. Angelina kissed him on the forehead.

While we were walking down the stairs, Maggie came out of one of the rooms and met us in the hall. I must have looked dazed because she looked sideways at me. “What happened up there?” she asked

“I think I became a Christian,” I said.

__________________________________________________________________

An excerpt from Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron – one of my more meaningful reads over the past few years. It’s fiction. It desperately needs to become non-fiction in evangelical circles.

Read the story.
Read the book.

Just how might this world be transformed if we all chased Francis just a bit?
What would happen if today we became Christians?
We are so good at defining our positions, venting our holiness, taking our moral stands…
When it is a basin and a towel that he puts into our hands rather than theology laden tomes;
a basin filled with water to wash the feet of our enemies culturally, politically, religiously, morally.
We will bury an offending mayor with Bibles and sermons in protest of our religious freedoms,
but who will wash her feet?
Who will feed her?
Who will give her something to drink?foot washing email

Our words would have weight if we washed more feet.

5 to 1. That’s the ratio. Every one word of instruction, correction, teaching should be preceded by five acts of hands-on, no-strings attached kindness. The ratio is arbitrary, I admit it. But it would be a start. In fact, theologians who are really into numbers say “five” is the number of grace, so five would be a good start.

Shut up. Wash feet. Five sets of feet. Then you can speak a word –
if you still want to.
If you still need to.

“Speak the truth in love,” say we.
But love is more than how you hold your mouth as you make your points and type your post. Saying “I love you” – and especially “I love you, but…” is not love. At least not biblically. The words are good and warm and affirming, but Love is only known in the Doing. Truth can only be spoken, if it need be spoken at all, in a context of demonstrated love. Anything less is mere harangue aka static. And this goes for whichever side you might take on whatever issue. Cowardice shouts from divers platforms, but it avoids dirty feet like the plague.

We much prefer the abrasive washing of words with our lips than the washing of dirty feet with our hands.

Our culture has a word for this:
Epic.
Fail.

Ah, but God has another word for it,
doesn’t he?

22foot-wash22-by-jay-peeples

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Books, haverings

 

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faces of fear

I’ve been playing with ancient Hebrew letters.9946b2a51db9157fdf7e364295f499bc

Scientists will frown – this is so not scientific.
Lexicographers might throw up a bit in their mouths.

I wish I could say I was sorry.
But wordhavering with Hebrew letters is much too fun.

Hebrew is so concrete. We are so abstract.
The letters of the ancient Hebrew alphabet not only double for numerals they are also concrete pictures. Which means that every Hebrew word is not only a sum of its letters, it’s also a composite picture. So, just for kicks, because I can, I’ve been looking at the pictures, using the alphabet chart on an Ancient Hebrew website as my key and palette.

And so, when a friend shared this marvelous proverb and its timely presence in her life:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 5.50.26 PM

I had to look at the picture of fear.

The three-letter root is chet/resh/dalet (pronounced something like cha-raid). And yes I can, and did, look it up: “fear, anxiety, quaking, trembling.” The quaking and trembling is pretty concrete, but look at the picture the letters paint (okay, it’s just a sketch on a chalkboard – and ancient Hebrew letters will probably never be the cultural hit that Chinese characters are, but just look at the picture!):

photo 1

Chet = wall
Resh = head
Dalet = door

I sat with the picture for several minutes, looking at it as if it were one of those Magic Eye pictures, waiting for a 3D image to emerge.

And then it did.

Fear = encountering a wall in my head, rather than a door.

Isn’t this what fear is? What it does?

Fear builds walls within our minds, inside our souls, and those walls go viral as inner walls ultimately create their exterior counterparts. Walls of paralysis and intimidation. Walls of aggressive self-defense. Walls from which we snipe at threats, pouring boiling rhetoric unto the heads of the foes we fear.

Oh yes. Fear is having a wall in our head, instead of a door.

Of course, sometimes we should be afraid and need to encounter a wall in our head that stops us in our destructive tracks. The point of the Proverb, however, is the inner debilitating power of bad fear – a fear that stifles our voice when it needs to be heard, that wilts our presence when we need to shine.

But fear can also be a superpower, yes?.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
It can be so problematic, the contradiction. “Perfect love drives out fear,” and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Perhaps it all just depends on which syllable we’re emphasizing.
Put the emphasis on the first syllable, and we have a paralyzing wall instead of a door. Rush past the wall and put the emphasis on the second syllable, and we have a door that opens up all kinds of new possibilities and potential we would never have seen were we not stirred from our complacency to see and embrace the challenge grabbing our foot from under the bed of present reality that puts the fear of God in us.

That kind of fear we don’t need to fear.
In fact, we could all stand a jolt of that from time to time.

So is fear a wall of paralysis or is it a door of possibilities?

Yes. Yes it is.

FearKnob

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.01.29 PM

Clara’s speech from “Listen” – series 8 of Doctor Who. EPIC.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2014 in haverings

 

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who am i?

“I don’t know who you are.”
A repeated question in the current series of Doctor Who.
Put to me today by one of my favoritest people.

Of course, I responded through stumbling verse
the medium being the message too…

“Who are you?”

Half the time I don’t even know…
Awkward, clumsy man
Silently backing out of noisy rooms
Or hoping to move unnoticed through them

And yet flitting about the room
distributing hugs and cradling faces
and dancing publicly in bars
…and sanctuaries.

Uncomfortable with men
Terrified of women
and yet married, with four daughters
and surrounded by sisters.

Confident yet second guessing
Recognized and called out everywhere
yet rejected by family
and in the long term quite alone

Tender hearted and yet
so excessively acerbic.
In love with life
and yet the pastor of death.
Unquenchingly optimistic
and yet encompassed with pain.

Who am I?

What a fine question…

deep_shadows_by_xetobyte-d5guh0e

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Poetry

 

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comment thread wisdom

This is chewy, but read:

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.23.47 AM

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.24.24 AM

Alexander Hamilton, October 27, 1787, Federalist #1

Such wisdom here. Such relevance.

The words have yellowed with time but they came to life like Ezekiel’s dry bones, leaping off the page, aggressively juxtaposing themselves between me and many posts on controversial issues (everything from high profile pastor resignations to gay marriage) and too many comment streams following (providing a new meaning to the words “bottomless pit”) that I have been perusing these past few days.

These words were written for us.

And as a service for those whom the chewiness is a bit much, here’s my translation:

We can feel so strongly about so many issues that even good people end up venting and retching, rather than reasoning – right or wrong – on the powerful issues of the day; which is a summons to slow down; to wait before hitting “enter” or pressing “send.” Even our best intentions can be fouled by baser motives moving us unseen, as we confuse increased volume and the decibels of damnation with successful argument.

In other words, in the dance speak of Country Two Step, this is a quick quick hear…sloooooooooooooow speak move on the dance floor of conversation.

Oh yes.
Listen.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Quotes

 

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listen to the beggar

Another Night portrait.night_by_elie_wiesel__by_kuraicat-d3c0urn

Moishe the Beadle.

“A jack of all trades in a Hasidic house of prayer.”
Poor, but liked. “He stayed out of people’s way. His presence bothered no one. He had mastered the art of rendering himself insignificant, invisible. Physically, he was awkward as a clown. His waiflike shyness made people smile.”

morganb1_zps145e86e6I’m seeing the town beggar in Fiddler on the Roof. Or the one in Bruce Almighty.

“As for me, I liked his dreamy eyes, gazing off into the distance. He spoke little. He sang, or rather he chanted, and the few snatches I caught here and there spoke of divine suffering, of the Shekhinah in Exile, where, according to Kabbalah, it awaits its redemption linked to that of man.”

Sometimes it takes a poor beggar to see such things.

Moishe was also a foreigner – and one day all the foreigners were expelled from the town, “crammed into cattle cars by the Hungarian police,” they cried quietly. Over the horizon they went, quickly forgotten. “That’s war…”

Time passed. Life was normal again.

And then one day there was Moishe, sitting outside the synagogue, “the joy in his eyes was gone, he no longer sang…he spoke only of what he had seen”:

The train with the deportees had crossed the Hungarian border and, once in Polish territory, had been taken over by the Gestapo. The train had stopped. The Jews were ordered to get off and onto waiting trucks. The trucks headed toward a forest. There everybody was ordered to get out. They were forced to dig huge trenches. When they finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners, who were forced to approach the trench one by one and offer their necks. Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns. This took place in the Galician forest, near Kolomay. How had he, Moishe the Beadle, been able to escape? By a miracle. He was wounded in the leg and left for dead…”

He told his story day after day, night after night.
For over a year.

No one believed him.

“Moishe wept and pleaded: ‘Jews, listen to me! That’s all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me!’ he kept shouting in the synagogue, between the prayer at dusk and the evening prayer. Even I did not believe him. I often sat with him, after services, and listened to his tales, trying to understand his grief. But all I felt was pity. ‘They think I’m mad,’ he whispered, and tears, like drops of wax, flowed from his eyes.”

And the last time they saw him? The night the Jewish leaders of the village were arrested and the rest of the town was ordered to stay indoors on pain of death. Moishe the Beadle appeared one last time at the door of the house. “I warned you!” And then he dashed off into the night.

Seeing Moishe the Beadle I see Isaiah, Jeremiah (especially Jeremiah!), Zechariah, or any of the prophets. Poor, mad, weeping men and women whom no one takes seriously.

I’m also going to remember Moishe when I encounter any of the “four blood moons” people with their eschatology obsessions, calculations, and warnings.Though it would help to take such warnings more seriously if the leaders of such movements weren’t published authors with their own followings and all the trappings of affluence – and if they hadn’t been at this business for decades (centuries!) with ever new signs in the offing.

But wisdom seems to be whispering, “Perhaps you should listen to the next poor beggar you encounter.”

It just may be Moishe.

003BAL_Jim_Carrey_131

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2014 in Books, haverings

 

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needle the night with stars

I read Night by Elie Wiesel this month.night_by_elie_wiesel__by_kuraicat-d3c0urn

The New York Times calls it
“a slim volume of terrifying power.”
Agreed.
I can’t shake the images. Several portraits are burned onto the retina of my soul – and I really don’t want them removed. Something told me not to read this book – and something told me I had to.

In the morning I began reading the Bible from scratch in The Voice translation. I was intrigued by its style and arrangement, the artistic touches, the imagination in its renderings. As often as I’ve read Genesis 1 over the past forty years, it’s an achievement if a translation can make me smile with delight as I encounter the story again.

One line in particular popped – in a verse that had never popped for me. The traditional (aka rather plain) rendering is: “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night,
and also stars.”

And also stars.
Almost like a hurried afterthought.

The Voice embellished with a bit of an imaginative twist: “And then he needled the night with stars.”

I sat enraptured for a moment at the thought. I was perched on my patio, but with blue skies above,
so I had to imagine the night with it’s needling stars.

And then I picked up Night and read.
I no longer had to imagine – at least not the night.

One day, as we returned from work, we saw three gallows, three black ravens, erected on the Appelplatz. Roll call. The SS surrounding us, machine guns aimed at us: the usual ritual. Three prisoners in chains – and among them, the little pipel, the sad-eyed angel.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows.

This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS took his place.

The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.

“Long live liberty!” shouted the two men.
But the boy was silent.

“Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.

At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.
Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.
“Caps off!” screamed the Lageralteste. His voice quivered. As for the rest of us, we were weeping.
“Cover your heads!”
Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where is he? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

That night, the soup tasted of corpses.

And I wept.
Books don’t make me weep, usually. Perhaps because much of my reading is theological in nature and there’s a glorious emotional detachment in such abstractions. Which is, I suppose, how theologians could crucify a Christ, perpetuate slavery, or turn their back on a holocaust.

But I wept.
I wept at the conjunction of Night and the needling stars, so absent that long, obscene starless night.

Too much night.
More stars.

Abba, we need more needling stars.

Starry-sky-Lochen2

quite appropriately, this is a starry sky in Austria…

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Books, haverings, Suffering

 

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paraleipomenon

Word of the day: paraleipomenon (pa-ra-lay-po-MEN-on).

Left over. Extra. Warmed over. Rehash. Scooted to the side because it’s nothing new – and ultimately condemned to be tupperwared in the back of fridge where it becomes an impromptu science experiment.
All these capture the soul of paraleipomenon.

Or try this one on for size: rechauffe (French – ray-shoh-FAY). A scrumptious beauty of a word that could be readily applied to most current theatrical releases. Rechauffe so beautifully captures that “haven’t we seen this before?” sinking question that hits you five minutes into the film you just spent ten bucks to see (the fact that there is a 2 or 3 after the title should usually be the first clue). You must so use this word the next time you see a film that is just that is just the latest rip-off of previous films. “It’s just so rechauffe.” (And yes, employing a French accent will only enhance your overall pleasure in using the word.)

Rechauffe. Paraleipomenon. Rehash.

That was the ancient title applied to what modern Bible consumers know as 1-2 Chronicles – at least in the ancient Greek translation of the “Old Testament” we know as the Septuagint. (The original Hebrew title for these books is debere ha-yamim = the words of the days).

Peter Enns observes in his latest book The Bible Tells Me So:

what an invigorating, annoying read...

what an invigorating, annoying read…

Chronicles was originally placed toward the end, if not at the end of the Old Testament – where it remains to this day in the Jewish Bible. But early on some editors (who even back then got in the way of good writing) got the bright idea of sticking Chronicles right after Samuel/Kings – probably to group similar books together. The early Christians went with that order, and these poor books have been trying to get noticed ever since. The fact that Chronicles was known back then by the title “The Things Left Over” didn’t exactly encourage people to read it. (In Greek it’s paraleipomenon – pa-ra-lay-po-MEN-on. If you’re looking for a different kind of biblical-sounding name for your kids, look no further).

Placing Chronicles after Kings was an inexcusably dumb move, if you ask me, and I think God should give this editor some sort of temporary afterlife punishment before entering his glory – like make him read the entire Left Behind series nonstop for a year…out of order.

Forgive the rant, but the shame of it all is that Chronicles isn’t mopping up what’s left over from Samuel/Kings. It was intentionally crafted to give a very different take on Israel’s past. That poor book is jumping up and down, demanding to be read on its own terms, not treated like Samuel/Kings’ annoying little brother.

And that brings us to the point of this post – to what jumped out at me when I saw the word paraleipomenon.

None of us are tired rehashings.
None of us are warmed overs.
We are not paraleipomena.

Except perhaps when we trying to be someone we’re not – or when we’re trying to be someone else.

Each of us is a book jumping up and down, demanding to be read on its own terms, not treated like the annoying little brother to be dismissed into the shadow of more regal siblings.

But how rarely we give such dignity to one another. Particularly in comment threads.

You’re just another liberal.
You’re just another conservative.
You’re just another religious nut.
You’re just another irreligious extremist.
You’re just another…
You’re just another…

Perhaps that’s the best rendering of paraleipomenon after all: “You’re just another…”
Been there, done that, encountered that, heard that – you don’t even have to open your mouth.
Skip.

And then instead of being the “word of the day” uniquely positioned as the latest or even the last because you and your story deserve to be heard, seen and valued, you are grouped, sorted, categorized, tupperwared with those you most resemble (at least at first glance).

You are dismissed. You are oh so rechauffe. So paraleipomenon.
Skip.

We deserve better from one another.

thanksgiving-leftover-safety-636

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in haverings

 

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