Sermon for Advent 4B: Praying on the Spaces

This is it. This is the last Sunday of Advent. In a few days, we’ll light all the candles on the Advent wreath, and we’ll sing to the baby as we light the big white one in the center. But we’re not there yet. Right now, we are with Mary, who is talking to the angel Gabriel. He says, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Gabriel hasn’t really told her anything, and already Mary is confused. The people in that time and place were indescribably poor. What reason would there possibly be that she was anointed in some way…………….?

Praying on the spaces.

Luke says, “she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” To me, it was the entire reason she was willing to submit to Gabriel’s words in the first place. She could take by faith that whatever he said, it was going to change her life in a way that nothing else would. After living in hardship, she’d seen the path of her life change in front of her eyes, and she didn’t even know what Gabriel was going to say.

I trust Luke’s assessment of the situation; he was a doctor, and doctors tend to be very pragmatic about their subjects. But still, I wonder what was in the spaces more than the words themselves. To the observer, it seems as if she is having a moment of doubt that she is worthy of such a visit. Why should she be? Nazareth is basically an armpit and no one famous has come from there so far…………..

Praying on the spaces.

I can hear Mary’s mind calculating as the scene unfolds. I’ve seen it, and so have you if you’ve seen even one episode of Doctor Who. It’s the look on the companions’ faces when they find out the enormity of scale involved in what they’re being asked to do… and then there’s that second look. The determined face of a companion who runs toward the big blue box no matter what is waiting for them inside.

Mary saw the angel coming, and was ready to say yes before he even started to speak. Whatever the angel needed, if she was capable, she was willing. Gabriel saw that look in her eyes, because the first words he spoke to her were, “fear not.”

She could rest in his comfort, see with her own eyes that an angel was asking her to serve. He told her the magnitude of what her sacrifice would mean (no matter whether the pregnancy is wanted, it’s still a sacrifice, amen?). She emerged from that conversation a different person than when it began.

Some theologians say that Mary had doubts; I will not go that far. Just because you have willingness doesn’t mean you don’t get to be curious about the process. No matter what anyone asks of you, saying yes doesn’t mean you lose the right to ask questions. Mary’s cry of “how can this be?” is not of doubt. It is of process. How can God change me so that this can happen……………….?

Praying on the spaces.

In our first week, we were waiting for the baby. In our second week, we were watching for the signs. In our third week, we changed directions and explored what to do while watching and waiting. This week completes the diamond and we run toward home (praying on the bases?). In these scriptures, we learn how to interpret all of the signs that we’re seeing so that when our own angels show up, we don’t waste time on our own disbelief.

Mary didn’t.

If believing that a virgin agreed to carry a holy child is just too hard a leap for you, believe this. The more you cut yourself off from light, you don’t have the ability to see providence, either. Mary did not respond to Gabriel with fear. She was surprised that she had been chosen, but beyond that, her willingness was assured. She said yes out of belief, and not of proof. She could see the things that would be, not as they are.

And that is where you come in. The more you limit yourself from possibility, the more you cut yourself off from life in its best definition… the kind that rises above survival. The kind that gives you a third-person omniscient view of the world and your place in it. You can only see things as they are, and not how they would have been if you’d been willing to say yes.

Mary did.

Her belief in herself has led to a wonderful legacy. Her “yes” has become a symbol of motherhood everywhere, because her belief in herself allowed her to believe Gabriel when he said, “nothing is impossible for God.”

My question to you on this last Sunday of Advent is “what are you going to do with your ‘yes?’” Mary’s allowed her the strength to endure pregnancy at a time when bringing a child into the world was fraught with danger, even if no one knew who he was. Mary’s agreement set in motion a movement that would last centuries. It is only the limitation of your mind that determines what you’re going to say with yours.

In Mary’s case, an angel literally walked in and started talking to her. She was moved because he was obviously, well, an angel. In modern day, how do we decide who our angels are? How do we decide where to place our “yesses?” It is not a one-time process. It is literally putting yourself out there, over and over, because angels and demons are rare in the human race. Everyone has elements of each.

President Lincoln wrote one of the most famous lines of all time in his first inaugural address pleading for unity. “…touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

“Touched… by the better angels of our nature” is emotional shorthand for the parts of ourselves that are open to the possibility of birth. New ideas cannot flourish in a barren landscape. Our better angels are the selves that talk about all they can do rather than what they cannot, and that shred of self-worth starts to multiply until we can sing our own Magnificats because we have said “yes” before the question is even asked because we are presenting our own better angels in reception of others. Our light is your invitation, just as Gabriel’s was for Mary.

The thing about one “yes” is that it often leads to a series of fortunate events.

Waiting for the baby.

Watching for the signs.

Praying on the spaces…………………………………..

Home in a Single Sip

Wednesday, Dana and I were going to hang out at a friend’s house, but he got caught in traffic and we ended up on his side of town with time on our hands. We saw a wine bar, and went in to wait for our friend’s traffic to die down. I am not as much of a wine person as Dana. I got a St. Arnold Christmas Seasonal. Dana got a pinot from the Willamette Valley. As we always do, we shared both. The first time we traded glasses, I put my nose into the glass and the tears started to well up, to the point that it took a second for my throat to go back down enough to taste.

When the liquid hit my taste buds, the emotional response was overwhelming. I could smell Oregon. I could mentally sit among fields of lavender and laugh with Dana through tears about the time we met Justin and Leah, a psychiatrist and a lawyer, at the winery. We remembered the times we shared as members among the honeybees and grapes. It was beautiful, and this morning, my mind has been wandering on it………….

At this point in the story, John has been imprisoned but not executed. He sends his (John’s) disciples to speak to Jesus (important to distinguish they are not of Christ’s first string). John wants to ask him if he is really the one he’s supposed to be waiting for. He wrestles with doubt because it takes time for belief to become action when you’re pondering a question that large. Theologians have accused John of doubt; to me, that just takes things a little too far.

Forgive John his doubt, and use it. Jesus is John’s best painting of his own cognitive dissonance. This is his cousin, someone he’s grown up with. He doesn’t believe, and yet, he doesn’t not believe, either. He unfortunately does not live long enough to see whether he was right or not. He, however, receives an assurance that reads as poetry, and one day I will have it memorized even if I have to tattoo it to my palm to achieve it. Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” To me, this is the most important mission statement in the whole Bible.

It clearly tells people why being a follower of Christ is important. You are volunteering to move the self out of the way to achieve understanding and peace. It doesn’t matter if you believe in Christ as well, it matters if my willingness to change my behavior encourages you to step up and change yours. It took a while for me to realize that was all Christianity had the power to do for anyone. Change their lives if people were willing.

Since people translate self-actualization in different ways, the Bible is interpreted that many ways as well. But at its core, most people don’t understand that now, they ARE the gospel writers. Their worship experience is their thread back to the one who said good things were exploding all over the place because through his ministry, people were seeing themselves with new eyes!

As I told my friend James this morning, people don’t respond to direct questions. They respond to direct answers. People do not volunteer information about themselves. They slowly unpack themselves layer by layer while they’re doing something else.

In my own ministry, I’ve examined my own pain and it has allowed others to examine theirs. People have metaphysically joined me as I’ve stood hoping to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Nowhere is that more evident in the Anglican Communion. We all strive to touch at the same time when we go to the rail for Communion.

When the liquid hits our taste buds, the emotional response is overwhelming. We can smell Jerusalem. We can mentally sit in the Upper Room with the extraordinary man we’ve known since he was a baby. We can sit in the miracle of having met him, known him, and shared a meal.

We can go home in a single sip.

I Have Rules, and So Do You

I just don’t know what the fuck to write about. Seriously. Every time I think I have a good hint, the worthlessness loop kicks in and I think of every reason not to write about whatever it is because seriously. It’s been done. My life is so boring that writing about past misadventures takes me back to a much more complicated time in my life, because as I age I get younger.

When you get there, you’ll know what I mean. Reminiscence has a way of rejuvenating us back into our best selves. We know why it’s best to have a boring life because we’ve done all the stupid shit we can possibly think of and life is still hard, but it’s easier with rules. You can’t learn that until you need them.

For everyone, it’s a different moment, but we all come to it kicking and screaming. Some people choose running, some people choose Paganism, some people go back to the Christian church that raised them because outside is scary without limits. I don’t mean AMISH rules or anything. I just mean heuristics. You start to take account of the massive amount of emotional damage you’ve put out into the world simply by having a life and being regimented becomes important because it keeps you from going postal with regret over bad decisions. I choose to walk with Jesus because the message is more important than the medium. A regional council approved the Bible. There’s only a few books left that didn’t make canon. Therefore, there has literally been enough time for us to see most, if not all, of the “evidence.” Evidence is the biggest crock of shit you will ever hear when it comes to God. OF COURSE you don’t need proof. That’s not what you use God for. Just like me, you talk to God to make sure you’re not it. That you still have empathy for your family, friends, and co-workers. It’s the lens through which you see the wider world. Science and God do different things for humanity, and it is ridiculous to pretend that you have to believe in one or the other, but never ever both. When did that become the reality?

When did we let anger and retribution win over love? When did we let the debate between science and God go down to this bare-knuckled, mouth-breathing tug-o-war? When did you start thinking that because of this supposed “war,” you couldn’t believe in God anyway because it just seemed like followers of God should grow the fuck up and behave?

Scientists, God affects humanity through self-examining cognition and repetitive behavior. You tend to cite those as negative things, when hearing the stories of people long ago with the same issues as you with a solid way to combat them is gold no matter what imagery it takes to achieve it. When you provide the “what,” we provide the connections that make it sacred. For instance, I was visibly moved by Cosmos, and so were a lot of people. To me, it was the chance to see God’s face, because I am a firm believer in Thomas Aquinas, who developed the Theory of the First Mover. He said that something had to set the creation of the world in motion. That is too big an idea for most people to take in all at once. Their stories are their reflections on the world, just like this blog is mine now.

In a lot of ways, I write so that I don’t have to do an autobiography if I don’t want to. It’s already done when someone asks for it. I’m thinking ahead because I’m good like that. I’m preparing to be important. I never have been before. I’ve never had the courage to have opinions in public until now. I was just beaten down into a miserable place, because my entire world shattered and I felt guilty because my friends didn’t even know it was coming and I couldn’t explain how many chess pieces had to move before I could even feel that deep and therefore, I didn’t either. Something snapped. Maybe it was body memory. Something broke and I couldn’t refold the map. It shattered me until my dragon found me and who blasted me with fire until my earth could incubate and sustain new growth. Therefore, I am just as connected to the earth as I am to the cloud. If I can live in both worlds, so can God.

Life is too hard not to have rules. We create them all the time… we just don’t tell others what they are. For instance, one of my pizza night friends doesn’t like deep dish… like, so opposed to it that it is worth vocalizing. Deep dish is an ugly casserole. My favorite pizza in the world is whole wheat deep dish from Star Pizza, most notably the one with EVERYTHING ON IT add pesto. I like the extra bread when the piece of pizza is weighted down with so many toppings. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart in my hand just because I got a Supreme.

I feel about pizza the same way I feel about fountain pens, coffee mugs, chef’s knives, etc. I want it to feel exactly like it’s supposed to feel in my hand, and only I know how that feels. No one can pick it out, although I did make one mistake that I’ll never forget. The first day that I worked at Tapalaya, we had the choice of heavy knives or a Global-like weight. I chose the heavy one because of the way it felt in my hand. It didn’t feel that way after eight hours.

So, German at home and Japanese at work. I had to bend my rule to be successful at cooking professionally. What rules do you bend that keep you from moving forward? What are you looking forward to learning in this time of reflection? It has been said that Advent is not a penitential season. It’s not. Lent is for that. Right now, we’re just going with the sun- turning inward to see what will change when we get it back
Science wasn’t built for that. My best hope is that we meet in the middle. I will be there to bless and celebrate their progress, because the more they work the more I do to keep the Bible relevant in the modern world. Part of how I think I do it is by letting this blog be my own gospel. That way, no one will have to wonder what I was like. It will be there in plain sight….. and then when my book joins yours and theirs and all of ours together, we will be joining the living Gospel, instead of the dying one.

What are you going to write? Who or what speaks through you? Who gives you rules? Do you allow yourself to bend them for peace? How quickly does belief become action?

Waiting. Watching. Praying on the spaces.

Amen.

Where My Mind Went About Camille

I got my hair cut today. This is because I called my dad and said, “I have ten dollars in my bank account and I need a haircut.” He took pity on me and not only bought my haircut, but came to my house and picked me up to take me to go do it. Does my dad know me or what? If he’d just given me money, it would have sat in my pocket for about six days, because I would have known it was for a haircut, but yet I would not have dragged myself away from writing long enough to do it. Here’s the thing, people. If you really want me to do something with you, come and pick me up.

I think this is because now that I’m older, I understand the implications of driving that I didn’t when I was a kid. It scares me more now than it used to, because when I was a teenager I had monocular vision and no morals.

I still have monocular vision, and now I can see how much damage I have the capacity to do. I limit driving by choice, not necessity. It’s not that I can’t see. It’s that I can’t see everything all at once. My field of vision switches between left and right, but does not bother to tell my brain when it’s doing it. So therefore, I hit curbs a lot. I hit everything a lot, but generally it’s stationery stuff right outside my purview. I’m telling ya, those poles at parking garages intentionally move when I’m not looking. For real.

So I guess that’s two separate issues; the first being that I’m a workaholic and the second being that I don’t actually want to go anywhere. It simplifies my life. I find that I have more room to be compassionate because I am not particularly scheduled. I do not participate in the day to day rush that most people do, even when I’m working full time. I don’t really schedule anything that occurs regularly during the week, with the exception of choir practice on Thursdays… and even that is a struggle because I am so antisocial. You would think that I am the opposite based on my writing style, but I fake it really well. I’ve been faking it for a lot of years.

Being a preacher’s kid is not something that I would have chosen, necessarily, because like being a politician’s daughter, people come after you. One lady went up to my mom and reamed her out for letting me wear false eyelashes. The problem was that they were my eyelashes. That is just one story out of about a million. Instead of having two parents, you end up having somewhere around a thousand.

My natural introvert personality was sidelined for the greater good, and I do not look back with regret. There is a certain comfort to “the mask.” It is a unique piece of yourself, but it’s not deep. Deep is what’s behind the mask, and few people get to see that, especially in person. It embarrasses me when I can’t pull together the mask, because it invites lots of people who ask, “are you ok?” They are genuinely concerned because I’m just “not like this.”

Ohhhhhh, yes I am.

The mask is hilarious. I love her. But she is not really all that “me.” She is an act I created out of necessity, especially once my abuse started, because it caused people to ask me if I was ok at twice the rate… and when you are actively being abused, whether emotionally or physically, you will do anything to protect your abuser. Anything. If being light and bubbly caused people to chill the fuck out, then I’d do it. Because all I wanted at that time in my life was to be left alone. It wasn’t because I didn’t want friends. I didn’t want people to get close to me. I didn’t want people to see the house of cards I had to construct to keep both Diane and me out of trouble. I liked the danger of being caught, and that is the most insidious feeling of all…. that you enjoyed abuse, so it couldn’t have been as bad as all these people are making it out to be………………….

Holding Camille Cosby in the palm of my hand today. Feeling her pain. Walking in it. Allowing myself to feel, because each time I care about her, I have more empathy for myself. More love for all the years I kept my secret, and horrified that she’s choosing to keep hers, but that is not my call to make. As I said on Facebook this morning, “there is no limit to what he (Bill) has done to her mind to make her believe that this is right and sane.” I don’t want to stand in judgment of her, because I can’t and won’t. Because of Diane’s actions, it took me years and years to unpack the fact that friendship and sex are not the same thing. It caused me to believe that I could only have one friend at a time.

Because of this, I cannot stand in judgment of anyone and the negative tapes they spin about themselves all day long.

I’m still fighting mine; you don’t get over an almost-25 year relationship in one or two. It just doesn’t happen. What has happened, though, is that now I see it for what it was. There are some genuine moments that I take with me, but at the same time, in my own mind, I had to get down to brass tacks. My intuition says that her abuse made her a predator, and an extraordinarily good one. Something in her mind had to have changed, because after she moved away, our energy was completely different, and that’s where some real roots had a chance to grow.

The more the real roots grew, the more I forgave the ones that crept around my neck.

So have some empathy for Camille. I guarantee that in some small measure, we have the same story. Maybe her genuine roots are stronger than the ones that strangle her. If they aren’t, she might figure it out one day… and we need to be there for her either way.

When people are trapped in the throes of abuse, they still need help. It would just take an Act of God to get them to admit it.

Neighbors, Fences, Etc.

I’m listening to the Argo soundtrack as I type. It’s one of my favorite albums, because the Eastern and Western blend is so exciting and comforting at the same time. The title track is the backbeat of some of my entries, and actually, so is a piece called “The Mission.” The music allows me to expand my mind so that I can think bigger, similar to a doctor in the operating theater. Some of the best rabbit holes of this web site have come from a piece called “A Spy in Tehran,” which is a conversation musically between danger and the rest of the world. It’s a dance beat, friendly in its fire. The power comes in with rhythmically undulating chords of darkness. With every measure, my mind goes deeper into myself and just wanders to see what’s there. What’s left. What is still standing in darkness that I cannot yet remove and want desperately to do so. I have given myself up to surrender when I thought I had to have control to keep everything together. Life got better when I realized that nothing could be controlled and I was a pawn in a chess game writ large. I had to willingly serve in order to receive power granted to me voluntarily, rather than think that someone was going to knock on my door one day and say, “poof! You’re educated enough to hear people without judgment.” I know I hated it being done to me. Those people who thought they knew more than me. They were right, they did. But I was not in a place of surrender. A place of control said that I knew best even when I was heading the wrong direction. Other people have gotten to the right one before me, and I couldn’t reach them, an alien on my own planet, to say how much I needed help and couldn’t ask for it.

When I got the help I needed, I fought it tooth and nail. My therapist rejected me, so that meant there was no one on earth that could listen to me process. Someone thought my words mattered enough to tell me, and my past darkness said to repel her because her light was too bright and I couldn’t stand in it. It was just too healthy. It’s just conjecture on my part, but I feel that we are on the same page and running in opposite directions because we haven’t learned that there’s no barbed wire fence between us because it’s there, as in “object permanence” and the verb “to be.”

Barbed wire fences make themselves.

Coming at each other in a negative way was just building the castle and the moat behind it. Emotional surrender was destroying them in my mind even if she doesn’t destroy hers. It was a redirect that cost us time in peace, and it’s something that I will regret always. I did not take care of her heart, and that statement stands alone.

In the past, I would have run from that fact by saying that my words could never have enough impact to do that and mean it. You say horrible things because it takes that much to get through. It’s using darkness to get light, and even if you use darkness to get to the light, it matters whether you can show your work or whether you hang your head in shame. It’s the difference between being an honest human being or not.

If it seems like I am hammering a point home, here, it’s because I am. When you use darkness to achieve a goal, it matters that you can’t look in the mirror very long. I tested that boundary, and it wrecked me for the greater good. I surrendered. I wasted time with darkness and when I saw the light, I had to respond. It’s not fair to leave her wondering whether I’m sorry and wish for forgiveness or not. She does not have to forgive me to appreciate that I said them.

It’s a new thing I’m trying…….. being more patient, turning off my immediate impulse control, and knowing that the answer will come more deeply, down from my raw intuition, if I spend the time to get it while thinking about the fact that my own words are large and they have the ability to hurt people as well as heal them.

Because I can turn off my emotions, I choose to use light or dark every day. The decision is inside me now, whereas before I could not see the tapes from childhood that told me darkness was the best I could ever hope for. I had to see that surely I was worth more than that.

I changed when I realized I was.

Bah Dum Pum……………………. Jesus!

I went to church for the sermon, because Christine and Lisa are so different in both style and substance. Since Lisa is a presbyter, she doesn’t preach as often as Christine, so it’s fun to show up and not know who I’ll be hearing. You just cannot compare the two. One fills her sermons with laughter, the other fills her sermons with the feeling that something is happening in this place when it is quiet and serene and listening intensely.

When Christine preaches, the congregation is right with her, laughing right up until the moment it clicks in our heads the picture of pain she’s trying to express. There is a light bulb, and sometimes an audible gasp at people’s recognition. I am amazed at her ability to draw in the crowd bit by bit, so that they slowly reveal their feelings about themselves in their minds because who is afraid of a little self-degrading humor? Working for the remission of sins is ridiculous, because we’re never going to have a world where sin is erased. The best we can do is laugh about it so that the next week it hurts a little less.

Before the service, I saw Christine as she was about to go in. I said, “I brought my notebook so I could think.” She says, “well if you like that, this is a good sermon. Most of the time, I’m just like, “Bah Dum Pum………. Jesus!” I laughed so hard I had to strain myself from coming unglued on the sidewalk, just snot and tears everywhere. I thought of my Dad and how he’s going to spit something on his keyboard when he gets to that line.

When Lisa preaches, the entire room is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. She takes you to emotional places inside yourself that you didn’t know you had, because she’s just that kind of writer. She holds the congregation in the palm of her hand by speaking quietly so that you have to lean in to hear every detail, and you want to because she slowly unpacks, detail by detail, until all of the puzzle pieces drop together.

Because I was writing down an outline of her thoughts, my brain was making connections like a supercomputer, and five seconds before she got to the “punchline,” a very serious conclusion, I might add, you will be able to hear me audibly gasp in the recording. When she was finished, Dana and I looked at each other like, “HOLY SHIT, BATMAN!” We fist-bumped and said, “Mic drop.”

Word.

I would like to think that I am a combination of their styles, and it’s interesting that I have the opportunity to study two women who come at ministry completely differently and merge their styles in an amazing way. It is preparing our way into Christ’s birth in a wonderful way- two different perspectives that come together in our midst.

I mean, I got out of bed even though I had a head cold because I couldn’t stand not hearing either one of them. I gave up sleeping late to go to church, people… even though I was so out of it that when the sermon was over, I realized how many people I did not want to infect. Communion is the gift that keeps on giving, but hopefully not like that.

Bah Dum Pum………………………. JESUS!

To hear Lisa and Christine every week, you can subscribe via Epiphany’s podcast feed, which is a great way to feel like you have time to go to church in your car. I invite you to show up sometime if you’re local, even if you don’t believe in God.

Because what matters, ultimately, is the way you use light to believe in yourself.

To

Sermon for Advent 3B: The Messiah? Jesus? Really? He Eats Paste.

In the movie Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, there is a famous scene where Will Ferrell, as the title character, prays thusly: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger… just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos… learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors… It’s my favorite image for Jesus this time of year, and it comes across my mind often. In order to talk to God, I use a wide array of characters so that God seems approachable. I got the idea from the movie “Contact” when that guy from St. Elsewhere said it. I watch St. Elswhere all the time on Hulu, because between it and Hill Street Blues that was the only thing really worth watching at the time. I’ve learned all over again the world of the hospital and for advent, knowing the codes they run at birth is essential to set the scene in your mind.

I was born in Tyler, Texas in 1977 at a hospital that reflected it. Dallas was a short life-flight away, but when I first came into the world it was unsure whether I would need it. In those moments, I look at my parents like Mary after the crucifixion, because they both had to do the same thing in different situations…. go home without the baby.

But that’s not where we are in the story right now. Where we are in the story is that Mary has tried to check into a hotel, and settles for a barn so she won’t have to show her business to the hoards of people also trying to get a good night’s sleep. Life was a struggle just to stay alive. Everyone needed rest, and for Mary and Joseph, life was about to get interesting.

My mother checked into the hospital, but her labor wasn’t deemed far enough along. My mother already knew something was wrong, but she heeded the doctor’s advice because a doctor is a doctor. At the time, my dad was the pastor of a small and tight-knit church pretty far from the hospital. Luckily, she and my dad had friends to bail them out so they wouldn’t have to drive so far should the eviction notice get posted on the door and I start running cause I don’t want to pay the rent. My parents’ minister friend spent most of my stay in his living room pacing about, saying “This baby is not going to be born at my house. This baby is not going to be born at my house. This baby is not going to be born at my house……….”

Both Jesus and I struggled as babies to fight for our lives. He was born in a stable without antibiotics or sterile instruments should someone have had to scream “FLK” and push Joseph out of the way to go wait under a tree, because shit got real. Literally. If you picture a baby being born in a manger, the image will shock you because you’ve never pondered it. I’m guessing you’ve never stood inside it and smelled the hay mixed with manure mixed with human blood, sweat, and tears. You haven’t considered the horror of the situation when you think about who exactly was being born. The hard truth in the story is that it was the Messiah in plain sight but the Innkeeper nearly killed him. If you really want to hear a miracle in Jesus’ birth, look at the fact that he was born two inches from cow manure and lived to tell about it. The resurrection in the middle of that garbage dump of a situation is that it turned him from a regular dude into The Boy Who Lived.

I was one of the children born to this world that had a doctor perceptive enough to call FLK because I was in trouble. For those not in the know, it’s a signal to run the codes for an infant in trouble (Funny Lookin’ Kid) without shocking the hell out of the parents. I can’t picture the situation fully, but what I know is that no one was expecting me to be born, either. I don’t mean that my prognosis was low. I meant that it was unusual for my mother to need to deliver me eight weeks early. I had a pneumothorax because my lungs were not developed enough not to damage me in a little thing called breathing. I was oxygen-deprived for a short time, and it created a palsy in my brain. As I have said before, it did not delay me mentally, but I am tremendously uncoordinated. I like typing because no one has to watch me run. If Jesus is The Boy Who Lived despite tremendous odds, then I’m definitely a candidate for The Girl. My whole life I’ve been treated like Special Ed because of the way I move. People rarely stop long enough to know how I think. They’re starting to as I’ve achieved writing fame, but before then, I think that people thought they needed to coddle me because I didn’t move right. I still don’t. I’m terrible at balance and I always will be. I will always walk into doors, and people will always be nice to me the longer my eyes accidentally stay crossed….. until finally they get annoyed enough to say something and it always shocks me because I’ve known I’ve had this problem since birth. I’m sorry you can’t get used to it.

Jesus was an unusual kid. He could argue in the temple at 12. He must have been amazing, because I think that it was Jesus’ King of the Hill moment. You know the episode where they think Bobby is the reincarnated Dali Lama? People started saying that he was anointed with the gift to interpret God’s word at an impossibly young age…. I mean, they had to’ve. Otherwise, why would someone have bothered to write it down?

Last week we talked about John the Baptist preaching as the preview to the movie. Christine, my priest, said she likes that image and it always feels good to get a thumbs up from a professional.

This week’s gospel has gone from WHAT John the Baptist represents and what he did to express it. This week, we turn inward to look at the WAY he did it.

John’s testimony in front of the priests and Levites from Jerusalem when they asked who he was boldly proclaims that even though he is a minister, he is not crazy enough to believe that he has been the one chosen to redeem the world. John the Baptist says, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” In the face of incredible pressure, John the Baptist stood his ground. He’s not The One. He’ll just know him when he sees him, and he had enough courage to say it out loud. When you say it out loud, it makes it real.

It’s John’s courage that makes me love him the most. John the Baptist had the courage to tell the Jewish world that the one they were waiting for was real, but it wasn’t him.

It’s not me, either.

John couldn’t believe in the baby, because just like the people in his hometown, how was he to know that his cousin was the one he’d been preaching about all along? It is like meeting The Doctor, but only getting to know him as John Smith. John the Baptist was one of the people in Nazareth that didn’t recognize him… but not out of malice. It was his pleasure to preach the gospel of resurrection and promise for the Jewish people of the time.

As I said last week, John didn’t know who he was looking for, but we do. Paul is further along in the story than John the Baptist, and has met the risen Christ that John the Baptist could not. In his letter to the Thessalonians, another of our readings in the Lectionary, Paul says plainly that the risen Christ will sanctify you entirely if you will just believe what he and the prophets have to say, because he’s been through his own resurrection and IT WORKED. Can you not see the light of Christ in Paul, who completely surrendered to God’s will when he realized he needed it? Sometimes it takes that much.

Last week I brought up the point that not believing yourself or others until you’re crippled with emotion lets life pass you by at an alarming rate because you can’t react fast enough when you’re laden with emotional burden. I speak from experience.

My resurrection was when people asked if I was abused as a child, I knew the answer instead of “some stuff happened and I’m not sure.” It was a Saul to Paul conversion because I didn’t believe that she had until I was so crippled with grief and shame that it was causing blindness all over the place. Blindness to everything in my entire life because I couldn’t let my house of cards fall.

But someone is coming that is greater than me. Someone I’ve waited for all my life, and didn’t believe quick enough. Let go of those emotions that stop you from being ready to watch and wait. It doesn’t matter WHAT you get out of the experience. It matters how you ready yourself to receive it.

John spiritually enriched the lives of others while he was waiting.

It’s up to us to decide what we do. Maybe our job is to cross the finish line. Maybe our job is to propel someone else. In a perfect world, it’s a rolling hierarchy of both.

Shake……………………………………. and bake.