The Last Little Bit

With all of the holiday craziness, it has been nearly impossible to find time to write. Now that I am back home in DC, I am getting in one last entry before the new year starts. It’s probably not going to be Hemingway, but good writing has never been the focal point of this site. It’s always nice when it happens, but the true nature is just to catalogue what has happened so I have a written record. You matter, but not as much as I do. I’m not even going to ask if that’s okay, because I can be codependent enough without asking “international television” their opinion (if you’re just joining us, that’s my nickname for all the “Fanagans-” it’s funny #crickets).

It has not been a good year, but it hasn’t been a bad one, either. I continue to learn more about myself every day, as well as escaping grief through copious amounts of reading. Through novels, I have traveled overseas, mostly to the Middle East. I read a ton on fictional intelligence (both govvie and non), because it is the one thing that will get me completely “out of my element, Donnie.” I don’t think as fast on my feet as Jane Whitefield, Atticus Kodiak, or Kathy Mallory… but thanks to them, I can at least rip them off verbatim should I ever get into a bit of a situation. For instance, I have learned that hair dye and different glasses (possibly a hat) are enough to fool nearly everyone in the world. 😛

For Christmas, I got a new novel called The Murderer’s Daughter, which I was told to read by the fire in my pajamas. I followed those directions explicitly, and enjoyed the hell out of myself after the hard-yet-amazing experience of decorating my mother’s grave for Christmas. My sister even found treble clef ornaments for “Fred,” my name for the tree that sits in front of her headstone.

Last year, when my mother had just died in October, I did not allow Christmas to happen. I did not wait for the baby, I did not count on new hope, I did not see magic in any form. I, in fact, went to sleep on Christmas Eve and did not wake up until Christmas Day was almost over. I didn’t get together with friends, and opened my presents alone in my room. In my devastation, I didn’t know what else to do, and nothing else felt right. I’d have ideas, and then think, “nah.” I didn’t sleep because I was tired. I slept because nothing else lifted me out of my pain. In retrospect, I should have gone to help the homeless or to Arlington National Cemetery, because if there is anything I have learned this year, a reminder that I’m not the only one who has ever experienced tragedy is powerful. But, again, I learned that this year. Last year, I was barely strong enough to go downstairs, much less leave the house… and by this year, I mean over Christmas at home, in the cemetery where my mother is buried, I found a set of three gravestones. They were all children who’d been burned up in a house fire.

Not only did it remind me not to be so egocentric, Lindsay reminded me that when our house caught fire, my mother could not find me, because I’d run to the neighbors’ house to call 911. Without even thinking about it, she sprinted into the burning house, because that’s what mothers do.

In our house fire, no one was hurt physically, but we all carry different sorts of psychological trauma from it. How could we not? It has faded mightily since December 20th, 1990, but there are certain things that stick with me, like my parents scrambling to buy new Christmas presents and thinking that all my birthday presents, my computer, and my clothes were gone. In fact, that last one knocked me out…. I didn’t have any clothes.

But like all tragedies, there were positive lessons, too. For instance, I do not give a rat’s ass about any of my property. My treasure lies in my relationships, which I often mess up for a whole host of reasons, but I keep trying to get them right, because I know a laptop won’t love me back.

2017 was all about learning to love again, after completely shutting down and refusing to emote unless I was writing. I could love as an idea, but I could not as a verb. Many people reached out to me which resulted in a lot of unanswered calls, texts, and e-mails. The only person I’d get back to immediately (or as immediately as I could) was my dad, because I felt so guilty that I’d shut out my mom in my depression that I absolutely could not alienate another parent. But everyone else just got the short end of the stick, because I didn’t have anything to give. Everything in my cup was the dregs from Pandora’s box.

Slowly, surely, things have changed… are changing.

This year, I got to wait for four babies, the eternal living Christ and three new characters to “Stories” as yet unnamed…. they’re still living in their first apartments, and won’t be evicted til Spring. I can’t name their parents because the news isn’t public, but I can tell you that two of them are sharing the same “bedroom.”

2018 is looking better and better every day, because there is no greater news than birth after dealing with death. I am now more and more excited to live my own life, rather than through the fictional pictures novels create.

It’s time.

#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for Proper 10, Year A: Seeds and Stems

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Sperm is often called “seed,” especially in the Bible. Therefore, every single one of us starts out as a seed, and when, joined with an egg, takes root in the womb and stems outward. A lot of our personality is created when seeds become stems  and stems become branches and branches become the mature tree… a new person, ready to take on the world.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how the DNA handed down to you affects the type of roots you create? What kind of seed you might be? Do you consistently seek out people who you deem “in the same garden?”

The types of seeds that Jesus is talking about directly relate to personalities in people, and he says so directly when he’s explaining what he just said. This is because often, when Jesus uses an analogy while preaching, and even in just talking to his disciples, what he receives is a series of dumb looks.

This is not unusual even today, because without repetitive explanation, people get lost in their own minds and now have no idea what you’re saying. The best preaching advice I’ve ever gotten is, “first, you tell them. Next, you tell them again. Then you tell them again.” Of course, you use different illustrations, but they’re all the same point.

When people are firmly planted in their pews, completely tracking with you, they may not get the idea of repetition. People who are not often need it. As a preacher, I am competing with the personal stories that come up for the people listening, what to have for lunch, and, especially in Portland, a sunny day.

It’s the difference between how the seeds are planted, and what kind of personalities they create.

We can even expand past the personal to the local church. Are you invested with deep roots, or did your mother make you come? It’s at this point that we have to ask ourselves “are we the 30, the 60, or the 100-fold kind of church?”

What kind of church ARE we?

Are we so shallow in our commitment that a bird could swallow us up? That it would take so little to make us disband? We have nourished the bird, but have failed ourselves in a “give a man a fish” kind of way. We’ve sustained, for a moment, one being… and walked away. The gospel competes with the world, and loses… badly.

Have we planted ourselves on rocky soil, reaching for the sun? The best analogy I can think for this kind of church are those that initially are so gung ho that they over-commit, and six or 12 months later, leave, never to return… because it’s just so much work. Few can let go and listen because the running tab of things to do is so long, particularly for “the Marthas…” who place very little importance on the phrase don’t just do something, sit there.

Initial excitement in its exuberance is a wonderful thing, but it has to be watered carefully, as not to burn or drown. There is generally little room to add new crops, because people are already so mired between committees and choirs and teaching Sunday School and laying out vestments and ALL THE THINGS that new shoots spring up, and there’s no one with enough sunlight left to tend to them. The gospel just gets in the way of the running to-do list with no respite.

Churches with deep roots are not only self-sustaining, but have the ability to minister to others… and it’s a difference you can both see and feel. Deep roots mean there’s a group of people for each single thing, so that no one group has to do everything. The same 30 or 60 people are not the entire church, but just the choir or just a couple of committees. If you’ve ever been to a really small church, you know that there are at least ten people who are on every committee and in the choir, and have to say “no more.” Not out of malice, out of exhaustion. There are churches with deep roots who have the ability to create a committee just to shake new people’s hands as they come in the door, and that is their only function. There is enough room between rows, enough nutrients for everyone, that the seeds become stems and the stems become branches and the branches become the mature tree. The gospel is not working at us, but through us. We are able to welcome the stranger, give to the poor, fight racial inequality and GLBTQI rights… we have the ability to widen the net, teaching others to fish as we go.

Which invariably leads to the question of what kind of world we want to be.

For a lot of people, it’s starting to feel like being a 100-fold seed in a 30-fold world. But here’s the catch… it’s not a 30-fold seed world. Perception is not reality. There are enough people to do everything, enough people to be able to pick which causes to support, which battles to fight… and which governments need resistance. Resistance is not futile, it’s its own kind of protest.

Hundred-fold people create hundred-fold churches which give the individual a chance to grow into a community. So many people can and will get involved, but are overwhelmed when it comes to how to “jump in.” They are the hope and the future as to how a 30-fold seed can find its way from feeding one being to all of them.

This is where you are issued an invitation, in turn to give one. In my own life, I have never once had success with inviting someone to come with me to church. I have had success with showing them who I am and to whom I belong. For instance, I’ve invited friends to march with me in the Pride parade along with my church group…. or go to a political rally. Wide-eyed, they look at me as if to say, your church does THAT?

Of course. In a church with deep roots, the plants grow toward the sky, because the deeper the support system, the easier it is to say…

Jesus Has Left the Building.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for Pentecost, Year B

It’s not often that a scripture hits me as hard as the Gospel did today. I actually shed a few tears as I was reading when I got to the part about “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Because he’s right. I cannot bear anything right now that means Jesus is further away. I do not want Jesus to preach from the cloud. I want him HERE. I am in the place in my life where the Mediator, Advocate and Paraclete means so much to me that there is nothing more I want to do than touch the hem of his robe and be healed. To have Jesus turn around and say, “who touched me?” To be delivered from my distress, and there is a lot of it. In the past few years, I have lost a lot of friends, most notably my precious Argo and my precious Dana. They both carried me, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a new reality, one that I knew I needed but was reticent to give hope. They are my Holy Spirit Incarnate, which is a big phrase, but apt in this case.

I don’t normally do confessional sermons; they seem self-serving instead of serving God. But at the same time, the story of this Gospel and the scriptures set forth by the Lectionary are too personal. They got under my skin, the words tattooing themselves in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. There are just so many.

Why in the world would I say that Dana and Argo are my Holy Spirit Incarnate? Hear the words of Luke in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

They were so disoriented that Peter had to stand up and tell everyone they weren’t drunk. It is in direct opposition to Jesus’ message, or at least, it is to me. Jesus is telling the Disciples that if they don’t let him go, they will never know the peace he has to offer. The peace? He is a member of the Trinity. Hearing about the Holy Spirit just does not compute.

Luke writes that the Holy Spirit is like the sound of “a violent wind.” Where could they possibly meet in th middle? They just don’t……….. unless?

Whoever said that the people didn’t NEED to be shaken out of their complacency? I once said of Jesus that he doesn’t so much comfort me in my distress, but distress me out of my comfort. Perhaps I was putting emphasis on the wrong entity? When Peter preaches, he quotes the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I know this is old language, but there is just so much here that is relevent to progressive Christianity. The first thing is that Joel is all-inclusive. Sons, daughters, slaves. It doesn’t matter. We are all going to be taken forcibly out of our comfort zones because what is right side up will be upside down and vice versa.

In my own story, Dana and Argo were my violent wind, taking me forcibly out of my comfort zone and forcing me to accept my own upside down and right side up. Dana and I were married for seven years. We got comfortable. We created our own family dysfunction and because it seemed normal, we stayed there. Lost in our own little world. The sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood when our dysfunction showed even to us when Argo came into our lives. She became a catalyst for both of us to look at ourselves and see the patterns we’d developed over time, both positive and negative. As time progressed, Dana became a mighty wind herself, because she could see the catalyst happening within me and shook me up as well. Both of them were justified in their anger at me. I said and did things that haunt me to this day, because a month ago I took their anger and let it motivate me. I took their Holy Spirit warnings and realized that their work wasn’t done. I had to believe them, I had to submit to them, I had to internally accept what I had done, and the violent wind I’d become in my own right. I also shook them up, in a way for which they did not ask.

Whether I motivated positive change or negative, I do not know. I am not entitled to their opinion unless they want to give it. However, I can accept that getting me out of their lives might have been the best thing for them. I can accept that my blood and fire was unwelcome. It is a situation we all face at different times in our lives….. whether we can own it or not.

The question now is whether we can recover from it, and if so, how in the hell do we do it?

By reaching out. By reaching up. By accepting the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Most people think of that day as The Second Coming. I do not think that in the slightest. To me, the Lord’s great and glorious day is when we reach inside ourselves, own our sins unto other people, and ask the Paraclete to make us whole……

Do you see what I did there?
Do you see it?

There’s the meeting of one and another. The violence and the promise. The internal struggle and the need for comfort as we face it head on. Moses gave us the Caduceus, now used as the symbol for doctors the world over. It is no accident that hundreds of years later, Jesus was called The Great Physician. You go to a doctor when you need a cure. The Great Physician can heal your heart, but only if you make the commitment to ask. To keep asking. To see the violent, mighty wind coming and ask for help.

After the storm comes the rainbow. What does that rainbow look like to you? In my own life, it is prayer. It is the constant joy of speaking out loud and believing that someone is listening whether they are or not. Believing in God is not a requirement for prayer. Believing in prayer is a way to channel your own distress into prosperity. The longer you pray, the more you listen to your self, your inner being, your godspace.

When I realized that I was a person even I didn’t like, submitting to the power of Jesus’ messages of hope, redemption, relief, and comfort gave me strength inside myself to take the violent, ugly changes in my life and walk away from them so that I could forgive myself and be the person I wanted to be. I did not want to participate in violence. I did not want to add to the mess I’d already created. I wanted to be whole.

When I touched the hem of Jesus’ robe metaphysically, my mental health changed. I started to feel a peace I hadn’t felt since childhood. An ever-present rage went out of me and I started to send both Dana and Argo constant prayers of safety, comfort, relief, atonement for the things I felt they’d done and wishing for their peace as well. Wishes became reality when I realized that I did not need their forgiveness, because it had come from sending the prayers themselves.

Christ gave me an invitation to peace once the violent mighty wind had passed and the raging storm became the calm he said he would give.

I ask that wherever you are in your journey, that you are given peace as well. That you are able to reach out in distress and metaphysically touch Jesus’ hem as well. Because he preaches from the cloud, he won’t have to ask who touched him.

He’ll just know.

Amen.

To This Day

Dana and I were just having the most interesting conversation about Doctor Who and the Bible, because the canons are strikingly similar. The conversation started when we remembered The Master.

I said:

I hope they show The Master as a little boy, looking into the schism for the first time. You know who it reminds me of? Moses and the story of the burning bush. God actually tells Moses not to look at him because the sight is too overwhelming. When The Master looks into the time vortex, it’s like getting an answer to the question “what would have happened?” Keep in mind that since I am not a fundamentalist, I am not talking literally. There’s just a lot of wisdom in looking at them together.

And Dana said:

The Doctor is a Christ allegory because in dying for our sins, he’s still protecting us to this day. For years, the story has been that the doctor is atoning for the sins of killing all of his people and the canon has changed to now having locked them in a slice of time so that he can rescue them one day. And he’s over 2,000 years old now.

My eyes started to bug out of my head.

I love being married.