Sermon for Proper 11, Year A: Subtraction

It might help to read the scriptures before you read the sermon, although if I put them here, my word count is bigger. 😛


In researching for this sermon today, I accidentally came across something profound in a novel called Quantum Lens, by Douglas Richards. I have two free book aggregators that comes to me through e-mail every day, and though it is not on sale anymore, it is worth every penny ($6.99). As an aside, because I’ve gotten so many books for free, my Kindle is breaking under the “weight” of everything I haven’t read….. But the lines I came across that struck me so deeply are these, and I’ll have to paraphrase:

Character 1: How many colors are in the rainbow?
Character 2: Seven, but with combinations, infinite possibilities.
C1: What color do you get when you look at all of them together?
C2: White.
C1: Right. Water is blue not because of addition. Water is blue because of subtraction. The water is not blue because it was made that way, but because the water subtracts everything but blue. What if God is the same way? God is not God because of addition, but because of subtraction? That God is all infinite possibilities and creates by subtracting pieces of God’s self breaking open?

In another part of the book, my mind was absolutely blown. One of the characters says that on the first day of creation, Genesis says, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Ok, so we’re there. It’s one of the most famous passages in all of scripture… and here’s where it gets interesting.

The sun and the moon and the stars weren’t created until the fourth day.

What if, without knowing it, quantum physics is explained in Biblical terms by the 3rd verse of the first chapter of the first book in the Bible… God separating light matter from dark in a concept not truly understood even today… Again, God working through subtraction and not addition.

God dividing themself rather than multiplying.

When you think of scripture in this way, we are all subtractions of God… tiny pieces of divinity flung throughout the world, no matter what kind of deity to which you identify. Eastern, Western, it’s all the same. What changes is the way we subtract from God willingly. If God has many names, they also have none. There is no separation from God, because you are a piece of them, cut of the same cloth:

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.

If I say, surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.

Psalms 139: 7-11

What would Christianity look like if we all saw ourselves in this way? What if we threw out the idea of the grandfather in the sky and all realized that God themself is within us, and not without? How would that change theology as we know it? Not for the people that study it every day, but for the people who think they are worthless, or friendless, or needy, or insecure, or all of the things we tell ourselves in our moments of weakness

What would it look like to know for sure that you are not a multiplication of God, but a subtraction? That God themself is in the beating of your heart, divinity you do not have to seek anywhere but in your own heart? What would it look like if all of God’s subtractions stopped subtracting from each other, because as a human race, we are all the same pieces?

What if we were able to subtract negativity, toxicity, war-mongering, famine… all the horrible things that humans do to one another because we do not realize that we are literally hurting ourselves? If everyone on earth is a subtraction of God, we are all literally the same person, with enough difference to make things interesting. We lash out in fear, but what if we were all able to turn that fear on its ear and reach out in the knowledge that when we treat each other unfairly, or engender anger and fear in others, we are only using a knife to cut our own hearts?

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Letter in the Spirit of Paul to the Romans

Who hopes for what is seen?

If we are to believe in this letter, we have a lot of work to do. “Paul” is urging us to set our own creation free. Chapter 8, from which this excerpt is taken, deals with the problem of righteousness and entitlement… that being saved in hope does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want without consequences. His ambition in this letter is to show that the Jews of his time practiced their faith by strict adherence to the law, and to him, there was no way on earth this was possible, or even probable. What speaks to “Paul” is spiritual submission, the act of doing the right thing because the law did not always line up morally.

Jesus freed us from all Talmudic law, which is the basis for the new church that “Paul” is trying to create. In effect, he wants to subtract Christians from the legal bondage that the Jews have created, to be able to follow their own hearts and minds. Reading between the lines, “Paul” is calling out all the Jews who live to the letter of the law and yet, have no spirituality at all…. but he’s trying to fix it. He is trying to show the Romans that they are not a church of their own, but part of a larger body, all subtracted from the same being.

There is also self-motivation as well as mobilization. “Paul” was eager to preach in Spain as the West opened up, and he knew that establishing Rome as a base of operations was his best bet. He laid his heart bare, establishing his theology, because he knew that his “reviews” from Rome would be mixed based upon his reputation without even knowing him…. because who hopes for what is seen? He was trying to hope for something bigger than the churches he knew well (to paraphrase Wm. Barclay).

In order to do this, he establishes that we must be responsible for our own well-being and that of others. Not to be claimed, but to own the claim we already have. “Paul” calls us the first fruits of the spirit, just sitting there, waiting.

What are we waiting for if God has already subtracted a piece of themself into us, so that we may further the message of the Christ on our own? If “Paul” was reaching beyond the hope that was already established, what is stopping us? What is stopping us from reaching out to the poor, friendless, needy, insecure, or otherwise hurt in a world that sometimes knocks us flat? What is stopping us from subtracting pain? What is stopping us from subtracting fear? What is stopping us from subtracting unity?

Glory is not about to be revealed to us. It is already here. What are we waiting for?

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for All Saints Day 2015

Though Bethany is listed in the Gospel as the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, note that it was a place of healing long before Jesus got there. The Temple Scroll from Qumran, the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, gives the number and exact measurements from Jerusalem in terms of places where the sick should be………… relocated. There should be three separate colonies, one exclusively for lepers. None of them could be within a three thousand cubit radius (about 1400 yards), and according to John, Bethany was 15 stadia (1.72 miles) southeast… out of view of the Temple Mount. Thus, it was the perfect location to hide away the ritually unclean, for two reasons. The first is medical; it prevented the spread of disease and infection. The second is social. No one had to look at the sick and dying, either.

Because the book of Matthew tells the story of Jesus dining with Simon the Leper in Bethany, it’s safe to assume that Bethany was the leper colony mentioned in the Temple Scroll.

Leprosy, today known as Hansen’s Disease, is a bacterial infection. It spread like wildfire because getting it was as easy as coming into contact with an infected person’s cough or phlegm, depending on how much of the bacteria was in the person’s system. Additionally, when you first come into contact with the bacteria, you don’t show any symptoms. If you looked bad enough to be sent to the leper colony, you could have already had the disease for years without knowing it, making it even easier for leprosy to become the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Today, it can be cured by a six or 12 month treatment of multiple antibiotics (depending on severity), now freely provided by the World Health Organization in case any of you Texans decide eating armadillo meat (yes, really) is a good idea.

Of course, back then there was no treatment, because not only had antibiotics not been invented, the idea of something called an “infection” or even a “germ” wouldn’t be introduced for hundreds of years. The only answer was complete isolation. Plus, lepers are not attractive people, which contributed to the temple’s need to stash them away.

Patients present with inflammation of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. As it progresses, lepers develop an inability to feel pain, so not only are their bodies and faces oddly shaped from the inflammation, they tend to have inexplicable wounds all over them because they’ve been hurt without even knowing it. In Bethany, the terrain is hilly, with a lot of brush and short trees… in other words, plenty of opportunities to trip and fall. If you can’t feel an injury, and you can’t see it, you won’t treat it, either. It’s a great recipe for secondary infection.

The classic image of leprosy is that it makes your fingers and toes fall off. This is untrue, although the people of the time thought so. What they thought of as fingers and toes “falling off” was actually secondary injuries causing tissue damage enough to make cartilage absorb into the body and bones to shorten.

If there’s nerve damage in the face, you lose the ability to blink, which can lead to blindness and even more chance for serious secondary injury and/or infection.

Leprosy rates are higher in places of poverty. This makes sense, because in the Aramaic, Bethany (or Beth Anya) means “house of misery” or “poor house.” Painting a picture of Bethany is not a beautiful one in terms of population. If you lived there, you were probably poor, sick, or both. It didn’t matter to Jesus, though. It was just the last stop before journeying into Jerusalem. While he was there, he found friends close enough to make it feel like home.

Jesus met Mary, Martha and Lazarus when he and the Disciples were passing through Bethany (although the village isn’t named in the Gospel of Luke) and the sisters opened their home to them. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her in the kitchen while he taught the Disciples, he said, Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. After that, they remained close.

When their brother got sick, Mary and Martha naturally wanted their friend. Not only did they need him for emotional support, they thought that Jesus might be able to heal Lazarus altogether. They sent Jesus a message saying simply, the one you love is ill. Notice that they did not ask Jesus to come to Bethany at all. They did not send a message of expectation. They knew that their friendship bond was strong enough for the message to stand on its own. St. Augustine was the first person to point this out, saying it was sufficient that Jesus should know; for it is not possible that any man should at one and the same time love a friend and desert him.

When he heard the message, Jesus said, this illness is not going to prove fatal; rather it has happened for the sake of the glory of God, so that God’s Son should be glorified by means of it. Political tensions were growing surrounding Jesus’ healing ability. I do not believe that Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, although there are many theologians who do. At that point, I think he believed in his ability to deal with the situation no matter what it was, but that when he healed Lazarus, it would give the Sanhedrin enough evidence to convict him. Jesus did not mean that he was going to Bethany to show off by bringing a dead man to life. He meant that if he healed Lazarus, he was the one that was going to die.

No good deed goes unpunished.
Clare Booth Luce, The Book of Laws

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13

Looking at this scripture in this light, it makes more sense that Jesus waited two days before beginning the journey to Bethany. The gospel does not record why those two extra days were needed, but venturing into fiction, when you know you’re going to die, there are things you have to take care of, first. Perhaps he had to take care of his own panic before he could lead his disciples back into fire.

In John 11:6-10, the disciples are terrified, and they show it:

Now, when Jesus had received the news that Lazarus was ill, he continued to stay where he was for two days. But after that he said to his disciples: “Let us go to Judaea again.” His disciples said to him: “Rabbi, things had got to a stage when the Jews were trying to find a way to stone you, and do you propose to go back there?” Jesus answered: “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walks in the day-time, he does not stumble because he has the light of this world. But if a man walks in the night-time, he does stumble because the light is not in him.”

I believe that those two days were needed for Jesus’ presence of mind and clear vision. He had to pray for discernment, and ask the hard questions, like “am I really ready for this? If I perform another miracle, that’s it. My days are numbered because I already have a mark on my head and this will just send the Sanhedrin over the edge… and if they take me, they’re going to take me in broad daylight, because I will not run.”

When they reach Bethany, Mary is understandably upset, and so is Jesus:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

I depart from most theologians on this scripture. Most of the commentary I’ve read says that Jesus intentionally waited until Lazarus was indisputably dead just to make the miracle that much more…. well… miraculous. But the words “greatly disturbed in spirit” and “deeply moved” do not point to that conclusion.

To me, it is a moment of undeniable humanness. Jesus, in his need for clarity and discernment, is late. When the crowd reaches the tomb, John says again that Jesus is “deeply disturbed.” I believe he has heard the Jews in the crowd who said could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? After all, it’s going to be the Jews who scoffed at him who ignore the miracle entirely and rat him out to the Sanhedrin, anyway…. and he knows it.

He prays in supplication to show holy authority. The power to raise Lazarus from the dead does not come from him, but from God… and when he yells Lazarus, come out!, inexplicably, he does. Jesus then says to unbind him, and let him go.

This story is quite problematic because it is so great a miracle surely the other gospel writers would have heard about it. It’s also a problem because John says that this miracle was Jesus’ undoing, while in the other three gospels it is the cleansing of the temple… the story that beget the saying, “when asking ‘what would Jesus do,’ remember that getting angry and flipping over tables is a viable option.” To me, the cleansing of the temple seems like a much more punishable offense, but at the same time, if Jesus hadn’t cured Lazarus, would he have received such a spectacle of a welcome in Jerusalem (celebrated on Palm Sunday)?

I believe he would’ve. Jesus did something that none of the other Jews had the chutzpah to achieve- making the temple sacred once more. This story comes across as a parable mimicking Luke 16:19-31, which talks about a rich man and a poor man in the afterlife. The poor man, coincidentally (or not), is also named Lazarus. In it, the rich man begs Abraham to let Lazarus put some water on him because he is in agony. When Abraham denies his request, he asks him to send Lazarus to his house to warn his family of their fate if they keep treating poor people the way he did. Then, this conversation takes place:

Abraham: They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.

Unnamed Rich Man: I know, Father Abraham, but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.

Abraham: If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.

The Jews absolutely wailing at Lazarus’ death did not believe in a God who could change their lives even though a person rose from the dead right in front of them. We cannot possibly know what actually happened that day, but we cannot ignore the truth in the story altogether. It doesn’t matter whether Jesus raised Lazarus corporeally, but it does matter that if you feel dead inside, there is a way out.

Think about all the secrets that burn you up… the ones in which you’d rather be dead than tell. Everyone has them, because we are all human. What would it take to resurrect you and free you from that pain? Jesus is talking about walking in more than literal sunlight. The darkness is where we hide the things we’d rather not share, and in keeping them pent up, we limit ourselves from resurrection into a new life, one in which we can be our flawed human selves and have people love us, anyway.

Today as we celebrate the sainthood of those who have gone before us, I ask that you remember we call everyone who has passed on “saints,” but that doesn’t mean they were perfect when they were alive. They had the experience of loving and living just as we do right now, in the same “heavenly hell.” Talk about them as they were, and tell their stories of the death and resurrection that happened over and over in their lifetimes…. every time they had enough of the life they were living and decided to reach up for something more. Every time they resolved a problem they thought would never end. Every time they tried for perfection and reality got in the way but they bounced back, full and alive again. Talk about their Good Fridays, and every Easter afterward.

And then talk about yours.

Amen.

Learning to Fly Solo

I have approached this church differently from the beginning, not joining as a parishioner (although I will), but telling them from the second Sunday I attended that I needed continuing education just as much as I needed their blessings as my leaders.

I am also now in the choir so that I have a sense of normalcy to my world.

Just as an aside, it was my mother that convinced me I needed to join the choir, and not necessarily internal drive. She didn’t tell me anything in terms of parenting. She just said that it’s hard for her to sit anywhere in a church but the piano bench because that’s the place that feels like home. Her words hit deeply into my smallest place, the one that says, “I feel that way, too.” I don’t play the piano, but it’s hard to sit still in the pews knowing that it’s not really my “place.” If I am not in the choir, I am wishing I was up there, just as much as I tell myself that I don’t. I can do this. I can sit in the back and make notes.

I tell myself that, because it’s true right up until it isn’t. I can maybe attend a church for three services before I realize that I have to join the choir, because singing in the congregation leads people to turn around and say, “you have such a GORGEOUS voice. You should join the choir.” I get embarrassed and I blush and I don’t know what to say. Standing with the other singers is a way to avoid that moment, really, because I don’t stand out. I’m just one of the crowd.

I want it to be the same way in terms of my theology. I want to listen to Matt (senior pastor) and Gloria (associate) until I am ready to take on the large dreams I’ve created for myself. The still, small voice of God is what called me originally. Creating a legacy is what keeps me there. I don’t want to be famous, but I do want that for my church. I want people to know St. James and All Sinners like they know Riverside Church, or Cathedral of Hope, or any one of the churches in the United States that are familiar even to people who don’t live close geographically.

I can hear you asking why.

Because I want to be a church that is capable of giving more, doing more, seeing more in the name of Christ than is currently available. There are pockets, but my mission is about STEALING BACK OUR WORDS. When you hear the word “Christian,” what kind of imagery does that bring up in your mind? Conservative, “pull yourself up from your boot straps even when you don’t have shoes ‘faith'” is fucking bullshit (there goes my Jesus God flipping tables anger again…. sorry). You don’t preach with power over. You preach with power in the middle. Shared hope. Shared faith. Shared ability, the fruits of the spirit in perpetuity. I don’t create all of this by myself. I empower you.

Now is the hour in which I begin my journey, but now is not the hour where I step out on a ledge. I have schoolwork to do, along with clinical rotations in pastoral care. I have to walk with the homeless and feel what it is like before I can step up and say I can help care for the problem. I have talked a lot about “you don’t get to see Jesus. Have some wine.”

Party on, Wayne.

When it’s time to join me, you’ll know.


I am including the text of the first e-mail I sent Matt and Gloria, because I think it is important to record here.


Hey Y’all (you can take the girl out of Texas…),

Just wanted to say how much I am looking forward to being a part of the life of this church. I asked Matt if I could send him some of the stuff I’ve written/preached over the years, so I thought I would include you, Gloria. I am interested in all the possibilities we have the ability to create now that I really feel I have found a *home.*

As a writer and preacher myself, I have no doubt that I will move on to my own church someday, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a home base right now, a church to love that will love me back in all the right ways until I am ready to fly solo. I originally wanted to be ordained an Episcopal priest, but then I realized that I wanted to be able to *write* liturgy rather than turning to page 355.

Thank you so much for your grace and kindness. Many blessings. Many, many blessings, and thanks so much for reading.

Pax,

Leslie

———————————

These are sermons originally preached at Bridgeport United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon:

https://theantileslie.com/2013/04/10/sermon-for-lent-4b/

https://theantileslie.com/2013/05/28/my-very-first-sermon-ever-july-21-2003/

These are things I’ve written for my web site:

https://theantileslie.com/2013/06/22/my-jesus-mar-2006/

https://theantileslie.com/2014/12/13/sermon-for-advent-3b-the-messiah-jesus-really-he-eats-paste/

The Power of the Universe

I cannot stop thinking about Jeffrey Thames and all the work we have the possibility of doing in this community. I am serious when I say that meeting was my hot coal, the thing that took the fire in my belly and refreshed it anew in a way that I haven’t felt since the senior high youth retreat at Christ United Methodist Church. I was 15 or 16 then, and Mikal Bowman was my best friend, the one I could safely say I loved more than myself. I was just as invested in her happiness as I was my own. She was the one to whom I could submit in my daily life without even realizing it was happening. This was the day that realization became reality, both in the chord between us and in my own chord with God.

They put us in groups of two, and blindfolded one… me. There was thick, thick twine called the “lifeline,” and it was a trust exercise to get us to submit to our partner’s direction. We could hold on to the “lifeline,” but we couldn’t see. It was the partner’s job to make sure we didn’t run into anything, to be our eyes in the darkness. Mikal (whom my dad affectionately called “Mikalwave”) and I had gone about 15 steps when I GOT IT. My enormous ego crumbled into the dirt and I fell against Myke, crying so hard I COULD NOT EVEN.

Maybe there’s not a God, and maybe there is. I took Logic as a math requirement at University of Houston, because apparently Logic using symbols and Algebra are the same thing (never in three lifetimes). We spent the first half of the semester proving God exists, and the second half of the semester disproving. No matter what we did, we couldn’t prove it either way.

THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT ENTIRELY.

Faith is, as Elaine Pagels so eloquently says, “beyond belief.” The question is why? My answer is that God is too big to comprehend, and will never be proven with fact. This is because we cannot know that anyone is listening when we pray, but we see its effects every day when we are willing to submit to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves; a deep chord, manhole covered in size that can only be accessed by looking inward.

You will know this feeling intimately if you are a musician or singer, because there are two factors at play. The first is that in either singing or playing, you are breathing all the way down, using your entire body to focus on every breath. The second is what happens when everyone in the room is taking those breaths together.

Let’s extrapolate.

What would happen if everyone in a congregation saw God as individually breathing all the way down, and taking those breaths together? How would church politics change when everyone in the room is focusing on the chord that runs between them? How would church politics change when everyone in the room submits to it?

How would the American system of caring for “the least of these” change if we, as a country, were all breathing together?

Diane Syrcle has a great line about this, which she said in front of a treble choir (meaning it was all women), hands in a triangle around her uterus, that “singing is breathing all the way down into the power of the universe… because it is.” New birth, new life, new hope… the power of the universe so close we can touch it… literally. Catholics are onto something by praying to Mary, because it is praying to the power of birth… as tangible an evidence of faith as there is in this life.

If you can’t believe in a God, can you believe in a baby?

Can you submit to the power that comes with a tabula rasa, a clean slate that so many permutations of growth that it would take eons to calculate?

There is never a time when I feel more religious than Advent, because there we are, all waiting for the baby together. What kinds of growth will we do when we realize that we have the chance to be born again every single year? What kinds of ego will fall away? What kinds of sins will you release in the name of rebirth? How will you grow as that Holy Spirit touches a hot coal to your lips and burns away the old versions of you? What will you accomplish that you didn’t in the year before? How will you force yourself into a different reality? I often say that life is a series of learning to commit different sins rather than the same ones over and over. That is the very essence of acknowledging your humanness, that you cannot live life without flaws, but you can let go of them as you forgive yourself; they disappear into the ether as you grow.

The power of the universe comes into play when we’re all doing that very thing at the same time…. the way musicians breathe.

How you forgive yourself is the question with which we struggle- not once, but over and over and over. I cannot speak for you. For me, the answer is that feeling- the way my muscles stretch to accommodate so much more air. As Jeffrey would say, “when you breathe in, you take in the power of the universe.

Whether you believe it or not.

Amen

#prayingonthespaces………………………..

Blogging for Jesus

I have so much to write about that nothing is really sticking in one place. I am about as stoned as one can get on OTC medication- real Sudafed and Zyrtec together was a bad idea. All morning I’ve felt like I am walking through wall-to-wall Jell-o. I can’t pick a flavor. What seems right for a Friday? Leave it in the comments. Oh, wait. It’s peach. Friday peach (inside joke just for Meg [holla!]).

I should have bought the Sudafed PE instead, but in the past I have always told people it says, “does not work” right on the box. It is the deodorant crystal of sinus meds. But at the same time, I think it works better than the credit I’ve given it in the past. For instance, it does not suppress my appetite, and in my case, that’s a bad thing. I’m trying. I really am. For breakfast I had two pieces of rye toast smothered in margarine made of coconut oil because we don’t have any coffee. If you don’t get the reference, I thought it might be a good compromise for Bulletproof Coffee. If it doesn’t taste right, I’ll get the Kerrygold and a jar of real coconut oil. Everyone I know who drinks it is an evangelist (sometimes literally [shout-out to Casey, a real evangelical pastor]).

As I have said before, I feel better when I eat vegan food, so I’m trying to buy it more often. That’s not to say I’m a true vegan. I ate the hell out of some ribs and chicken on Memorial Day. I just pay for it later. Something’s not right with me, and I am going to make an appointment to see an internist to re-do the urine and blood tests for rheumatoid markers since Jacob isn’t my doctor anymore and I need to establish one here. It’s time. I can’t be passive about it. I have been out of fear of finding out what’s wrong with me. It doesn’t make any sense at all except that I’m scared of the reality of being sick. Samantha was brave enough to face her treatment plan head-on. The least I can do is follow her lead.

I watched her get angry, really really angry. Sobs and screaming to such a degree that I thought she’d gotten fired or something. If only she had been, because it would have been better news. Her dad said, “I thought you’d gotten engaged, won the lottery, or gotten pregnant.” Again, if only. I don’t want to share her diagnosis to protect her privacy, but I think she’s starting to write about it herself. If she does, I will link that bitch up. She is almost as funny as I am. 😉

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

Getting over Dana has been so much easier with you guys. I can vent, I can cry, and you’ll still love me afterwards. Of course, you’re not here for the crying part, but I know there are parts of my writing where you know I’m feeling something. My hope in writing about this mess is that it continues to let me bless and release this relationship without being bitter and angry. It has gotten me nothing in the past. I really do go out with joy in terms of Argo and Dana, because I know I was the problem in many cases, not just one. At the same time, though, it is feeding me to feel joy that the relationships happened in the first place, rather than being an angry asshole that they ended. Not every relationship is supposed to be lifelong. Nothing is stopping me from sending good energy so that if they come here and read something that strikes as true, we can pick up later on. I do not have hope, but I do have peace, if that makes any sense at all. I just know that if they show up, they’re not going to be received in anger. That’s the best I can do in a situation like this, because they both mean so much to me that it doesn’t make sense to hold on to the bad feelings. It makes sense to hold on to the good. Not that it will make them any more likely to show up or not, just that I have peace within myself and the direction I am going without them.

I workshop all my feelings to go back and find what is truth and not what is said in the moment. In the moment, I say things that may or may not ring true later… that’s why you see so much difference in the way I feel day to day, and sometimes they’ll give you cognitive dissonance unless you hold on to the fact that it’s just a snapshot and not the whole picture. Timestamps MATTER. It’s kind of like walking the Bible, in a way. That’s why there are opposing views in it, too. You have to know when the books were written and in whose voice to really understand it. The difference between my blog and the Bible is that there’s only one voice, and in the Bible, there are many.

I just had an epiphany. “Stories” is my blog. The Bible is theirs. Moses, Mark, Luke…. Pick a voice. They’re writing what they see in that date and time. Interesting. It may not matter much to you if you’re not a God person, but it struck me as important. Like, the Pentateuch is Moses’ blog. To me that is accurate AND hilarious.

Paul is the biggest blogger of them all. He writes letters to every church you can possibly imagine. Ephesus, Corinth, Caesaria Phillipi, you name it. Paul was ON IT.

Man, that was a shot in the arm of energy. They wrote their books of the Bible. I’m writing mine. What makes us think that our words about the works of Christ in our lives (or Moses, for that matter) are any less sacred? They may not make canon, but neither did Tobit, and yet, his words are accepted by some congregations, anyway. Still meaning to read Elaine Pagels’ seminal work on the gospel of Judas that didn’t make it, but it’s on my to-do list. Also, I am going to read every word that Karen Armstrong has ever written, because I’ve seen her on TV and I think she is one of the best theological minds in the world. She posits that the reaction to the divine is more important than the divine itself, and has been since the beginning of creation. It’s why you can forget about disproving God with science, because science and religion feed different things. I feel sorry for the Biblical literalists that can’t see it, because I think they’re being left behind in this realm, much less the Rapture (still giggling over “Come the Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned” and “Come the Rapture, Can I Have Your Car?” Didn’t write ’em. Still funny.).

They’re being left behind because they are taking an ancient society and trying to fit their rules into ours. Will it Blend? I think not. The best we can do, and I got this line from Susan Leo, is to take the Bible seriously, but not literally. The Bible is the lens through which those people saw their world, and we can use it as a living document, much like the Constitution. As the UCC so eloquently says, “God is still speaking.” I’m just trying to figure out what God is saying to me. I have a lot of work to do. Knowing the direction you need to go and knowing the concrete steps to get there are two different things. Putting one foot down on holy ground was asking Starbucks to donate coffee….. but where does my other foot go? I am not afraid. I am confused. There’s a difference.

Luckily, I have people who believe in me that I can go to for help. Like you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep listening. Keep praying for me. Keep supporting me. Keep seeing the vision, and if you want, ask me how you can help. I will put you to work, that’s for damn sure. I can’t do this alone, and I’m not. When I put myself out there, people listen. I’m not used to that sort of thing, but I’m getting there. I’m taking back my power from the weakling I’d become due to my own unworthiness.

You have no idea how much you’ve helped to erase that feeling. All your donations, all your love notes, all your prayers and PRESENCE. Presence is the biggest thing. If God works through us, then I see God in your eyes. You matter to me, Fanagans. You gave me self-esteem and confidence at a time in my life when I desperately needed it. You reached into your own godspaces and treated me with everpresentlovingkindness that stemmed from your own willingness to give of yourselves.

As Gracie Allen so famously said, and another slogan adopted by the UCC, “never place a period where God has placed a comma,”

My comma is happening right now, in this very room. Downsizing into staying in someone else’s house so that I could manage less and think more is propelling me into a different Leslie than you’ve ever seen before. I still slip and slide through life what with my cerebral palsy and ADD and running into things, both literally and figuratively. At the same time, though, I am thinking through different things than I ever thought I would. I have a bigger capacity for growth. That only happened when I let myself into my innermost secrets.

I am so glad I decided to invite you along for this glorious ride. We’ve been through the valley together. Let’s go to the mountain top. I’ll bring the champagne. You bring the hugs.

Amen.

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.