Friday, December 25, 2015

Grace in the gaps between us: Christmas 2015

 Grace in the gaps between us

One of the best known stories from the Christian scriptures is, of course, the story of Christmas. Whether rendered in plastic or clay or straw or glass, you can buy a nativity scene almost anywhere. You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize this old, old story, and have your imagination caught by its meaning: even in these dark days of winter, hope endures, born in the form of a tiny child. Jesus brings together heaven and earth in tiny newborn hands.  I love that we in the cold Northeast receive this gift at this hard time of year.

Looking more closely, though, we also have the opportunity to invite a closer look at the Christmas story, the part that you can’t see in those manger scenes.  Like everything, it’s more complicated than it looks. Here’s the trouble: the Bible doesn’t say just one thing. There are four different accounts of Jesus’ life, and each one says something different about where he came from and why his life was important.

The shepherds only show up at the manger when the author of the Gospel of Luke tells the story. The magi, wise ones from the East, visit Jesus after his miraculous birth takes place in a house (in the book of Matthew). The Gospel of Mark mentions not one word about Mary as visited by the Holy Spirit or Jesus’ birth—he just starts off right away with Jesus’ ministry as an adult. The Gospel of John offers a fourth account, talking about Jesus not as miraculously given to Mary, but the one through whom the whole world came to be, the Word of God. No manger or house, in that one, no Holy Spirit and a young girl, or her profound declaration of “yes” to God.

So what gives? Why couldn’t the church have gotten its stories straight? With something as important as the birth of the one we call our savior, shouldn’t we at least have one answer about where he came from? We can try to harmonize the accounts like we do in our greeting cards, but I think we miss something when we impose an order that’s not there. Those shepherds are important, but not the whole story.  They symbolize the birth of God at the margins, in the outcast—the pregnant homeless teenager. Those wise ones, coming from the East, symbolize the universal nature of God, the fact that sometimes truth is recognized by those outside your own kin.   We need shepherds and kings, cosmic Christ and Jesus just appearing out of nowhere.

I don’t know how these many different stories sounded to the earliest Christians, but I believe in our world now the message of these different ways of believing couldn’t be more timely. In a world rife with religious strife, what we all need most is some humility.  We need, crucially, to remember that it could be otherwise—there could be many truths, many different ways to understand.  God speaks many languages and tells many stories to God’s people.

As an Episcopalian, with my planned-out worship in a big stone church, I need to remember that the storefront Pentecostals also know Jesus. As a Christian, I need to remember that my Muslim brothers and sisters also know One God, Creator of heaven and earth.  I need to remember that in my human mind, I can’t know how all the stories come together: not the stories of my own faith, and not where those stories touch the sacred stories of others.   I need to remember the mystery of love, and the grace of God that fills in the gaps between us.
Printed in the Waltham News Tribune Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015.

More Christmas is here--listen in on my sermon from our service at Christ Church on Dec. 24!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Inky Love

Baby Isaiah and my old tattoo
Two ½  years ago, I had a rather large tattoo on my right arm done by Holly Azzara at Always and Forever in Watertown, Massachusetts.  It’s a mommy tattoo—my kids’ names, flowers, happy swallows.  Like children, it took up more room than I expected—neither population has any sense of moderation.  I had initially planned for it to incorporate the female symbol I had tattooed on my arm when I was 19, but Holly was unimpressed, and advised me to start over on the other arm or cover it up.

But I didn’t want to cover it up.
I wrote in this space then about why—the sentimental value of seeing the same image on my arm at my wedding, nursing my newborn children, graduating from college —that tattoo is in all of those pictures. It’s become lopsided and faded, but it’s me. It’s possible that I am also becoming a little lopsided. 

Until, until. I started to plan my next tattoo.  My first plan was to get a great blue heron. They symbolize a connection to place and wilderness that’s hard to come by so close to the city.  I’ve written tons of poems about the heron in the pond by the cemetery across the street from my house, and in the summer they fly over from daytime feeding grounds at the tiny lake to the west.  They’re beautiful and shadowy, motion and stillness at the same time. Grey, black, muted blue.   

At the end of the day, though, a bird is a bird. And while I may still get the heron done,  there was another image I couldn’t get out of my mind.

There is a woman (at least I see her as a woman) looking out with clear eyes and calm gaze. The green beneath her feet suggests the round earth under her. She is love. Just love. She has kind of a square face and looks like she’s seen a lot. But the way she looks out is just clear compassion. Total and complete love.

I sat opposite her window when I was on sabbatical in 2012 at Grace Medford, where my husband is t  So just over two weeks ago (10 months after the original decision was made), after 6 ½ hours of needle time, here she is.
he rector, which was when I was planning the mommy tattoo. And she just wouldn’t let me go.

And you can still see my old tattoo, shadowy in the background.  I have an appointment for January to go over and fill in any spots that didn’t heal properly, and maybe hide that a bit more. But I kind of love it.

The line in the original window from 1 Corinthians—“The greatest of these is charity”— you’ve heard at every wedding—is in the background, but I went for the Latin “Caritas” just on the top instead of all the words.  I have mixed feelings about Latin—you know, there’s that whole central tenant of Anglicanism that talks about worship in your own language—but I am setting those aside in favor of the wider Christian history of it. 

Getting ready to preach recently, I found another place in Scripture where this image resonates.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

It’s an astonishing and tragic moment: he comes up to Jesus and bows down, offering deference and respect. “We can imagine that maybe he’s expecting to be told he’s doing well; he says he has kept all the commandments. But something unanticipated happens—Jesus looks at him, and loves him.  In that loving glance, Jesus sees him and knows him, and tells him what he’s missing. The man was looking for approval, not grace. Certainly not this kind of love that will change his life.  So he leaves.  For his security, and a deeper grief than he’s ever known.

This, it seems to me, is as clear a picture of hell as we ever see in the New Testament. Never mind all that stuff about the eternal fire where the worm never dies. This is the real thing.  All of the promises of God’s eternity so close he could touch it, and instead he turns his back.  Giving in to his fear, he can’t listen to his sorrow.  He walks away.  Even Job knew he was talking to God in the depths of despair, but the rich man has nothing.  Just his money. And he will find out that that’s not enough.

Jesus looks at him and loves him.  That’s what this woman is doing— this look in her eyes is so astonishingly clear, so generous, you can see her looking at you and loving you for who you are. And all of your anxiety, all of your perceived need to prove yourself or justify your status—it just melts. And you imagine that this is what love is.  With all the transcendent hope in the world, I want to say yes to it.

What about all the other stuff? the lilies and stems are Christ Church Waltham. The anchor is just cool, but we have one of those, too)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In Memoriam: Paula Tatarunis

Last week, I celebrated the ten year anniversary of my time at Christ Church, Waltham, where I came to work in 2015 when the bishop asked if I’d be interested in an appointment at a little church west of Boston. Ten years later, I still love these people. I cry at their funerals and their baptisms, trying to thread the needle between having my feelings spill all over everything and being a human person with real relationships. This past weekend was a tough one—a beloved sometime-parishioner died after a seven months long struggle with a series of medical catastrophes from an AVM in her brain.
After having joined with astonishing vigor in 2006, over the years, Paula came to find that she and Jesus were working through some differences that felt irreconcilable to her. The amount of translation she found herself needing to do to be in church was just too much. The mystery of God for her was silence and stillness, out taking pictures of dead weeds. God was harder to find for her in the particularity of Jesus and the practices of church community.  We emailed off and on throughout her sojourn away, and she turned up on Sundays once in a while.  Last December as we were emailing afterwards she said it felt good, but that she felt like her vocation was in the “outer darkness.” Naturally I chose the prologue to John part for the Gospel at the funeral—“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” She had a lot of light.
The funeral was marvelous. We had amazing singers, full incense and fiery processions. I did cry, sniveling through “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” after communion, a hymn that I love and a particular favorite for a person who was, as her husband said in his euology, “the most beloved misanthrope there ever could have been.” She was indeed happiest when fleshy mortals were silent. 
 A few people have asked, so here’s my sermon. (you should also look at her, which is BRILLIANT).
In Memoriam, Paula Tatarunis, 1952-2015
There is a section in one of the addenda to the Episcopal Book of Common prayer politely titled The Burial of one who does not profess the Christian faith. You can have whatever reading you want at a funeral, and it really doesn’t matter what part of the Bible it comes from. So the headings are not important. But when I was putting things together to talk with Darrell about what to do today I just kind of caught on that expression. To profess the faith. To believe it, to say it out loud, to identify. Paula’s relationship with the Christian faith was just never as simple as professing it.  When she was preparing for confirmation, Paula made a comment about how the cross inscribed on her forehead when she was baptized as a child had endured there, without her knowing it, an invisible claim made by God on her. That claim followed her and held her, when at moments she would have professed something pretty different from the traditional creeds of the institutional church.
Whatever she professed, Paula’s faith, however, I would trust to pray me out of the belly of any whale, as our first opening acclamation from the book of Jonah said. Paula’s faith was in unfathomable beauty and grace and clarity and vision and justice and peace. Paula’s spiritual life was that of a theologian, as in the classical understanding that defines theology as “faith seeking understanding.”  Paula’s faith was always, always, always seeking understanding. And as I think about her faith, she was one of the most Christian, most theologically grounded person I’ve ever met.  She did not simply believe, as though a crowd of people in a stone building saying words together could make them true.  She interrogated and imagined and made poetry out of the most random shards of life. She wrote in her blog once about Jesus as the chimera of eternity and history.  The chimera of eternity and history. She was never sure of how, exactly, to believe in Jesus—but I am sure she knew him.
What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
It might be a little weakly transparent to use imagery of Word and light at the funeral for a poet. It might a tad too obvious to talk about how Words and Light are part of the reality of God at the funeral of a poet and photographer.  The work of poetry and photography is to hold time still, just for a moment. It’s to say “Look, here! Something important is here!”   But that was part of how Paula was a theologian. I remember once when we setting up for Good Friday services. We set up a huge wooden cross next to the baptismal font for Lent, and part of preparing for Good Friday is to cover all the crosses with black veils. So you cover it and tie it at the bottom under the cross bar. And the first year we had the big wooden cross Paula asked me what I thought.  This was not long after the photographs had been released of the atrocities in Iraq and I kind of shook my head and said, “I think it looks too Abu Ghraib.” And she said “Well, is that bad? Isn’t that the point?”   Which, of course, is exactly the point. She got it, whether or not she always claimed it. The point of Good Friday is to say that God is able to face the worst of humanity, not to shy away from it, but to enter into our violence and say that it does not have the last word. The violence and suffering of the world are always defeated by the love of God.
Paula had an amazing gift for the particular, for the things of life in this world.  When Paula found her way into helping with the altar guild, a solitary ministry done for the community, but completely alone—she said it was her anchoress work, like Julian of Norwich having visions in her little church hermitage.  She took it on with such astonishing precision and understated grace that when she left, suddenly everyone realized how we’d all be unconsciously leaning on her to straighten us out behind the scenes. Where was the screw that somehow transforms a paschal candle into an advent wreath?  Everything, though, came from this amazing core of dedication and rigor.   She would get here at 8am in a blizzard, just in case someone else showed up for church and I needed help (not many did).
This piece from John this, too, is a story of creation and origin. It’s not Jesus born in a stable, and it’s not Adam and Eve walking in the garden. Those stories tell us one thing, and this one tells us quite another.   This one reminds us where we have come from, and the One to whom we belong. The one whom Paula sought and sought and wanted and desired after, who sought and sought and desired after her. This is the scandalous story of the Christian faith—that God chooses humanity and pitches a tent here with us, in the person of Jesus. Jesus turns over tables and casts out demons and heals and does all of these wild things with all the wrong people.  And the powers of empire and the world just cannot handle it. You just don’t act like that with no consequences. The world does not work that way. It still doesn’t. 
 And all the power of the empire that can’t imagine such love nails him to a cross. And the love doesn’t stop. His friends see him. He eats with them. They find him when they are together. And this love that couldn’t be defeated by death continues. In them, and through eons and days and over years through shadows, and brings us here. To this love and grief, terrifying and beautiful. The same love that moved mountains is the love that catches us, and catches Paula.  It is that invisible seal on her forehead, the crown on her forehead, and the bond that will keep our hearts and hers united in God’s love forever.
 September 19, 2015.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wild Goose Festival 2015: some light reading on jesus, anti-racist work, humilty, and salvation.

I’ve written several versions of this post trying to get to the bottom of what, exactly, I was doing for my time at WildGoose Festival last week.   First I wrote a very tidy “what I learned on my continuing education time” post for my parish newsletter. Then I wrote an uber-confessional piece for this space, and finally managed to put them together.  I’ve been noticing a lot as I’ve blogged more here how my Respectable Lady Rector voice differs from my Free Range Mama Priest voice. So what follows is the result of trying to bring them closer together (and is also with a few edits basically what I sent to the parish).

Trying to share a weekend of gathering with people in the North Carolina heat, a tent revival with real tents (for people who don’t go to tent revivals) it’s easy to share links of what I saw. Information is one thing. But the experience isn’t about data.  The incredible part of it was the amazing sense of how God was working in the lives of the people I met and listened to.   Every person I heard had a deep sense of Scripture. I did the math and I’ve preached at least 400 sermons. I know some things about the Bible. But the way that Mark Charles,  a Navajo activist and educator, talked about how white settlers in the Americas lacked a “land covenant” with God to guide our relationship, or the way Bree Newsome talked about how Jesus worked for peace, not order, or how Tony Campolo talked about the love of Jesus moved in his heart to advocate for GLBT persons in the evangelical movement—literally, OMG.

I worked pretty hard to get my spirituality to fit into the Episcopal Church box. I came to this church, which I love, through sacrament and mystery and astonishment at being fed in the Eucharist, and that was enough fuel wading through the muck of HE-god language and hierarchy and institution. I have often had occasion to remember a conversation with my bishop, Tom Shaw,, when I was first studying to be a priest. I went on this long rant about how much I hated the patriarchy and insularity and pointless attachment to history and tradition of General Seminary. Very patiently, buddhalike, he listened to all of it and finally said, “Well, how is that different from the church you’re eventually going to serve?” 

13 years later, I think I’m glad to say that the rest of the church where I have found myself is totally not as uncomfortable as I was at General seminary (with apologies to all those happy GTS-ers out there).  However, the side effect of all of that squeezing and prodding and poking into more traditional forms was that it came to pass that my faith was most comfortable in a very abstract articulation. I could love the big ideas of the incarnation of God in Jesus and the sweeping movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But that’s my theology. My passion for Jesus is more in sacrament and symbol. It's a lot less clear than "Ok, Lord, I’ll climb that pole.”  I’d be afraid to climb a flag pole just for the sake of the height, much less risking arrest and the legitimate possibility of being shot. But Bree Newsome pointed out that Jesus was mostly just in the Temple when he was knocking things over. He was out in the world doing his ministry where God called him to be.

So that’s my real invitation from Wild Goose Festival.  Where am I muting the invitation of the Holy Spirit because of fear? Where am I unfree from a disordered attachment to comfort? In church, in my family, in my prayer?  How often am I willing to do the hard work for genuine, holy, peace?  To learn from marginalized voices, not because it’s my “duty,” but because Jesus is there. It’s very comfortable to say that “education” is the key to success and social mobility, and that’s often true. But where we need to lean harder on education is for people like me who don’t get arrested for failing to use a turn signal, to learn what we don’t know.  As a person of privilege in this country I can be like a fish in water and not have to understand what water is.  But that is not the way of Jesus.

A white anti-racist response has to come from humility. This country was founded on the theft of land and came to economic dominance through slavery.  It is coming toward democracy, and is founded on some amazing ideals of freedom and equality that are coming toward being for all people. But those ideals aren’t a reality for all of its people.   The inspiring part, though, is that if the truth really will set us free—and I think we have to believe it does—is that we are all on our way to the vineyard. Some will be on time, some will be late, and some will be really, really late. (I know someone made this reference at WGF and I don’t remember who it was). But as Episcopal priest Paul Fromberg said in his talk on “An apocalyptic of peace:” I don’t believe in progress. I believe in salvation.”

As a Christian I, too, believe in salvation.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why politics needs theology: or why feminism and trans rights are part of the same train

This week one of the most shared articles in my facebook news feed was the provocatively titled “What Makes a Woman” by Elinor Burkett. The bottom line of the piece was that it’s intellectually inconsistent to cheer when Caitlyn Jenner goes on national television declaring that her female brain makes her a woman and to jeer when Larry Summers idiotically says (as he did ten years ago) that women aren’t as successful in math and science as men because of differences in their brains. If Caitlyn gets certain privileges because of her lady brain, the reasoning goes, we have let Larry say mean things about us.  If men and women’s brains really are different, maybe he’s right.

Um, no.
Let me put my cards right on the table. I’m a militant nurture-not-nature person when it comes to gender differences.  I gave my son dolls and my daughter trucks. It was only when pre-K classmates insinuated that pink was for only girls that my son’s long-treasured Hello Kitty lunch box and pink sneakers were retired.   At the same time, I have (as I’ve often mentioned in this blog) all the female problems.  My confidence is shaky, my ambition second-guessed (and then my lack of ambition second guessed again. I am sometimes a square of guessing).  I have all the lady parts and all the lady problems.

But those problems are social, not biological. The lady parts are just that—parts.  Breastfeeding my children was the most embodied and holy feeling I’ve encountered so far, but that doesn’t mean that those who haven’t had that experience are any less women or that I have to be defined by my body to express my faith.  Our brains take daily showers in all the stereotypes and social expectations of the world, as Burkett’s article itself quotes: “You can’t pick up a brain and say ‘that’s a girl’s brain’ or ‘that’s a boy’s brain,’ ” Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Britain’s Aston University, told The Telegraph last year. The differences between male and female brains are caused by the “drip, drip, drip” of the gendered environment.”   Of course that has an impact. Caitlyn Jenner can think whatever “Women are from Mars, Men are from Venus” nonsense about how her emotional sensitivities make her more female as she wants.  That’s her business.

Essentialism—the idea that there is anything essentially “male” or “female” about being aggressive or nurturing (or any constellation in between)—is an old debate in feminist circles. We like it when we get to hang out with women and we feel safe. We don’t like it so much when it’s deployed as a weapon from without, limiting who we can be. From a feminist point of view, though—as the underdog in the patriarchy—we have a certain right to deploy whatever tools we want. Because we are not—at this point—in charge, we get to have our cake and eat it too.   As I wrote in many an undergraduate essay in my gender studies degree, essentialism is one tool, among many, that can be deployed at will. Using one tool along the way doesn’t mean you’ll need it every time.

Does Caitlyn Jenner have a more female brain that I do? It’s totally possible.  Does that jeopardize my or her status as women? I don’t think so.  This is where theology comes in, and why Burkett’s collision course isn’t inevitable. As long as there are feminists who want to exclude trans women, there will be trans activists who object to the idea that the play The Vagina Monologues is too cisgender (traditional birth gender)-centric. That’s dialogue, not oppression.  You can agree or disagree with either one and still fit.  Caitlyn Jenner can describe her gendered experience in a way that doesn’t resonate with mine. That’s her right.

In our baptismal covenant, we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. The dignity of each person to define themselves as they see fit, to express themselves as they desire, in the place where they find God’s breath breathing most freely in them.  It’s why racist police brutality is wrong. It’s why men can stay at home with babies and women can earn lots of money. And it’s why Caitlyn gets to be herself.  These values are not in conflict.  Or, as third grader Q described his gender transition on the NPR show TheTakeway,  Instead of a dead flower, [this is like being] a growing flower.”   

While it’s true that Caitlyn Jenner’s brain has come for its first six decades or so to inhabit a world where a man is free to walk wherever he wants, as a transwoman she is exponentially more likely to face violence now. If she spent her years as an Olympian longing to be seen as someone else, even in the midst of fame and privilege, she now has the right to be as feminine as she wants.   Not because she earned it from her suffering, but because it’s just who she is. I believe her, even if, as Burkett says, “her truth is not my truth.”  Our truths don’t have to be the same to be true.  Human dignity, by definition, isn’t defined by the world. Our dignity comes from our belovedness as created by God. To extend Q’s metaphor, God wants us all to be growing flowers, period.  Whether our stems and petals match in traditional ways isn’t the point.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A book to get us to the day when we won't need a book: There's a Woman in the Pulpit

This week I’m excited to be part of the “blog tour” for There’s a Woman in the Pulpit, an anthology of writing by women clergy about being women clergy. And it’s a delightful book, with women from a wide swath of Christian denominations holding forth on everything from bedbugs in the parish library to high heels in the pulpit.  I am grateful never to have dealt with bedbugs at my parish and I’d sooner crawl on broken glass than wear high heels, much less on a Sunday.  But that’s what’s so lovely about the book—it’s like hanging out with friends.  Some are older, some are younger. We are all shades of LGBTQ and some are straight (actually I’m not sure if there are any transwomen represented).  Not the same as me, but also so much the same.

I grew up in an Episcopal Church in which I never realized until much later that women’s ordination had been a struggle: “Pastor Kay” came when I was in fifth or sixth grade. But it was a parish that never used inclusive language, so whatever the gender of the person at the altar, the wider church’s commitment to ur- patriarchy was not in doubt.   I do remember the fracas that ensued when “Pastor Kay” tried to switch her title to “Mother Kay.”  Reading the book, I found myself nodding along with women clergy who have been mistaken for the secretary, who are looked at as though they have two heads when they talk about their clergy spouse and “preacher kids” x2 (“How does that work?”).  I can relate and am grateful for these women who so graciously can explain the shimmering abyss of transcendence that is this strange vocation.   And I am profoundly grateful to be among their tribe.

“Should” we need a book like this? “Should” we be surprised that we have so much in common? “Should” it still be remarkable to have a woman in the pulpit? Of course not. And if “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” included the voices of faithful Roman Catholic or Orthodox lay women, it would be a different collection.  Would a book ever make it off a shelf if it were edited to include pieces about people who own red couches or have named their children “Isaiah?” I doubt it.   Gender is as socially constructed and random a category as any of these. But the fact is that the dominant American culture can be toxic to women. My daughter won’t face the risk of acid attack or kidnapping when she goes to school, but she will still figure out her male peers are judged as “leaders” while she’s just bossy. Or, as contributor Rev. Kathryn Johnston put it, there are advantages to being on “Team Penis.”

Are we pastors or women pastors? Priests or women priests? 
Yes, yes. Ten years into my work at my church outside of Boston, those who were a little worried about having a woman as their priest are over it. We get on with things, do the work.   I remember a line of some postmodern theorist (Foucault, maybe? Probably) about gender and sexuality to the effect that “you don’t know the sex of the hand that touches you in the night.” And surely that is true of the hand that touches the forehead of the unconscious at the bedside. The grace of God is mediated through human bodies, but isn’t gendered in God’s own nature.

I’ve written about gender a lot in this blog—even 15 years after graduating with my degree in gender studies, it still organizes my thinking. Maybe when my daughter is my age the fact that her mother was in a book about the experiences of women as clergy it will seem like a strange artifact. This book, like all the ways we tell our stories, brings us further to the new day when we won’t need it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Wonder and Angst on Easter Friday

Holy Week was last week, the time in the church that we walk through the days of Jesus’ last meal with his friends, his betrayal, his crucifixion, and the resurrection. Every year, I summon all of my “Trust-God/Trust-Myself resources” for Holy Week, believing that what I need for each day will be given to me. And every year, it is—I usually feel fine about what I preach and what happens in those liturgies (every day at 7, with two extras this year on Thursday and Friday at noon), and always grateful for those who step up, every year, and do the whole thing with me.  With all the focus on the three days—Thurs-Fri-Sat—I never quite have what I wish I had on Easter Sunday. I never quite preach the joy, never quite capture the wonder of God raising Jesus from the dead.  The truth of Easter is that death has no power over us, the violence that appeared to defeat God in Christ is vanquished. To be very honest, Easter morning is one of those days I’m most grateful for being part of a liturgical church; we share Eucharist and we are in community—however I feel about my sermon, at the altar we will be fed, no matter what.  If I am impressive in my own attempts at articulating the mysteries of our faith--that's nice when it happens, but not the most important thing.

This year, after having gotten through Holy Week and Easter day on adrenaline, coming to Easter week has been harder. Being in Easter this week has been harder.  I have the week off from work, so no bulletins, no emails, no leaky pipes, no evening meetings.  Yay! I pick my kids up early from pre-K and afterschool, watch movies with my husband, go for long walks, read.   I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see "When the Stars Begin to Fall," a show of African American art from the South.   The days of this Easter week so far personally has been very, very good.  But it’s not quite felt like Easter.

Where I get stuck is that, while I get a break, even in Easter season, the suffering of Good Friday has not gone away.   Family and friends of 148 people gunned down at a University in Kenya are still grieving.  Walter Scott, another unarmed black man was killed by police for no reason, and would again have gone without justice if a bystander hadn’t recorded the encounter.  More kids without a father.  “All lives” matter, of course they do. But America  doesn’t systematically devalue “all lives.” It does not to go without saying that black lives matter, because again and again black people are killed, and seen as “less than.”  

Jesus, murdered as an enemy of the state, was interpreted as “less than,” too—a minority Jew living under empire. In his book Resurrection, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams calls him a “pure victim,” able to change the nature of reality itself because he refused to offer violence for violence. The term always bothered me—if he is distinguished as pure, what about all of the other impure victims?  Those who are slandered, those who are blamed? Walter Scott would likely not have run from the police in the first place if it weren’t basically a crime to be poor in so much of our country.  I think, too, of what was said about Travyon Martin after his death, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice…so many who did not deserve to die and so many whom our news media convicted again, as though one death were not enough.  Where is their Easter?

To put it plainly, is it good enough to say that they are united with Christ in his death and raised with him in the resurrection? Is that enough? Is it enough to say that the “pure” victimhood of Jesus Christ ends the relentless pendulum swing of violence, the perpetual motion machine of hatred and destruction that has been human society since the beginning of time, for all of us, guilty or not?

I think it is…and it isn’t.   

 We are loved and “saved” by Jesus not because of what we do, but because of what God does. It is in God’s nature to create and love, and that is what God does, spending God’s self lavishly and falling in love like an idiot every. damn. time. someone is born. However you interpret the crucifixion—whether it was a blood sacrifice for sin or an ultimate pacifist peace-creating death (or somewhere in between), God’s love is the beginning and the end.

It’s not enough just to say that the resurrection of Jesus is for all, but it’s also not enough just to protest, or cry, or grieve, or wail (though the Christian tradition is full of that—see, for example: the psalms).  You can’t just mouth the words “Christ is risen” and go home.  On the other side, nothing you can do is ever enough. This is not a reason to do nothing, but it is an important reality check in a world where we want fast answers and easy consciences. (spoiler alert: you won’t get either one). We have to work hard for Easter simultaneously as we sit down and just open our hands. It means that we have to fervently hope and believe and know that all of those who are cut down by violence rise in peace and glory, and that death indeed has been vanquished for them as those of us left behind work as we can for a newer world where we are with what we have (on this, see the potter Theaster Gates, whose "Billy Sings Amazing Grace" is at the Institute of Contemporary Art--his TED talk is about the recreation of his neighborhood in Chicago as is very Eastery indeed).

So that’s me this week—reading slightly trashy novels (currently appalled and delighted by Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man, walking along the lakes that feed the Mystic River, thinking about the change that is to be made where I am with what I have, being a couch potato in my existential angst and occasional wonder.  
Happy Easter Friday, everybody!