The Song Stuck In My Head

It's not actually the song. It's the scene. But, it's stuck in my head. Have you seen Jesus Christ Superstar? It's one of my favorite movies. Thank you to Prof. Gabriella Lettini for introducing me to almost every, single Jesus movie under the sun. Without her help, I could not claim this not only as one of my favorite Jesus movies, but a favorite movie.

Andrew Lloyd Webber can have his fun on Broadway. But, this song is apparently not in his score. I find this really, really bizarre. And yet, it's the scene that keeps entering into my head. I can see the crowd emerging from the hillside and drawing closer and closer to Jesus in the hope of -- one touch. And they sing, longingly:

See my eyes, I can hardly see.
See me stand, I can hardly walk.
I believe you can make me whole.

See my tongue, I can hardly talk.
See my skin, I'm a mass of blood.
See my legs, I can hardly stand.
I believe you can make me well.

See my purse, I'm a poor, poor man.
Won't you touch, won't you mend me Christ?
Won't you help, won't you heal me Christ?
Won't you save, won't you pay me Christ?
Won't you kiss, you can cure me Christ.

Without a song in his throat, surrounded by the crowd, Jesus is almost overcome by them. And he yells. He yells with anger:

There's too many of you. Don't push me. There's not enough of me. Stop. Don't crowd me. LEAVE ME ALONE. Can't you heal yourselves?

Why in the world can't I get this image out of my mind? Go on you Freudians, you are probably right.


The Emergency Room

As I've leaned on the love of friends and colleagues during this past week, I have been told (mostly by people that do not share my theological perspective) that this is what the work of Christ is all about. Jesus calls us into the hard places to be in ministry with those that are hurting. Having spent this summer working as a hospital chaplain, it is less than appealing to imagine the ministry as an overcrowded, understaffed, chaotic Emergency Room. I can barely enter the Emergency Room as it is. On my rounds, I tend to do the "fly-by" approach to the Emergency Room where I don't make eye contact with anyone for too long and offer a weak smile when I can bare it. Friends, this is not what ministry is all about.

ER might have had a really good run on TV with several seasons. But, I could never watch it. It goes back to my fear of hospitals. But, I also don't want to do ministry where everything is operating on this intensely chaotic plane. Of course, God's children need blessing and ritual in the hard spots. There are times to bury the dead and deal with tragedy. But, that's not what church is. There must be rebirth. There must be something to rebuild, renew and restore.

The big question seems to be: how do we look toward this renewal? How do we take these first steps? Is it possible to rebuild in the face of tragedy? When bad news strikes, how do we move on? Or maybe the real question is, when is it too broken to heal? When is there a DNR in our church? And when are we brave enough to accept that not even Jesus would be stupid enough to go there...

I'm not sure how to answer this call. I'm not sure that this is the work that Jesus is calling me into. I'm not sure that I should go into a place that could be plagued by denial as much as they could be infuriated and outraged with lack of trust. I'm not certain what to make of the entire situation. But, I'm most uncertain about how I should respond. I know that I need to make eye contact. I need to offer more than a smile. But how?


Kyrie eleison.

Though I'm a terrible sinner for not paying any attention to the news recently (no really, I can't even bring myself to listen to NPR for the 10-minute drive to work), I believe in the power of prayer. In my transgression, I offer this prayer composed by UCC General Minister and President John Thomas for the hope of our world.

You did not make us, O God, to die in bomb craters or to huddle through the night in basement shelters. You made us to play under olive trees and cedars and to sleep soundly with animal toys and gentle lovers. Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.

You did not make us, O God, to hold hostages for barter or to rain deadly fury on innocent children and beautiful coast lands. You made us, O God, to welcome strangers and to cherish all creation. Christ, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.

You did not make us, O God, to oppress in the name of security or to kill in the name of justice. You made us, O God, to find security in justice and to risk life in the name of peace. Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.

While leaders in Tel Aviv and Damascus, Tehran, Washington, and southern Lebanon pander to ancient fears, claim the mantle of righteous victim, and pursue their little empires in the name of gods of their own devising, the people of Lebanon and northern Israel are made captive to fear, true victims whose only advocate is You.

Save us from self-justifying histories and from moral equations that excuse our folly. Search our hearts for our own complicity. Spare us from pious prayers that neglect the prophet’s angry cry. Let us speak a resounding “no” to this warring madness and thus unmake our ways of death, so that we may be made more and more into your image. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison.

The Power of God

I'm always amazed by the presence of God. I mean, She really sneaks up on you and bites you in the ass sometimes. And right now, I'm finding it in the power of the human connection -- people that I have never met or even spoken to. Really, this is what I find so amazing about art. Here you are feeling all that you are feeling in the present situation that you are in. And then, you happen upon a painting, a poem, some stained glass, a photograph, a dance or in my case, a book. Right in the middle of all of my thinking, Barbara Brown Taylor names it exactly as she says:

"I wanted a sanctuary, and, though I did not seem able to rope off such a place inside myself, I still held out hope that if I could build one outside myself then perhaps the inner one would grow."

I offer you these words today on the off chance that these words echo with something in your heart too. And maybe, like me, you will find yourself amazed that someone else does know exactly how I feel.


The Will of God

What do you think about the Will of God? No, really. I want to know. What do you think?

Ok, I'll start. The Will of God. Ok, first, I capitalize this term because it is one of those terms that we throw around like we know what it means. It's right there in the Lord's Prayer. We repeat these words in worship almost every Sunday (and sometimes more often). And, I wonder if we really know what "thy will be done" means.

It's really a personal lament. Maybe it's not a lament that you share. But, I can't help but wonder what the hell the Will of God refers to? As a liberal Christian, I'm uncomfortable with the notion of providence. I'm not confident that we can claim that God is doing this, or doing that. I'm not uncomfortable with the fact that God might condemn or destroy as much as He (and in this case, God is a He) might create. I've worked with the poor (which is another horrible term, by the way). I have heard people of deep faith talk about the Will of God with a conviction that I would never question. But, the seven year old motherless daughter in me wants an alternative.

I want an alternative today. I want one right now!! And I just might throw a tantrum in my rage because I really don't know what to do with this notion of the Will of God. I trust in the power of God. I trust that God is leading me. But, I still think that she might have a twisted sense of humor and might yell "Gotcha!" at any second. Maybe it's my fault because I was confident and I thought that I had all of the answers. I thought that I knew where I was supposed to be. I thought I knew where She was calling me. And then, things changed. Something happened that I don't want to put on the internet (which by the way, was also not my fault). And now, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to think. But, somehow I know that it's not meaningless. I do. I'm a little indignent. But, I know it. Really, I do.

But, can I have the appropriate (whatever that is) faith in the Will of God? Can I really believe that God does indeed have the whole world in Her hands? Or at least right now, can I believe that She is holding me? She knows. She will lead me. Maybe there is a lesson, though I'm not really sure. I can only be certain that she is here. Perhaps that is a contradiction, but I believe that She is here holding my hand. And most of me wants to hold to the faith in these words:

"I believe that nothing meaningless has happened to me and also that it is good for us when things run counter to our desires. I see a purpose in my present existence and only hope that I fulfill it." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Things Are Not Always As They Seem

I'm angry. I'm not sure if anger is the appropriate emotion, but I'm angry. I'm not sure if I should be angry with myself or with others. Should I be angry with the colleague that has found himself in a less than favorable situation? Should I be angry with myself for not seeing the potential for disaster? Should I be angry that I saw something I trusted? Or should I be furious with the unrealistic expectations that we place on clergy so that clergy can only fall short?

I'm not sure what it is that makes me so angry. But, it's the only emotion that I can really articulate. And now, I'm back at square one. I have to begin again. I have to figure out where to go from here. I want to find hope in that moment. But, right now, I'm just angry.

It's Never That Easy

Today is one of those days that I can believe in a wrathful God. I don't really like the idea of a wrathful God most of the time. Most of the time, it really doesn't work for me. But then, you hit a crisis. You hit a moment when you become absolutely uncertain about everything, and you can't help but resort to old theological pitfalls like a wrathful God. But, I still can't really get my head around the idea of a wrathful God -- so perhaps a trickster God. A God with a cruel sense of humor.

For you see, I forgot to say thank you. I was overwhelmed with the wonder that a church (a church that I love) wanted me that I forgot to say thank you. Instead of saying a little "Praise Jesus," I said stupid things like, "Wow, That was really easy" and "Can it really be this easy?" So today, I find myself facing a trickster God. I didn't say thank you and suddenly it's not so easy. Something went wrong. The perfect church where everything just seemed a little too wonderful presented itself with a problem. So, now I have to decide if this is the right choice. I get the luxury of affirming the "yes" that I have already given.

See, it's never that easy. That's what I heard this morning at Judson Memorial Church. It's terrifying when it seems that the preacher seems to be speaking just to you. Somehow, the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper seemed to preaching just to me. She reminded me that none of us like change. Finding some loose grounding in the Parable of the Tenants (Mt 21) and the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Mt 22), she preached about last things. She preached about how we look to the ending for a result. And while on the way, we hope that nothing bad will happen. But, we can't do that. We can't hope that nothing bad will happen. Bad things will happen, whether or not we stop to give thanks. Whether or not it's too easy, bad things will happen. What Rev. Schaper did not answer for me is what we do with thesebad things. They most certainly happen. But, what do we do? And what shall I do?


Church Billboards

At Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in New York City (where I used to worship reguarly), this quote currently appears on the church bulletin board:

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning"
--Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes)

And who said that there aren't street theologians playing with their toy tigers? If only the bolts of lightning in comic books would work in real life...


Your Faith Has Made You Well

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." Mark 5:25-34

I love this story. It's the story that I focus on in my ordination paper. It sings the power of a faith that is constantly reaching toward the divine. But, as many times as I have shared this story, I have never heard it as I did today.

Today, I read this story to residents of the Behavior Health Center at the hospital that I am serving. I had lots of reservations about whether or not to use this story. Can you talk about this kind of healing with patients that are locked in a ward due to their own mental episodes? How do we understand healing? Can you really offer a story where one touch makes it all go away? I was nervous, and even as I read the story this morning, I wasn't sure what would happen.

But then, I invited the residents to sermonize with me. Could they identify with this woman? Could they share in the story of the little girl in the story that sanwiches this narrative? And suddenly, the most holy thing happened. These broken children of God began to talk. They told their own stories. They told their own truth. And I realized that we were all reaching together. We had come together to realize that our faith in each other would make us well. Wow.