Christ, Crackers, Communion and Keeping It Real (I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French-fried potatoes)
“Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat tails.”
― Clarence Darrow
With fists flying up in the air
Like we’re holding onto something
That’s invisible there,
‘Cause we’re living at the mercy of
The pain and the fear
Until we get it, forget it,
Let it all disappear. –C. Bennington (et al)
For George, Chester and all those who suffer no more.
Amazingly, we just last week had the anniversary of the famed Scopes trial that took place in Dayton, Tennessee ninety-two years ago. You read that right: 92 years. I am certain most know the history. In 1925, the state of Tennessee brought charges against one John T. Scopes for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in any publicly funded school.
Clarence Darrow represented Mr. Scopes while William Jennings Bryan (three-time presidential candidate) represented the prosecution. The trial basically pitted Darwinism and the Bible against one another and tried rather successfully to say if you believed in one you couldn’t possibly believe in the other. It didn’t last long but it was just long enough to whet the whistle of the American people and create a dialogue (diatribe?) that lasts to this day. (More on this in a moment.)
Fast forward to today (remember, NINETY-TWO years later) when a group of atheists and agnostics has commissioned an artist’s rendering of Clarence Darrow to sit alongside the statue of William Jennings Bryan outside the famed courthouse. Now the contingent from the Baptist college in Dayton, Bryan College (so named for the aforementioned Mr. Bryan) finds this unsettling. The sculptor of the Darrow monument and its patrons, consider it a well—balanced addition to the history of the courthouse.
Here we are in 2017 and the separation of church and state and maybe, more importantly, the discussion of Darwinism, Creationism, evolution and the story of Adam, Eve, that wily serpent and the apple, has reached an almost fever pitch.
I remember being a teenager and trying to explain (in my relatively small Bible-belt town) to my friends that I believed in both the Bible and evolution. I can still recall the shock and horror on a certain friend’s mother’s face when I broached the subject during a slumber party. She was Antioch Baptist and she did not appreciate my heretical ideas being thrust upon her daughter.
As I recall, we also discussed chastity belts and upon starting my period at said slumber party I was given a ginormous belt with clips and a pad about three inches thick to “fix” the “situation”. (Where the hell is Judy Blume when you need her?) When she handed it to me I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. I smiled politely and rigged it up best I could.
When I got home I showed my own mother, who had a really good laugh (about the evolution, the “situation” and the belts) and softly told me I should perhaps not spend the night there again.
The thing is- why must Christianity and evolution be mutually exclusive? Why is it so hard (and frightening) to believe in both? Of course, these days this is simply the tip of a melting iceberg. I find it more and more disheartening that the Christian discussion has become one of fear, loathing, and alarming rhetoric. Certainly, the political climate in our country is contributing to this, however, the discussion and apprehension is nothing new. What is new, is the adamancy of the Christian right that everyone adheres to their very specific and rigid view of Christianity. I don’t mind telling you, this rubs me more than a little, the wrong way.
Way back in the day, Jesus was not only a rebel but an outlaw (for the record, there is debate as to what law he broke, whether Roman law or Sanhedrin). He rose up against the establishment and spoke out often and with defiance and passion against the dangers of complacency with the powers that be. He taught inclusion rather than exclusion and accepted everyone and counted all among his family. He still does, right? RIGHT?
Jesus basically gave us a rule of life- a manifesto of how to live and it was fairly simple. In fact, it was almost remedial. ‘Love God, love yourself, love others’ (I am paraphrasing a tad). It seems almost laughable when you repeat it back…and yet, when I do so I find my pulse quickens and the hairs rise on my arms. It is so basic and so meaningful but somehow we have turned his very life (and death) into something almost unrecognizable, but I digress.
Last week was also the first year we marked the passing of George, my old love. I don’t ever focus on those types of anniversaries, but the entire day found me spaced-out, closed up and fighting tears. I don’t know why. George would have never wanted me to be sad. “HORSE SHIT,” he’d have said. He’d be right, of course.
I had a theological retreat this weekend in which the discipline was to better mentor the students in a theology class I will lead (co-lead, actually) in the fall. It was at Camp Allen, a beautiful stretch of property owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas nestled in the woods of Navasota. I spent a good deal of my free time walking the grounds and thinking about George and other high (and low) points in my life.
We are all aware of my zany and sometimes a hair less than heartbreaking life. I make no secret of it, and in fairness, it is not really anything others do not deal with on a daily basis as well. (Yes, I am also glaringly aware of how good I’ve got it in comparison. Stay tuned.)
Case in point: Lily, the ever pain-in-the-ass but oh-so-sweet Rottie pup, throwing up (and having diarrhea for good measure) in my room while I was out of town for the weekend. Or maybe let’s talk about das auto being broken down going on about two weeks now. Perhaps I could mention that my second child is leaving soon for college in North Carolina and that is yet another child who will never live at home again.
It could be interesting to note that I no longer have a bank account and that I will likely never get into seminary due to the small loan I have to take out each year for Jack’s college. My family (the one I grew up with) is generally as dysfunctional as the rest of the population’s with some really fascinating dynamics at work on any given day.
I could mention my sometimes more-than-mild flirtation with my boss, or the ½ a decade I’ve spent in love (and longing) with the Cajun in which I have let several really good men fall by the wayside (and to be fair, some not-so-good ones too).
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to get caught up in life…to assume or presume perhaps, that we are meant for different things. When I look back on my life (which I really try not to do unless it is to recall some fantastic memory from my youth or young adulthood) I tend to get caught up in the reality that I am not, in fact, the next Jane Pauley, or that I never went to law school or won my Oscar. (I had a lot going on.) I still hold out hope for my Peace Prize and/or either the Pushcart or the Pulitzer.
The point is- wherever you go, there you are. (Thank you, Dr. Seuss.) What I mean to offer is this: life is why we are here. It is messy and uncontrolled and sometimes unfathomable and uncomfortable and at times, the next worst thing is lurking just around the corner. But it is also wonderful, warm, exciting, unplanned, unrehearsed, and unavoidably awesome. There is real substantial joy in the ordinary, every day if you will let yourself go and feel the freedom of feeling all the feelings.
We talked a lot this weekend about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It is difficult to think of a guy so totally alone in his hour of need- crying out to be heard, wishing for a reprieve or simply an answer from his father- and finding none. At that point, he is a totally human man feeling utterly human emotions. There is no saving grace for Jesus. We know how the story ends. There is a kiss, a cock crows and he is hung on a cross and left to die in a place some have called the valley of bones.
And yet, what happens next is unexpected and dare I say beautiful, humbling, beguiling, mysterious and divine. He says no to death. He says so knowing there is already a place for him waiting- that his lonely hours are forgotten and that he has triumphed over the obstacles set before him. It was always meant to be this way. Let us not forget, first he asks in a moment of complete and unbelievable compassion, for his father to forgive us- all of us, forever. He conquers death and then ensures in a contract that can never be unbound or broken, that we all get to live forever too. But make no mistake; he went headlong into the shit many a time before he ever became the guy we now worship with icons, stained glass windows, velvet paintings, crosses and air fresheners.
Here’s the meat of it: life can really be shitty sometimes. People we love die; they get sick or sad or old. They have accidents or make poor decisions or just simply drop dead when it is their time to vámonos. There’s genocide and suicide and infanticide. All of those sound as horrible as they really are. There is child abuse and drug abuse and animal abuse and abuses every single day that goes unknown. We could talk about cancer, or AIDS or Ebola or the next “big epidemic”. We could talk about hate and hate crimes and the loss of love and the urgency for redemption. All of that would never be enough. Some of us have experienced darkness others only have nightmares about. (Again, a lot going on.)
Here’s the manna of it: life can be the stuff of magic most times. If every single time I felt love I had to stick flaming bamboo shoots under my fingernails, I would. It’s that good. It’s everything. And it’s not just between two people. Quite the contrary. It’s in all things. Think of the first time you felt the snow on your tongue or heard the whisper of the wind. Carry yourself back to the first time you heard Otis Redding sing ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ (even if it was ‘Pretty in Pink’). How did it feel the first time you got ankle deep in cold creek water and squished the silt between your toes? I guarantee you have never felt a cool breeze on your neck and felt the sunshine on your face without smiling. Remember the shivers when you hit the air conditioning after a day at the pool? Or how about the first time you tasted cake or drank a beer? When was the last time you read a really fantastic book? Or began to write one? What about your first kiss? Or the last one?
I’ll tell you what- I would take heartache every single day if it meant I would always remember the way I felt the first time I laid eyes on the Cajun. I would feel pain every other moment if it meant I would always recall the day I had each of my children or the day I got married or the first day I met God. I would also endure anything to retain the exact moment I was denied my Holy Orders or learned of Kevin’s death, or George’s or Drew’s… I would cry a thousand tears to always be able to fully hear George’s laughter in my ear.
Pilate asked, “What is truth?” That’s the truth. The good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, are wed to one another; the macabre and the mundane swing slowly on a pendulum which houses the extraordinary and the ethereal on the other side. You cannot have one without the other- you must know one to fully appreciate the other. The things that occur outside of the two extremes are the “stuff in the middle”. The garnish, if you will. You must also have the middle- it is no less important than the bottom or the top. All these things culminating in which direction we choose to let our lives lead us.
I read something the other day that was both tragic and profound. The gist of it was that even when we see a crushed Robin’s egg we still see the beauty in the cracked shell’s perfect hue of blue. This is truth.
People above my pay grade talk about how we have lost communion with one another. I say, “Baloney,” to those people. We haven’t forgotten- we do it every day. It might not be the stuff of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting but somewhere, somehow every day we offer the bread of life to someone else. It’s frequently messy and not at all how we envisioned it, but we minister just the same.
Think of the last supper. Jesus telling his closest friends that they never really ‘got the message’, that one was going to betray him (with a kiss, no less) and another was going to deny his very existence and finally, that at the end of a very long night, morning and afternoon, he was going to die. “Hey guys, let’s drink to Jesus!”
He never said communion was supposed to be easy- in fact, he pretty much let us know going in it wasn’t. Guess what? We continue to do it anyway. Why is that?
I think I have an idea.