Part Four - Friday

At once in the morning the chief priests held council with the elders, scholars and all the Sanhedrin and binding Jesus they led him off and handed him to Pilate.
- Mark's gospel

Mornin' Lord. It's Friday. I know I said there'd be writing each weekday during the season of Lent, but great horney toads, Lord, Lent is dragging on and on and on. This season has been hard so far, Lord. But you know that 'cause you know all things, right? So I guess its not news to you. I guess. Of course, you walked through the original Lent, so you could legitimately say, "Well, back in my Lent..." You could do that.

I'm sitting here looking at this verse from Mark's gospel, I've said the Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening, and I'm really listening, but I'm not hearing anything. No homily is emerging for those gathered at The Dirty Shame. No Dr. Seuss-like-rhyme-a-thing. No narrative rendering of the text this morning, Lord. There's just this verse that seems, well, sorta boring. Not boring in a boring way, Lord, but boring in a nothings-jumping-out-at-me way, which I guess is still boring.

This verse, these words that are apparently profitable for doctrine, correction, reproof and all that stuff, seem to get you from one place to another; its a transition verse. I'm not quite sure how that fits into doctrine, correction, reproof and all that stuff, but they are plenty of guys frantically figuring all that out, so I'll let 'em. Poor guys.

Mark's nouns and verbs are transporting you from that farce of a trial to the presence of Pilate. This micro slice of the gospel pie is keeping the story moving, drawing us one step closer to your big day.

I'm sorry, Lord, because I've got a just-get-this-verse-overwith attitude, sorta like I've got a just-get-this-day-overwith attitude. I'm guessing you didn't have that just-get-this-overwith attitude, that you were fully present every step of the way, each and every day of Lent. But then again, you were tempted in all ways just like me, so maybe that thought did cross your mind as they bound you, led you off, and handed you to Pilate. Maybe you were thinking for the love of almighty me, just get this overwith already. Can't we just skip the formalities of this accursed Lenten season and jump to Easter and put on our new clothes and hide eggs and get together with friends and say the "Alleluias" and ring the bells and sing that really cool "Up from the grave I arose" song?

But you drank that cup in the garden and so as tempting as the get-it-overwith thought may have been, you struggled through it, didn't you? You endured.

The endurance of Lent. Some guy wrote a song about you being "the famous one." That really doesn't resonate with me much, Lord. It doesn't stir my man pot. I believe you are "the brave one." God, you're brave.

Part Three - Thursday

When Peter was down in the courtyard one of the high priest's maids came and seeing Peter warming himself she looked at him and said "You were with the Nazarene Jesus."
But he denied it saying "I don't know him or understand what you're saying." Then he went out into the porch and the cock crowed.
Seeing him the maid began again to say to those standing round "This man is one of them."
But again he denied it.
After a little again those standing round said to Peter "Surely you're one of them. It's plain you're a Galilean."
He began to curse himself and swear "I don't know this man you mention." At once a second time a cock crowed and Peter remembered the word Jesus said to him "Before the cock crows twice you'll deny me three times" and dwelling on that he wept.
- Mark's gospel

"Oh yes, you were with him, the Grand Nazarene."
Oh surely, but surely, just what do you mean?
"The Grand Nazarene, the man that's on trial."
All I know little maid is my word of denial.

And he crowed and he crowed and blew his house down.
It rang through the ears of those standing round.

"But you're Galilean, its plain to our eyes."
Their insistence caught Peter just slightly surprised.
I'll be damned if I know this man that you mention;
to hell with these questions and all of this tension.

And he crowed and he crowed and blew his house down.
It rang through the ears of those standing round.

"Before he crows twice, you'll deny me three times."
He remembered Christ's meter, the Nazarene's rhyme.
So Peter, he crumpled. The city, it slept.
The children, still dreaming. The coward, he wept.

And he crowed and he crowed and blew his house down.
It tore through the heart of the clump on the ground.

Part Three - Wednesday

They all condemned him worthy of death. Some began to spit at him, cover his face, hit him and say to him "Prophesy!" and the servants treated him to blows.
- Mark's gospel

Robbie. I'm pretty sure that was his name. He was a weird kid. He and his family attended the church my father pastored. Or maybe it was just Robbie and his mom; a single mother thing. I cannot remember for certain. I do know he was my age.

Robbie was hyper with a capital H; ADD before it was really known. He had buck teeth and thick black glasses. And if I remember correctly, a haircut that was obviously a mistake.

I was the preacher's oldest son and near the top of the food chain among those my age in that little town. Robbie was a bottom feeder.

I distinctly remember the afternoon, outside the red-bricked church building. We were playing dodge ball. Little Baptist kids were lined up against the bricks, Robbie being one of them. I was out in the yard, the "thrower." And every time I aimed for Robbie. Every time. Trying, trying to get him "out." The taut red ball finally connected with his body. I'm pretty sure I hit bare arms or face, probably leaving a mark. He looked at me through those glasses and a why? was magnified that I can still see to this day. Then his eyes fell and he slowly stepped to the "out" place. Got him.

My dad walked up and indicated we had to go. I handed the ball to another "thrower." The game continued. And Robbie remained out-cast. As we walked, dad asked Why did you keep throwing at Robbie? He had obviously been watching long enough to see that I had condemned Robbie worthy of dodge ball death. He had seen the throw, no doubt heard the whir of the ball as it connected with Robbie's skin. My father had watched me treat Robbie to blows.


As my son and I walked the Beagle last night, he told me of not being picked for the three-on-three basketball team; at least not for the team he wanted. Some kid told him You can't be on our team. Dear God. The sins of the father, visited upon his only son. As we walked I tried to suggest other options, other kids he could gather to form a team. The conversation was all well and good, but my son had been hit that day by the whir of the taut red ball of cruelty. I know of this ball. I have thrown it before. Little did my son know he walked with one whose hands have thrown cruelty.


Jesus, the thought of you in that room full of robes and sandals feels very distant. The thought of you standing against the bricks with thick black glasses is a little closer. But the thought of you walking with me and the Beagle last night? It was so close I could reach out and touch it, touch him, touch you.

Part Three - Tuesday

But he was silent and answered nothing.
- Mark's gospel

The facts say you were silent and answered nothing.
But the facts often have little to do with the truth.

The expectation is that a man will defend his position.
The facts say that we should always be ready "to give an account for the hope that is in us."
You never really live up to our expectations, do you?

Even today your poet tells us:
Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense.
It is the poet's job to tell the truth, but we don't "do" poetry.

We begin with a verdict that only evidence demands and work backwards.
The proofs only confirm in us our skepticism.
We still believe that talking is thinking.

You are as you were then. Standing among us. Still.
Defending nothing. Demanding nothing.
We diligently search the scriptures for "in them"...

As our fathers and our father's fathers, we will not tolerate a silent god.
We expect more.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening

Part Three - Monday

Then they took Jesus off to the high priest and all the chief priests, elders and scholars gathered.
Peter followed him far off right into the high priest's courtyard, sat with the servants and warmed himself by the blaze.
Now the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin looked for testimony against Jesus to execute him but they found none since many testified falsely against him and the testimonies were not the same. Some standing testified falsely against him saying "We heard him saying 'I'll tear down this Temple made by hand and after three days I'll build another not handmade.'" Even so their testimonies was not consistent.
Standing in the center the high priest questioned Jesus saying "Won't you answer anything these men testify against you?"
But he was silent and answered nothing.
Again the high priest questioned him and said to him "You are the Messiah, the son of the Blessed?"
Jesus said "I am and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right of Power and coming with clouds of heaven."
The high priest tearing his robes said "What further need do we have for witnesses? You heard the blasphemy. How does it look to you?"
They all condemned him worthy of death. Some began to spit at him, cover his face, hit him and say to him "Prophesy!" and the servants treated him to blows.
- Mark's gospel

Best supporting actor: The high priest. Usually overlooked by the Academy, this year he is considered a shoo-in, even by his fellow nominees (chief priests, elders, scholars). The tearing-his-robes scene gave a glimpse into those whose lips are orthodox but hearts are far, and his ability to ask questions that weren't really questions sets a benchmark. His years of playing bit roles in b-movies finally payed off.

Best original screenplay: "Many and some" - at least that's how they've come to be known. "Many and some" delivered a script which no one could make sense of; they are truly masters in the absurd. And taking a current hot topic like waterboarding and weaving it seamlessly into the flow of action minus the water? Genius. We all know that being relevant is the goal and they achieved it. However, reports have surfaced of late that there was another writer behind it all, but that almost seems blasphemous. "Many and some" will be around for years to come.

Best supporting actress: Peter. Stereotypes have made a comeback this year and Peter's portrayal of "the girl" reminds us of why we go to the stereotypes. When the moment needed a man's strength, his performance screamed: Don't look at me! I'm over here warming myself by the fire. He truly made us feel at home. Listen for his acceptance speech; it'll be the stuff of legends.

Best actor: I'm putting my money on Jesus. Some have said Too easy. He's won before. But I ask you Who is this man's muse, huh? I ask you, tell me! He had one line, one line, and bam! it nailed him. From now on, any time I hear the name "Jesus"? I'm thinking - "I am." Oh, the chemistry of those two little words! I get chills just thinking about it. Jesus' true gift was the physicality he brought to the moment, truly inhabiting the human frame, I mean, I truly believed he was the Son of Man. I know I've mentioned the waterboarding-minus-the-water scene earlier, but the quiet dignity that undergirded that picture? My, my. Tell me, how much worse could it get, right? Can you say Oscar? Jesus is off preparing for another role, so should he win (and he will), the "servants who treated him to blows" will accept the Oscar in his absence. He made those arrangements beforehand. His is truly a generous heart.

Part Two - Friday

At once while he was still speaking Judas appeared - one of the twelve - and with him a crowd with swords and sticks from the chief priests, scholars and elders. The one betraying him had given them a sign saying, "Whomever I kiss is he. Seize him and take him off securely." At once coming up to him he said "Rabbi!" and kissed him lovingly.
They got their hands on him and seized him.
But one of the bystanders drawing a sword struck the high priest's slave and cut off his ear.
Speaking out Jesus said to them "Did you come out with swords and sticks as if against a rebel to arrest me? Daily I was with you in the Temple teaching and you didn't seize me. But the scriptures must be done."
- Mark's gospel

(the high priest's slave)
There was so much betrayal that night. I know what I saw and half-heard. It is my job to pay attention to detail.

As we made our way to the garden, he, Judas - one of the twelve - led us. But we were not quite sure what or who we were following. He was three or four steps ahead of the crowd the entire trip, gritting the word "Rabbi" through his teeth, over and over and over, like one who had been touched in the head or something. There were two specific moments when he stopped walking, just stopped. The crowd, obviously, stopped as well. Judas just stood there, repeating that word to no one in particular. Something had been betrayed in that man; he was not right.

As we reached our goal, I was shocked. He did not look as he had in the Temple teaching. That night he was covered in sweat and earth, like some animal that had been burrowing in the ground. He resembled that prophet who lost his head.

He, Judas - one of the twelve - had rehearsed his word our entire trip. Now, in his soliloquy of betrayal, he gave a fluid performance. It was as if he was suddenly sane and self-composed. He stepped directly into the space of the one they called "Lord", in his physical space.


The word rang clear in the night air. And then we saw the sign. It is truly an evil generation that looks for a sign.

We then stepped into his physical space. There was a patch of pale on his face now, the place of the sign. He, Judas - one of the twelve - turned and our eyes met, if only for a moment. His lips were dirty. He stepped away, repeating that word again. His sanity had vanished.

Then everything happened so fast, it was hard to keep up, even for one who pays attention. We put our hands on him, handled him. He did not flex to resist. I heard the whisk of a sword cut the air and then felt a strange warmth down the side of my neck. In the torchlight I could see the reason for the warmth: blood. My hands immediately rushed to my right ear, now torn by the bystander's blade. But as I cringed in shock and fear, I did not stop listening. Even left-eared, I am one who pays attention.

But the scriptures must be done.

And if I were to summarize the night for you, that's the word I would choose - script. It was as if a script were being played out. There were many minor characters - the chorus of the crowd. Major characters? Only a few. Maybe only one, really. But wide-eyed betrayal was the theme of that act, that scene. Betrayal gestates for hours or days or months and then, full born, makes people crazy. People like he, Judas - one of the twelve. Like the crowd with sticks and swords. Like his followers still wiping sleep from their frightened eyes. And like him, not resisting our hands, our eyes, our breath, our anger and confusion, our enslavement to a script written by someone else. The man they called "Lord" seemed to have just accepted his role. Maybe he had found something as he burrowed in the earth, a reassurance of something. And so He played his part in that scene. The scriptures must be done.

Part Two - Wednesday/Thursday

They came to a piece of land whose name was Gethsemanae and he said to his disciples "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John with him and began to be deeply appalled and harrowed so he said to them "My soul is anguished to death. Stay here and watch." Going on a little he fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might turn away and he said "Abba, Father, everything is possible to You. Take this cup from me - still not what I want but You."
- Mark's gospel

I believe this paragraph, from David James Duncan's My Story As Told By Water, accurately describes what Christ was experiencing on the piece of land whose name was Gethsemanae:

"Wonder is anything closed, suddenly opening...Grateful as I am for this condition, wonder has - like everything on Earth - a dark side. Heartbreak, grief, and suffering rend openings in us through which the dark kind of wonder pours. I have so far found it impossible to feel spontaneously grateful for these violent openings. But when, after struggle, I've been able to turn a corner and at least accept the opening, the dark form of wonder has invariably helped me endure the heartbreak, the suffering, the grief."

It is tempting to focus on the disciples and their inability to sit or watch while Jesus prayed and then see that same inability in ourselves and consequently feel horrible about our weak faith and...don't give in to the temptation.

Advent is a season of wonder, a time when things suddenly opened. Think of the sky opening with angelic praise or the opening of a little Jewish girl's womb. Lent is also a season of wonder, a time when things suddenly opened. But this season's days are violent openings, openings described with words like "appalled," "harrowed," and "anguished." As heartbreak, grief, and suffering rend these openings, the dark wonder is poured in. Dark wonder.

I wonder if he saw a cup? Not the ornate cup of grail lore, but a cup hewn from the dust of the earth. I wonder if, as his feet felt the ground whose name was Gethsemanae, he suddenly saw the grove of trees opened to reveal a cup? I wonder if he set his face like flint toward this cup and began to fall and crawl, like a thirsty man would grope toward a desert pool, only this cup was no mirage? I wonder.

I wonder, if after his Abba directed cry, he reached out and took the cup with harrowed hands? I wonder if he looked in and was appalled at what he saw, so appalled that his hands shook the contents over the rim, spilling the dark wonder down his fingers and wrists? I wonder if he raised this cup and gritted a phrase he had heard his mother speak often: Let it be to me, and then drank he all of it. I wonder if it burned going down? This was not the sweet wine of communion. I wonder if he choked a little and spit some into his beard and reached to wipe it from his lips with hands already stained with the dark wonder? I wonder.

I wonder if, as the last drops passed his anguised lips, he heard a voice he knew well, a voice that gritted: Well done, and then the cup suddenly disappeared? I wonder.

I wonder if he returned to his disciples looking like some feral beast covered in dark wonder, hair matted with sweat and earth, and when they saw him they were sore afraid and knew, on some level, that something had been violently opened among those trees that grew in the land whose name was Gethsemanae? I wonder if they were appalled at what they saw, who they saw? I wonder.

We have left the creche and the shepherds and the wise men behind, my friend. Wake up, for we are in the heart of Lent. These are days of dark wonder.

For it is important that awake people be awake...the darkness around us is deep. - William Stafford

Part Two - Tuesday

After singing the hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.
And Jesus said to them "All of you shall fall since it is written
'I will strike down the shepherd
And the sheep shall be scattered.'
But after I'm raised I'll go ahead of you to Galilee."

Peter said to him "Even if everybody stumbles not I."
Jesus said to him "Amen I tell you, you - today, tonight before the cock crows twice -
you'll deny me three times."
But he just kept saying "If I must die with you no way would I deny you."
All said likewise too.
- Mark's gospel

It just now hit me. I don't know why, but I overlooked it, somehow. Denial. The season of Lent contains moments or days, maybe even weeks, of Amen I tell you, you - today, tonight before the cock crows. Oh, I knew it was in the story; Peter and that damned old bird. But me? No way, even if, not I. But if I can keep denial locked up in the story, something Peter did, then I can waltz through Lent with a melancholy visage and never, ever hear the crowing in my own ears of that damned old bird.

Maybe you said likewise too.

You see, I'm John (which means "beloved"), not Peter. I'm not impetuous with my speech. I weigh my words carefully, or at least let each one audition. I wouldn't boldly proclaim my devotion to the Lord in some spotlighted speech. No, I'd craft a blog post with pertinent quotes from others mixed with my own proclamations or maybe write a letter to the editor dripping with glorious prose.

Jump out of a boat and start walking toward the Lord? No, not me. I'd just keep rowing, plodding along, faithful John (which means "beloved"). Draw a sword and whack an ear? Goodness, not me. I'm compassionate and gentle, a man too gentle to live among wolves like Peter. Deny him in front of a servant girl? Once, twice, three times a denier? C'mon, I'm John, not Peter.

Right, Lord? I'm John (which means "beloved"), not Peter. Right? Please tell me that I'm John. Please reassure me that even if all the other sheep go each unto their own way, that I'll stay with you. Lord, I'm faithful, solid, dependable, trustworthy, patient, longsuffering, gentle...that's me, right? Lord, say something, anything. I've been faithful all these years, I've stayed in your house, I haven't squandered my inheritance like, like...I've been faithful to my wife unlike...I've been a good dad unlike...I preached as long as I could, Lord. Lord? God? Jesus? Holy Spirit? For Christ's sake, isn't anybody listening to me? Damn it, Lord.

Amen I tell you, you, today, tonight, this morning,, you, John-which-means-beloved, you will deny me. You have denied me. Don't ask for whom the cock crows, John. It crows for you. Do not deny the crow of that damned old bird. For he reminds you of your damned old you, the you I came to seek and to save. John, I have given you a new name, one not found in dictionaries or word searches. You know that name. Remember? I spoke it to you clearly on that day as the sun broke through the aspens with a clarity the world seldom sees. I did not hesitate and make you wait for the name; no, I gave it quickly, willingly, gladly, such is my love for you, you. It is the name you must carry in this life. It is both burden and gift. But do not harden your ears against my damned old bird. He is my beloved. As you are.

Part One - The next Monday

As they were eating he took a loaf and blessing it he broke and gave to them and said, "Take. This is my body." And taking a cup and giving thanks he gave to them.
All drank of it.
He said to them "This is my blood of the covenant poured out for many. Amen I tell you never in any way will I drink of the fruit of the vine till that day when I drink it new in the reign of God."
- Mark's gospel

"But I have been thinking a great deal about the body these last weeks. Blessed and broken...I wanted to talk about the gift of physical particularity and how blessing and sacrament are mediated through it."
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

To this day, I hear much ado about the gifts of the Spirit. A certain person has the gift of prophecy, maybe another has the gift of tongues. There are things such as "gift inventories" - usually a list of questions whose answers reveal your gifting or at least give you a hint as to what you've got. There are debates as to which gifts are still valid, some having been de-gifted when the last page of the King James Bible was written. Books, conferences, training workshops; it is a universe all its own.

But what of the gift of physical particularity? The gift of our bodies, and how blessing and sacrament are mediated through them? Do you know of these gifts, my friend?

Just a few examples -
The huge feet of my grandad, which in later years had to be custom fitted to boots. Their size was one thing, but their swelling was due to medical conditions. Each evening the boots had to be removed, a process in itself. But I can still see my christlike granny at his feet, as he sat in his rocker, pulling the boots off, one huge foot at a time, then washing them or attending to them in some way. I can remember my dad doing the same thing on occassion. Little did I know what my eyes were witnessing at the time.

The strong hands of one of my best friends that kneaded the dough of my shoulders after an ascent of Pikes Peak. His massage-trained hands brought healing in the wake of two men just waking up and deciding to do a 14er in December.

The ivory breast of a church member feeding her newborn. I turned around in a church basement, as a fifth or sixth grader, to be greeted by this revelation. I'm sure there was arousal on some school boy level, but so much more was the feeling of wonder and amazement, beauty.

The belly of a truck driver friend that hung over his belt. He would rest his arms on it while listening to me preach. Every Sunday.

The fat to bursting fingers of my piano teacher beside mine, showing me the way to navigate black and white. And the gray of life.

The hitchhiker's thumbs on the former major league pitcher who left the game to raise chickens and serve his small town.

My father's ears sticking out beneath a hat, listening, always listening. Just like mine do.

My girlfriend's girlish shoulders.

A little girl's dark-pooled eyes.

My own bird-like legs.

Trust me, I could go on. I will hold my tongue while the gift inventories continue to be printed and administered for the children of God. The Church always needs something to "do." But I'm afraid we swallow the camels of new testament gifts with ease, but strain at the gnats of the physical particularities of our bodies; bodies blessed and broken, through which sacraments of love and healing and memory and wonder and beauty and loyalty and song are mediated.

Part One - Friday

On the first day of unleavened bread when they slaughtered the Passover lamb the disciples said to him "Where do you want us to go and arrange for you to eat the Passover?"
He sent two of his disciples and told them "Go into the city. You'll be met by a man carrying a water-jug. Follow him. Wherever he goes in tell the owner 'The teacher says, "Where is my guestroom where I can eat the Passover with my disciples?"' He'll show you a big room upstairs all spread and ready. Prepare for us there."
The disciples went out and entered the city and found it as he had told them. Then they prepared the Passover.
- Mark's gospel (note - women usually carried jars, men carried wineskins)

Every Hebrew manchild under two, clubbed, stabbed, killed...
How can I ever again rejoice at Passover,
when other women's babies, innocent of all guile,
were slaughtered by your angel?...
Is this your love, that all these die
that one star-heralded man-child should live?
And what will be his end, O Lord? How will he die?
How will you show this one saved child your love?
- "...And Kill The Passover" by Madeleine L'Engle

(the two disciples)
Lord, where do you want us to go? To prepare the Passover? Lord? Lord?

I bet we called him four or five times before he seemed to hear us. Even then, it was as if he only heard us, not our question.

After almost three years, he knew our habits. And we his. It would take more fingers than I own to count the moments when we'd find him staring into the day. "Staring" is probably a poor description because it truly seemed as if he was looking through the moment into something else or somewhere else; things or places we could not see.

Peter once called him a daydreamer. Peter would say something like that. But I have since believed he was not lost in daydreams, but rather nightmares. Such was the depth of his vision. At least on that particular day, I have since thought that he heard the cries of guile-less children; those so fresh from God. Sons who died so that he might live. Sacrifices made so that his life might be spared. The needs of the many being set aside for the needs of the few. Or in this case, the one.

I have since thought these thoughts because he once told me about it as we sat silently together at noontide. He was looking through time. And then he spoke.

John, I was there.

Where, Lord? What are you talking about? Will you tell me?

When the baby boys were slaughtered at Passover. The sounds of that massacre...John, you have no idea. It is not a tragedy when a man dies at the end of his life. But the death of children is not my will. The death of children is not my will. Ripped from the breasts that nursed them and...their cries haunt my dreams, waking or asleep, like a bell tolling. Always tolling.

You were there? I'm sorry, Lord; I don't fully understand. But, but couldn't you have done something?

He turned to me with lamb-like eyes and spoke through quivering lips.

Beloved one, I did what I could. I was born.

Part One - Thursday

...the chief priests and the scholars searched for how seizing him by deceit they might kill him...Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests so he might betray him to them. Hearing they were glad and promised to give him silver.
And he looked for how he might conveniently betray him.
- Mark's gospel

"He slept well that night for the first time in months. It was as if his soul had gotten over some prolonged and terrible wisdom toothache."
- Revenge by Jim Harrison

I thought there would have been awkwardness. But there was none. In fact, it was as if they had been expecting me. There's no way they could have, but still, I felt strangely welcomed. I knew they were searching for him, but the relief on their faces was betrayingly quick. There was no small talk needed. The die was cast.

Judas Iscariot. Of the twelve. What have you to do with us?

For a price, I will deliver him into your hands.

How conveeenient.

That word - "convenient" - and the way he pronounced it are with me to this day. It was as if the syllables slid off his tongue and were quickly gobbled up again. The others nodded in agreement but said not a word.

You will get word to us when it's time?

Yes. You'll know. And the silver?

We keep our promises. Do not worry.

Worry? Foolish priests. They were still not committed to the act of revenge, just the thought of it. My resolve was actually what their hearts had been searching for up to this point. They were cowards. Infinitely moral cowards. They needed someone to go first.

I slept well that night for the first time in months. No tossing, no turning, no dreams, no nothing. Just the unbroken slumber of the damned. I woke fresh the next morning and set about looking for how I might conveniently betray him. The search was arousing. The feeling was akin to having a woman beneath me. I felt alive. Powerful. Purposeful.

The old Sicilian adage says: Revenge is a dish better served cold. I would add that it is best served conveeeniently cold. I took and ate. And slept well.

Part One - Wednesday

When he was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper as he lay back a woman came with an alabaster flask of costly pure nard ointment. Breaking the alabaster flask she poured it over his head. Some were indignant among themselves "Why has this waste of ointment occurred? This ointment could be sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the wretched." They scolded her.
But Jesus said "Let her be. Why make trouble for her? She did a good deed on me. The wretched you always have with you and whenever you want you can do good to them but me you don't always have. What she could she did. She was early to anoint my body for burial. Amen I tell you wherever the good news is declared in all the world what this woman did shall also be told as a memory of her."
- Mark's gospel

My leprousy had been visible to the naked eye. Her's was more subtle. But still she was deemed "unclean."

It took me by surprise when she walked into my house. I say "walked" but her approach was not fluid; no, more like a child with bread in her hand approaching a bird. Willing, but tentative.

The presence of a woman had always the power to unsettle me. But her? It was hard to tell where the alabaster flask ended and her alabaster hands began; a detail not lost on the men in the room. The air was heavily scented before the ointment ever spilled.

And him? He just sat there and let it happen. No one said a word. Even the wind outside stilled.

As she finished, their eyes met and she stepped back from his presence. The sound of her feet across the floor seemed to break the spell on the room and immediately their scolding began: That's a year's worth of wages! Spilled! Wasted! That could have been used for the wretched!

And him? There have been moments when I've witnessed a fierce-ness surface in the man from Galilee. This was one of those moments. He seemed to spring to attention, reclining no more.

Let her be!

But Lord, the ointment could...

Let her be!

He then said something about his burial. But I stopped listening momentarily because of what I saw. His eyes were filled with tears. Not tears spilling down his cheeks; no, tears pooled in the sockets, fierce, poised, as if called to attention.

What she could she did. What she could she did.

It was then I noticed her hands. Again. But now it was as if the alabaster had spilled from them. They had taken on the color of my hands, his hands, our hands. She was no longer an object in the room, or a dream, or unclean. His words had taken the wretchedness away and colored her with hues of flesh and bone. A captive freed. He had saved her. She was alive.

Such things I, Simon, say so that you may believe.

What he could he did. He always did.

Part One - Tuesday

Now it was the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, after two days and the chief priests and the scholars searched for how seizing him by deceit they might kill him for they said, "Not at the feast or there'll be an outcry from the people."
- Mark's gospel

Mark specifies time (opportunity) and intent (motive) in these verses. But he also specifies those behind it all. The chief priests and scholars. And the people.

It would be tempting to create a tension between these two groups. In the red corner, we have the ivory tower priests and scholars, and in the blue corner, we have the working-for-a-living folks. Dear friend, we must resist that temptation. That would be far too easy. This is not Balboa and Creed.

Sure, the priests and scholars have the word "deceit" tied to their actions, but whatever "outcry" the people might have made would have been based on their infatuation with miracles. None are righteous, no not one. Only God is good.

I am them, aren't I Lord? By turns deceitful, I stealthily try to do away with you, the real you. I have stood and said the words over the bread and cup as priests do and in doing so I can reduce you to something I swallow or extend to others in bite-size amounts. I do the requisite work of reading primary sources so that at least a lower-case scholar I am and in doing so I keep you bound within the realm of footnotes; always at the bottom of the page in a much smaller script. And miracles? You know I daydream with the best of them of sudden windfalls and experience my faith rising when blessings are showered and falling when the well runs dry. I turn my nose at the health-and-wealth-gospel-woman-in-red, but if she knocked on my door, I'd let her in and welcome her advances.

I am the priest. I am the scholar. I am the people. It is early in the story and already I hear my cries of crucify, crucify! I fear they will only grow louder as I struggle against my rescuer.

"And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer. I know this, I have seen the truth of it with my own eyes, though I have not myself always managed to live by it, the Good Lord knows."
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Part One - Monday yield some contact, however muffled, with the grain of that old life, startling in its ribbed strength and dangerous still.
- Reynolds Price

Now it was the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, after two days and the chief priests and the scholars searched for how seizing him by deceit they might kill him for they said, "Not at the feast or there'll be an outcry from the people."
- Mark's gospel

Such is the story. It began with scholars searching for him against the backdrop of a city swollen with people. "As soon as you find him, send word and I'll join you at once in your worship." Such was Herod's pretending. No king desires to share the throne with another.

And his life nears conclusion in much the same way. The crowds for Passover would have been enormous. Herod's words still hung in the air; they just came from different throats: "As soon as you find him, send word..."

Mark begins these days by specifying time: two days before Passover, Wednesday, the thirteenth day of the month called Nisan. He also begins by specifying an intent: kill - transitive verb: to deprive of life; cause the death of; to slaughter (as a hog) for food; to put an end to, e.g., kill competition.

My friend, make no mistake. As we walk through this season of Lent, a man will die. He will be deprived of his life. He will be put an end to. The competition will be killed. Not in some parallel universe or dimension. No, he will be killed in the time and space in which we live and move and have our being.

To fully enter into these days means excavating necessity: "of what we must do, as opposed to what we should or ought to do" (Henry Bugbee). We must let the story unfold. To jump to the end and read knowing "the rest of the story" is to arrive premature, always a precarious condition. To fully feel the weight of this season we must labor toward that which was conceived. The gestation of Lent must run its course before Love is birthed. "Naked and afraid into this cold dark place."

" matter how many times I have lived through his crucifixion, my anxiety about his resurrection is undiminished - I am terrified that, this year, it won't happen..."
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Learning Love

Then fix this firmly in your minds: You're going to be in deep mourning while the godless world throws a party. You'll be sad, very sad, but your sadness will develop into gladness. When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there's no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming of joy is also similar. When I see you again, you'll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you. You'll no longer be so full of questions.
- John 16.20-22

To learn to love
is to be stripped of all love
until you are wholly without love
until you have gone
naked and afraid
into this cold dark place
where all love is taken from you
you will not know
that you are wholly within love.

- Madeleine L'Engle

I am going to try and write every weekday from now until Easter; essentially writing the Lenten season. I need to warn you that there may be a sadness to these posts, a "deep mourning." I would imagine "blood and ash" being a consistent theme. But it must be done; "there's no getting around it."

Maybe it will be like putting a "B Back Soon" sign on the door of The Dirty Shame. During regular hours, I'll be out. But in the cold dark hours of the night, I'll sneak back in (since I have the key) and leave notes pushpinned to the message board for the regulars to read and ponder. I'll put a few logs on the fire before I leave so there'll be a little warmth when you arrive.

Madeleine says I have to go "naked and afraid." Sometimes, I don't like Madeleine. But I trust her. Jesus said it'll be a pain similar to a woman giving birth. Sometimes, I don't like Jesus. But I trust him, even more than I trust Madeleine. Both of these trustworthy voices indicate a movement toward gladness, a knowing that you are "wholly within love."

So I invite you to stop in on Monday, order your usual, and read the message board. Sometimes, you may not like what you read. You may not trust the writer, but I hope you'll trust the words. Joy is coming. At least that's what Madeleine and Jesus say. And I trust them.

The Day After Blood and Ash

~But the fact is, it was our pains he carried -
our disfigurements, all the things wrongs with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him - our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost.
We've all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong,
on him, on him.~
- Isaiah 53.4-6

"But I will not be convinced of the impossibility of resurrection until I have suffered the fact of death.
And I will not completely suffer that fact until it is someone I completely love who dies and whom I desire to come again. It must be my heart that dies. All other deaths I can file away in some corner of my understanding, because they are lesser than me. But this death kills me because her life had been so necessary for my own.
There must first be love.
And then there must follow truly the death of the beloved, and the grief, and the grief.
Or else the hope of the resurrection remains a formality and its fact a pious doctrine."
- Walter Wangerin Jr., The Orphean Passages

I agree with Walt Jr. (I'm sure he's relieved) that until someone I completely love dies and I desire that someone to come again, the "hope of the resurrection" remains something wordy and mental. It is always tempting in thoughts like this to say, "Well, what if it was the death of a dream or a pet or something?" But Jesus wasn't a dream or a pet or something. At least I don't believe so. Jesus was a man, a man with earwax and toenails and knuckles and a heart. And until some flesh and blood that I completely love dies, any thoughts I have about the resurrection remain somewhat removed.


He called and said, "Come by and visit." His wife was one of the pillars of the church I'd recently come to pastor. Her husband, however, was well-known to be very learn-ed in the scriptures, but not at all interested in the church. It was also said he struggled with the bottle. I would learn that many in this small town did. And so I went by to visit Clifford in hopes of wooing this lost sheep back into the fold of God. I had graduated not long before with a Master of Divinity degree, so this was within my power, right?

We'd "walk his place" and he'd show me the pecan trees he lovingly planted years ago. He'd ask me circuitous theological questions and the young Master of Divinity would readily take the bait, answering with a certainty the church demands but life seldom understands. He suffered the fool gladly. I liked him though and his wife always thanked me for "talking to Clifford" and I'd leave with a wave and a bag of pecans or tomatoes.

The caller said, "Brother John, get out to Clifford's place, quick!" As I drove up, the yard was full of pickups, a firetruck, and an ambulance. With a necktie on and a Bible in hand, I walked through a group of men in boots and unshaven faces. James, the fire chief, stepped forward and waved me on through. We then walked no more than ten steps, to a place where a pecan stump sat, a place where Clifford would sit and think. I'd drive by sometimes and see him sitting on that stump; he'd wave as I drove past. There, on the ground beside the stump, was a pistol and Clifford's crumpled body. Blood was caked around his right temple and the daffodils beneath his head had grown red. The demons in the pecan trees had finally won.

James said, "She's inside. You'd better get in there."

There was a clear demarcation to the moment: all the men were outside, all the women inside. It felt like church. As I stepped into the kitchen, she raised red eyes and cried, "Oh, brother John! Pray for me! Pray for me!" It was the death of someone she completely loved, her beloved, the death of her heart. Now followed the grief, the grief. We sat at the kitchen table I knew well and I held her trembling hands and prayed for her with words the church demands but life seldom understands. The initial waves of grief eventually subsided, we talked of "what happened," and then the waves became angry once again. The grief, the grief. The women were washing dishes and making Folgers coffee. The phone would ring and was answered in hushed tones.

I liked Clifford, but I didn't love Clifford. I had grown to love Lucille, but she was not my beloved. And so I formally officiated at the funeral and spoke the doctrines of resurrection and piously filed his death away in some corner of my understanding because he was less than me. Do not think me cold or calloused. The tears I shed over that kitchen table and graveside were real. But Clifford was not my heart. I did not know of the grief.

Of Blood and Ash

"Blood knowledge...Oh, what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year...Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a personal, merely personal feeling...This is what is wrong with us. We are bleeding at the roots."
- D.H. Lawrence/Terry Tempest Williams

In the rhythm of the year, today is Ash Wednesday, today the season of Lent begins, today the whole congregation is to be put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I want to stop the bleeding. If only for a season.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

"-and it is so bright now, you can hardly bear it as it fills the door, this immense glacier of light coming on, and still you do not know who you are, but here it is, try to remember, it is all beginning."
- B.H. Fairchild

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(the ashes are imposed with the following words)
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

~Then he told them this story: "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: 'What can I do? My barn isn't big enough for this harvest.' Then he said, 'Here's what I'll do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll gather in all my grain and goods, and I'll say to myself, Self, you've done well! You've got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!'
"Just then God showed up and said, 'Fool! Tonight you die.'~
Luke 12.16-20

And so it begins by remembering what we try so hard to forget: We are dust. We are fools.

Super-Fat-Tuesday night's talk was of tearing down the barns of "how it's been" and building bigger barns of "change." And as the barn-builders talked, tornadoes stirred the dust in Arkansas and God showed up and said, "Tonight, thirty-one of you must return to the dust from whence you came." And so we awake this morning knee-deep in blood and ash and barn-building and commuting and publishing books and cooking breakfast and deadlines and iPhones. Fools.

~"The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a broken and contrite heart"~
- Psalm 51.18

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The Valley

As the Giants were warming up for yesterday's Bowl, a van carrying six missionaries was traveling along a Colorado highway. Possibly about the time a scalper scored $1000 per ticket for a party of four, the driver of a jeep in front of the vanload of missionaries had a heart attack and fell over the wheel. As Terry and Howie and Jerry performed a mike check, the jeep in front of the van lost control and the van couldn't avoid hitting it. And as last year's American Idol winner was singing the national anthem, four people in the vanload of missionaries were fighting for their lives. There were six missionaries riding in the van. The other two? They died as confetti fell from a makeshift heaven in Arizona.

Yea though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we're to fear no evil, for his rod and staff, they comfort us.

Such are the words of the psalmist this morning.

The words of the post-modern-day-psalmists (commercials) yesterday were phrases like: follow your heart and wake up.

If I put all those words in the Yahtzee cup and roll 'em around and throw 'em out on the table, I find something that sounds like this: Wake up, for we're driving or walking or standing or sitting in the valley of the shadow of death. As we're following our hearts in this valley which stretches from Arizona to Colorado and to the ends of the word, we're not to be afraid, even if the heart we're following gives out and we fall over the wheel of the jeep, causing the vanload of missionaries behind us to crash and two of the missionaries, who were following their hearts, die. We're not to be afraid because the shepherd LORD's rod and staff are comforting us.

You say, "John, please don't mix those words together."

I say, "Sorry, we've got to. If you're going to live in the valley (apparently our only choice), then you've got to live with the flat-out-doesn't-make-sense nature of the valley and a shepherd's staff which comforts in ways beyond our definitions of 'comfort.'"

The Giants played a great game.

Authorities will release the names of the two missionaries sometime this morning.

Be near to us, O LORD.

As It Was In The Beginning

The Old Days
In the old days it stayed light until midnight
and rain and snow came up from the ground
rather than down from the sky...
A few political leaders were executed for betraying
the public trust and poets were rationed a gallon
of Burgundy a day. People only died on one day
a year and lovely choruses funneled out
of hospital chimneys where every room had a field
stone fireplace. Some fishermen learned to walk
on water and as a boy I trotted down rivers,
my flyrod at the ready...God and Jesus
didn't need to come down to earth because they were
already here riding wild horses every night
and children were allowed to stay up late to hear
them galloping by. The best restaurants were churches
with Episcopalians serving Provencal, The Methodists Tuscan,
and so on...
Courts were manned by sleeping bears and birds sang
lucid tales of ancient bird ancestors who now fly
in other worlds...Pistol barrels grew delphiniums
and everyone was able to select seven days a year
that they were free to repeat but this wasn't a popular
program. In those days the void whirled
with flowers and unknown wild animals attended
country funerals. All the rooftops in cities were flower
and vegetable gardens...
I could go on but won't. All my evidence
was lost in a fire but not before it was chewed
on by all the dogs that inhabit memory.
One by one they bark at the sun, moon, and stars
trying to draw them closer again.

-Jim Harrison

Some folks are waiting for those events in the Middle East to line up and thus drop the needle on that camel's back that ushers in the end of the world. Maybe, just maybe, we should be listening a little closer every time a dog barks, for their canine cries could one day be strong enough to remember into being once again the way it was in the old days...


B.S. There's a normal reaction to those two letters, as in "I know what that means." I know what that means too, but this morning those letters stand for something else: Britney Spears.

I don't watch a lot of tv, but what little I do has been liberally peppered recently with reports on this young lady's life; maybe this young girl's life. Shaving her head, problems with her family (mom, sister), her baby, her new boyfriend (emphasis on the word boy), an intervention from Dr. Phil, and so on, and so on. And just last night, a report where she was taken/led from her home and had a football field sized police escort to a hospital.

We have a weekly prayer time in the company I work for and yesterday morning's time held one of my friends asking for prayer for Britney: Don't ya'll just think she needs prayer? The responses around the table were obviously mixed; some chuckled, some sighed, and some said, she's brought in on herself. In the actual "prayer time" all the requests that were mentioned aloud were prayed for/over...except Britney.

I didn't think anything about it at the time. But I thought about it this morning: Why didn't we pray (and I was one of those who prayed aloud) for Britney Spears? If I had months to ponder and reflect on this, I could probably come up with some high-falutin' theological theory, but this is what I've got today and today's really all we've got, so here goes.

Do you ever think that little girl just wants to be seen by somebody? I mean, everything she does is so public, so media-attended, so news-worthy. She's been oogled or googled by billions, but she's never really been "seen." And to try and remedy that, she's willing to do anything, even stripping away an aspect of her femininity (shaving her head).

Who am I? Somebody see me. And tell me. Or help me. Or something.

And that's us, right? We've all got a little bit o' Brit in us. We're all looking for that same thing, trying to find an answer for that same question, being willing to do anything (relative to our situation) to try and remedy that. We didn't pray for Britney Spears that morning because Britney scares the livin' dickens out of us; she reveals the darker angels of our nature. And rather than face them, we'd rather chuckle, sigh, or point the moral finger at someone else. We're either wrestling with those darker angels, a.k.a. "demons", or we've wrestled in the past and they've won and we've resigned ourself to the belief that we'll never really be seen, known, understood, or some combination of all three.

Oh, we won't fumble the baby or make a scene at the restaurant, but we'll drop passive aggressive bombs on family members for years. We'd never put on that school girl outfit (quite effective, for the record) and flaunt down a row of lockers, but we'll sit around and seek to dazzle and amaze those around us with tales of well, when I was.... We'd never think of giving a halfass performance at a sold out concert, but we halfass our marriages, our kids, our friends, and the good Lord himself.

And so the easiest thing to do is turn off the tv, don't watch Entertainment Tonight, don't glance at the tabloid as I'm buying Breyers and Mountain Dew, chuckle, sigh, point the moral finger (infinitely worse than the "bird"), and ultimately refuse to pray aloud for Britney.

When we finished our "prayer" time the other morning, my friend (who mentioned Britney in the first place) said, "Well, I prayed for Britney in my heart." We immediately started talking about something else.

We've all got a little bit of B.S. in us. On second type, make that a lot of B.S. in us.