A Good Man Charged

A good man I know was ordained several weeks ago. He is now a deacon in the Anglican tradition. Following a six-month stint of service among his people he shall be, God willing, ordained a priest...collar'n'all. I'm so very proud of him.

I attended his ordination ceremony, sat in the back, soaked it all in. There is always a moment in a such a service when a 'charge' is given, a braid of words to both exhort and inspire. I adore such moments, pregnant as they are. I attest the charge given was orthodox, seamlessly hemmed and cuffed with appropriate chapter and verve. But as I've tried to recall the content, I cannot. Alas, it was not memorable. Oh, John, you just wish you'd been asked to give the charge, right? Ah, dear reader, thou knowest me too well. Yes, I confess that wish. Had I been charged to charge, here are the words. Alright, John, but are these words for a deacon or a priest? Yes.


I charge you with a phrase from the gospel of John, Updike that is: Your only duty is to give the mundane its beautiful due. You step from this moment with scripture and stole a man ordained to the ordinary. Ours is an existence in something more than the husk it once was but not yet the bloom it shall be; in other words, you are charged to the in-between, the middle-class, us. Yes, our lives are sewn on occasion with a texture of joy unmistakeable, the foretastes. But many days, if not most hours, reek of repetition, a mundane rising and falling punctuated with what the old hymn writer penned as 'seasons of distress and grief.' The relief you are charged to bring to our souls in times like these is beauty - nothing more, nothing less. It is your only duty. Give up all other ambitions for the dross they are. Give the mundane its beautiful due. Bear witness to the truth we so often bury, that our lives are shot through with drama, interest, relevance, importance, and poetry. Live among us, story by story, with both precision and surprisingness. Help us to believe in God by startling us with the kicker - God believes in us. Know this - yours is not so much a high calling as it is a careful attention... you are to be a man of prayer, not big britches.
Once you begin a gesture it's often fatal not to go through with it, so please, for the love of God and us and you, go through with this. The world for you may be even harder from here on in, but most things worth doing are hard. So break and bless and preach and teach and laugh and sing and weep and rage and whisper at the altar of this astonishingly splendid fallen world. Give the mundane its beautiful due. Amen and amen.         

But The God Reborn On The Sabbath Day...

But the God reborn on the Sabbath day
is bonny and blithe, bonny and blithe.
He sends us a'running, shuddering and wild
crying He is alive! He is alive!
     Life now ennobled, forgiveness of sins,
     the sermon of Easter is always Love wins.
So remember this day until he returns
and follow him true, follow him true.
The God born on Sunday lives for the weak,
yes Jesus loves me and Jesus loves you.

Saturday's God Works Hard For A Living

There are those who speak now with authority of the great abandonment, as if they were there, as if they know without doubt's shadow. My question for them is 'Were you there when they crucified my lord? Were you?' I was and I believe it was divine bewilderment: 'My God, how could you have done this to me? I cannot be allowed to die so young and so close to the top!' He was courage struggling for oxygen.

Then he was finished.

Afterwards, it was strange, for most of the visible disciples scattered while the secret ones walked into view. Moments like that remind you of the folly of judging the follower's heart. Joseph, Nicodemus, and those fierce women performed a necessary, valiant compassion. Later, I found myself walking, searching the heaven and earth of my mind, trying in some way to restore the arch to the sky, desperately measuring the grains of time that might transform catastrophe into tragedy. But death's pall was too thick, it was too soon. I had followed him into the smoke and fire, and I was left bearing the witness: 'My God, how did this happen? What on earth was he doing?'

Friday's God Is Loving And Giving

He was ruined. They scourged him repeatedly, taking turns to catch their breath. It was clear to see they were not trying to maim a man, but rend a god. Then the thwing, thwing as hammer pumped iron and the man previously pinned to the tail of a donkey was now pinned to the roof of the world, a specimen for all to behold. It was excruciating to watch the frame I had leaned against only hours ago. Dear God, they ruined him. They ruined the one I loved.

As I stood, my life flared before my eyes, not the sum of my days with Zebedee, but those years after the nets, when my life truly began, those three beautiful years. There were short-breath moments during his time with us when I felt inspired, compelled to capture his words and miracles, to write them down. One day he asked 'You like to tell stories, don't you?' I answered 'Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.' Then he spoke directly in my eyes: 'One day, after it is finished, you can write our story. Only then will you begin to see.'

I found myself short-breathed again as I writhed before my friend and two thieves. Words from somewhere beyond me rose up my throat causing me to gasp: 'God so loved the world that he gave.' I would remember and record those words years later when I was too old to be a fisherman much less a disciple. Of all I've penned, it is that phrase of which I am most proud, for they are the words most true. The love of God haunts me.


Thursday's God Has Far To Go...

That supper was the end of the innocence. That's how I remember it. Yes, I believed things were changing when he got on that beast and the pilgrims cheered, but even then there was still the 'follow me' that hung in the air, we were still the little boys dressed in new, chasing after the piper. But after that supper we knew there would be no more parties, no more dancing, the fifes had grown still. His was an evening show-and-tell, a command of how we must dress for the grisly hours that followed, and beyond. Jesus gave us hand-me-downs, blackened shrouds of love for one another, the rags of a true disciple.

As I leaned into him, literally, I felt the maundy pulse and it chilled me. What we all-too-soon experienced was an appalling succession of bleak and bare, a way filled with thorns of a seemingly eternal winter. What we would witness was Thursday's God becoming Friday's clown. And he still had so far to go to get there.


Wednesday's God Is Full Of Woe...

In those passion days he had eddies of tenderness where healing and blessing would swirl and pool. But then there were the shoots. He had raged at the Pharisees before, but this time stands out in its structure and effect, he was at the height of his powers. So many now cling to the sylvan great commission; rarely, if ever, is much made of Jesus' great derision.

'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!' We all knew who he was addressing, but each time Jesus named them, each time more fearless than the last. To see and hear him was to taste the wild, a primeval fang and froth that dared not yield: 'You are born dead! You have ceased to be sons of living fathers! You have become contented with your condition! You have acquired a taste for it! Woe, woe to you!'

I believe he touched the quick of their lives that day. He ached for them to know whose side to be on, where to give their allegiance, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. But they stood defiant, mucked-up geese relentlessly preening in a field of mint and dill, a brood of blind bones slithering in a lost city, a grievous long prayer bloated with blood instead of mercy.

The rocks that only days earlier yearned to cry out shuddered at his lamentation, as did I.


Tuesday's God is full of grace...

He was taking us on the grand tour. First the Hosanas!, then his razing of the Temple. He was long freed from self-necessity, but his passion days seemed a new beginning with an old theme. I could scarcely imagine what was next. As was his custom, it wasn't a what but a who.

Jesus waved us still, then sat down and said 'see over there, look at the splendor.' At first we thought he was speaking of the heavy sums many dropped. But like time after time, he altered our vision. 'No, that is merely self-righteous blotches. No, there, her, the difficult splendor.'

Two coins. That was it. Though her life was bent her eyes radiated the sanguine dream. Jesus smiled at her poverty. He did not approach her, he would not bruise the shapely form. Rather he raised his hand and blessed her as he sat: 'You shall have love.'

Monday's God is fair of face...

I called to him 'Lord, Lord, where are you going?' But he kept walking toward the Temple, and then he began to run. I'd only seen him run one other time, for Lazarus. That story is told now in a strange manner, that Jesus hesitated, dawdled even for two more days while his friend was sick. But I was there, I saw his fury. He was being hobbled by the Father, he knew it, I sensed it, we all did. So for two days he strained against the reins, obedient, but still straining.

Then without warning, his words: 'I'm going to him.' He took off walking toward Bethany, and we followed. He paced with urgency the better part of a mile, shoulders squared, upright, not a word. Then his posture deepened, he leaned forward, and began to run. It was as if he'd been told 'now!' We struggled to keep up, such was his unbridled swiftness. Then Mary was there, falling at his feet, weeping. I saw him begin to shake violently, and then he wept. Jesus wept. The weeping madman ran on to the tomb, crying desire: 'No! No, Lazarus!' I witnessed in that moment the depths of his enmity with the old sorrow. He had come that men might live.    

His body sunk into that same posture as he ran toward the Temple after the Hosanas!, like he'd been told 'now!' We ran and followed, breathless. As he stepped inside he began to shake, and then he wept once more. Jesus wept again and howled 'No! No! This should not be!' As if replaying a scene, the unhobbled God ran from corner to corner damning the merchants' world: 'No! This shall be a gentle place!' We simply stood and watched. With Jesus' words the prey suddenly appeared, the lonely ones, the lost and wounded ones, those hindered until then. The Lord spoke 'there is still time' and then he healed them, all of them, and they lived.


A Palm Sunday reflection from the disciple Jesus loved...

I could not bring myself to utter the words. Me, the one he loved...me, the one some say closest to him. Maybe that's why I could not speak my mind for I knew, I knew he was like flint now, unswerving. I knew I had to be like that too, for him, for me, for the rest of us...I had to will myself to hold my tongue. Had my lips been loosed, they would have pleaded: 'Master, please don't get on that beast. Please.' But he did, as I knew he would. He spoke to me, once, just before the clop of hooves began: 'Remember, John...courage.'

And so I followed him, as I'd followed him those brief widening years. His ride was so very awkward. Had it not been for the press of crowd on either side, he would have fallen off more than once. But they hemmed him in that next chapter of the tale. From where I followed it appeared he rode their shoulders instead of that innocent beast. Jesus, to the crowd a shoulder-high hero; to me, my Lord and my God slouching toward Calvary. But on he rode as they brayed their praise. I believe he chewed this cud of words: 'Father, forgive them, for they don't know...'

You see, it is remembered as a triumphal entry, something in contrast to his cross-laden steps only days later. But I saw it as the death gyre, all of it, from the green of the palms one day to the red of his wrists that soon followed. And if I am honest I have to confess that I feared the center would not hold, that this man I grew to love like no other would drown and be lost. That I would wake one day to the sound of the sea licking the boat's edge and find it all only a dream. And I would be alone again.

But no, no, no, we had come too far, so I decided to mimic him. And so I placed the fear in my fists, as I'd seen him do time upon time, and I strangled it away and cast it among the crying stones that day. I had to be courageous, for me, for the rest of us, and for him. When he'd gone far enough, he dismounted and turned round twice searching the crowd until he found me. He stepped toward me and placed the rope in my hands. His face still a rictus of elegy. I told him I would see to the beast. He said 'yes, John.'

As he walked on with the crowd I noticed his hands clenched in fists at his side. I knew then that surely the revelation was at hand. He was not a dream. He was perfect love loosed upon the world, the madman from Galilee.


The Sweet Return (15)


I'm ready for these Lenten days to be over. They've gone on too long now, dragging and slogging. I know the calendar says Easter is still days away but I'd be well and fine to celebrate your resurrection today, this day. What if your people roused themselves and said 'we're ringing in Easter a week early, we can't wait, this is silly!' I'm sure some folks would say 'what, you couldn't wait a week?' Some folks always have something to say, don't they?

I'm going to try and celebrate today, Lord. I pray that 'up from the grave he arose' would permeate everything I do and say this day. I pray that you would huff and puff and blow this Lenten pall away, and that you'd do it early. I pray that you'd passover our passover dramas and surprise us, not necessarily like the thief in the night, but more like the favorite uncle we've not seen in months who just shows up on the doorstep and says 'hey, I started to call but then thought nah!' and we squeal with delight because we've missed him so and we love him so and its been too, too long.

Come Lord Jesus.

The Sweet Return (14)


I birthed a baby today, sorta, but you know that. The umbilicus was cut and now its in the care of others. Will they find it pretty? Ugly? Smart? Slow? What kind of score will it receive on the Apgar test? My work is not over by any means, but I've got to welcome the eyes and ears and thoughts of others now. Feeding the lake...

Thank you for the gift of being able to hear a group of rascals called The Rend Collective on the noon hour, their thick Irish tongues witnessing to the enduring nature of love. Lord, you know that most worship music, for me, has all the thrill of a salad. But these boys served up a dark and rich draft with a head on top...it stuck to my bones. Bless 'em, I pray.

And for my friend, Lord, you know the one...give him grace.