Black Lives Matter

I’m not here to be a teacher. I’m here to show how I’m learning to be a student.

For one reason or another, this particular BLM moment has woken me up to the realities of the systematic dehumanizing of black people of color and systemic injustice. Of course, this is not the first time these things are surfacing. My eyes are just opening now to the realities that I’ve been blind to and what I’ve been privileged to never consider.

I grew up in as good a situation as can be imagined. Middle class family living in the suburbs or in the country. I’m white. I’m male. I’m cisgender hetero. I was born an American citizen. I can check every box down the page to put me in the fully privileged camp. And honestly, up until a few weeks ago, I was deaf to any call to help me realize it.

I thought life could be this easy for everyone.
I thought life should be this easy for everyone.
I thought life would be this easy for everyone.

I like to subscribe to a full metaphysic of libertarianism, of individualism, of a truly free market of things and ideas. I believe that free will is our reality and that we have a responsibility to do work we love while providing value in excess of what we charge for our time and effort. The romance of “the American dream” is deep down in my bones. And until recently, I would have written off this whole movement in the culture. Even now, it’s hard for me to pay attention to systemic issues, when the Individual is so attractive to me.

What’s been teaching me slowly to see things in terms of systems and societal forces is Rob Bell’s spectacular talk on YouTube, Everything is Spiritual. In the talk, Bell shows how the evolution and unfolding of our universe gives rise to new phenomena when components are combined at previous levels. Quarks combine to atoms. Atoms combine to molecules. Molecules combine to cells. Cells combine to bodies. And when bodies, human beings with thoughts and personalities combine, what emerges? Civilization. Society. Systems. This is what Christians through the ages have called “the Body of Christ”. This unification of individuals gives rise to a new thing, a collective consciousness with it’s own pain, joy, orders of operation and modality. Like I said, if this is all obvious to you thus far, I’m the student here. And I’m working through my lessons. So this is the birth of social systems. Then…

There is a concept being talked about now called White Fragility. Many have taught the concept. Many have fumbled with a rebranding of it. I will not attempt to work with it besides acknowledging that it is very real. As a white man, I’ve been insulated from race-based stress my entire life, so when it comes to the forefront of the culture and I’m told by black people of color that this has been a reality for them their entire lives and that I have work to do to deconstruct implicit and unconscious racist forces and beliefs within myself, I can easily start feeling attacked. I can sense in my body a visceral, lizard-brain response that starts screaming “FIGHT or FLY”! That, my friends, is what I now know to be white fragility. That impulse to instantly defend. That impulse to fire back with #AllLivesMatter! That impulse to claim that there’s not a racist bone in my body or that I have POC friends. That is what I’m learning to pay attention to. Because precisely where my hackles stand up while my heart drops into a steady race, my hands start to sweat, and I begin tripping over my tongue, that’s where I need to learn to sit with the uncomfortable truth of my privileged position. No one said this was easy or fun. We must learn to be uncomfortable if we are ever to arrive in a world of equitable justice, fair and safe police training and practice, and true unity in our diversity.

To my white brothers and sisters and siblings: If we are indeed ready to see that a group of individuals combine to create society and systems, then we must be ready to collectively work on that thing that arises in our midst. If we can see our collective-ness in this hyper-connected world as a Body, maybe even the Body of the Christ, then we must be ready to heal that limb, that organ, that operation that has been wounded.

We’re being called to listen to the part of our Body that is hurt. When the leg is sending blinding pain signals to the brain, alerting the Body to a broken femur, the healthy arm does not refuse to help, claiming that #ArmLivesMatter. Instead the arm joins the rest of the body in stabilizing the fracture, picking up the extra weight of the Body that the leg is no longer prepared to bear, and works to join in the healing work. A doctor tending to the broken leg bone would not prescribed a shoulder sling. The injured leg must be allowed it’s due attention.

So when we hear Black Lives Matter, it is simply not helpful, even harmful, to respond with All Lives Matter. The real, living experience of our black POC friends is that they matter less than their white neighbors. So until they matter as much as the rest of us, without a second thought or question, then we say Black Lives Matter. It is our work to educate ourselves on our national history, identify biases and implicit beliefs within ourselves, and offer an open hand of allyship. History does not get rewritten unless the history writers pick up the pen. And like it or not, acknowledge it or not, white men are the history writers in this country. So learn how to write. Learn how to speak up, speak out, and speak against that which would degrade the dignity of our black brothers and sisters. Learn the difference between simply not being racist and being anti-racist. I’m right there with you. Let’s be students together. I do not know the systemic fixes and won’t claim to be an expert in policy. So I will begin with me, the individual. I’m here for an education. As Brene Brown says, “I’m here to get it right, not to be right.”

“The work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human to other humans.” – Austin Channing Brown


Here is a list of podcasts, books, videos, Instagrams, music, and prayers that I’ve been paying attention to in my education process. This is in no way comprehensive. Let these take you in your own direction. (Please feel free to contact me with feedback, comments, and questions)

Podcasts

Books (full disclosure: these are books on my wish list, I have not read them yet)

Videos

Miscellaneous

  • My friend Ashley @papergram put together this great series of graphics that served as a major introduction to me. Check it out here.
  • The music of William Matthews’ record, KOSMOS

Prayers

 

Normal

When most everything feels so abnormal and foreign to us right now, it’s okay to feel it and at least to normalize the feelings. We’ve never been here before, collectively. The adrenaline of new information and new risk is wearing off as we settle into our shelter-in-place lifestyles. The novelty of using Zoom, Discord, FaceTime, and any video calling service is wearing off. And our bodies are finally starting to catch up with our racing minds.

For two or three weeks now, all we hear about, all we think about, maybe all we talk about is the coronavirus and what impact it will have on us. And our bodies didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. Personally, I’m experiencing greater levels of fatigue and sleepiness throughout my days than I ever have before in my former, office-working life. My body is teaching me what it’s like to mitigate risk by running marathons, not sprints.

So if you’re starting to feel the adrenaline buzz wear off, the novelty is just not so novel anymore, and you’re missing the old life, it’s normal to feel that. We all lost something, albeit temporarily, so abruptly that we went into fight-flight-freeze mode to get through the immediate danger, and now we’re realizing that the enemy moves much slower, but can run much longer too. We are feeling the adjustment as we shift into road trip mode instead of drag strip mode. Allow yourself all the grace you need and know that it’s normal.

We’ve never been here before. It’s totally normal to feel anxious and worried.

Some of us have never been homeschool parents. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and stretched thin.

Some of us have never worked from home. It’s totally normal to struggle with focus and feel like your work and home are too close.

Some of us have never been without work. It’s totally normal to feel angry and afraid of how you will provide for yourself and family.

Some of us have never stayed in one place for so long. It’s totally normal to feel restless and confined.

Some of us have never been alone for so long. It’s totally normal to feel a need for human touch and affection.

It’s totally normal to feel exactly what you are feeling.

Yes, beloved, it’s totally normal and I hope you can rest in that. Thank your body for taking care of you so well.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Bonnie

This is the toughest thing I’ve ever sat down to write. A couple weeks ago, my wife Dixie and I were crushed by a sudden and unexpected miscarriage. This post will be a combination of writings and voices. We will briefly share the news. Dixie and I will each have a section of our own writing. Then, we will close in the prayer we’ve been grieving through for the past couple weeks.

We have been trying to start our family for the last three years. For various reasons, this has proven difficult and leaves us with no luck, even with medical interventions. To spare much of the medical detail, Dixie has PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which makes getting pregnant very difficult. This involves her body getting off her cyclical patterns and making it very hard to tell when different moments of a typical cycle are happening. What we thought was a “normal” (again, normal for Dixie, not medically typical) late cycle blindsided us as a very early miscarriage.

Here’s a bit of an email Stephen sent out to our closest friends last week:

“We had no idea or indication that we were pregnant until the miscarriage started. By the looks of everything, we were about 4 weeks along the process.

Right now, we’re both in emotional shock with sudden strong waves of grief. It’s not lost on us that we are able to get pregnant, as our health improves and as we continue to pray for the beginning to our family. So there’s an odd nugget of hope in the midst of the huge loss. But I speak for both Dixie and I that we feel stunned, incredibly sad, hurt, robbed, sick, cheated, and betrayed by the body. We are swinging between being furious and angry with God to weeping prayer with Him being our only comfort. Neither of us are sleeping very well at all. Food doesn’t really taste right now. I am finding it very hard to focus at work.
This is very new and very raw for us now, but we needed to let our closest loved ones know. We’re sorry to bring you down into the grief with us, but we don’t know how to do this alone. Thank you, and know that we love each of you dearly. Thank you for loving us.

Grace and peace,”

Following the news going out initially, our family and closest friends continue to bring us tremendous amounts of comfort by their presence and love. We know being in the same circles as grieving people can be uncomfortable and awkward, but a strong hug, a crying shoulder or just a quiet movie night is enough for us to know we’re loved and prayed for. We’re thankful for these who don’t feel like they need to tiptoe around us. We’re also thankful for these who know that we can talk about other things, even play games and have fun.

The grief process here is a new one. The sudden strong waves of sadness and loss rise and fall as they have from the beginning. But the in-betweens feel so normal, really like life just keeps going. I (Stephen) expected grief like this to cripple me and confine me to dark rooms and boxes of tissues. Yet life just keeps going. It really is a weird thing to come to terms with as we talk and pray through what our hearts, bodies, and minds are experiencing.

After much prayer and thought and the tender advice of loved ones who have walked this path, we’ve decided to name our Little One. We were so early in the process when things started breaking down that there was really no way to know the sex of our baby, but Dixie has that deep, momma sense that it was a girl. A sweet baby girl, that both wounded us with love and sparked hope for our future. The beautiful answer to our prayer for the last few years: that we could get pregnant one day. So after the Celtic word for Beautiful Good, we’ve named our little girl, Bonnie. We continue to pray and live as though we will meet our sweet Bonnie one day in heaven paradise. We have the faith to believe we will then and there, where “our hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflow, and our joy is like swords, and we pass in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” (Paraphrase, The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien).

 

Dixie

I didn’t even know I was pregnant until the pregnancy was over. It was so shocking. I was so numb and didn’t even know what to feel. I don’t think I felt anything until about a week after everything happened. I was so confused. I still am. I was torn between grieving the loss of this baby and simultaneously feeling content knowing that we can actually get pregnant.

Finally, after years of prayer, doctors, needles, pills, and trying, we did it. I got pregnant. But by the time I realized what was going on it was already over. She was already gone.

I am grieving the loss of our precious girl. I know she is in her heavenly Father’s arms. She was the physical manifestation of all those quiet prayers and bitter tears. She is the very answer to our prayers. She is a representation of God’s promise to me and Stephen. I will grieve the loss of my Bonnie girl and rejoice in what she really meant to us and what this promise means for our future. We can get pregnant.

“Thus up from the garden to the Gardener, from the sword to the Smith. To the life-giving Life and the Beauty that makes beautiful.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis).

 

Stephen

This is a letter I wrote to my daughter in my journal over the last few days.

Bonnie, my dear,

I wish I could have watched you grow in mommy’s belly and spoken to you while you were still growing within her. I wish I could have heard the moment of your first breath and cry. I wish I could have held your little body to my chest. I wish I could have watched you nurse and grow with your mother and witness that sacred bond between you two. I wish I could have held you close and kept you warm during your first winter. I wish I could see your bewildered face when I blow softly on your nose or raspberry your tummy. I wish I could deal with the sleepless nights and endless diapers like I’ve heard so much about. I wish I could listen to your first words. I wish I could teach you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I wish I could feel the terror of dropping you off for your first day of school. I wish I could watch you grow slowly and quickly into a woman before my eyes. I wish I could take you on ice cream dates. I wish I could teach you my favorite video games and board games. I wish I could go to your bad middle school choir or band concerts. I wish I could cheer you on while you played soccer. I wish I could dance with you while you practice for your first prom. I wish I could cry at your high school graduation. I wish I could help guide you through college. I wish I could give your hand in marriage to the man who dares to love you. I wish you could meet your grandmas and grandpas, your aunts and uncles, your cousins.

I wish you could meet your mother. Dixie loves you so much, far beyond what I could say in words. She’s much cooler than I am. She’s brave, strong, smart, kind, generous, hilarious, beautiful, passionate, considerate, patient, firm, powerful, creative, and above all, she is loving. She brings so much color and imagination into our home. She would probably sit and watch you and me play for hours, joining our giggles and laughter. She taught me what beauty can really be like, and so do you.

I miss you, my love. It’s so hard to miss you like this. But I know Jesus is holding your hand and teaching you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I know he’s as in love with you as I am and is taking the best care of my precious baby. Please give him a kiss for me and wait for me there, love. Daddy loves you so much.

 

Together

Lord, into your gentle open hands, we commit our baby girl to your care and your love. We don’t understand what is happening. We’re mad at you and we’re desperate for you. We want Bonnie with us now, and hold on to the hope that we will all one day meet where our tears are the very wine of blessedness. Kiss our baby girl tonight and tell her all about us. In the meantime, let us love her how we can from here and teach us to glorify you to the end of our days. Amen.

 

Cat

I recently allowed a cat under my roof. And I’ve made an agreement with this little ball of feline fur, that as long as she knows I’m the pride male and get to set boundaries based on where the photons emitted by our star’s nuclear fusion reaction make impact with our apartment’s interior*, then she and I can be friends in a mutually beneficial relationship. In other words, she’s an indoor cat. And being an indoor cat, we’ve been learning to share living space together.

As with any new addition to a household or family, once the initial “aw cute!” phase wears off, there is a trove full of lessons to be learned as we begin to adjust to each other. I believe that life is so much more interesting if I assume that everyone and everything can be my teacher, so I ought to be open to wisdom in whatever form it is packaged as a humble student. So in no particular order, I’ve been collecting some observations that Dinah, the cat, has helped me recognize and put into words.

  • Renaming something isn’t always helpful or necessary. When my wife and I first began the process of adopting Dinah, we thought we would like to rename her Pudding. There was no particular reason why, beyond we liked how cute the name Pudding is. But on her first day in our apartment while she was doing her initial exploration, we learned that she actually recognized the name Dinah and responded by looking up at us and coming toward our outstretched hand. So she was never Pudding to us, she will always be Dinah. — I identify as some sort of Christian outside of American evangelicalism, call is more progressive or liberal Christianity maybe. And I’ve noticed within this particular movement, there is an interesting aversion to holding onto the traditionally used and accepted metaphors for God, such as God the Father. I’ve read and heard many critiques of “father” being overly patriarchal and misogynist, thereby we must wholesale reject that metaphor for God the Mother, All-Spirit, or Creator. All are metaphors that add and enrich my own conception of God, but I’m not so sure we need to throw out the Father because it makes some uncomfortable. Especially when literal millennia of the Church has operated under the baptism of our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Renaming something isn’t always helpful or necessary.
  • Negativity disguised as jest is just as much a habit as positivity in affection and love. If you have a pet, you know that your pet is named something, and then there are the bastardizations of that name ad infinitum. Unfortunately, many of them for me quickly devolved into blatant insults toward the cat. So even disguised as a joke, calling my cat ugly names became my habit whenever I was feeling annoyed with her or chastising her for breaking our terms of agreement. This habit painfully revealed itself to me when I was attending to my two year old niece recently at dinner, my human niece (to be 100% clear, not my cat), who was trying to stand up in her high chair, and I accidentally slipped one of the many ugly names I’ve called my cat as I was trying to get my niece to cooperate with fun Uncle Stephen. At that moment, I knew I had to change that habit immediately. Even as a joke, I never want my niece or my own future children to be torn down by an ugly habit like name calling, especially from their uncle or father. And neither will my cat hear such things again, because habits do not discriminate, positive or negative. Negativity disguised as jest is just as much a habit as positivity in affection and love.
  • Healthy boundaries are okay to expect to be respected and enforce when they are breached. My one primary rule for Dinah is that she does not get to walk where human food is stored, prepared, and served. Cabinets, countertops, sink and table are strictly off limits. We quickly established this upon her arrival, by her being abruptly launched in an upward, airborne trajectory when she first explored the space. I did not intend to harm in the slightest, but we established that boundary early and forcefully. And we agree on it now. Healthy boundaries are okay to expect to be respected and enforce.
  • Do I sharpen my metaphorical claws with enough regularity? Along with dealing with spacial boundaries, we’re finding that it’s a training and adaptation to get her to sharpen her claws on the designated spots instead of the back corner of my favorite chair. I understand that cats engage this ritual to simultaneously trim and sharpen their ever growing claws, and that perhaps, this offers me a chance to check in with my own sharpening practices? Do I exercise enough? Do I read and write enough to challenge my own preconceived notions? Do I have stimulating conversations on those ideas that I read and write? Do I allow pushback and critique from trusted mentors, partners and friends? Do I sharpen my metaphorical claws with enough regularity?
  • A little mess is all part of it. A house that’s ready at a moment’s notice for that perfect Instagram shot is just not a realistic expectation. Perfect order is a neurotic utopia, which is hard for someone like me to hear and know. A little foreign smell, a little free floating cat hair is just part of my life now, teaching me to know that a little mess is all part of it.
  • With the proper degree of openness, I can learn from anyone and anything. Life is most interesting to me when my default stance is that everyone is my teacher. And I’ve quickly realized that this cat will spend her entire life running me through doctorate level studies in patience. My cat enjoys two things, food and attention. Both of which she is not shy about asking for, loudly… at 0430 in the morning. Pet owners can relate to that moment when your pet makes it crystal clear that you haven’t fed them in, let’s say, the last 20 minutes. They either lightly paw at the food box and meow to win your pity and affection, or they glare at you from behind a dark corner with that look in their eye that can only come from behind the yellow eyes of an ancient, instinctual, only slightly domesticated predator. And this can really get on my nerves, which is slowly revealing to me that my patience wears thinnest where any unplanned inconvenience threatens my own agenda. I can learn from anyone and anything with the proper degree of openness.
  • Curiosity is natural to the cat, while I am actively retraining myself in it. Curiosity could certainly eventually kill the cat, I totally get the cliche now. She is often looking into closets when we have them open, crawling under the couch, exploring window sills and desks, she is even learning how to pry open the bottom kitchen cabinets to get a peak. At first, this frustrated me. “There is nothing interesting here for you.” – Said the human, uninterested in the contents of a cabinet, to the creature that can find endless enjoyment inside a cardboard box. For her, every corner, door, and surface is potentially her new favorite place to hide, nap, or groom. That natural curiosity is expected and should never be discouraged, in fact, I am actively retraining myself in curiosity because of her.
  • Adapting to a cat in the house is teaching me to use a slower pace and practice greater body awareness. When she’s looking for attention, she likes to nuzzle against our calves and ankles, which is usually never an issue if we are sitting down to read or watch a movie, but if we’re strolling into the kitchen at night for a drink of water, this fun habit of hers becomes dangerous to us both. Me, at risk of tripping, her at risk of flattening. She’s inadvertently teaching me to practice mindfulness in all my limbs, simply noticing the feel of the floor and the light brush of fur on my ankles. In addition, I’ve realized that I just need to be slowing down more often to give her a kind petting, scratch between the ears, or a playful belly rub.
  • Cats are worth petting just by the fact that they are cute, soft, and enjoy it, probably more than you enjoy petting them. I’ll just leave this quick quote from Jordan Peterson’s rule 12 of his monstrously popular 12 Rules for Life book: “Cats are their own creatures. They aren’t social or hierarchical (except in passing). They are only semi-domesticated. They don’t do tricks. They are friendly on their own terms. Dogs have been tamed, but cats have made a decision. They appear willing to interact with people, for some strange reasons of their own. To me, cats are a manifestation of nature, of Being, in an almost pure form. Furthermore, they are a form of Being that looks at human beings and approves… Maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it. [So] pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.”

*(“Everything the light touches, is our kingdom”… Lion King quote for those playing along at home)

Eucharist [Pt. 3]

In my last two essays, I’ve shared thoughts on what I consider some of the finer details of our modern practices of Eucharist.

To begin, in part one, I hope I showed what I consider to be the great rhythm we’re taught through our table practice. The body broken and the blood poured out. This is what we commemorate, while we simultaneously celebrate phase two, where the body is healed and the blood poured in. The rhythm at the heart of Eucharist seems to be a cosmic inhale/exhale, body broken/body raised, blood drained/blood filled, battery depleted/recharged. We take this meal to remind us that it’s okay to be caught in either side of the cycle. We share this meal with each other to knit us together and be reminded that we’re never alone.

In part two, I took on a cursory argument for open table theology. I hoped to show what I believe to be a better reading of Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church. That we as the body should be as inviting and welcoming as possible to those “on the outside” and break down the walls and dividing lines that tempt us to exclude and divide. The holy Eucharist binds us together in mystical and metaphorical ways and I for one wouldn’t dare to exclude anyone from the love of God, as demonstrated in the gift of table fellowship. The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Power only inspires bigger and better next to the smaller and poorer, while the upside-down power of the Kingdom equalizes all around the place of nourishment, sharing, and vulnerability. It’s a gift, so please don’t be stingy with it.

In this third and final essay of this series, I’d like to go further to suggest that it all comes from a sadly poisoned theology of the body, tracing it’s deepest roots to an emphasis of Genesis 3, forgetting that Genesis 1 and 2 come first.

In the first 2 chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures, we’re given a glimpse in on a divine dance or a cosmic symphony. The Triune God, who in and among Itself is Relationship in it’s truest form, begins calling out of nothing that which is the universe we know. This Divine Spirit takes utter delight in each “day” of Creation, transfixed and in love with how the earth responds to the Voice. I like to imagine a child being pushed by her mother on a swing, each time reaching the peak before swinging back toward her mother’s arms, giggling with delight and begging “higher! higher!”. The days of Genesis 1 were each push of the swing and God is and is in the child, the mother, and the swing all at once. The purest goodness and delight.

And the final push came when Mother God offered dirt and dust formed in Her own holy image. Adam, mankind, humankind, infused with warm, dynamic, holy breath. Out of this man, God realized that the one not good thing that required righting was that man needed a partner, for without relationship, we are incomplete. Woman, like the cherry on top of it all: Eve. Divine image sealed with a kiss and a human body for the rest of history and eternity. This original goodness, original blessing, original righteousness, holiness, sacredness is jammed packed into Genesis 1 and 2 in so many ways, I can’t imagine tiring of these couple short chapters. This is where the whole story begins. So why don’t we remind ourselves of it more often? Instead, we build up our neural pathways to believe that Genesis 3, the wicked Fall, is the beginning of our story.

To have a fully robust understanding and appreciation for Eucharist, I believe today that we need a fully robust theology of the body rooted in Genesis 1 and 2, where the story really begins. Our bodies are good, infused with original blessing, coursing with the very breath of the Divine I AM. A mix of bone, soul, dust, spirit. A meat bag full of blood, tissue, sweat, and holes that allow food to flow from entrance to exit. Our skin sheds and is replaced. Our muscles tear and rebuild. From our marrow, our bones rebuild themselves. Our eyes blink to keep moist. Our chests rise and fall with our lungs. Our stomachs yearn for food and water many times a day. We digest and poop. We drink and pee. Our hearts beat blood and oxygen to the brain, feet, and toes, with an exquisite distribution infrastructure plan that boasts of no cell being more than 2 cells away from a capillary.  Every bit of this awkwardly warm flesh is sustained by a rhythm: heart, lungs, eyes, skin, hunger, sex, sleep. The thing that knits that together, holds your molecules together to stay cells, that’s grace, that’s love, that’s Christ spirit. The Christ that is in you is in and through all, and this spirit teaches us the rhythms of life and death. Modeled in the birth of Jesus, in a body, all the way to his death, in a body, there is again a rhythm that under-girds it all.

One of the greatest beauties of Christianity, that I feel in my body, mind, and heart, is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Creator enters the creation. The author writes himself into the story. The universal, cosmic Christ entered the particular body of Jesus of Nazareth. He was not beamed down to Earth through the Bifröst like Thor, no, He came into the world in a bloody, loud, human way. God saw that it was good and that it was beautiful enough to enter himself as a baby, born to a terrified, homeless, ostracized teenage girl. Christ Jesus, God the All-Vulnerable at the mercy of a mother who had probably barely lived past a decade herself. The Lord incarnate, the Christ in a meat body, painfully and beautifully delivered to a 7th grade age girl, to a world commiserating with her birth pain. This world that was ready and pleading for a cosmic reminder that the body was created to be good and is good.

Each new dwelling place for soul, that is, the human body, begins inside another. The mother/child relationship is itself a wonderful metaphor for the fact that we were only ever created inside the cosmic womb of God’s love. Something bigger than bigness itself had enough love and joy and grace to share that it had to start it off with a Big Bang, with holy Relationship being the ultimate plan for such a vigorously expanding universe. God created a universe that could love it back, just as a mother gestates a child that can love her back. Can you see this holy promise of original blessing baked into it all? Can you see that the body may be good from the start?

It evens means something mystical to me that this Word made flesh was unmade and remade flesh for us. To see that God is willing to enter our vulnerability and suffering, in solidarity, identifying with our pains and death, letting Jesus’ body be ripped to ribbons, nailed to the world’s greatest torture weapon, and left to die. All-vulnerable at death. All-suffering on the cross. All dead on Friday night. All dead, all absent on Saturday. All missing Sunday Easter morning. All human, yet more after being buried. That the Christ would even enter death for us, carrying the flame of original blessing and goodness through death, just to show us that the body is so good, in fact, that it is part of the plan that we keep it on the other side of death. All human, All Christ, All body, All spirit.

If the bread represents a holy body, given and taken freely, I firmly believe that Jesus is also making a statement on the whole of humanity. We have a remaining sacrament through the life of Jesus that chooses to affirm the goodness and beauty of the human body as his temple. We’re not originally born of hideous spiritual deformity, destined to a hell upon our first cries outside the womb. We’re crafted of an Image, of a holy Pattern, the Imago Dei that births us forward full of joys, loves, hopes. Fundamentally, the Eucharist meal reminds me that my body is a good thing, not a tool of the devil and his temptations, or a thing to be beaten into flagellating obedience. Christ as Jesus took up the form of a human body as a baby on Christmas and laid that body down for a time on Good Friday. Affirming the image of the Divine within us was his first holy act on earth, even before he could utter a word. This is a radically new way to be human. I believe Christ is showing us a deep and eternal truth: that every human being is holy ground. Holy ground to be contended with through a high regard for their dignity, their lovability, and their sanctity. We know there is something different in us as humans, we see a soul where we see none throughout the rest of our animal kingdoms. In her work “Aurora Leigh”, the mystic poet Elizabeth Barret Browning says,

Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush is afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit around the bush and pluck it’s blackberries for a pie.

May it be that we learn to have eyes like these. Eyes that see every common bush, every human being, afire with God. A work of great beauty and dignity worthy of respect and love first. Let communion be a reminder of this: that you are loved, not in spite of your body, but because your body and it’s Image of the holy Divine.

“This is the table, not of the church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.

Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”

Eucharist [Pt. 2]

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul in his letter to the Romans, 8:38-39. If I may be so bold as to add one to the list, I’d say that the church cannot separate you from the love of God, especially through the Eucharist table. I believe that a tragic misreading of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, coupled with any power structure’s natural bent toward exclusion, has inappropriately disqualified many from partaking of the Lord’s table. All ought to be welcome at the table of the Lord. An open table is an inviting table.

A bad reading of some rules Paul gave to the church in Corinth. See, as I understand it, the Eucharist was a new practice for this first century church, and in their Greco-Roman culture of the day, there was a social strata. There were already customs of feasts and gatherings in these cities, but it was organized according to class and social status. So when Christianity swept through this area of the world and many saw the beauty of Christ and his message, the church formed around an idea that was directly opposed to the culture of the day, namely, the poor now ate with the rich as equals in the dignity and goodness of both belonging to the body of Christ and recognizing the goodness and holiness in each other.

Except, old habits die hard, and the rich in this particular city were starting the party early to pre-game with all their buddies before the poor had the chance to show up because they weren’t released by their masters or off work for the day. So by the time the poor arrived, there was little food left at the Eucharist table. Of course, this just made the Christian church look like everything else in the culture, instead of the upside-down, “first shall be last” core teaching of Jesus. So Paul warned these rich dudes to wait for the table to be full before they began eating, unless they wanted to eat and drink themselves into a stupor before the poor showed up, thereby “eating and drinking judgment upon themselves”, meaning that the city culture around them just took them for another party and not the radical, counter-cultural thing they were attempting to model and encourage. They were disgracing the radical work Jesus started by regressing into their old lives and excluding the very beloved ones that he had died to redeem. The unworthy manner of partaking in Eucharist meal is excluding the poor and more needy at one end of the table, not recognizing the dignity and equality of all humanity. The same old traps of riches, wealth, status, position, and thinking you are more righteous than “that” man. Paul envisions the table for what it was intended to be at it’s institution in that Upper Room, a place where all are sustained by the body and blood of the human Lord, a place where we are served by the foot-washing king. No one is beneath Jesus or beneath sharing a meal with him and his people. No one.

That’s where it started, but of course, a church system that grows around any kind of doctrines or teachings will eventually develop a power dynamic with it’s masses, especially when eternities are at stake and the very Word of God is ordaining it. Go ahead, you claim that you’re doing the Lord’s work, regardless of if you are doing it or not. Say it loud enough and often enough and act as if it’s true, and you will gain power. Claim that you have the power to forgive sins yourself, absolve your flock, lead them into the light and snatch them from the cobweb that grips them precariously over the lake of fire, you’d get powerful too.

Power is a curious thing…Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall and a very small man can cast a very long shadow. – Lord Varys, Game of Thrones (S2E3)

Power inspires bigger cathedrals, fancier robes, gold lined plates, extravagant altars, taller hats (in the case of the pope). Power suggests that those entrusted with the fancy stuff, with the better costumes, should be separated from the masses to preserve their power and grip on the image. Power asks for more adjectives and labels, more dividing lines drawn, more separation, more exclusion. This, my friends, is when a bad exegetical reading of a letter by Paul pairs nicely with the nature of power. The church use this passage about eating the Eucharist meal in an “unworthy manner” to teach that you’re not worthy if you’re not a part of the system that they defined for themselves. Are you a confirmed Catholic? Are you the right kind of inerrentist, creationist, apologist, cessationist, determinist Calvinist, evangelist, apostolic, complementarian, pre-millennial, non-denominational (but closeted Baptist) Evangelical that defends the sanctity of marriage on the Supreme Court steps, that got your purity ring at age 12 and shared your first kiss at the marriage altar, that fights the culture war as hard as you’d fight the empire’s real war with your 12 stockpiled guns which are named after the 12 tribes of Israel under the banner of the divinely inspired and ordained red, white and blue? No? Then you don’t get communion either, it’s just for us.

[Please, please, please hear me when I say that I have no one person in mind. Caricatures are easy to vilify, so I leaned into the satirical absurd. I’m choosing to lean into every label I can think of to help support my point, which is that we divide over small things when we’re allowed the luxury to do so, and that that division lends to excluding the very lovable people that Christ made room at the table for]

The universal Christ invites us to a universal table. It is a sacrament lovingly designed to equalize all. Neither slave or free, Jew or Gentile. We are all one body, knit together by partaking of one body. Not only are we looking forward to a future in which we are one under Christ, we are softly listening to what this meal is doing to in causing us to become one in this very present moment. The holy city consummated between heaven and earth in the final chapters of scripture paint an image in metaphor of a cosmic city, stretching North, West, South, and East. Encompassing all creation with a holy dwelling place, lit by the glory and light of the Christ that leaves the gates thrown wide open. Amen and amen.

The Eucharistic meal is meant to be a microcosmic event, summarizing at one table what is true in the whole macrocosm: We are one, we are equal in dignity, we all eat of the same divine food, and Jesus is still and always “eating with sinners” (for which people hated him) just as he did when on Earth. – Richard Rohr

Contrary to what I learned as a younger man, this is not a time to remind myself about how shitty I am, or be afraid of what “wrath” I may be drinking upon myself with unconfessed sin in my heart (because who doesn’t have that?). This is a time to reflect on beauty, grace, the messy and beautiful realities of being knit together with those beloved humans humble enough to say “I am not sustained, but by the Eucharist that you too eat and of which I share with you.” Now, instead, I choose to speak and call the words of the great traditional prayer of invitation:

“This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. It is to be made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little, you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time, you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, because it is not I who invites you: it is the Lord, and it is God’s will that you who want God should meet God here.”

Eucharist [Pt. 1]

“This is my body given for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20). The breaking of bread and pouring of wine, to commemorate the new covenant made between the Divine and Man (Mark 14:12-26). Also called the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion, depending on your denominational ilk, this ancient and sacred meal sits at the very heart of the gospel message that we get to engage. I was recently reminded of the oddly ordinary origins of Eucharist, by dear friends gracious enough to share their home, table, and a cup of coffee with me and my wife.

You see, I don’t particularly believe that the meal requires a loaf of bread or an oyster cracker to be proper. Welch’s often substitutes wine, but what even says the drink must be red? Our hosts shared that they strive to share coffee together on the couch every evening together as work days end, school days close, and kids play and prepare for bed. This is the moment that they intentionally carve for themselves as a couple, creating an open space for conversation, to share worries, to share each other’s joys. In their words, this is their “daily communion”. If coffee can serve as a reminder that we live into a larger faith like this, then by all means, do not make it about the wine or the wafer. A common, ordinary act can serve to remind us of universal beauties.

Eucharist is about the body broken and the blood poured out. Christ, upon the institution of this sacrament, was packing so many realities of the kingdom of Heaven into this gesture. Using a bit of bread leftover from the religious feast of Passover, and a cup with a bit of wine left, he chose these ordinary elements to infuse with radical, cosmos-altering life. Providing us a pattern, in which we can live such radical love that it may feel like our own bodies are broken and our blood is running dry. But with a hope beyond, seeing that there is a three day period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday in which the body is rebuilt and the blood poured back in. That is the rhythm we remind ourselves of in this meal. This is the rhythm that we enter into every morning. There’s a time for the broken, a time for the whole; a time for the drained, a time for the full. All this, we can learn and be reminded of every time we make a piece of toast with our eggs, pour a cup of coffee to share with your husband, or share your home table with a friend.

It’s an ordinary thing to eat a meal, but now it gets to be sacred. You must eat to survive, but with a Eucharistic attitude, Communion is no longer eating. In this new covenant, baptism is no longer getting wet. Jesus turns the old world upside down in the privacy of this upper room, instituting a practice for millennia to come as all come to this sacred table. He forsakes the temples, laughs at the powerful, kisses sinners and heals the unclean; an upside down kind of kingdom makes ordinary bread and wine holy, with no need for wealth and riches, for the riches are found in joy, love, and connection. Again, we enter into a holy rhythm, imbibing the symbolic elements of the Christ, activated and motivated then to break our body for those who also need food for the stomach and for the soul. We receive so that we may give. If Christ’s work on the cross finally took sin, violence, and death out of circulation, then our sharing in this holy meal ought to bring an abundance of grace, joy, and love in to circulation.

Finally, communion is not taken alone. Consider that the word is comprised of two words, common and union; neither speak of isolation or faith on a metaphorical island. We share this meal among family, friends, church community, because we knit ourselves together in this way. By taking the symbolic holy body of Christ within us, we affirm the holy church, the catholic (universal) vision of the church. We, as the enduring, spiritual body, tie ourselves to those who see a more beautiful way to live and love in this world by following the Christ way. We anchor ourselves to a church that spreads far and wide over the globe and also spans millennia into the past and perhaps the future. This all, and more, is what we enter into when we share this common meal. And a cup of coffee at a friend’s house could serve as a perfect reminder of such a holy thing.