Fìn

Or was that just the beginning?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about transitions. Beginning and ending and beginning. I think we all can feel the typical New Year energy humming in the air. Like the self-aware population of our earth collectively decided to strike a tuning fork before the 2020 recital, re-tuning our instruments for another year of practice, rehearsal, and performance. That really is the ritual we’ve built into the much maligned New Years Resolution. For some reason, we feel the gravity of that transition, but can we really say there was much functional difference between the two days? It was Tuesday, then it wasn’t. A Wednesday was born, then it wasn’t. Yet 2019 was laid to rest while 2020 dawned. It was inconsequential, yet momentous.

The New Year transition has the power it has because of the power we’ve collectively given it. The accepted calendar says something shifted, and that’s enough for us all to call it a holiday and watch a ball of lights drop to the ground in a city most of us don’t live in. Substantially, something seems to have changed, so why not act like it? There is something so natural in using artificial transitions like this as a reset; hence, the New Years Resolution. Use this time of year to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and collect yourself for the future. New Year is a great beginners course in embracing transition and harnessing the power of forward vision. Because as hard as this New Year might feel to stick to your goals, you can bank on there being one next year. And do you want to merely start over or have something to build on? This particular orbit, this wheel of fortune and fate, really never stops spinning.

Around this time of year, my wife and I take a long weekend to get away from the house and the job and the cats and the chores to intentionally celebrate what went well in the previous year, recognize what didn’t go well, and set goals for the next twelve months. Throughout the year, we harness the power of the transitioning months to review our goals for the year, course correct, and set specific items to be accomplished in the next 30 days. Once a week, we sit down for twenty minutes to review progress made, details of the week, and celebrate the small wins. Twice a day, I take time to write in a journal, taking notes on my day and review progress made on the year’s goals.

It’s not always perfect. But it’s regularly intentional. And it’s a few steps beyond utilizing New Year. Each transition is useful to address some facet of our many-sided lives. The New Year rolls the calendar over. The birthday marks another successful orbit around the sun. The wedding anniversary marks another year you successfully avoided divorce and hopefully developed an even strong intimacy and friendship.

I wonder how different our culture would be if we gave more thought to these kinds of transitions and rhythms? How do we end and begin things? Are we paying attention enough to use them in their full potential power? How could a shift in mindset change a day or a year?

Consider the Jewish practice of Shabbat or Sabbath. The traditional day of rest in this culture begins at sundown Friday evening and lasts through sundown Saturday evening. The transition from day to day in this mode of thought occurs with a concrete, predictable moment that observably occurs every 24 hours. The boundary in the calendar is actually far less arbitrary than saying “midnight” is when the date changes. So if the day begins at sundown, it follows that the first substantial act of the new day is actually rest and sleep. Regardless of whether Sabbath is beginning, rest and sleep are the first things on the agenda, top priority. Only after vital time is passed resting does waking, eating, working, and playing begin. This is really what we were handed in the Genesis story of creation. Adam enters the scene on the culmination of the sixth day, then the seventh day is declared to be a holy day of rest, consecrated by the Divine Itself. Like he got to walk on the stage for the first time just for the standing ovation. Adam’s first full “day” of Being was passed in rest.

It’s a mindset shift. Are you sleeping every night in preparation for that day’s work or are you sleeping to catch up from the last day’s work? Do you charge your phone battery before you utilize it as a tool or do you charge it after you’ve spent it? Do you earn your paycheck to budget and spend in the future or do you earn it to cover what you bought in the last two weeks? Are you leaning forward in anticipation or limping behind in despair?

How can you treat endings as beginnings and beginnings as endings? How can you Fortuna_Wheelrethink transitions that will help put you in a growth mindset? In the historic cantata, Carmina Burana, composer Carl Orff adapted 12th and 13th century poems to create a work of musical mastery. The poems deal with the ever turning cycle of fate. In a very real way, the piece at the same time celebrates and laments the wheel of fortune. The opening (translated) lyrics erupt from the choir:

O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes playing with mental clarity; poverty and power it melts them like ice.

The first poem of the piece is known as “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and starts with the very well known “O Fortuna”. And in a perfect illustration of the ever turning wheel of fortune, the work ends with the same poem, the same declaration, “O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning”, the same notes. The beginning could be the ending of another cycle while the ending could be the beginning of another cycle.

So consider this New Year a chance to subtly shift your mindset and set some real intention behind the transition of the decade.

Fín.

Or was that just the beginning?

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.”

Intentional

One of my favorite moments in Parks and Recreation is the moment Ron Swanson orders the “number eight” at a local diner. The waiter kindly points out that their number eight is a party platter that serves twelve people, to which Swanson nonchalantly replies, “I know what I’m about, son.

Besides being hysterical, that line has replayed many times in my mind, by virtue of that character’s self-assurance and self-determination. You know it when you’ve met a self-possessed, confident man or woman when you meet them. They know where they find value and have taken great pains to shape their lives in a way that maximizes those values and the pleasures derived from them, even amidst the judgment of those who are threatened by their kind of confidence. They are intentional with the lives that they’ve worked hard to craft. I’ve found that a common theme that all who I admire share is that they “know what they are about” and they live in such a way that proves it. This is the way I wish to live. Let it be that my actions prove to you the kind of man I hope to be next year, in five years, in two decades.

Living like you “know what you are about” requires a chilling degree of mindfulness, humility, reflection, and honesty. What is it that you do on a daily basis right now that you would like to stop tomorrow? What habits have you allowed to take the ball and run away with it? What do you do that you know you don’t want to do? It takes mindfulness to become aware of what makes your body feel good and healthy. It takes humility to admit that you may not be living like the best version of you could be living. It takes reflection to find where that habit of mindless eating or Instagram scrolling really got away from you. It takes honesty to see that you may not be making decisions that your future self could be thanking you for.

Fresh starts are freely available commodities.

Living like you “know what you are about” also takes vision, courage, sweat, and grace. How does the best version of yourself live, five years from now? What steps could start you in that direction today? Where could you employ the power of compound interest by setting up habits that you’re proud to follow through on each day? It takes a vision of what your life could look like if things went well. It takes courage to identify what steps would help you get there and to actually walk those steps. It takes sweat, literal and metaphorical, to do the hard work that leads to your vision becoming reality. Finally, it takes grace to know when you’ve failed, to learn from what happened, and to avoid the same mistake tomorrow. Breaking your diet with a slice of pizza today doesn’t mean you must eat three whole pizzas tomorrow. Fresh starts are freely available commodities. Tomorrow, start the new streak at day 1.

Intentional living is crafted through your values. Really at the heart of all this work, your values are revealing how they could be acted out and helping to fine tune the details. I’ve learned through much trial and error where I can reclaim my time and my attention for my primary values of health, relationships, growth, and contribution. I’ve thought through seemingly mundane details of my day in order to squeeze as much meaning and energy out of everything I do. I figure, if I must do something on a daily basis, then I can at least attach meaning to it and learn to enjoy it.

I’ve made a list below of different habits and practices that I’ve intentionally set up to serve my values. I hope these can help prime your mind with ideas that may set you off in a positive direction. I am not perfect at any one of these, but these are the decisions I’ve made for myself. I have certainly not arrived. I am actually quite certain that I never will, but at least I know that I’m aiming in the right direction. I like to think that I could confidently look a waiter in the eye while ordering over ten pounds of lunch meat and let him know that “I know what I’m about.”

  • Wake up at 4:40 AM to workout at the gym before work.
  • Meal prep the same breakfasts and lunches for work.
  • Drink tea instead of coffee.
  • Eat only between the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM.
  • Drink at least four liters of water every day.
  • Tie my left shoe first and then my right.
  • Read a chapter of scripture every morning.
  • Fill a journal page every day.
  • Listen to podcasts and musicians that inspire me to think, to act, and to create.
  • Pack gym clothes the night before I need them.
  • Practice ten minutes of meditation every night.
  • Practice yoga, before bed, three nights a week.
  • Read at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Own only 33 articles of clothing (not including pairs of undergarments and socks).
  • Wear only plain black t-shirts.
  • Live a minimalist lifestyle.
  • Practice Sabbath every Friday.
  • Go on a date with my wife every other weekend.
  • Plug in and turn off my phone by 7 PM.