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A sacred oratorio from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion [BWV244]

Image

 

Ich will hier bei dir stehen,
Verachte mich doch nicht!
Von dir will ich nicht gehen,
Wenn dir dein Herze bricht;
Wenn dein Haupt wird erblaßen
Im letzten Todesstoß,
Alsdann will ich dich faßen
In meinen Arm und Schoß.

 

I shall stand here with You,
do not then scorn me!
I do not want to leave You
when Your heart is breaking;
when Your set turns pale
in the last throes of death
then I want to grasp You
in my arm and bosom.

RAWtools: turning AK47s into farming tools

“My people will beat their swords into plows… and study war no more.” –Isaiah 2

Yesterday was a struggling day for me. Wrestling with God always leaves me limping. This photo appeared on my Twitter feed like a stream of water in a desert place. How exciting to see life cultivated out of death…

The waiting is the tortuous part. One doctor waits on another. One order rests on another. One test result must arrive before another. And so we wait with baited breath and knotted stomach and tangy, singed hope.

The waiting feels to me like wasting. If there is a time bomb in my body, ticking wildly toward its destruction and mine, why is everyone taking so damn long to find it? One doctor suggests another theory and a few more possible tests and I want to knock their teeth in because if that was a viable theory and a helpful test, why wasn’t it run A WEEK AGO? And I know these surgeons have real lives and they cannot wait on me hand and foot… they have real lives, sure… but so do I. So did I. I had a life once and it was not wrapped in a green sheet gown or stabbed through with needles or diced and dissected into fragmentation. I had a life like they do. “You’ll have to wait to see her. She’s at a birthday…” I went to birthday parties too once, you know.

Will I go to any more?

Will I have one of my own?

I used to want a chance to die.

Now I want a chance to live.

How long does that take, doc?

********

God is waiting too, I think. He has not shown up yet. Maybe like Dr C, he is crashing a birthday party. Maybe he’s waiting on… himself? Is he conflicted in his purpose here? Is he weighing out the risk of bending me further, stretching me farther, testing me harder? I’m a stubborn ass. I won’t break yet. Not today, anyway. Does he want to see how close I can get to that crucified place where even he knew forsakeness? I fear he is.

*******

What if it kills me?

I’m afraid that I will die before I have a chance to make myself immortal.

I’m afraid of living vicariously through Jake and never becoming my own self. That I will leave the earth and he will be all that is left of me, and then he will move on.

I’m afraid of shriveling up, or worse yet, I’m afraid that there never was a part of me that was alive enough to shrivel. I’m afraid that there is a part of me that was always dead and stifled, and somehow it is taking over more and more. It is the fecal decay… the undergrowth of my soul… that I’m afraid of. It has gotten hold of me. It is destroying me with a slow leak of poison into my gut, a cesspool of waste, and a myriad of unanswered questions and unlived possibilities.

I’m afraid I’ll die here waiting for an answer that was never there, waiting for a doctor who couldn’t know, and on a God that didn’t show up.

Waiting is the worst part.

The poet had been on the streets for too many days. Street life is strange: it’s funny how being homeless isolates you from so many people and makes you repugnant and untouchable but out there on the streets you are never alone. Isolation you feel, yes, but no solace.

The poet was tired of street life but it’s a recession. Poets are, well, nobody knows what poets are but they are not marketable. So here he was on a sad Thursday and he was tired.

Some trees on the left offered relief from the heat, and he was obliged to rest with the loiterers. Boredom sat thick in the air. One man wanted to hear the poet’s story? God knows there’s nothing else to do… so who are you?

It’s etiquette up here, in the privileged world, to clean up your story before it’s told. Under the trees, sitting in the mud with the bleeding feet and the lice and the refuse, there is no need to sound auspicious.  The poet told his story of rejection and loss… a million others like it have been told before.

One hobo offered the advice of aggression: if you are wronged, cut them. Take this gun. It will help.

Another wanted to know if the poet had any connections to exploit. If you are poor, pull yourself up. It will help.

 
The others threw in whatever answers they themselves had turned to. Ignore these circumstances, nothing is really as bad as all that. Call on family, they’re supposed to be there for you. Fill yourself fully of lecherous pleasure. It will help.
The poet sat under the tree and didn’t respond. In the infuriating silence, the others wondered if he had forgotten them, or if he was too good for them, or if he was simply mad. His story fell silent and they simply despised him. After all, he wouldn’t help himself. One by one, they left the poet.

That night the poet slept under the tree and his dreams were bitter. On Friday, the sun never rose. Finding himself utterly alone, the poet began to tremble and to sweat. The time had come at last. His courage fled him, but he sang out from the tree. He climbed upon that tree and he sang a song of death. He sang a song of emptiness, betrayal, nakedness, and pain. He sang a song of rich men brought to hunger and poor men made full. He sang a song of bereavement, abuse, hunger, and curses. He sang a song that splintered the religious and scattered the imagination. He sang a song of death and it was strong.

Take my blood. It will help.
Take my pain. It will help.
Take my death. It will help.

Take myself. I will help.

The poet sang a song. It did not rise from earth. It plunged to hell.

 
Good Friday from Feinberg 1204
Annie Bolger
February 15, 2013

The conversation is: purity in [a specific] Christian culture, a culture that was home to me for many years [North American, Protestant, evangelical, fundamentalist, etc.,].

Do any of these voices echo your experience? What insights would you add? How could you change the conversation?

1) The Modesty Rules: Is a Woman Responsible for a Man’s Lust? “Heteronormative modesty codes not only objectify women by making them responsible for the thought life of every man they encounter, but make men feel weak, guilty, and vulnerable for experiencing basic sexual attraction.”

2) Virginity: New & Improved!

“Christians say that the world objectifies women through immodest dress and a permissive sexual ethic. However, by idolizing sexual purity and preoccupying ourselves with female modesty and an emphasis on hyper-purity, Christians actually engage in reverse objectivization.”

3) I am damaged goods

“Darling, young one burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now: Don’t believe that lie. You never were, you never will be, damaged goods.”

4) Beauty vs. Sexuality

A broken worldview that reduces human behavior down to a predictable set of gendered, inevitable physiological responses shouldn’t be the framework for a Christian discussion of beauty, desire and the longing for affirmation.

5) Modesty and Hating Oneself: The Darker Side

“Lust is not about sexuality, but about power and control… We, as a church, need to change the conversation. We need to first teach men that blaming women for boners is not a healthy way to go through life, and that sexual attraction and not feeling sexual attraction are natural and acceptable identities. We need to broaden the conversation to talk about control and objectification rather than how one person is sinful for having a perfectly normal sexual reaction to attractiveness. We need to talk about how this thinking fuels a culture of rape.”

6) How the Modesty Doctrine Fuels Rape Culture

“It is this idea that women need to cover up because men can’t help themselves, quite simply, that fuels rape culture in our society today. The conservative evangelicals I grew up amongst might not know it, but their ideas about gender and sexuality really do promote rape culture.”

Matthew 5:8… “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

Her Facebook status arrested my attention for a few fleeting moments. “The world is so much prettier through Instagram filters.” So much truth in that statement. And so many lies.

One. Two. Three. Smile! We see the manner in which the picture falls short of our anticipation and we set forth to polish up the dingy portrait and set it right. We dress up the real life and paint it anew, recreating the picture that is there and forcing it to be the picture we desire. There is a darkness lurking behind the drive to Instagram our lives. Our everyday, mundane, boring moments are altered and reshaped and presented to the world as other than they are. We edit the familiar to render it original. We retouch the blemishes. We crop out the ugly corners of living. Pixelated perfection. It isn’t raw or real. It isn’t honest. The “Come to Me” Savior is all-too-familiar with the painful, wounded, ugly, dying parts of us. He wants to see the picture and He doesn’t require the filtered version.

But our photogenic dishonesty betrays at least one precious attribute that we possess. This world is so very disappointing and a picture, worth a thousand words, can give that secret away. We are the changers, the re-creators, the guardians of this brokenness who rage against the way things are and wish that we could make it new. We were intended to yank the weeds and tend the garden. We were made with an innate dissatisfaction with the way things are. Instagram. Our one-click opportunity to retake the true picture. Here again, the “Come to Me” Savior is sympathetic. He is sympathetic with our desire that things be different… that life be better… that the picture improve. He is the “Come to Me” Savior who is also “making all things new”. He knows all too well that a simple filter will never suffice, but He understands our deep dissatisfaction with the way that things are. He is dissatisfied, too.

The gift of recreation comes neither through the untouched photo nor through the Instagrammed one. The gift comes when we finally answer the “Come to Me”, and we are seen.

“It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church. One cannot characterize it without having recourse to language which will sound hysterical and melodramatic.

There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality… but as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion — its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sees all issues within the context of the eternal…

-Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind

Oh, for a mind that relates all issues — social, political, and cultural — to the doctrine of God. What I wouldn’t give for that kind of thinking. What on earth is the eternal perspective, and how can I get at it? How does the life of God inform the life of… me? When the world is a-whack, and it generally is, what image of God focuses my eyesight?

These days the hot topic is Chick-Fil-A, tomorrow it will be something else. Another transient position of  “a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality”. Where is the Christian mind in all of this boycotting and talk of first-amendment? Is the life of the Trinity revolving around the American Constitution and the freedom of speech and the support of one fleeting bill over another one?

I picture Jesus reminding me always to “Render to Caesar. Do it. But render to God as well. Don’t confuse the two.”

There are days when I cannot understand the “Christian” mud-flinging… the conservative obsession with controversy… the Church caught up with in the most recent popular headline… the way in which hot political topics are confused with the Gospel. If the world ran out of controversy, we would invent something to fight about: a means to channel our righteous indignation. Steven Colbert took my breath way in his recent programming:

“As a practicing Christian in this modern, fallen world, it can be hard to explain why I still go to church. That’s why I want to say thank you… for cementing in the minds of nonbelievers just what my religion stands for: Jesus, the only Son of God, gave His life to redeem mankind by suffering torture and death, then rose from the dead in forgiveness of our sins, ascending to heaven and is seated for eternity at the right hand of the Father in fulfillment of the scriptures. …You know. For chicken.”

God, who offers a perspective that I crave: When the world is crazy and distressing, help me to press into the eternal perspective. Help me to repeat the creeds before regurgitating political talking points. I ask, again and again and again, for the Father to show me how His life participates in this life… how to render to Caesar… how to demonstrate the stark opposition of the kingdom of God to the kingdom of this world. In the name of the One who said, “If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight. But…”  Amen.

I had a brief moment of being myself a few nights ago.

 

I’m a rockstar princess who loves to perform. For the past four years, the extent of my “performing” was occasionally leading music for church services. I love doing that, don’t get me wrong, but it’s different than being on a real stage for a real audience. I lead worship for God. There’s a congregation joining in, but it’s all for an audience of just One.

This past Friday I worked way too many hours. My workday started at 7am and finally ended at 11pm. As I was driving home, a friend called me and asked me to meet him at one of the local bars. I was so tired that my eyes were burning, but I was just around the corner so I agreed. I walked in and was happy to see familiar faces. Some of my band was there. The band that I’d been leading worship with for the past five years.

The band that was playing at the bar knew the few guys in my band and asked if they wanted to do a few songs. They agreed, which is why they called me. They needed a singer. Without a second thought I agreed! It was performing, not leading worship. A change from our usual routine. This was a gig, not a church service. We had more freedom to be goofy and the guys had more freedom to show off their stellar guitar skills.

So I sang one of Taylor Swift’s songs with my worship team band in a smokey bar scattered with inebriated people. It was loud and chaotic and I hadn’t rehearsed. But guess what, I rocked it. My talented musicians backing me up had a great time and one of them even sang harmony.

 

Musicians make music. It’s just what we do.
Musicians who are in love with God make music for God. It’s just what we do.
So that’s just what we did.

Maybe my talents and gifts would be better used doing something more “christian”. But, for that one night, I was myself. Singing a Taylor Swift song at a bar. That was my act of worship. I was all in and fully enjoying and using the passions God gave me. It was an untraditional way to bring light into a dark place. It was an untraditional act of worship.

-andrea (the rebellious writer of this blog)

 

**Just to put you at ease about me being in a bar… I’m over 21 years of age. I was being responsible. I was with people that I knew. I didn’t dance on any tables. And, the best part of it? The only thing I had to drink the entire night was water.

Some days, I want to dive all in. I want to read every blog on the blogroll and crack a theological stalemate and pull a couple of books off of my dusty cubicle shelf and put all of my empty down time to excellent use. I want to be studious and industrious and full.

And then I get to work. I settle into my office chair. This is not a comfortable, satisfying “settle into my office chair”. It is a dismal settling down. Like settling into the chair in a doctor’s waiting room. You fully know that everything to follow this act of being seated will be dull at best, miserable at worst.

I settle down into my office chair.

All of my high aspirations settle down too.

Another day passes and I haven’t reached much further than to switch on the lamp in the far corner of my gray-walled world. Minds, like muscles, atrophy. I was going to work mine out today. But I settled instead. No blogs. No theology. No books.

How do you to inspire yourself to press through monotony? I am looking for suggestions because tomorrow I will march into this same office and settle into this same chair… and somehow, I want to keep my mind aloft.

 

~Annie Bolger Quick, editor

We cannot be the ‘image of God,’ either at the ecclesiological or the anthropological level,

unless we are incorporated in the original and only authentic image of the Father,

which is the Son of God incarnate. ~John Zizioulas