Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rejected Via Cookie

I baked cookies.

This may not seem like much to those who don't know me.

This may seem par for the course to those who do.

For those who do not know me, the next bit of information to this story will probably seem like no big deal.

To those of you who do know me, you'll understand that this next bit of information was the worst experience of my weekend.

The intended recipient of the cookies....did not want them.

Big deal.  Right?  Someone didn't want the cookies.

It was foolhardy to bake them anyway.  The chances of delivering these cookies in person was a long shot.  I knew that when I started.  I was hopeful, optimistic, planning for the possibility.  And it did not come to pass.

There was not any significant amount of disappointment.  I understand why a personal delivery was not an option.

So, I did what I always do.  I decided to send a care package.  All I needed was an address.

Which was not forthcoming.

I'm not really sure I believe the reason given.  History has taught me to doubt such responses.  I want to trust, to believe, to accept that it really is about not wanting stale cookies.  I really, really do.

But I don't.

I fear that the exchange of addresses at this point in a new friendship is simply too personal.

I feel rejected.

And do you know why?

Because a cookie, in my world, is never just a cookie.

A cookie, in my world, is an act of philea (φιλíα).

This comes, I am sure, as no surprise to those who know me.

The fact is, the person for whom I baked cookies, is a new friend.  We don't know one another all that well.  And so, this person is blissfully unaware that a cookie is never just a cookie, that a cookie is an act of philea, that rejecting my coookie is a fundamental rejection of an offering of myself.

I know that's probably weird to most of my readers.  I know that this will not make sense to anyone who does not know me really, really well.  I admit that I'm something of an odd duck.

Cookies = Philea?  Seriously?

Yep.  They sure do.

And after a long, difficult day that included conversation with a family member who is mentally ill--always a frustrating experience--and another family member rejecting the proper timing of a meal I had prepared as an act of storge (στοργή)....  Well, having my cookies rejected hit deep.

So, I curled up in bed, and I cried myself to sleep.

And try though I migh to tell myself, "It's just a cookie," it really isn't.

McG 1, I miss you.  You ALWAYS ate my cookies.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

And the Moral of the Story Is

Matthew 25:14-30


Our gospel lesson today is another parable. Jesus seems to like this type of teaching tool. Tell a story. It has a point, but you actually have to think about to understand the message. It’s like the Aesop’s Fables or Little Bunny Foo-foo. The last line is always, “And the moral of the story is….”

In today’s parable, we read about a man who is going on a journey. Prior to leaving, he takes aside three of his servants and entrusts each with a portion of his property. Each servant is giving a share of the property “in accordance with his abilities.” To one, the man gives five talents, to another two, and to the last one. We are not told that any of the servants was given instructions with what to do with their portion.

Whereas today, we think of talents as gifting and abilities (our God-given Talent Auction, for example), in the ancient world, a talent was a unit of weight. Because a talent measured weight, the value of a talent varied. A talent of gold was more valuable than a talent of silver or bronze. Thus, assigned a specified value to a talent is not possible. Theologians generally agree, however, that a talent in this context would have indicated approximately 20 years wages for a common laborer. This is a significant portion of wealth the landowner has entrusted to this servants.

What we see in this parable is that immediately, the servant entrusted with five talents and the servant entrusted with two talents each go work, investing their talents and doubling their initial wealth. The third servant, however, chooses to bury the talent which has been entrusted to him, hiding it rather than investing it. Something is clearly going on with this servant.

Next, we learn that “after a long time” the landowner returns. There is no indication of precisely how much time has passed, or whether the servants were even aware of the master’s return. We simply know that he came back, and his first order of business seems to be settling accounts with the servants to whom he has entrusted the talents.

Now, the first one comes in and shows the reward for his work—he has turned his 5 talents into 10. This is a 100% return! This is ridiculous! I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, every payday, I try to put a little something in the bank, and at the end of the month, I’ve made $0.12. That’s a $1.44 at the end of the year. Interest rates on savings accounts these days are less than ½ of 1%. The stock market fluctuates from day to day, but even at its peak, watching stocks rise, most stocks never gain more than a few percentage points over any length of time. Yet this man shows his master that he doubled the amount which had been entrusted to him.

The master is overjoyed! He commends the servant, declaring, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” Similarly, we see that second servant has doubled the talents that were entrusted to him! And the master is equally pleased! Again he responds, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Again, there are many things about this parable which are not totally clear. We do not know where the master has been. We do not know how long he’s been gone. We do not know whether his return was known or a surprise. We also do not know what it means for a servant to “enter into the joy” of this master. We do know, however, that having shown themselves to be trustworthy—investing their talents, using the abilities they already had to do so wisely—they honored their master and in return were honored by him. The master chooses to entrust even more to them. “You have been faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

Last comes the servant to whom the master entrusted but a single talent. The servant who chose to dig a hole in the ground and hide his master’s money. He comes before the man and is totally honest about what he’s done. “Look,” he says. “I know that you are a harsh man. I know that you reap where did not sow and gather where you did not scatter seed. And because I am afraid of you, I went and I hid. Here. Have it back. This is the talent you entrusted to me.”

This is a servant who clearly does not know who his master is. The first two take the talents and invest them. They make excellent investments with high returns. But there is no guarantee that this is going to work out for them. Any time we choose to use our resources, putting them to work, there is an element of risk. Whether it’s investing our time, our money, our skills, or our abilities. There is always a chance that things will not work out in our favor.

But in this parable, it seems that these servants did not worry about that risk. They appear to have had no fear of what their master’s response would be if they risked everything and failed. They immediately went to work trading their talents. There is no indication that they even gave a second thought as to what would happen if they returned empty-handed.

The third servant, however, demonstrates that he is full of fear. Not wanting to risk the ire of his master, he chooses not to use the talent at all. Instead, he buries it. He hides it. He chooses to not use the talent. And an unused talent serves no one.

The master replies with anger. And though there are many ways to interpret a text, and though there is no narrative indication as to the master’s tone of voice, I think he responds with biting sarcasm: “You knew, did you that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.”

I don’t think the master is really giving advice here on how to make low risk investments. I think he’s turning the servant’s own unfounded and unjust fears against him, and pointing out the fallacy of his actions. If the servant is so afraid of this master, this master is going to give the servant cause for fear. “You think I’m a harsh master?” he seems to be asking, “Let me show you how harsh I can be.”

Though the master is portrayed as angry, I rather think he’s deeply grieved to be so misunderstood by a servant whom he has trusted. Now, it would be easy at this point to say, “Well, sure he trusted his servant—with a single talent. He gave the others far more. How much did he really trust this guy?” Except, the mater gave this servant 20 years worth of wages. And while other two were entrusted with far greater wealth, each was entrusted with an amount “according to his ability.”

This is kind of like freshman orientation at college. A group of 18 year old kids are thrown in a room together and told, “Here’s an outline of the next four years of your life. Twelve credit hours—usually four classes—is full time. Most people take five classes. In your junior and senior year, if your academic advisor approves it, you can take even more classes.”

Everyone has different abilities. Someone who with a learning disability who needs extra time to read texts, finish assignments, and take tests is going to take fewer credit hours than someone who is capable of reading a book a day and finishes tests in half the time allotted. Each is given an education. But each is educated in a fashion that fits their abilities. If the first were to take six or seven classes in a single semester, they would likely fall behind and seriously risk their academic standing.

So it is with the servants—each has been entrusted with a portion of the master’s property. But each has been given an amount that is designed to enhance their experience, not overwhelm them with the responsibility of managing something far beyond their skills or training.

And when the third servant chooses not to use his abilities in investing the talent, but chooses instead to bury it, the master takes the talent away from him and gives it to the first, declaring, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.”

Inevitably, in studying this passage communally, the question is always asked, “How can those who don’t have anything have anything taken away?” Except, I think there is an implied thought in the master’s words: To those who have been faithful, more will be given and they will have an abundance; but from those who have not been faithful, even what they have will be taken away.

Everyone has gifts, skills, talents to invest. We all have resources. The questions is: How are we investing these? Are we using our talents, exercising them, and building on our skill sets? Or are we hiding them? Do we choose to bless others when we have the chance, or do we make excuses as to why we can’t or shouldn’t?

Do we risk big with thing with things God has given us, trusting that God will provide an abundant return? Or do we keep our giftings to ourselves, afraid of failing even in the little things? Do we trust that our God is a God who can work miracles and wonders and who is more interested in effort than outcome?

I know I’m not always good at this. I know there are times when I shrink back, when I shy away from trying something new, because I’m not sure I’ll succeed. But I truly believe that if we choose instead to love others, to keep the faith, to hold to hope; if we choose to encourage one another and build each other up; then we’ll succeed every time. Even if we never see a final result. Be encouraged today! The work you do for God is valuable! And the investment will reap a return in the proper time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Jesus Is a Short, Fat, Gay Man

I consider myself more fortunate than most.  I have been extraordinarily blessed. At times, it simply leaves me speechless.

I am deeply and profoundly loved.

And I know what that means.  And I know how incredible it is.

I sit in awe, wonder, and amazement sometimes. Why me?  Why am I so incredibly blessed?

In particular, there is this man who loves me.  Oh, how he loves me.  Our relationship is special.  It's different.  And everyone knows it.  Other have seen and remarked.  "I love Tim.  You know I do," Meagan once told me.  "But your relationship with Tim is different from anyone else's."  And she was right.

Tim's partner of 22 years comforted me.  I made sure to introduce myself, to let Rob know who I was.  He pulled me into an embrace and said, "Tim loved you so much."  Rob knew that our relationship, mine and Tim's, was different.  It was incredibly special.

When it happened, an email went out to inform the whole community.  Kim and Michael came to my door to tell me in person.  They knew my relationship with Tim was different.  It was special. And everyone knew it.

This man loves me.  It is a love that is extraordinary, powerful, transformative.

I remember when I fist met Tim, I just wasn't sure about him.  He was the director of CPE and I needed the course for my degree.  I just wasn't sure who he was or how he operated.  I was apprehensive and simply wanted to get through the class so I could walk across that stage at the end of the year.

Our phone interview a few weeks later was simply the most awkward experience of my life.  I am not good on the phone.  And I do not, by and large, enjoy talking to anyone on the phone.  There are very few people, with whom I can simply talk on the phone, and you know who you are.  But the vast majority of people--awkward and uncomfortable.  I finished that conversation and thought, "Four months.  I can do anything for four months."

But then we met in person.  We had our first class.  It was all business, and I thought, "Maybe this won't be so bad.  He seems genuine."

And then, we met in person.  One on one.  Just the two of us.  In his small office.  With just a low desk lamp for lighting.

And my heart was heavy.  And my soul was crying out.  I was hurting, and I needed someone, anyone, to hear my story.  To know that I had made a mistake.  And to help me figure out what to do.  How to handle it.  How to fit this new fact into my oh so carefully constructed and fiercely protected idea of who I was supposed to be.  Because quite suddenly, I wasn't perfect.

And everything changed.

Tim loved me.

The biggest moral failure of my life, and Tim loved me anyway.

I did not have to earn it.  I did not have to deserve it.  Nothing could alter or destroy it.  Tim loves me.

Not perfect.  And wholly and holy loved.

How did I get so lucky?

And when I got sick, and landed in the hospital?  Tim is the one who took me to the Emergency Room.  Tim is the one who refused to leave my side for twelve hours while I waited to be seen by a doctor and admitted before being transferred.  Tim is the one who heard my whole story.

Sitting there, I told Tim who I was.  And I told him of my disappointment at suddenly finding myself alone on a journey.  And as I closed my eyes, I saw myself walking down a lane in a wooded glen, Tim walking beside me, and I heard Jesus whisper, "Tim is walking with you on this journey."

And when I told Tim of this vision, he said to me, "Just what you wanted: a short, fat, gay man."

And Tim told everyone "She's my intern."  And because they knew him, and because they knew what that meant, they treated me with far more dignity and respect than my previous experiences with hospital ERs had led me to believe I would receive.  "She's my intern," he would tell them, and they would look at me, and their faces would soften, and they'd tell him, "We'll take good care of her."

And so, when I sat there, waiting to be seen, they checked on me more often than was strictly necessary.  They let Tim stay with me despite the fact that had he been anyone else, he'd have been required to leave.  Twelve hours.  I think he headed home after midnight.

When you are admitted to the hospital for any length of time, they take all of your belongings that came with you and lock them away.  When you are admitted through the ER, you haven't necessarily had time to think through the process, and you end up having to turn over things you might otherwise have left at home.

The hoop earring that used to rest in the upper cartilage of my left ear.  I haven't worn it since.

The ring I used to wear on the second toe of my left foot.  I haven't worn it since.

The small, sterling silver, 2 mm band with a 5 mm square portion from which was cut the outline of a cross.  The ring I used to wear on the ring finger of my left hand.

I had turned over my shoes, my clothes, my cell phone, my earring, my toe ring.  The security guard looked at my finger and said, "That has to go, too."  And I slipped it off my finger and I started to cry.  I held onto it, and looked at the guard, and with tears streaming down my face, I said, "Please.  Please, can I give this to Tim to look after instead?"

"Sure," he told me.  "I understand.  We can have Father Tim hold onto it for you."

And Tim did.  He kept it on his nightstand at home so that he wouldn't lose it.

And everyday, for fifteen days while I was in the hospital, Tim made certain I had visitors.

More fortunate than most who could only have visitors during visiting hours, I was part of the elite.  I was Tim's intern.  Which also meant that those he sent to me were either other interns or other chaplains.  Any time, day or night, if they had a chance to visit, they were permitted.  Hours did not apply.

And when I got out, my extended stay having required me to drop classes for the semester, Tim continued to mentor me.  I was still his intern.  He still loved me.

To everyone else, he was a boss, a teacher, a colleague, a friend, a son, a partner.

He was my mentor.

And that is a different type of relationship.

Tim loved me.

He continued to walk with me.  Figuratively.

And literally.  Every other week, through Riverside Park, as Casey and Willy Wonka, his Golden Retriever and my Yorkshire Terrier, played.

Tim continued to love me.

Tim never turned me away.  He answered my calls, he read my stories, he held me when I cried.

That last night, five hours before it happened, I showed up at his class.  I needed a hug.

And though I had hugged several people throughout the day, I knew it was Tim's hug I was waiting for, it was Tim's hug that would heal the ache in my heart.

And it did.

Tim hugged me.  Tim held me.  Tim breathed with me.  Tim breathed peace to me.  And hope.  And love.  Tim's love for me.  All of it.  And it was hot and strong and smelled of iris.  And I ought to have known at that point that it was coming.  But I missed it.  And then I breathed in laughter.

I headed home, and Tim taught a class.

And five hours later, it was over.  Tim was gone.  He had died.  Suddenly.  With no warning.  In the space of a single instant.  A moment so short, there is no way to measure it.  He was simply gone.  His life here was over.  It was over.

But our relationship is not.  Tim is still with me.  The relationship continues.  It's simply different now.  Tim is still with me.  The relationship has changed, but it has not ended.

I carry with me the love he bestowed so freely upon me.

I carry with me the knowledge of my worth and value as Tim taught me, as only he could.

I carry with me the memories of who I was, and I see within myself the transformation, the resurrection of my true self, that Tim's love called out; peeling away the layers of scars, the scales that had distorted my ability to see myself as I truly am, as God has created me to be, as Tim saw me, always.

Not perfect.  And not needing to be.

Because I am loved.  Wholly, perfectly, holy loved.

And because my faith is an incarnational faith, I know that for exactly nine weeks, six hours, and thirteen minutes, in the autumn of 2007, Tim was the incarnation of Jesus in my life.

My Jesus is a short, fat, gay man.

And because my faith is a resurrection faith, I know that when I too have "shuffled off this mortal coil," I will see Tim again.  Because the relationship hasn't ended.  It's simply changed.

A transcendent love that does, in fact, transcend time, and distance, and even death.

How did I ever get so fucking lucky?