Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tyler Durden Meets Jesus

I think that watching the movie Fight Club may have helped me to reconnect with Gospel of Mark in a positive way. I’m not sure I don’t still hate the Gospel of Mark. I’m not sure I don’t still hate the Jesus portrayed in it. I think, though, that in some way I might be less angry with the poor provisional fixes offered by the Markan Jesus to those who have experienced loss or trauma.

In Fight Club, we see a man who has lost his sense of (masculine) identity. The loss of identity in a general sense is made clear in the fact that the narrator, played by Edward Norton, is never given a name and is listed in the credits as “The Narrator.” At several points, the narrator references himself in the third person, identifying himself as specific body parts, physical responses, and emotional experiences based on an article he read.

He says, “I am Jack’s (raging bile duct), (cold sweat), (complete lack of surprise), (smirking revenge), (wasted life), (inflamed sense of rejection), (broken heart),” and he does this both in voice-over and in speaking to other characters in the film. It is also made explicit in the narrator’s comments such as, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” It is further made clear in Tyler Durden’s comment, “We are consumers. We are byproducts of a lifestyle obsession.”

The fact that the loss of the narrator’s identity is specifically a masculine identity comes into focus in his attending a Testicular Cancer Survivor’s Group. This understanding is further made explicit with Tyler Durden commenting, “We are a generation of men raised by women, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.”

In a community in which a large number of children are raised in single parent, female headed households, young men are not given any kind of indication of what it means to be men, of what masculinity looks like. Their only firsthand knowledge is an example of what is female and feminine.

In their striving to create a masculine identity, there is an almost total rejection of what is considered feminine and an embracing of what might be seen as opposite—made explicit in the refusal to discuss their fight club experiences outside of that setting and the use of violence as a means of creating community.

Additionally, there are comments in this film which are strongly religious, even Christian, tying it to the Gospel of Mark in ways that might not be seen unless viewed from the perspective of Mark as a paradigmatic overlay. In discussing his obsession with attending support groups, the narrator says, “Every night I died, and every night was I was born again; resurrected” and “Afterwards, we all felt saved,” in response to the weekly and then nightly fights taking place in the fight clubs.

Tyler Durden posits:

Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God? You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you, never wanted you, in all probability, He hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen. We don’t need Him. Fuck damnation. Fuck redemption. We are God’s unwanted children? So be it.

I wonder if this might be the sentiment of many in first century Palestine, having watched their cities burned, their families murdered, and the religious center of Israel razed to the ground. In their desolation and attempts to recreate a sense of community from the few scraps left, did they perhaps feel as though they were God’s unwanted children?

I was surprised and disturbed by the ways in which I saw the Gospel of Mark in the movie Fight Club. The loss of identity and the willingness of a group of individuals to follow a man who lived a schizophrenic life was so close to my understanding of the loss of community experienced by first century “readers” of the Gospel of Mark, and my own reading of the disciples following Jesus.

Furthermore, there is the creation of a new identity. Tyler Durden explains his purpose as follows: “All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” I think that this, in a lot of ways, is what Mark’s purpose was in writing this gospel—to create something, and someone in the person of Jesus, who is more, stronger, better, smarter, and fully liberated in ways in which the community was not, but wanted to be.

Ultimately, I think that Fight Club allows me access to the Gospel of Mark in ways that I did not previously have. Tyler Durden says to the narrator, “I will drag you kicking and screaming, and in the end you will thank me.” So too do I feel as though I am dragged through Mark, kicking and screaming; though with Mark, there is no end, for we are pointed, once again, to the beginning. We are told to go back to Galilee, to begin again, to be resurrected.

 “Only after disaster can we be resurrected,” Tyler says. In the aftermath of loss and trauma, we create new identities, identities that are no longer defined by, though not necessarily separate from, our former relationships (whether to people or things) which have been lost. In the face of loss and trauma our salvation is to be found in our ability to resurrect/recreate/reconstitute our own identities and understanding of ourselves.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Few Random, Not-at-all-Connected Thoughts

1.  I cannot be the only person in the world who thinks a Peanut Butter Bacon sandwich sounds AMAZING!  Toast up some gluten-free bread, slap on the peanut butter, add some bacon--extra crispy, maybe a slice or two of tomato.  I'm thinking I'll have to try this come summer.  You know, when tomatoes taste like tomatoes.

2.  I have knack, when it come to cooking, for finding a recipe and fixing it.

Case in point:  Dinner last night.  Mushroom Risotto.  The recipe called for 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, and 3 ounces of cremini.  Since I cannot purchase mushrooms in bulk around here, I had 5 ounces of shiitake and 8 ounces of cremini.  I used them all!

And while the recipe called for 10 ounces of a dry white wine, I started out with 14 ounces.  Because it tastes good!

Now, by the end of the recipe, if you find yourself in need of additional liquid, it indicates you should add hot water.  And give up the chance for more flavor!?  Heck no!  I added another 6 ounces of wine.

The last step was to add 2 ounces of Parmesan--I used 4.8 ounces of aged, imported, Italian Parmesan.  And instead of the 2 Tablespoons of butter that was called for, I drizzled white truffle oil over the top.

Yes, I am a goddess in the kitchen.

3.  I've been thinking about some things lately.  Specifically, knowing someone has led me to think of old ideas in a new way.

I like it when this happens.

As a theologian, I'm pretty used to intellectualizing the god-topic.  And though there is occasionally overlap, my personal theology isn't necessarily the same as my public theology, and neither has anything at all to do with my faith.  If you're confused, you're not alone.  Everyone who knows me starts scratching their head at this point.

However, as a theologian, I've thought, read, written about divine love.  My public theology, affirms that divine love is the root of all love.  It is the starting and ending point of life.  All of reality is linked to divine love.  As such, I believe that we are called to make tangible the divine love in our world, recognizing that all comes from and all returns to the divine.  We are to care for, tend, and love everything.  And divine love is transcendent.

My personal theology also affirms divine love.  I believe it is divine love at work when I choose to be patient, kind, and generous with others, even when I'd rather not be.  Divine love is where I am rooted and to where I will return.  And divine love is transcendent.

My faith, on the other hand, has some questions.  Nay, doubts.  About the reality of divine love.  In particular about the transcendent nature of divine love.  And specifically our ability as humans to tap into the transcendent nature of divine love and love beyond all bounds.

Now, I have been in relationships in which I have experienced the transcendent nature of divine love.  My best friend.  My mentor.  My nieces.

But when it comes to the question of romantic relationships, I've never believed that the transcendent love of the divine was actually possible.   I had never even considered it.  I want to know someone, in their absolute core, and be known in return.  And if, at my core, I identify myself as rooted in God, how could I possibly know and be known by anyone who did not also identify as being similarly rooted.

And then I met a man who doesn't go to church.  Who hasn't prayed in years.  Who's attitude toward God is apathetic and disinterested at best.

And I chose to love this person.  I chose to invest.

Everything I believed about myself and my abilities and my needs ran counter to who this man was.  And I chose to engage.  I chose to act in ways that defied rationality.  I chose to actively love this man.  I chose to do whatever I could, no matter how small, to bless him, to honor him, to treat him with respect and dignity.  I chose to love him.

And suddenly I began to think that the transcendent love of God could be a lived reality in any relationship.

But I also believe that loving others begins with loving and honoring the image of God within ourselves.  And if we do not honor our own needs, we can never fully love another.

I tried.  In the end, I came to realize that loving another should never put my heart in a position of being battered and bruised.  When I love, I want to love from wholeness.

And so, I walked away.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Story of MB & Willy Wonka the Wonder Dog

 This was written about me and my faithful 3-legged wonderdog by two very dear friends.  It was written on April 9, 2010.  This is the first time it has been made available to the public.


Honoring Emotions

I live in my head.

Nearly ALL of the time.

And I don't even realize it.

Several years ago, when I was seeing a grief counselor, she asked me, "How did that make you feel?"

I responded with a ten minute rant that included things like, "It was totally inappropriate!  And completely unjustified!  I mean, it's just completely unbelievable that this person would even for a minute expect me to be okay with ....!"

Once I had concluded, my therapist looked at me and said, "All of what you just said is completely valid.  But everything you included in your list, is a thought.  How did it make you feel?"

And I stopped for a moment, tried to shut out all of my thoughts and just concentrate on that space in my chest and gut that felt wrong, and I said, "I feel betrayed."

That was the point at which I was able to begin healing.  And when the other party was able to stop justifying why they thought what the did was okay and began to affirm that my feelings were just that, feelings, and that I accepted their reasoning, but needed  them to understand and affirm my feelings, our friendship began to heal.

So, fast-forward about four years.

I still live almost entirely in my head.  Thoughts are my primary operating schema.  Things have to make sense, or I struggle.  A lot.  This has always been a weakness of mine.  I get frustrated when things do not line up or when I do not understand why something works the way it does.  It's not enough that I know how to do something.  I have to know why you get the result you get.

This may seem counter-intuitive for someone in my chosen, attempted profession--the ministry.  What makes less sense than worshipping an invisible deity and affirming a faith structure that reveres a man who was crucified for sedition?

And when you add people to the mix?  Well, let's just say the vast majority of people I know are not rational or logical most of the time.

This has actually been a huge source of tension in certain church settings in which emotionally heightened worship experiences are prioritized over rational, well thought out, carefully constructed sermons.  You know the church style I'm talking about--rock-style worship that leaves people feeling uplifted, sermons that move people to tears of joy or sorrow, but the specific points of which no one can remember by the time they walk out the front doors of the church.

Versus the boring church stuff that most people sleep through.  The boring church stuff?  I LOVE it!  I live for it!  Get my brain engaged, and my heart will follow.  Every time.  Challenge me intellectually, and you'll win my allegiance.  My complete, unwavering loyalty.  I may not always agree with you.  I may not always like what you have to say.  But I will stand by you as a friend and love you beyond all rationality and reason.

(If you're Republican, you will likely never win me over intellectually).

But that's where grace comes in.  Which also does not necessarily make sense.  But somehow, I've found a way to make it work.

Last week, however, I had a dream.  This was Tuesday, the 10th or Wednesday, the 11th.   It was a really fascinating dream.  But when I woke up on Wednesday morning, something was wrong.  Very, very wrong.  Somewhere in the area of my chest and gut, and I just couldn't figure out what it was.

I told several people about my dream, asking for an interpretation.  All of them laughed.  A lot.  Totally ironic and really hilarious is how most of them described it.  This is the portion of the dream that I told them:

I enrolled in clown college.  On my first day of classes, we learned that a world-famous female clown had died two days earlier.  The entire first class period was spent in a group grief therapy session.  Because I was the only person who decided to enroll on a lark, and had not been steeped in clown culture since childhood, I was the only one who had no idea who this woman was.  After an hour, having learned nothing about actual clowning, I got disgusted and left.

Now, again, I asked several people to help me interpret this.  Most just laughed.  A lot.  "Wait," said a friend from work, "you actually dreamed that you went to clown college but dropped out because it was too depressing?  That's frickin' hilarious!"

My sister's response was, "I think you want more colorful characters in your life but don't know what to do with them once you've got them."  Except I'm one of the most colorful characters there is, and most of friends are creatures of a different breed.  I don't always know what to do with them, but I enjoy having them in my life. 

I seriously considered her interpretation, and highly respect the attempt, but had to reject it as invalid because I still felt very, very wrong.  In that place that resides somewhere in my chest and gut.

My best friend offered this interpretation 3 days later:

I think subconsciously you think your ordination process is a clown show....  Or maybe consciously, too.  Who know :)  Maybe you should listen to your dream, get disgusted, and leave ;)

Now, I love my best friend.  Dearly.  No one knows me like she does.  But I immediately rejected this as 1) way too obvious to be accurate and 2) implausible because if it were the case, then I ought to have felt like things were resolved when I woke up.  After all, at the end of the dream, having left, I felt safe, supported, cared for, and okay.  When I woke up, something felt very, very wrong.

Oh, and did I mention that I failed to share the beginning and very end of the dream with anyone?

The dream opened with this man, whom I love, picking me up for class.  He, too, had enrolled in clown college with me.  We were going to carpool.

On our way to class, we're about 100 yards from the parking lot, when he pulls over, says, "Wait!  I have this really cool thing to show you!"  He jumps out of the van, and runs across to the parking lot, pulling something out of his pocket as he goes.  Then, he stops, and uses a remote control to drive the van the rest of the way and to park it.  (Seriously, how cool is that!?  And in real life, I have no doubt this man would be able to do this).

So, I hop out and we head to class together.

After the first hour of class, we also left class together.  And he held my hand.

So, another two days later, on Monday, the 16th, still feeling like something was very, very wrong, I decided to put all of the elements together, and give my best friend's interpretation another shot.

I was disappointed that clown college was basically the polar opposite of what the literature indicated the experience was supposed to be.  But when I left, I had someone with me.  Someone held my hand and walked with me.  I knew I would be okay, because I wasn't alone it.  I didn't know how things would ultimately end, but I knew no matter what, I would be able to move forward and do anything I wanted because I was loved, supported, cared for, and I wasn't alone.

And as I drove home from work that day, I thought to myself, "I feel so alone in the ordination process, or lack of process as it's turned out.  I just feel so incredibly alone." 

But I had never given voice to this feeling.  I had never allowed myself to acknowledge it because I live in my head.  I live in my head, and I know, without a doubt, that I'm not alone.  I have an entire community of people near and far who love and support and care for me.  I have people who are willing to continue walking with me as the process is temporarily put on hold.  I am not alone in this.

So, because I know I'm not alone, I had never thought to express my feelings of alone-ness in the process.  Feelings do not always and often rarely coincide with reality.  I live in my head.  I know I'm not alone, thus my feelings of alone-ness are inaccurate.  Because my feelings of alone-ness do not  reflect the reality of my situation, I will reject them, and not give them voice in my life.

Sometimes I forget that feelings are important.  I forget that feelings, though not reality, are still valid.  Neither right nor wrong, yes.  But valid.  And they deserve to be honored.  Even if it simply means acknowledging to myself that, reflective of reality or not, this is how I feel

Once I acknowledged that, the wrongness that lay somewhere in the region of my chest and gut completely disappeared.  Which was good.  Because people were starting to notice that something wasn't okay with me.  And they were starting to worry.  And to check in.  Which is all the proof I need that the reality is, I am not alone.  I am deeply loved.  And it's okay to acknowledge how I feel, because those feelings don't change a thing.  But honoring them allows me to let them go.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Baptism as Covenant

Genesis 1:1-5
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11


There is, from the beginning of time, an intimate connection between God and water.  Though the first creation may have been the calling of light into being, the first action we read is a movement over the waters.  When God is creating the heavens and the earth, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  And so it that we see there is the time before, and the time after, and water stands in between.  This is the first hint we have that water has some powerful significance in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This significance continues throughout the whole of sacred scriptures.  There is the before, the waters, and the after.  In the before, the world was full of sinful and unrighteous people  Then came the waters.  After Noah and his people repopulated the earth.

In the before, the Israelites are slaves in Egypt.  Under the leadership of Moses, they flee and are pursued by the whole of Pharaoh’s army.  Then came the waters.  The Israelites pass through the Red Sea on dry ground and all of Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops are swallowed in the deluge of the returning sea.  After, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him.

In the before, the people complained against Moses and Aaron and their lack of water in the desert.  Moses was commanded by God to speak to a rock and water would spring forth.  In the before, Moses did not trust God, and struck the rock twice with his staff instead.  Then came the water, gushing froth from the rock, and the community and their livestock drank.  And in the after, God chastised Moses for not honoring God.

In the before, Moses appoints Joshua as his successor.  Moses dies on Mount Nebo while looking over the Promised Land.  Then came the waters.  And in the after, Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan, trusting in God’s promise to be with Joshua, and to never leave him nor forsake him.

This relationship between God and water continues in the New Testament, in the form of baptism.  The Gospel of Mark opens with John baptizing people in the Jordan.  John tells the people that he is baptizing with water, but one is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus come to John.

In the before is a little-known Jewish man about whom we have no information (at this point in the story).  Then come the waters.  Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan.  And “as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”  And in the after, a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus is not the last person in the New Testament to be baptized.  Those who are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus also receive the Holy Spirit.

The UCC Book of Worship has this to say about baptism:  A person is incorporated into the universal church, the body of Christ, through the sacrament of baptism.  The water, words, and actions of the sacrament are visible signs that convey the Christian’s burial and resurrection with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-4). …. It is “a sign and seal of our common discipleship.  Through baptism, Christians are brought into union with Christ, with each other and with the church of every time and place.”

There is the before, when a person is separate, distinct from, not part of the church.  Then come the waters—the baptism into the burial and resurrection with Jesus Christ.  And in the after, the baptized is a child of God, a member of the family of Christ, a participant in church life.

The baptism of Christ was the starting point of Jesus’s recorded ministry.  Baptized in water, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus spent the next three years preaching good news, healing the sick, and bringing the Kingdom of God the people of God.  Jesus made manifest the love of God in the world.

As a baptized people, we are called to do the same.

In the course of baptism, there comes a point in which the congregation, the community in which a person is baptized, is asked the following: Do you, who witness and celebrate this sacrament, promise your love, support, and care to the one about to be baptized as she lives and grows in Christ?  And the congregation responds: We promise our love, support, and care.

I was baptized here at Ripley.  I was raised in this church.  Throughout college and my seminary career, I worshiped elsewhere, in other places and with other denominations.  I have seen church done in a number of different ways, and I have seen many theologies of baptism expressed in the lives of those churches.  Church and theology are not one size fits all.  But the theology of baptism that fits me is the one expressed by the UCC Book of Worship, and lived out by the people of Ripley.

I have not always been a particularly lovable person.  My teenage years were particular difficult.  But I never felt unloved here at Ripley.

When I confirmed my baptism, members of the congregation were encouraged to pick a student from among the confirmed and to pray for them throughout the remainder of their academic career.    Every time I returned to Ripley, I was welcomed.  I knew I was prayed for regularly, and throughout this journey, I have felt incredibly supported by this congregation.

Ripley is a church where I have experienced significant care.  I remember being looked after at times by women in this church.  I remember being blessed by many who are no longer among us.

In the before, I was an infant and cannot say I remember what life without a church was like.  But the waters came.  I was baptized.  And in the after, I was a member of the family of God.  I have been loved, supported, and cared for by this church, by this congregation, by all of you.  In the waters of baptism is change, the loss of one type of life and the gaining of another.

This is what Jerry Sittser has to say about loss:  “All people suffer loss. Being alive means suffering loss.

“Sometimes the loss is natural, predictable, and even reversible.  It occurs at regular intervals, like the seasons.  We experience the loss, but after days or months of discomfort we recover and resume life as usual, the life we wanted and expected.  The winter’s loss leads to the spring of recovery.  Such losses characterize what it means to live as normal human beings.  Living means changing, and change requires that we lose one thing before we gain something else.

“Thus we lose our youth but gain adulthood.  We lose the security of our home but gain the independence of being on our own.  We lose the freedom of singleness but gain the intimacy of marriage.  We lose a daughter but gain a son-in-law.  Life is a constant succession of losses and gain. There is continuity and even security in the process.”

In baptism, we pass through the waters and join Christ in his death, losing a life in which we were free to live for ourselves, we cross over into a new life and gain a life in which we join Christ in his resurrection.  We are now called to live our lives for something else, for someone else.  We lose a life that is entirely our own, but gain a life is part of a larger community.  More than a community or social structure, the life we gain is part of a family, a family in which everyone is welcomed, loved, supported, and cared for.

I feel fortunate to have grown up here at Ripley.  To have been so well loved, supported, and cared for by this congregation.  For all of the studying one can, and probably ought, to do in the course of college and seminary, nothing that can be read in a book can possibly teach so much about the life of a church as what is learned in the lived experience of a church.
In my life here at Ripley I have been loved through difficult circumstances.  I have found advocates who have supported me.  I have been cared for and richly blessed.  I have seen people give of their time and resources to meet the needs of others.  I have seen people bear the burdens of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  I grew up here at Ripley, and I have grown through my relationship with Ripley. 

Today is my final Sunday as an intern here at Ripley, my final Sunday worshipping with you.  I am grateful for the lived experience of this church.  I am grateful that you are a people of a baptismal covenant.  I am grateful that you have held to the vows you made 30 years ago to love, support and care for me.  As I go forth from this place, I sincerely hope that I am able to love, support and care for others, and live the example you have set for me.  For everything you’ve done and all you have given:  Thank you.