Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Prophets in Their Home Tizzle.

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Mark 6:4

These were Jesus' own words when he went home. Up to this point in Mark, Jesus had amassed quite a following, with things added to his resume such as, "healed the first pope's mother in law", "effectively shushed a storm" and "de-legioned a man's mind". All this in addition to his profound teaching and his confronting the misuse of power from within his own tradition. Everywhere he went, he found respect and honor.

But when he got home, things changed. Perhaps at first a slight novelty hung in the air for Jesus as he stood in the synagogue he likely spent all of his childhood Saturdays. There may have even been some eager reunions and embraces. Jesus is home! But as he began to teach and bring the message he lived/died to communicate, there were suddenly snorts. Eye-rolls. Murmurings. Who does this guy think he is? It may have become embarrassing for him in front of his disciples who glanced at each other, unsure what they were experiencing. As Jonathan taught Sunday, there were accusations and derision in the words of his fellow townies when they spoke of him.

"Jesus began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing him were taken aback, saying, “Where did this man get these teachings? ... Isn't this the carpenter, Mary's son...?” So they were offended ("skandalizo") at Him." Mark 6:2-3

Back then, you referenced a man's father, not the mother, when you're discussing his origins. Unless of course the identity of the father was a matter of dispute. Remember, Jesus's dad was God, and Mary was impregnated miraculously. Easy for us to celebrate every Christmas. Harder to sell as your own story to your village known to have a low view of liars and adulterers. Where does this confirmed bastard get off preaching about God's Kingdom to us?

The text goes on to say that their perception of him actually affected his ability to do what he came to do. This is a fascinating situation. The one who can cast out a thousand demons and erase a storm with a word cannot work in the midst of antiquated notions about himself. It's almost as if our estimates of a person are the dominant determiner of whether we can be blessed by that person.

I am willing to admit that I pumped Dr. Dre's Chronic Album through 15" subwoofers in my Mazda 626 in 1992. This was our introduction to the rapper Snoop Dog, the perpetually (chronically?) high gangster gangsta who was open about his willingness to be violent, misogynistic, exploitative and generally not a model citizen. The Parliament Funk loops used in many tracks covered a multitude of sins. As many of us grew up, we lost interest. I stopped listening a couple years later, noting his face and name in the news here and there over the last couple of decades.

As the story goes, Snoop Dog had something of a spiritual awakening in Jamaica last year, announcing in July that a Rastafarian Priest had told him he was no dog, but was a lion. Thus, Snoop Lion was born. I thought it was a joke. Then I realized rappers do this. Puff Daddy is on his 27th name I believe.

But Snoop Lion was indeed reborn. Reincarnated even, as his documentary earlier this year suggested. Last week, I heard his new song, No Guns Allowed. It's about senseless killing and the mistreatment of human life and how we need to take positive action to avoid all of this. Peace and love, from the Dogg Father. 

My first impression? 
Who does this guy think he is? Is this not Dr. Dre's apprentice, a thug?

The thing is, if he were some new artist I would have thought something like "This is good; we need more positive messages like this coming out of mainstream hip hop." But BECAUSE I AM FAMILIAR WITH HIS PAST, I have an inflexible mental template, an antiquated notion about his sincerity and his motivations. If he had the exact same past and I wasn't familiar with it, I would have likely been immediately on board. This reveals my familiarity and attachment to his past are the issue, not the present he may very well be trying to live in genuinely.

All his self-righteous former fans are his home town. And he will have a hard time receiving honor from us. But we are the issue, not him.

They say love is blind. But as the late great Anthony DeMello pointed out, there is nothing so seeing as love. What blinds us is our templates about what people are. We fix them in time within our minds. For years we see the same person and we think down beneath clearly thought words, thats the guy who hurt me. That's that woman who lied. Those are the people who believe this. This is nothing like love. I wouldn't feel loved if people still judged me based on things I did in 1992. I would hope they would remain ever aware - seeing!- that we are all changing, all the time. To love someone is to see the person in front of you, not the template of that person you have created for your own records. To hope and believe all things about each other, rather than log deficits and refuse to ever see past them.

Jesus didn't have a shady past like Snoop or you or the person about which you made your mind up long ago. But the issue isn't the past of the one being judged. Whether the person is a sinless Messiah or the man that made Gin and Juice popular, their past isn't the issue. It's you and I, the judges. Honor is due everyone. Seeing them, and not our presuppositions of them, is perhaps one of the primary ways we pay them this honor. Not merely some vague idea of respect from a distance, but an engaged willingness to re-see each other as an act of love. To start over and over and over with each other, just as we would want them to do for us.

When we're willing to see Christ beyond our old notions, we're blessed. If we won't, we're not. And the same is true for all people, as Christ demonstrates in his refusal to believe anyone is stuck in their worst day.

That is to say, you and I and Snoop Lion are invited into rebirth, it turns out, chronically. (Boom).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Can I get a withness?

St. Matthew decides to end his gospel in what seems at first to be a most unsatisfactory way. After describing a newly resurrected Christ as commissioning the disciples to go demonstrate the life of God to everybody everywhere, he quotes Christ as saying,

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That's the last sentence. The end. No explanations for the suffering they would endure. No further answered questions to bolster their confidence in the mission they'd just been assigned. Not even a secret code or formula to make their coming experiences easier than their pagan counterparts. The last words Matthew writes aren't merely theological. They're experiential. 

I spoke to a woman this past weekend who, two years ago, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I remember when she found out. I remember references to a baseball sized tumor, other lesions and a pervasive sense of fear for her and her family. I remember her tears at the office as she told us. Though feeling "petrified", she opted to undergo chemo and to take every step she knew to take.

She experienced numerous awe-inspiring moments through the course of her treatment. But the one she shared with me Saturday was particularly amazing. When she was at her worst (apparently the treatments are cumulative, and by the sixth the suffering was at its peak), she had the very real, tangible sense of Christ being with her. She conceded that her head was a bit fuzzy from the medications that day, but went on to describe her sitting in her misery and suddenly mindful that Christ was at her side.

And not the blue-eyed, VO5 Hot Oil Jesus depicted in the painting we all had hung in our childhood kitchens. She described him as just as bald as she was, with a chemo port oozing in his chest.

Not just there observing her, but with her. Fused to her suffering with his own.

She didn't quote him. She didn't share with me any of his promises about how much longer the pain would last, or what "lesson" she was supposed to be learning. Apparently there were no words. Just Christ the fellow chemo-patient, with her always, even to the end of the age.

After telling me this, her eyes glossy and wistful, she said, "I miss that. I really do." She scrunched her face up so as to acknowledge first how untrue that probably seemed. Who legitimately misses hell? But I knew she meant it. She missed the profoundly real, wordless presence. The withness, even though it occurred in the midst of great suffering.

We come to a point where our faith is well informed, and yet vacant. Many of us assume this means we've learned what we can about our faith, and have grown past it somehow. We refer to ourselves as "off track" or having "lost our fire". But this is because without Matthew's last sentence, the other words are just history to be learned and then shelved. The informing part of our faith is similar to how the gospel starts and carries on for a time. We feast on insights and inspiration. Eventually, however, when the words end, it's that last sentence that we live on. It's the last one we can't live without.

The presence of Christ is an unearned reality. Underneath our preoccupations, underneath our complicated steps to "find God", even under our reams of Biblical savvy, Christ waits for us to wake up to the fusion that already is. Suffering is a great tuner, as my friend would tell you. But the recognition that we're unaware and even skeptical is enough to begin. When we've taken in the story, we're not just commissioned to tell it. We are then invited to actually participate in it with the Author.