My Lord & My God

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Long ago I made noises about posting my reactions to Father’s sermons here, & true to form I think I did that a whopping two times before senility & busyness claimed me yet again. Well, catechism is over, I & my sister & my fellow brothers & sisters in Christ are confirmed/baptized, & I’ve now been a year at Saint Thomas. I should probably FOCUS. Is it wrong to picture The Rock with angel wings, screaming at me?

Today’s gospel was, as the liturgical year demands, John 20:19-end. I really enjoy the whole of John 20. I love that Mary Magdalene calls Him “rabboni” (from the Easter service), a term of respect mixed with affection. If I were her, I’d be sobbing with joy as I said it. Can there be no greater happy shock than finding your beloved friend & teacher alive after watching Him suffer & die?

But back to this week. Here Thomas is not having any of this “Guys, for serious, I’m Jesus!” nonsense. He wants to poke the poor guy. Thomas is saying, in modern parlance, “You best bust with the holes in your hands & your side or you can get out.” We can’t be too hard on Thomas; this was the guy that was late to the party. Everybody else was present when Mary saw Jesus & told the other disciples “YOU GUYS! HE’S BAAACK!” Then He came to them & they got to have a jubilant old time with breathing the Holy Spirit & whatnot.

Thomas was that dude who found out a week later & was all WHUT?

So Jesus indulges him & Thomas says, in stunned joy & chastisement, “My Lord & my God.” Father points out Thomas does something very different here by acknowledging that Jesus is God. This is super hard for us to wrap our heads around (& is triply hard to explain to your Japanese roommate in college), but Thomas sees it. He feels it. He recognizes that Jesus is the entirety of God’s divinity in human form, that God deigned to live amongst us as one of us. He suffered as we suffer, & more so than most of us ever shall.

Jesus says to Thomas “Because thou has seen me, thou has believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Father asks us to imagine what it would be like if Christ returned today. What would we, creatures of 24 hour news & immediate gratification, need to believe that Christ was indeed Christ? In the scriptures, He performs many miracles that Bronze Age people immediately associate with the divine. But we see miracles every day. Cardiologists revive the dead on a daily basis. Man has walked on the moon. Bubble wrap & Hologram Tupac exist. We are a nonplussed people. Seriously, what would Jesus have to do to make Himself known to us?

Have that little conversation with yourself, & be honest. Most Christians would immediately say “Oh, I’d know,” but would we? We’ve all piled our personal aspirations on Christ. We’ve assigned him our politics. We have numerous distractions & points of cynicism to engage us. How would you know you were talking to the actual Christ?

I answered this question silently to myself in the pew, immediately. “If I hugged Jesus, I would be instantly healed. I wouldn’t have fibromyalgia any more, or celiac disease, or arthritis, and my metabolism would work, & then I would drop everything and follow Him because I actually could.”

Two things struck me later as important to examine so I could root out my own biases. First, the act of hugging was assumed. Of course Jesus is a hugger. Deacon Walter is a hugger. Father Davies is a hugger. Jesus would hug, right? Well, maybe not. Would a firm handshake suffice? Would I even need to touch Him?

And the second assumption is of course that I would meet Him. Now if you know me, you know that I eventually meet everybody, because that’s what I do. It’s not intentional; it just happens, no matter where I live or am. But there are 7 billion people on this planet and utterly no guarantee that Jesus would have even the faintest interest in visiting Los Angeles, or even America. His agent would argue that He needs to be out here, but that’s applying our ideas of publicity & outreach to Christ. Maybe Christ doesn’t reach people through media. Maybe He’s a Reddit poster, or an astronaut, or majors in interpretive dance. He could be a soldier or a cat fancier or a stay-at-home mom. This is the 21st century; He need not appear as a Jewish male in order to get people to hear Him.

So then what would Christ have to do to get you to believe?

Later in the sermon, Father mentioned that we are all, currently, the body of Christ on Earth. You have His hands, His feet, His eyes. I think Father was quoting someone but I missed that part thinking about how crappily I was treating Christ’s body. I was treating it very well, when I had a trainer. I was fueling it properly & exercising it properly. Over the past few months, though, as I continue to recover from injuries, I’ve been treating Christ’s body like the Play Doh Fun Factory.

If I ever needed a message to get me to properly think about how to feed Christ’s property, that was it. For lunch I chose brown rice & chicken breast, plus vegetables. Ok, I had a Chipotle bowl. There is no reason Jesus wouldn’t like Chipotle! Especially if He had fibromyalgia & couldn’t cook today cos of His neck & shoulders.

Anyhow when Father’s sermon is posted to YouTube, I’ll add the link here so you can see that what he said is a lot more learned than how I heard it.

Oh, & the picture above? Father gave the Class of 2014 catechumens personalized Byzantine icons. Mine depicts Archangels Michael & Gabriel. I think I know why.

KJ Adan also has a book out, in case you actually wanted to read something longer.

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“You’re A Saint!”

People who are accused of sainthood will tell you over & over again: I’m just doing what comes naturally. Those who willfully take care of the needs of difficult people (whether you define that as the mentally ill, the neurotic, the perpetually angry or anybody in a Corolla going 20 mph down Ventura) don’t do so because they are saints or even massochists; they don’t know any better.

Does that make them saints, or does it simply make them followers of Christ?

Last Sunday’s sermon was about All Saints’ Day. It took me a while to figure out how to write about this. I have a number of excuses. Monday, somebody needed me more than I needed to write. Tuesday I went into fibroflare. Wednesday is my long day. Thursday I don’t even remember what happened. Friday I was drained. So here I am, secreted away in my room, avoiding several invites to go out because I’m tired & in pain, pondering sainthood.

Father says saints aren’t celebrities. I don’t take this to be a dig on famous folk so much as we need to focus on what celebrity means. A “celebrated” person is one we get excited to see, talk about, learn about. Angelina Jolie is a celebrity. Kanye West (my laziest long running joke) is a celebrity even if you hate him because he does things people want to talk about (& make lazy long running jokes about). The President is a celebrity, period, whether he’s Obama or Reagan or Rutherford B. Hayes, though Hayes is kinda D list now, which happens to all of us when we retire from the public eye.*

*If you so much as even think about “informing” me he’s dead in the Comments section, I will end you, though this means very little coming from an English person. I will probably serve you some crappy bagged tea & only bake you one cake.

For me it says that saints should be celebrities. We should celebrate & talk about those who have sacrificed great swaths of their lives (& sometimes their very lives) for the love of Christ. They show it to others, died in His name to honour it, lived it day in & out. But they weren’t being paid $3 mil a year to do an ad campaign, & they never flipped a table in childish rage on a reality show, so meh, say we.

This is actually just fine to the saint. Nobody who is a saint thinks they are one. They’re just doing their thang. They don’t want attention drawn to it; they don’t want a reward. They show love to others simply because it is the right thing to do. They exhibit this love to each individual, one at a time, because that is the most loving thing a human person can do–give personal time.

Anyone with a winning smile & a joke can stand up in front of a camera & say something nice & make people feel kinda good for a minute, maybe even longer. But saints will come to you when it’s convenient to you, not to them. Saints will help you just because you need it, not because they need someone to think they’re awesome. Saints don’t do things for others because someone’s watching.

So they can’t be celebrities. I don’t think the reverse is true. Celebrities could be saints & we’d have no idea, just like you don’t know that the guy going 20mph in the Corolla in front of you (allegedly the spawn of Satan & a diseased hamster as you curse him out from behind your steering wheel) gets up at 5 every morning & prepares meals for homeless folks. Or he visits sick children in the hospital. Or he donated bone marrow to a stranger. So yes, speed up, saintly man, but I’m sorry I called you the love child of Dolores Umbridge & a rusty flute.

Some of you (you know who you are) believe nobody does things from the kindness of their heart. You believe everybody’s got an angle. I used to believe as you do that everybody’s got their kink, their weakness, & no one is to be trusted. The PTSD part of me still eyes people warily in this fashion, suspecting that people are mostly crap. There are, however, real saints in the world. I think I’ve met a couple. It’s enough for me now to allow people to show me who they are. Most people are broken. Some heal jagged; some breaks reveal dazzling light patterns beneath, like the breaking set free the angel, at least in part. These are saints in our modern world. They’re broken, but they live in light anyway, & they want to share it.

But most people are crap. Jesus loves them anyway. If I can’t love them, I give them to Him. His SPCA is vast, His veterinary clinic fully stocked, funded & staffed, & His is a no kill facility.

Phariseetastic!

I find myself thinking about the sermons at St. Thomas of Hollywood long after we’ve all chanted “Thanks be to God.” As most of you don’t live in LA, & many of you don’t have the good fortune to hear Father Ian’s interpretation of the Gospel (or his signature humour), I thought I might write these impressions down.

Last Sunday, Deacon Walter chanted from the Gospel of St. Luke 18:9-14. To summarize, a Pharisee goes on & on about what a great fricken Jew he is & what a bad dude this publican is, & the publican feels bad, hits himself in the chest, & asks God to be merciful to him, a sinner. Jesus explains that the publican is a way cooler dude than the Pharisee because he admits his faults.

Father Ian went on to explain that not only do we find people like the Pharisee annoying, but he thinks maybe God does, too. If you’ve ever been a boss, you remember the kid that was fond of telling you everything he did during the day. You were thinking the whole time “Yeah, that’s your job, spanky.” Then you’d go to lock up or run a report & find stuff missing or undone. Alternately, you’d have an employee that would come timidly to your office & say “Uh, I think I screwed up” & that person was awesome because you could fix it right now, not at 6:47 when everyone else had gone home.

God loves everybody, but I have to think He rolls His eyes when folks go on & on about how they’re getting into heaven because they’re super duper on time to church or gave a ton at the plate or are Kanye West or whatever.

This reminded me, to my great personal horror, of a birthday party I attended in Croydon when I was 5. The birthday boy was Nicholas, my first love. He was tall (for a six year old), had blue eyes, was very nice, & was the sort of lanky grey colour English school boys tend to be.

His mum announced at the beginning of the birthday party that a present would be given to the most well behaved child. She then held up a festively wrapped box. She probably read this little trick in some mothering book or magazine, thinking it would elicit cherubic obedience from what might otherwise be a mewling hoard of primary school whingetarians.

She did not count on me, the ultra competitive people pleaser whose entire life up to that point was a study in impressing adults.

I announced from the get go that I would be so good, she would have no trouble deciding on whom should receive the present. She smiled. I then proceeded to help as much as was possible for a 5 year old. I was extra quiet except for my periodic announcements that I was being quiet.

At the end, Nicholas’ mum asked us to vote for who the best behaved child was. I humbly nominated myself. When informed I could not nominate myself, I cheerfully nominated Nicholas. When informed that the birthday boy was excluded, I thought for a moment. I looked at my very quiet little brunette friend in the corner, Joanne. “Joanne is the best behaved,” I said solemnly, as that was pretty much always true.

The other children nodded. Joanne looked positively horrified when she was handed the gift. We all asked her to open it. I don’t even remember what it was. All I remember is that Joanne did not seem to want any attention on her.

I have since seen that slightly guilty, horrified look on a little girl’s face when it was inevitable she’d win a game of musical chairs at the expense of a movie star’s daughter. The winner burst into tears; the movie star’s daughter, a very thoughtful & normal little girl, burst into tears because the other girl was upset. “It’s ok for you to win!” said the movie star’s daughter, stroking the sobbing winner’s hair. I imagine the winner’s mother made a tremendous fuss over being nice to Movie Star’s Daughter before the party.

I have two points (I know, I know). Point A: I was a hideous child, as despicable as the Pharisee in the gospel. B. Little girls have intense pressure from their status-seeking mothers, but also inherent empathy, until it is scolded from them by status-seeking mothers.

My mother, who was not seeking status via Nicholas’ 6th birthday party, might have been horrified to learn of my competitive goodness. The mother of Musical Chair Winner was probably pleased as punch to learn that her kid & Movie Star’s Daughter hugged it out.

I feel like Joanne & Musical Chair Winner were the “rest of the publican’s tale” of their respective stories. They didn’t feel like they did enough, they wanted to play it safe & escape notice, but then attention was called to them & they were rewarded for being humble in the face of it. The difference between myself & the Pharisee is that I loved Joanne & was happy she won, though by pointing this out, I’m still being a little Phariseesque I spose, in that I don’t want you to loathe 5-year-old me.

Is it wrong to want to be noticed for being good good good & oh so smart? Not really, unless that is the only reason you are being good good good & oh so smart. The idea in Christianity is that goodness is its own reward. Parents teaching toddlers empathy say this all the time. “See? Doesn’t sharing just feel good?” Most toddlers say no, mostly because that part of their brain hasn’t developed yet (so seriously don’t even worry about sharing until they’re about 4).

Maybe somewhere God is telling a bunch of angels “Seriously don’t even worry about teaching the humans sharing for another 2 millennia. Right now they’re doing it expecting some kind of societal feedback, with rare exception. Keep an eye on the ones that do it ‘just because’. They shall inherit the earth.”

If you remember nothing else from this, repeat this mantra: “Be awesome to other people. Don’t rabbit on about it, cos then you’re just Kanye*.”

*If you want to be Kanye, I can’t help you, but I’ll pray for you.