Blessed Are Those

There is no scripture that indicates Jesus said to anyone, “Girl, lead your best life. You deserve this. Get you some.” There’s not one scripture that even hints at the slightest possibility of that message, & yet here we all are, telling each other blessings are coming if you do you, boo.

This is, like, the opposite of Christ’s teaching. By every metric, the message of Christ is that we are actual living, breathing crap and we have to change. He loves us so much that even though he knew we were nothing more than animated monkey feces pulsating with selfish urges, he died for us in the hope that we may want to be something other than that.

I get the impression a lot of people think God is just like your dog. He sees you naked (& the weird stuff you do when you are naked) & doesn’t judge you at all. He just loves you, wagging his divine tail. But the dog is judging you constantly; he just can’t articulate it. God articulated his judgment quite well all throughout the Bible (“You wicked generation”, etc.). And still he sent Christ.

And is Christ. As well as the Holy Spirit. Gotta throw some trinitarian mysteries up in this.

Right about now is when you expect I will drop a loving, warm, and hopeful point on you. I’ll drop this instead.

Christ said blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are persecuted for his name’s sake. “Blessed” is also interchangeable with the word “happy”.

Happy are the miserable!

Why?!

It’s very hard to put into words unless you’ve achieved this, so I will flounder & you’re gonna get bored. I’m just warning you. You may want to turn on some music or something.

There’s an old story (or proverb or whatever) describing the 3 major Chinese religions. Confucius, Buddha, & Lao Tsu are presented with a barrel of liquid. Confucius & Buddha dip their fingers in, taste it, & make sour puss faces.

Lao Tsu, the Father of Taoism, dips his finger in, tastes it, & smiles. The other two are annoyed at the sourness of the liquid. Lao Tsu is happy because he’s experiencing something. He gets to taste. He’s learned what the liquid is. He has information.

I guess for super weirdo crazy Christians, the kind y’all make fun of, suffering is an opportunity to be closer to Christ. It’s not like Garbage’s “Happy When it Rains.” It’s more like “Eye of the Tiger.” It’s more like the montage of Rocky dragging wagons of hay around or whatever (it’s been a while since I’ve seen it).

It’s training. It’s boot camp. It’s the tempering of steel. It sucks, but it’s the human experience of suffering making you into a badass for helping others. You’re training to be Christ’s hands. You’re getting ripped to be Christ on Earth. You’re bulking up his Church.

A person who has suffered much & learned from it has what seem like super human powers. They can forgive easily. They are patient. They are humble. Nobody understands them. Everyone thinks they’re crazy. A few also envy them, or begrudge their existence.

If someone whose child was murdered can forgive the murderer, what the hell does our beef with the idiot neighbour say about us? We don’t like people who are actually Christlike because they remind us how very not like Christ we are.

Christlike folk are loved & hated. They triage everyone. Strangers in pain will come before family that isn’t. Friends will wonder why they are still kind to That One Ex. You’ll notice that people try to see if they can make them angry. They’ll seem childlike and naive to world-weary cynics.

Jesus’ own friends doubted him constantly. The man walked on water in front of them, & they were all, like, “But, are you SURE?” No wonder he was always yelling at them. I feel like Jesus probably smacked Peter in the back of the head a few times.

This is because the disciples were humans laden with original sin, & therefore ambulatory sacks of crap. And he knew that. And he loved them.

If you were friends with Jesus, you’d be that person Facebook messaging him urgently, “Dude, that Peter is such a douche. DROP HIM. Stop talking to him. He hella denied you.”

And Jesus would either ignore you or type back “🤷🏽‍♂️❤️”.

And you’d message all your mutual friends, saying, “We need to stage an intervention for Jesus, y’all.”

Ambulatory sacks of crap. That’s us.

And completely worthy of salvation.

For more of this sort of thing, check out my book Christ, Not Crisis.

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When the Body Lies

I have been glutened. For people who don’t have celiac disease (most of you), that means that a protein most people can tolerate has attacked my small intestine & made it impossible for me to digest a variety of things (for a little bit).

I won’t get into the physical details because they are gross. You know what stomach flu is like.

Mentally, it’s much worse, I always feel. You stop absorbing fat-soluble vitamins for a few days while it all heals, so your body is achey and your brain is…

I burst into tears driving into work yesterday because INXS was on the radio. I…don’t usually do that.

I burst into tears thinking about something relatively innocuous from my past that I am normally able to analyze rationally. And that I don’t normally think about.

And I had a really fantastic day yesterday. I had zero reason to be sad.

This is why we have to remember that what our brains do is frequently tied to what our body is doing. Yes, our brain controls our bodies, but our bodies control our brains right back.

When you are sick, when your organs are damaged, your brain is handling a gazillion other things. It’s like the mother with four kids, & all of them are screaming. Eventually, she’s going to snap & scream at them. And they’ll burst into tears.

I mean it was so bad I had a moment (or longer) where I thought God hated me. I felt trapped, rather than in his hands. Or even worse, abandoned. There was absolutely no good reason for this except that my brain did not actually work at that moment.

I never want to hear another gluten joke again. You people don’t even know.

Purity

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, & from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, & worthily magnify thy holy name, though Christ our Lord. Amen.

Isn’t it amazing what you take on board & find playing on repeat in your mind at 11:27 PM on a Tuesday night?

Whenever we say this prayer at the start of mass, two things happen. First, it doesn’t matter what priest is leading it. I will always hear Father Davies’ Welshy Londony voice in my head.

Second, I tend to place a lot of emphasis, when I recite it, on the “all desires known.”

This is because I literally have no idea what I want half the time. I figure God knows what I will not admit to myself. I have ideas about what I want, & then I move toward those things, & then God laughs & says, “Oh, child, that is funny. My dear creature. Hilarious.”

He’s not wrong. I’ve talked about babies & dusty crackers in one of my books. God does not want me to put that wretched thing in my mouth, & I let him lead. Now I am trying to let him lead completely, without even trying to do anything.

This is producing results that have me saying things to him like “This makes legit zero sense.”

And God responds enthusiastically, “Oh, you think that was crazy? Hold my beer!”

If God knows all my desires, and this is where I’m going, I am a much stranger person than I thought. Like, seriously, flawlessly bizarre. I wouldn’t even know how to describe some things that have happened without sounding like I was trying to story board a fourth season of Twin Peaks.

It’s all real, but it’s not normal.

It’s certainly not bad. It is a series of gentle, free (or nearly free) and sometimes ludicrously joyous happenings that are seemingly unrelated. A teenager tells me after five minutes of conversation that I am now her best friend. A small child describes sharks and yogurt to me in grave, exacting detail. A friend sings “Don’t Fear the Reaper” to me the same way Carol Burnett might. On a warm afternoon, I am somehow the center of a very attentive universe, when my plan that day was to serve. I get sick again, & the cat kneads me for the first time since I rescued him. I have a job I love, friends who care, and a DJ who just mashed up David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” with Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.”

I don’t even know who I am any more.

Is this what #blessed looks like? It’s weird, you guys. Smiling randomly to yourself all day is weird.

All desires known.” Well, what else do I want, Lord? Where TF does this crazy train go?

If you have that opening riff in your head right now, I have won.

The Examen

Something I should do more often, because I am gradually observing its effects, is the examen. Most of you have no idea what I’m talking about, and some of you are saying, “Yes, for the 50th time already!”

This is a form of Ignatian prayer that…oh, this is just much easier. Here:

The one I do is a spoken, guided examen (or meditation, for those of you who need that word to feel spiritual but not religious) from the Pray As You Go app. It’s accompanied by Purcell’s “Hear My Prayer, Oh Lord,” which is super helpful to get in the spirit of things. More importantly, to get in The Spirit.

It seems pretty simple, right? But when you glance over your day with the caveat that you will see what is important to God, it changes the review. You are simultaneously drawn to things you would otherwise find unimportant, & repulsed by things you kind of overlooked before. This is not meant as a form of self torment, but as a reality check. You are neither as good or evil as you think much of the time.

Your life is also much more lovely that you think. Really.

For example…I was having a bit of a difficult day yesterday. I am tired of being sick. So tired. I dragged myself to church because I really enjoy church, but it was also the annual parish meeting. We elect vestry & the folks who will go to diocesan convention. I was nominated for the latter, but am so new to the parish that I’m the last alternate. And that’s okay.

It was a long meeting. I took a lot of medication. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and weepy, but not actually weeping, and I was inexplicably annoyed. Then my team won, & is going to the Super Bowl, & that’s good, but I was still really fragile, which is a thing I do not enjoy.

During the Examen I was able to see where illness was making me mopey and where moments of genuine, really lovely joy occurred (& weirdly, they had nothing to do with the Pats’ victory).

Through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, I found moments of hilarity I’d forgotten about, was able to correctly see incidents I had previously assigned negative connotations to, and more deeply understood some of my own unhealed parts. I was able to forgive them & realize that they were amplified by illness.

Through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, I could see the many faces that had turned to me that day, and see their expressions anew. I could see where people were looking to me for comfort or affirmation. I could see it was not just me yearning for human acknowledgement (nobody, not even church people, wants to hug you when you’re sick), but others looking for it from me (and then recoiling in terror because I am sick).

There are still some things I don’t understand today, and that’s okay. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we understand virtually nothing anyway.

New questions have been brought up, new challenges. Some are really scary. Some are ones I’ve wrestled with for the past 12 years (or more), & I should probably set them aside until I am well.

I am frequently accused of being too patient, but in some areas, I really am not patient enough.

In a lot of ways, things were much easier to understand when I was a very sad, afraid person, because I always had a rock solid framework of misery through which to view the world, and I was always right. But I now realize I was right because my viewpoint couldn’t help but create my reality.

Oh my God, what would happen if my rock solid framework was simply following Christ, as in yesterday’s gospel and homily? What reality will that create? Can you even imagine? The idea is terrifying and exciting and magnificent.

I am struggling free of this net. Now what shall I do, flopping about on this boat deck, gasping for air?

It is interesting that I identify with the fish and less with the fishermen in the gospel.

Maybe I should pray about that tonight.

Here are some books I have written.

Behold! The Rock.

I’m trying to learn to just let things exist in space.

If you are a creator or an over thinker (I am both, more the first than the second), you know how hard that is. If I see a blank page, it must be filled. I never suffer from writer’s block (though I do suffer from written schlock, which is what happens when you don’t have the sense to not write).

A lump of clay must be formed into something…maybe a bunch of somethings. A set up instrument must be played. Butter must be turned into cookies. Pork must become tacos. All materials must be transformed.

It doesn’t help to be a fussy Christian, though. You’re supposed to be the material that is transformed, but I admit I sometimes try to help God’s process along, like He needs my help somehow. “You may have noticed,” he says, all but his eyes obscured by a huge “World’s Greatest Dad” mug, “that I became flesh and died for you. I’m not really sure why you think you have to embellish that somehow.” He sips his tea, then sets it down. “I mean, it’s adorable that you’re trying to help. But maybe today you can stop trying to be better faster harder stronger & just let love transform you. Try it. It’s a whole thing. You might dig it.”

Today’s homily was about knowing Christ & letting Christ know you, as he knew to call Simon by a new name — Peter — aka The Rock, which forever changes my mind’s picture of the Father of the Church to Dwayne Johnson in a robe and sandals calling unbelievers candy asses. I don’t think that’s what Father intended, but that’s where I am now. The Rock — the Catholic Church. Inextricably bound up in my head.

And John knew that Jesus was the lamb, which was kind of not the thing you said to people back then.

We spend a lot of time not naming things. We say “difficult childhood” when we mean “protracted abuse.” We say “allergies” when we mean “I have had the flu for a week but do not send me home from work.” We have come up with a lot of complicated terms for what amounts to “terribly unhappy people”. Kids say they’re “talking” when what they mean is either falling in love or sending nudes (the opposite of falling in love).

I say “I’m working on myself” which is a sly way of saying “I, for some reason, do not trust the creator of the universe to move me.” I say “I am carefully considering my words” when what I really mean is “I am terrified you are going to think I’m stupid or horrible because I am unused to facing my raw emotions.”

What I am trying to learn is to just be. This is hard for women in particular because we are wired to communicate. It is even more hard for people of high verbal intelligence because we know there is AN EXACT WORD to describe what we mean, but it’s probably German.

But just being in the whatever is pretty much what God intended, I think. When you live there, inside the heart, whatever needs to exist just does. It’s the false reality created by our never ending streams of words that diverts the reality away from us. Words are protection.

Says the novelist. I literally make shit up & expect you to feel like it is real. I know how this works. I spent two days once looking up an obscure North English dialect so that another story I’m working on seems more authentic…to the maybe five people alive who care about such things. But again…that’s me not leaving well enough alone.

But we all make up our own narratives as we go along. A friend of mine who is not neurotypical helps point that out to me almost daily. Everybody has a version of themselves they present. Some are constant heroes of their own stories, some constant victims. Spectrum folks just say what happened, without the “polite” cushion of “difficult childhood”. It’s bracing. It’s a list of facts, happy and awful.

I am not “normal”, but I do have the gift/curse of crafting a narrative; I’m a storyteller after all. I also think narratives help us truly see things sometimes that we cannot look at directly — like the hole you cut into a box to view the eclipse.

I also think a gazillion things at once, so I can’t remember everything in order all the time. My roommate got annoyed with me (nicely) yesterday for telling a story completely backwards. But to me, that was when reality started. But she wasn’t wrong; going back and telling the story from the beginning helped me understand some things about what happened.

But again…this isn’t Being. This is Thinking. Thinking is such a gift when we want to cure cancer or put people on Mars. It should not hamstring the presence of love. It should not be allowed to shout out joy.

The “What would Jesus prefer I do?” post I did the other day is the one I keep coming back to in my head. Sometimes that really does amount to “Which choice, at this point, does the least harm?”, but the idea in future is to not even get there. From Wednesday on, I’ve been trying to naturally choose the thing that does the least harm, or even better, does the most good, to the best of my ability.

The thing that does the most good is always the thing that shows love.

“It’s not that simple.”

Shhh. Yes, it is.

Sometimes you can show me love by buying stuff I wrote.

All the Atoms

A poem.

There isn’t one particle of anything ever in this

outstanding universe that wasn’t touched by the hand of God and in His mercy

He has seen fit to take crude flesh and place it here where It can

Be in this warmth and

Soak in this sun and

80 degrees in January yes

God even saw fit to make LA to

Put these people here in this tortured geography and hope they’ll do their best but

Some of them are evil and

Some of them are magnificent and

Some of them are angels and

This is their city and

They run this town

On the down low

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What did they ever do to game designers?

I found myself chanting “Die, frog, die!” for the fourth time playing this stupid game I have on my phone to stave off existential angst.

And this is very uncharacteristic of me, because I’m quite fond of frogs. Or rather, I have no particular quarrel with frogs. They have injured neither family or friend, and they have yet to create a site with pop up ads.

But in taking a mental inventory of my frog rage, I realized that they are the mortal enemy in several games I play or have played in the past 8 years. Gone are the golden days of Frogger, where one used to smack the side of the game cabinet if a truck squashed your precious Highway Crossing Frog.

There’s a game where a frog spits deadly balls at you. Another where he steals your vegetables. Another where she freezes your bubbles. And so on. Frogs are villains now.

We are at peak ranidaphobia, which is a fancy word for racism against frogs. Do not confuse it with gallophobia.

I then remember the plague of frogs that Moses wrought upon Egypt via the will of God. That’s kind of a weird thing to curse somebody with, at least to us modern folk. “Oh noes, frogs! What’re they gonna do, ribbit at me? Eat flies out of my house? Please, anything but that!”

But of course, too much of anything is awful, as the Australians found out in recent years when their prime minister urged citizens to beat them with golf clubs and cricket bats.

Probably while screaming “Die, frog, die!”

I wonder what would have happened if the Egyptians suffered a plague of puppies? So many tiny tails wagging, such joyous yipping! 

So much poooooop.

Yes, too much of anything is awful. God is wise.