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Common English Bible, Denial is My Spiritual Practice, Psalms, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rheumatoid Disease

Like a bird on a roof

My health has been, let’s say, indifferent over the past couple of months. I’ve had to change some plans, with disappointment, and there may be more of that to come. My rheumatologist has prescribed a new medication and made some adjustments to another; it will take some time to see if this artful combination works.

I always try to be hopeful about these things

I can’t decide how to punctuate that sentence.

“, but …”

“; that isn’t always easy …”

I don’t know. It’s been almost ten years since I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. One of the chapters of my book is about how I have used denial to cope. Now, not only am I trying hard to be more realistic, this time I have felt poorly enough that I can’t fake it.

I can’t.

I’m like some wild owl–
like some screech owl in the desert.
I like awake all night.
I’m all alone like a bird on a roof.
(Psalm 102:6-7, CEB)

I’m not alone, of course. I have a genuinely and generously supportive wife. The lone, wild bird is a creature of my feelings. I reject the idea of being ill and dependent. I like to do *for* others. I’m an Enneagram 2; it’s a feature of my personality, and it’s been important for me to learn to give without wanting something in return, and to learn when something is mine to do, or not. I understand all that.

But must I learn to receive even when I cannot give?

I’ll be honest. I hate that.

Thus the bird on the roof.

Many psalms lay out a complaint, whether a diatribe against oppressors or a lament direct to God. Usually they turn to praise, to some sense of reconciliation with the Lord, some relief of the pain. 102 comes around for one more exclamation in verse 23.

God broke my strength in midstride,
cutting my days short.

My days are cut short because I cannot do all the things I want to do, at home, at work, or at play. And while that is discouraging in the near view, the hardest thing in this illness is how inevitably I get sicker when I am trying to get better.

I don’t believe God visited it on me

That’s a hard one to punctuate, too.

I don’t believe God visited it on me, but I wish I could get a break, some improvement in my health, even a time of staying the same. It seems I need to prepare for more of the inevitable; I will find a way to do it.

For now, though, I am trying to feel my feelings. For now, in prayer at least, I’m all alone like a bird on a roof.

 

John 20:29-31, Reflectionary

Fantasy League Jesus

It’s no secret that we love baseball at my house. We celebrated Opening Day in Holy Week and actually managed to watch our favorite team, the Washington Nationals, play on TV. My wife and our 13-year-old are playing in a fantasy baseball league, which is to say they have drafted players and named teams, and the rest happens online, where the fantasy teams win or lose based on the daily performance of actual players. Their success is calculated by some math that is beyond my powers, or at least outside my interests.

The strangest thing about it is hearing my oughta-be-Nats fans root for players not on our team, for the sake of their other teams. They are inhabiting a paradigm that is unfamiliar to me. What is it they are wishing for? I understand it intellectually, but not emotionally.

Fantasy league JesusI have to think that in the days after the Resurrection, the disciples felt a similar disconnect. Ten of them – and some of the women, uncounted – saw the risen Christ. And then a week went by. They must have begun to wonder whether they were reliable witnesses to their own experiences. In their fantasy Jesus leagues, were they still looking for his return, maybe followed by some “gotcha” confrontation with the authorities, some earthly kingdom victory? Did they hear his words about peace and calm down? Or did they grieve again, realizing that the risen Lord could not remain with them forever? I picture them questioning each other, retelling the stories of Mary in the garden and Jesus in the Upper Room, asking, “Do you remember exactly what he said next?”

Thomas lived through that time in a different kind of tension. I picture him glowering, frustrated, understanding in his head that they must have seen something, but in his heart feeling hurt to be the only one left out, the only one who saw no sign. I sympathize with him.

This week, preachers will ask their own questions of the familiar story. And let’s be honest, this is not most preachers’ favorite Sunday; we’ve been there before, and we’re in a post-Easter lull. Maybe this year, we can take a page out of fantasy baseball and move the players around. Maybe we can triangulate against the text with Thomas instead of critiquing him. Maybe we can put ourselves and our listeners in Thomas’s shoes.

I’m pretty sure that’s why he’s there.


Find this week’s texts here.

I wrote this originally for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Easter, Gospel of Mark

In which we try to put a bow on it (Mark 16:9ff)

“Endings Added Later”

That’s what scholars call Mark 16:9-19.

The very unsatisfying ending, in which the women run away in fear and tell no one, could not be left alone.

The one verse version turns them right around, saying

They promptly reported all of the young man’s instructions to those who were with Peter. Afterward, through the work of his disciples, Jesus sent out, from the east to the west, the sacred and undying message of eternal salvation. Amen.

Convincing, but not very detailed.

The longer version skips over that version of verse 9 and recapitulates stories from the other gospels:

  • Mary Magdalene alone sees him, as in John, and tells the disciples, but they do not believe her, as in Luke.
  • There is an abbreviated Road to Emmaus story.
  • Jesus appears to the disciples and tells them some things we would expect and some others that have inspired – well, practices, including snake-handling.
  • Jesus ascends.

My guess is that the average listener would hear enough of what sounds familiar not to be taken aback if hearing the adding endings read aloud, if not reading along in a Bible with that headline, “Endings Added Later.”

Those women must have told someone. Right? Otherwise, how did the disciples know to go and find him in Galilee?

I said in my last post that I think it’s valuable to sit in the fear and uncertainty and shock of the resurrection. Accepting it too readily, speaking about it glibly, does not do it justice. But neither does grabbing these tidbits from other sources to “complete” Mark. He told the story in his own particular way for his own specific reasons.

You may have played the parlor game where this question is asked, “If you could have dinner with any person from history, who would it be?” Jesus is a popular answer, and so is Shakespeare. I know I’ve answered with Jane Austen. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a meal with the person who wrote down these stories in the oldest form we have them, who told them with elaborate economy?

It’s Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary, so there is more Mark to come. I’ll hear it preached, and I’m working on a sermon to include one of my favorite stories, to preach for Day1 in a few weeks. Without working too hard to put my bow on it, I will say this. Mark leaves us asking who Jesus is and needing to look back to find the answer. The story continues, even now.


Happy Easter! I’ve been reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. You can find links to earlier posts here. 

Easter, Gospel of Mark

They began the night before (Mark 16:1-8)

The last chapter of Mark actually begins the night before:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. (Mark 16:1, CEB)

Sometime in the early evening, then, as soon as the shops were open again, Mary and Mary and Salome ventured out of wherever they had been staying on this trip to Jerusalem, and they bought what they needed to honor their dead rabbi. Somewhere in the middle of a day of grief and fear, they made a plan to go out together, or maybe they each decided and then they all met at the door. “You?” “You, too?” “Yes.”

They began their preparations the night before, getting ready to perform the final acts of care for their beloved Jesus, just as they had been providing care for him while he traveled and taught. They had established roles in the community, and they must have really mattered to his inner circle or, since they were women, we would know nothing at all about them.

We have the advantage, every time we hear this story, of knowing how it ends, with an empty tomb, and some number of men or angels declaring that Jesus has been raised from the dead, some scene indicating divine action. Two out of four gospels give us an appearance by the risen Lord to the women, but this is not one. Here and in Matthew, they are instructed to go, and tell Peter and the others the good news of the empty tomb and a future reunion in Galilee.

They began the night before, ready to do things they knew how to do, things they already understood, things that even in the midst of terrible grief they could rely on themselves to carry out, the rituals attendant on a death. Now that they had different orders, how did they respond?

Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)

When you began getting ready last night, if you’re like me, you were thinking about the rituals now attendant on Easter Sunday: laying out clothes for church, putting together baskets for little ones, making note of who might appreciate a phone call or a text, cleaning up the kitchen to make way for holiday cooking, or mulling over whether to accept the general invitation to join the choir in singing the “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of the service.

They began the night before, ready to go through the motions, because that was what they knew how to do.

Maybe, like the women, you woke this Easter morning grieving for yourself, or for the world, but knowing you could manage these rituals, even so.

As much as we might like to relieve the pressure of this disappointing ending, maybe we ought not resist it. Maybe we could just sit with it for a minute, having sympathy for these women torn by witnessing the worst news and now stunned to be shown that the story is not over. How were they supposed to explain a missing body and a promise that Jesus would meet his friends back in Galilee?

I don’t think it should surprise us that the women couldn’t follow their new instructions right away. How well do we handle it when God wants more from us, when God wants things for which we did not know to prepare? How ready are we for God to be waiting for us on familiar ground, with unexpected work for us to do?

I’m 56 years old, and my world view has been changed drastically in the past ten years. I don’t count on the things that I used to deem reliable, nor do I hold to the same standards I was taught. The things I prepared to do and be no longer seem applicable. I have to believe that is good news even if it scares me a little.

They began the night before, but the women woke to a world that had changed forever.

May it be so for us this Easter day.

Give us courage, Holy One, to meet you in the world and do the work that lies ahead. Amen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Happy Easter! I’ve reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find links to earlier posts here. 

Come back tomorrow for the alternate ending to Mark.

 

Gospel of Mark, Holy Saturday, Lent

The stone (Mark 15:42-47)

If you have ever lost someone you loved a lot, it’s not hard to imagine how the women felt on that Saturday, that Sabbath day. They woke up in the morning, if they slept at all, having to remember something they wished they did not know. Their teacher, their leader, their friend was dead. No doubt they woke up thinking about where Jesus’ body had been taken by Joseph of Arimathea.

He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried. (Mark 15:46b-47, CEB)

I picture them picturing the stone, the entrance, the tomb, the path that would get them to it. I picture them planning anything at all that might feel useful, important, healing. I picture them feeling like any people do who have lost a treasured friend or family member to violence.

I picture them, and I think of the grandmother of Stephon Clark and the mother of his children, and the family of Alton Sterling, and the girlfriend of Philando Castile, and the Mothers of the Movement. Like the women who followed Jesus’ body to his tomb, they have lost dear ones to state violence.

So add to the grief a natural fear of what might come next for those who had been seen with him.

Imagine being grieved beyond measure and also afraid that the same forces responsible for executing the one you loved might be coming for you next. Imagine feeling that there is no safe place to be. Imagine wondering if your lament will draw unwanted attention. Imagine wondering if you can every trust anyone again. Imagine wishing the stone could seal you in, too.

“My God, my God,” he said, “Why have you forsaken me?” My God, my God, how can we trust you?   

Good Friday, Gospel of Mark

Along with many other women (Mark 15:1-41)

At the first church I served, there was a service in the evening on Maundy Thursday that began with communion and ended with Tenebrae. They did not have a custom of worship on Good Friday. What they did have was a rough and rustic cross that took the place of the brass one during Lent.

I was over-eager, and glad to be serving this church, and possibly at my most pious ever, and I felt like I ought to do something. I planned a service for noon. I chose poetry and scripture. I copied and pasted three Taize chants into a bulletin. I created an, I hoped, evocative arrangement on the altar. I arranged chairs in the chancel, where we could sit at the foot of the cross.

Then I waited to see if anyone would come.

The nursery school had been in session that morning, and four of the teachers came to join me, church members all. Another woman arrived just as we were sitting down.

Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him. (Mark 15:40-41, CEB)

Three women are named by Mark, along with many other women. It wasn’t supposed to be a service just for the ladies, but somehow it felt appropriate. There we sat: Martha, Joanna, Ginny, Jan, Marcia, and Liz. I don’t know if they were there for me, or for Jesus, but I was glad for the company as I tried to bear witness. Our six chairs formed a horseshoe open to the cross.

It must have been the same for the women, named and unnamed, clustered together. There must have been some comfort in being together even as they witnessed his horrifying death. They had each other as a shield against the jeers of the crowd, as a reminder that his love was real and could not be killed despite the worst the world could do.

We’re living in a Good Friday world. We need to hold onto each other. Who would you want to be with at the cross?

Thank you, God, for the people who bear witness with me as I strive to stand for you. 

 

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Presente (Mark 14:32-72)

At the rally before March For Our Lives here in Harrisburg, a Latinx college professor spoke of the tradition in which the dead are named aloud, and those who are witnesses respond, “Presente,” to indicate that although those we knew and loved are gone in body, they are not forgotten. The names of the students and teachers killed at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School were read, and after each one we did as he instructed and responded, “Present.”

He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38, CEB)

Peter and the others were present in body, but their minds had gone to sleep.

There are times when emotions are heightened and life is fraught, and just going to sleep feels like the safest, even the sanest, thing to do. But Jesus is asking more from us. (It only gets harder for Peter; by dawn he will be denying Jesus altogether.)

In ministry, and especially if we serve a congregation, this day may be full of obligations, logistics, and technical difficulties. Are the slides ready for worship? Is the gluten-free communion bread in the house? Have we visited all the homebound folk who only wish they could attend a service in person, and will we be counting up the parents and children who have taken a vacation instead of spending Holy Week with their church family?

My hope for you all today, whatever your situation, is that you can find a little time to sit and watch and pray with Jesus. Be awake to what happened then, and feel it happening now. The world wants to rewrite him into a representative of the powers and principalities, but we know better. We know the powers and principalities were the ones who wanted him dead, the ones who killed him.

Find your moment. Say his name – Jesus! – and declare him “Presente.”

Ah, Holy Jesus, may I be awake to you and declare your presence. Amen.


This is both my Lenten blogging and a devotion for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.