rick diamond

i help us see that stories - yours, mine, ours - are alive

Patience and Her Sisters

I have an ancestor named Patience Bland. She was born in 1730 in Prince William County in the British colony of Virginia. She had ten children and died at the age of 50. The children’s names are mostly biblical in origin, including:

John (one of Jesus’ disciples, plus named for his father),

Caleb (one of the leaders of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt),

Abner (a general in King Saul’s army),

Amasa (a general in King David’s army),

Moses (obvious),

Mary (mother of Jesus, also based on Moses’ sister Miriam, again, obvious),

Joshua (Moses’ successor in the invasion of Canaan).

The English Christians who came across the Atlantic to the New Part Of The Empire were carrying their brand of religion which had been heavily influenced by Puritanism. They named their villages and churches and children after heroes and concepts in the Bible. The words of the Bible and its teaching directed everything: their daily and monthly and yearly rhythms and rituals; the prayers they said; their sense of morality and wrong and virtue; who they thought they were in the cosmos; what they wore; what they ate.

So, one of the names they used for daughters was “Patience.” There’s nobody named “Patience” in the Jewish or Christian scriptures that I know of, but the concept of patience is important in lots of biblical teaching.

Here’s another of my ancestors, on a different branch of the tree, a woman named “Submit.” For real. She was born in 1719. She had a sister named “Experience,” born 1711, and one named “Thankful,” born 1713, all in Worcester, Massachusetts, another place in the Americas where the Puritans set up shop.[1][2]

I’m glad that none of the women I know is named Patience. Or Submit. Thankful’s an okay name, I guess? My name is Richard Major, which was also my father’s name. I like my name. It can be translated as Strong King, and that helps in the times when I’m not feeling very empowered. Maybe it’s the same with Thankful. Maybe it’s even the same with Patience. But Submit? Name a daughter that, and that girl always knows what’s expected of her.[3]

I know we’ve still got lots of work to do around women’s equality and empowerment. And even if women aren’t told their name is Patient or Submit anymore, they’re definitely told that’s their job.

[1] Thankful’s husband’s name was Zebadiah. A biblical name. Y’know, the usual.

[2] Their father was named Oliver – obviously after Oliver Cromwell, the champion of the Puritan Revolution of the 17th century, I think? since it’s not a biblical name? – and their mother was named Hannah, after the biblical mother of the prophet Samuel.

AND, Oliver’s father was named Increase, and his mother’s name was Record. … I mean, why wouldn’t they be?

[3] Patience Bland had a namesake, a granddaughter, daughter of her son Joshua Smith and his wife Mary. THAT Patience Bland Smith named a guy named Davis Gurley, and I notice she didn’t name her daughters Patience. Somebody had to stop the madness.

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Colossi

Everyone’s parents are giants.

I think that’s why fairy tales and myths contain giants which must be avoided or befriended. Or defeated. We’re small, the giants are huge; they can kill us. (They can also help us.)

When I was young, my parents – like everybody’s parents? – loomed, titanic, like the 100-foot-tall statue called “Colossus” of the Sun God standing above the ancient city of Rhodes. Richard (my father) and Mary Ann (my mother) radiated rage and disappointment and ambition and love; I both adored them and was terrified of them.

One way that I continue to heal from my childhood pain is to learn about Richard and Mary Ann, and to imagine them as children. And as teenagers. And as college kids. To imagine them hopeful about life, trying to live through their own pain around their own families (they both had hard and confusing childhoods, like mine). They are not colossuses – what’s the plural? – colossi.

A few years ago, doing family research, I revisited pictures of their 1960 wedding. It is an awkward wedding, because I had been conceived a few months before that, in a car.[1]

They were young; Richard was 21 when I was born, Mary Ann was 20. Richard and Mary Ann dated, or just got together, and I figure they had the wild-eyed, fumbling, rushed, unskilled-but-inspired sex of young people, like a nuclear explosion or a car wreck, after which the survivors look around, pick up the wreckage, and see if they can stand up. I smile when I think about them being just college kids. Just full of life and passion. Going to class, studying, falling in love.

Not giants.

I wasn’t close to Richard, and I didn’t get the story from him. My mother didn’t tell me that I was conceived before she and Richard married until I was about to leave for that same college.

It never occurred to do the math; my sister and I never knew Richard and Mary Ann’s wedding date because “your father” was someone Mary Ann didn’t talk about. But Mary Ann did tell me, when I was about to leave for school, I think not only to warn me about sex (a little late) but also to unload the burden of shame that she’d carried for 18 years. The trauma. The disappointment.

This 20-year-old girl, halfway through the spring semester of her first year of college, misses a period in her menstrual cycle. And another. And goes, terrified, to the public clinic (probably not the campus doctor at a Baptist college), and then she tells the tall handsome boy that they need to talk.

She’s heartbroken; she had gone to Baylor to study Journalism, to become a trailblazing female writer. Now she’s stuck. (She would, much later, in a fit of rage, tell me she should’ve had the abortion everyone advised her to.)

I imagine Richard, receiving Mary Ann’s news, saying something like “What?” or “Oh God.” And the blood drains from his face and he leans over in a spasm of oh-shit-there-goes-my-life. Maybe he leaves and gets drunk. Or maybe he holds Mary Ann and comforts her, and just swallows his own terror. Maybe they both scream at each other, because of their fear, as they would while I was growing up.

I look at Richard and his pregnant wife. Everybody at this little reception knows (that’s his very quiet father beside him), and he has to go through with this ritual, with shame hanging over his shoulders. Richard, the now-married college sophomore, has a nice smile, and I want to take that young man in my arms and hug him and tell him I’m sorry, I know this is terrifying, I know you’re in way over your head. I can see already that it’s going to be hard. But I can’t save him; this is his path.

He is not a giant, or a statue, not the imposing figure Rick at 4 or 7 or 9 thought he was. Neither is Mary Ann; though far fiercer than Richard, she’s still just a young woman who is making the best of what has happened. I see her sadness and determination, and her big smile and white dress, I want to tell her she’s beautiful, and good, and that it’s okay.

[1] Actually, I don’t know if it was a car; it could have been in a dorm room, or at a friend’s apartment, or on a blanket in a park. But “in a car” is funnier.

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Is Your Santa Necktie Going To Hurt Me

 

Last Sunday I wore a Christmas tie to church. For fun. It was December 11 and cool outside. I wore a white shirt, which I tucked in, and a simple cardigan I got on super-sale two springs ago. I still wore the usual jeans and boots, however; I didn’t want to go overboard.

The Journeyers gave me the same reactions as they always do when they see me at a memorial service or a wedding and I have on a suit or a liturgical robe, or even just a tie:

  • Genuine shock.
  • Smiles of disbelief.
  • Squinting looks, sideways-cocked-heads looks, half-scowls.

They say things like,

  • “Oh my God, who died?” or
  • “Are you okay?” or
  • “Are you seriously wearing a tie?” or
  • “Is that you?!” or “My eyes! My eyes!” or
  • “Shit, man, you scared me!”

And they only mostly mean those things as a joke. Partly we’re just laughing because me wearing a tie is so incongruous to Journey’s ethos. But they are also checking with me, because I’ve crossed a line that is not stated but is understood. The “Rick Doesn’t Dress Like A Preacher” agreement.

There’s no reason anyone can’t wear a tie to a worship gathering to a JIFC gathering; everybody’s welcome to wear whatever they want. This was a conscious decision we made a dozen years ago when Journey was first starting. The Baby Boomer megachurch movement had started in the 1980s with casual dress code as a tool for attracting people. But our choice wasn’t attractional; it was an expression of something we believe in deeply, which is: you are fine. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not a “sinner.” You may feel broken, and disconnected, and hungry, and like a disaster, which can be a good place to find God and each other. But you’re a beautiful disaster. Don’t fix it.[1]

So, I don’t wear ties, because I get to wear what I want and be myself, accepted, just like everybody else.

But there’s another reason I don’t wear traditional “preacher” clothes:

Religious PTSD.

Many Journeyers have been hurt by religion. Wounded. Scarred. Abused. By unhealthy church systems. By pastors and leaders. By parents and other adults. By just general bullshit that wears the name “church.” By theology. By what they were told was God.

I don’t wear ties – or other preacher clothes – including hip preacher clothes and tattoos and haircuts – because I don’t want to hurt people more than they’ve already been hurt. I very deliberately try to make sure that what I and other Journey leaders say and do won’t re-wound people.

Church PTSD has broken people’s hearts. I don’t just mean their feelings about religion; I mean their feelings about themselves, their sense of worth, their joy, their sexuality, what they can be, what they can hope for.[2]

I get it.

So that Sunday when many Journeyers balked at my tie, I’d hold it up and show them:

  • that it’s a pattern of cartoon drawings of Santa Clauses with diverse skin colors, and
  • that it’s a Save the Children tie, designed by a 13-year-old girl, and its sales went to helping children in need, and
  • that I wore it in love, and celebration, and not because it was required of me or of any of us.

And this was, mostly, acceptable. Just … don’t make a habit of it.

[1] This isn’t the same as the messages some churches use, overtly or covertly, that everyone is welcome as they are, but once you get here, you need to change. Or, “God loves you just as you are – but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” Y’know what? Screw you. Oh, and, God is not a male.

[2] NOTE: There are ways to deal with religious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the emotions and thoughts that flare up when someone who’s been abused suddenly perceives they’re being threatened by the same danger they experienced before. If you’re suffering from church abuse, there is help, lots of help. Starting with what Robin Williams says to Matt Damon near the end of Good Will Hunting:

“It’s not your fault.”

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Interpreting Scripture, Part #738

I was about to graduate from high school and I liked studying about Jesus and the Bible and what I believed. I had heard of a “Parallel Bible” and I asked for one for Christmas or birthday.

The Parallel Bible my mother Mary Ann gave me was published by a company called Zondervan. Zondervan is a huge religious publishing company, founded in the 1930s in Michigan by two Zondervan brothers who began in a barn and the business grew; in 1988 HarperCollins bought Zondervan for $50 million. Calendars. Bible software. Study tools. Christian fiction. Christian living. Christian inspiration. Children’s books. And many kinds of Bibles.

Mine was a Layman’s Parallel Bible.

The same passage – a story in Genesis, or a passage of Jewish Torah Law, or a Psalm, or a Jesus story – was laid out in four parallel columns, so you could compare the texts while seeing them all at the same time. I could see the differences in how the texts expressed an idea. The way scholars thought about God or the world or Jesus or good and evil in the 17th century vs the 19th or the 20th. The different phrasings, flavors, insights.

I loved it. It helped the Bible feel alive to me.

I would later realize that in studying with this parallel Bible, I had begun looking at the text as text, in addition to its being “the Word Of God.”

There is a persistent Christian belief that the Bible is a thing that God spoke or expressed or inspired or dictated, and which is a perfect expression of God’s self, God’s desires, God’s views, and is therefore God’s Word. So …

Which one of these 4 was The Word Of God?

  1. The King James Version of 1611, also known as The Authorized Version, was produced by a group of scholars and clergypersons whom the King of England commissioned to produce a Bible that he could use for his Protestant-ization of his kingdom. The King said, “Make me a Bible I like.” It became the Bible for English-speaking people everywhere. It’s why we think God sounds like Shakespeare.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

  1. The American Standard Version of the Bible was an update of King James’ Authorized Version of 1611. 30 scholars from nine Protestant denominations used ancient source materials, as well as King James’ version and others from the mid-to-late 1800s. They said, “We have a Bible. We want to produce a different Bible.” For whatever reasons – Doctrinal. Political. Financial.

Then, the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA had some scholars update the ASV and create the Revised Standard Version, which was published in stages during the middle of the 20th century. Millions of copies have been distributed worldwide.

The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA owns the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. As in, that Bible is owned by a company.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

  1. The Modern Language Bible was a late-1960’s translation meant to speak to the emerging culture of the mid-century culture. It’s an update by Zondervan of a translation written by a Dutch-American Presbyterian pastor. Zondervan created the MLB to reach out to youth culture of the 1960’s and 70’s. It sold millions of copies and Zondervan made tens of millions of dollars.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

  1. The Living Bible was published in 1971. Ken Taylor – a founder of Tyndale House Publishers – wrote it, paraphrasing the language of the American Standard Version into what was then contemporary English. It sold millions of copies. I liked it a lot. It sounded like real people.

Is that The Bible? The Word Of God?

 

How’s this: I don’t think there is such a thing.

 

Next time: “Interpreting Scripture, Part #738, or, My Bible’s Better Than Your Bible”

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Be Ready

“Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.”

– Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977

“He’s on His way, man! Are you ready?” – Hippie Christian, 1974

 

My mainline Protestant childhood theology was never fear-based. Mostly it was that God is love, we are created to bring glory to God, Jesus is the good shepherd, etc.

Many of my friends and family, on the other hand, were raised in Baptist or Bible churches, where they heard regularly that all people were sinners who were bound to burn in hell. This message loomed – still looms, even if they no longer believe it – above them like a boulder ready to squash them.

For a while during my Junior High years, when we attended a non-denominational charismatic church in South Texas because my mother became disaffected with the Presbyterian church / was “finding herself” during the Consciousness Revolution of the 70’s, I was infected with a slight but nagging case of fear-based faith.

The pastor used words like “victory” and “enemy” and “king” and “power” and “might” and “Satan” and “army,” and taught lessons on the End of the World, when the Great King would come and re-order all of “fallen” creation. I was terrified – and enthralled. I was also in Junior High, when the world is scary enough, and my mother was in her second marriage and it was going badly, and she was struggling with her mental illness and that was hard; having something concrete and strong to hold onto in the middle of what felt like a series of tornados was very comforting. I liked the good shepherd Jesus, but I really liked the victorious king Jesus who could a. defeat my enemies and b. raise me up to the clouds.

I remember this guy and his wife; they’re in their mid-twenties, and they’re grinning blissfully at me one Sunday or Thursday evening after the marathon-length worship services, and the guy says, tossing his long hair a little to the side, “He’s on His way, man! Are you ready?” and they laugh and nod with joy, including me in the happiness of knowing we are going to be rescued, snatched up out of this shitshow at any minute by the powerful king. I smiled with them, sharing in their blessed assurance.

But I also remember wondering – worrying – panicking – Wait, AM I ready?

It lasted for years after we left that church/cult: the fear that at any moment, cosmic trumpets would sound, the sky above Corpus Christi would open, but I would be picking my nose or thinking about girls or feeling angry or just not being prayerful enough, and I wouldn’t be ready, and I would not go up into the sky to meet The Lord in a twinkling of an eye. I would be left here on the earth for years or millennia or whatever, rejected, burning alive, thrown into a pit, etc.

So: If I want to get people to do what I want, I can simply construct messages that terrify them, and then give them a solution – a solution which I have the power to dispense. And that way, I am the savior. Actually, the terrifying message doesn’t need to be original; people are already afraid, so, I just need to find the right button to push.

I can build movements, win elections, create religions.

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I Rebel

“This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” – Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

“Give to The Emperor what belongs to The Emperor, and give to God what belongs to God.” – Jesus

 

Jesus was a peasant, living in the Roman Empire’s provinces of Palestine and Judea. He gathered a group of followers, by healing, doing miracles, and interpreting religious and ethical codes. He was an apocalyptic thinker who believed that the world and The Empire would end soon. He led nonviolent symbolic assaults on what he saw as the corrupt systems of power.

The Empire arrested him[1], tortured him, and executed him publicly as a deterrent to other rebels and insurrectionists. His followers regrouped and kept Jesus’ movement alive. It spread throughout The Empire and was influenced by each region and ethnic group and context it mixed with.

For a while The Empire tried to kill the movement, but that failed. And so The Empire, in a brilliant move, adopted the movement and deified its dead insurrectionist leader[2]. The rebel whom they had executed became its mascot. The Empire built a giant religious system which spread throughout the Western world, decorated with pictures of the executed man being tortured and executed.

The irony of this is astounding.[3]

The Empire decided what the acceptable beliefs and practices of that dead insurrectionist’s movement would be. And The Empire’s soldiers and priests tortured and executed people who didn’t agree, and went to war against the nations which didn’t share those beliefs. Again, this is ridiculous.

And now it’s 2016. I live in a continuation of that Empire. And I am a practitioner of an iteration of its religious system.

And … The more I learn about myself and the world, and the longer I follow the insurrectionist and learn to divest him from what The Empire has taught me about him, I choose not to agree to most of the beliefs and practices which support and reinforce what The Empire values. The Empire requires obedience and adherence. The Empire writes creeds and disciplines. The Empire helps the poor as it builds cathedrals. The Empire likes things big and powerful and efficient and successful. That’s the value system which killed the insurrectionist.

So, like him, I rebel.

I am a teacher for a small group of people. We distrust power systems. We avoid the spotlight. We work to counteract The Empire’s dehumanizing and oppressive practices. Because we are all children of The Empire, we must continually ask: How can I know what’s oppressive and what’s life-giving? What’s soul-risking, what’s seductive? What seems benign but is actually cancerous? Is what I’m worshipping and following truly the God that Jesus worshipped and followed, or is it what The Empire taught me and told me was God?

I keep asking myself, about my actions, purchases, and choices, what the insurrectionist asked:  Does this belong to The Empire? Or does this belong to God?

It is hard work. … Merry Christmas,

[1] Some will argue it was the religious leaders who arrested Jesus rather than the Empire, but the Empire built the Temple where the religious leaders worked, and appointed their King and their High Priest, so, let’s be clear as to who owns the house.
[2] And, if he’s a god, then he isn’t really a person anymore, or a social operative, or a troublemaker; he’s an abstraction.
[3] When a super-successful general becomes Emperor and he co-opts a religion and starts building monuments to its leader, nobody much worries about the irony; instead, they convert to that religion.

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Marks on the Land

A few months ago I drove to two towns in far South Texas. Harlingen is where we lived when I was in middle school, and Corpus Christi when I was in high school. I hadn’t been to Corpus in years; my family moved away, and I don’t like the beach. And I hadn’t been to Harlingen since the day my mother, Mary Ann, told me and my sister, Stacy, “Kids, pack your stuff; we’re leaving your stepfather. Right now.”[1] That was in late summer, 1975, when I was 14.

I moved 18 times by the time I graduated from Richard King H.S. in Corpus; maybe that’s part of why I got interested in ancestry research. My ancestors, too, moved. They were pioneers, refugees, explorers, who left Ireland and England and Scotland and Wales, sailed across the Atlantic, stepped into unfamiliar territory in Pennsylvania and Boston and South Carolina, and some of them kept moving. To Tennessee, and Kentucky, and Mississippi, and Louisiana, and Arkansas, and Indian Territory, and The Republic of Texas, and the State of Texas.

(And from among those many thousands of wanderers, two of them – Mary Ann, a daughter of the Smith/Bells who grew up in a little town in Central Texas, and Richard, a son of the Diamond/Roaches who grew up in a nearby little town in Central Texas – left home after high school, and went to college, and met each other, and had sex, and got pregnant, and got married and, to quote David Copperfield,[2] I am born.)

That much wandering … why do people move? Why do they leave? What are they looking for? I keep wondering that about my ancestors, and about my family, and about myself.

I was headed to South Texas with the data I had: The houses and apartments we lived in (homes 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18); the churches we attended; the schools we went to; the parks or landmarks I remembered. But other data too, which can’t be found on a map or GPS.

Rick at age 13 – whom I call Rick 13, just as I call my 10-year-old self Rick 10, and Rick 17 is me in Corpus in 11th and 12th grades when I was 17, and so on – where would he have left a mark? A sign for someone to find later? Would I find branches bent or icons scratched into the bark of trees that Rick 13 would’ve left to mark key moments, important turns or places on the map? The breadcrumbs on the ground, the rock that doesn’t belong in that corner or in that stone wall? The memorial – “This happened here”?

For decades I’ve journaled and written and gone to therapy and done men’s work and emotional intelligence work, and here’s a huge lesson in that for me: the important markers which Rick 13, Rick 17, Rick 6, Rick 20 and all the other Ricks have left? They don’t have to be searched for. They show themselves to me, and others, all the time. Those landmarks show up in how I conduct a meeting, or play a board game, or tell someone bad news, or confess my sins, or face disappointment, or find courage.

When I travel to this landscape of my memories and reflexes and thoughts and behaviors, I flinch where frightened Rick 6 left a “danger here” warning sign. And I feel the mixed joy and shame that Rick 13 felt, one evening at our farm, looking at his stepfather’s Playboy magazine stash and wondering, “Am I a bad person?” And my heart beats as I come across the exultant “You’re not a baby!” which terrified-of-the-dark Rick 11 claimed when he managed to hit another scout with the bag-of-flour weapon during the nighttime game of Capture The Flag at Boy Scout camp. And I smile when I come up on Rick 12, cackling at some stupid joke with his buddy Robbie Anderson, and scribbling on the map of his own heart and therefore mine: “It’s good to have a friend.”

So, the drive south wasn’t really about discovering anything I didn’t know already; I’ve done lots of mapping the territory. I just wanted to smell the humid air again, and look at my high school, and see if the Palmetto Inn was still on W Jackson St.; if it was, I’d have the enchilada plate for the first time in 41 years.[3]

[1] My drum set, for all I know, is still sitting in the entry hall of that house; it wouldn’t fit into the station wagon in which Mary Ann and my sister and I drove away that night, and we never went back. I’m not bitter.
[2] The hero of the novel by Dickens, not the Vegas magician.
[3] It’s closed.

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Prodigals, Part II: So That Happened

 (This is a continuation from Prodigals, Part I: I’ll Take Mine Now, a riff on the story of the two sons that Jesus tells. FYI I’m mixing up the genders of the characters in the story.)

You’re pissed off and you decide to blow the whole thing up.
Or … you’re restless and you’re tired of waiting.
Or … you’ve been good a long time – too long – and now, screw it, I’m outta here.
Or … you don’t want to leave but you can’t help it … you’re not sure why … you are disengaging without really even knowing where you’re going. You’re longing for something.

Joy or pain, or both, can get you to gather your things and step out of the house and onto the road to The Far Country.

As you leave, you take many resources with you. All you’ve acquired. All you know. Money, or not. A map, or not. Hope. A plan, even if the plan is just to be open and see what’s next. Your ideas about yourself (what you already know, and what you don’t know yet).

For a long time, maybe a day? a month? a year? an entire season of your life? it works, and you’re happy. It’s fun. Freedom. FINALLY, you’re out from under the thumb of that family / system / marriage / job / life.

But, in some cases, like in this story, there’s the nagging feeling:  This isn’t going to last.

And it doesn’t.

And then the money’s gone and the friends leave and the famine comes. And you get a job working for a pig farmer. As in, I’ve fallen as far as I can fall.

The pig farm in the Far Country is George Bailey on the bridge. The athlete whose injury is career-ending and she realizes: Oh God; that part of my life is over. The realization that the gamble didn’t pay off, the deal fell through. That if I ever want to get better, I’m going to have to look at that part of myself I’ve been avoiding.

Standing there, ankle-deep, with the unclean thing rooting around in the mud near your feet (have you spent time at a farm? It doesn’t smell sanitary and daisy fresh), this younger sibling within you … stops.

For a while, reluctant to admit to herself or anyone else that she’s standing in pig shit, even though it’s kind of obvious, she says to herself, I refuse to go back to those people.
To that place.
It hurts. I’m angry. I’m scared.
I can’t.  

And this debutante (a wealthy daughter from a rich family, who had a servant that washed her hair and laid out her clothes, and servants that made her meals and served them to her) once again tries to reach into the bucket and sneak a few bites of the seed-pods she’s supposed to feed the pigs. The farmer had beaten her, saying, I need my pigs to get fat. Not you.

She loses weight. All kinds of weight. Hey –  is that my tiara, in the mud? When did I drop that?

And that’s when, Jesus says, “she came to herself.”

“She came to herself,” a standard English translation says, though it could suggest “when she woke up, from the dream she had been living in.” It can also mean “she returned to herself,” as if she’d been in a faraway place. Which she has.

So that happened. … Now what? 

Here’s good news: Don’t be afraid; even if you return, you won’t be going home. That home isn’t there anymore; it can’t be; you’re not the debutante or the hotshot anymore. You’re something different.

 

Next: Part III: Be a Good Girl

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Prodigals, Part I: I’ll Take Mine Now

I talked at JIFC recently about the story that everyone calls the “Prodigal Son” story. We changed the gender to female, to hear the story differently[1]:

Part I: “Once upon a time, there was a wealthy woman who had two daughters. The younger daughter said, ‘If you were dead, I’d get my inheritance. If it’s okay, I’ll take mine now.’ So the mother liquidated some assets, and sold some properties, and rearranged her company, so that she could give her daughter one-third of everything, the share that the younger sibling gets. The younger daughter left with the cash and traveled to a far country, where she lived a riotous life.

“And in time, the money was gone. And then a famine came. And she finally got a job slopping hogs. And she stood there in the pig shit and wanted to eat the leftover food the pigs got.”

(If you haven’t ended up in the pig shit yet, it may be because you are so in your Elder Sibling energy that you haven’t given yourself permission to screw up. I’ll talk about that energy in another post.)

Younger Sibling energy asks questions. It challenges The Powers That Be. I mean – the balls of the Younger Sibling: “I’d like it if you were dead, so I could get my part now.” Younger Sibling energy often says the thing nobody should say. Sometimes that’s harmful and selfish; other times it’s redemptive and powerful. The boy who says the Emperor is naked. The artist who paints the forbidden image. The one in the family who is willing to say the thing no one is allowed to say. The one who has the courage to wonder, Surely there’s more than this.

Younger Sibling energy also mopes, restless, like Luke Skywalker still on Tatooine, or Dorothy, still in Kansas, wishing she could get over the rainbow. The Way Things Are wishes this kid would shut the hell up and get to work already. I have this dialogue in my head all the time, many times a day – the Elder Sibling energy in me telling the Younger Sibling energy in me to get to work, and the Younger Sibling energy in me telling the Elder Sibling energy to shut up.

Younger Sibling energy loves going inward. To reflect. To consider what it all means. The Younger Sibling in us stares at a mountain and feels both small and also connected to the All Things. Going to the Far Country is an act of discovery, of testing, of stretching.

But – and – the Far Country is also where life goes wrong. A famine comes. Your plans didn’t work out. You had plenty of money, a great vision, a deep longing. But when the resources run out, your friends leave, and you aren’t welcome in that fancy hotel, you have to find a job. A job?

Younger Sibling energy finds the whole concept of a job distasteful. Work is good, shouldn’t it be meaningful and make a difference in the world and also have some excitement or at least pleasure in it? Younger Sibling energy is genuinely shocked and angry when it’s just, y’know, a job. To trade an hour of one’s life for money? That’s just primitive and stupid. Oh well.

Here’s the trick: the Far Country is where there’s treasure – but it may not be the kind you expected.

Next: In the Far Country, finding gold in the pig shit.

pigs-in-mud

[1] If you can’t read any further because we changed the genders of the people in the story, I wish you peace, because life is hard and it’s just going to get harder for you. I mean, why can’t the story be about a mother and her daughters rather than a father and his sons? Because that’s the way Jesus told the story? Jesus lived in a patriarchal culture and was in large part a product of, and reflective of, his culture. The fact that Jesus is as proactive and defiant in honoring and including women as he was, is one of many indications of how crazy and brave he was in refusing to operate within the boundaries of his culture. So, I cut him some slack.

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He Just Knows Where the Table Is

A friend asked, “Does Jesus own the healing power? He’s the one dispensing it.”

It’s a legitimate question – even if limited to the theoretical, but especially if it’s about real life, because it’s a question of who can access God’s power to heal (or to harm). This matters.

I thought for a moment about what i think God is like, and said, “No, Jesus doesn’t own it.”

We had just looked at Luke 8, where two stories – one about a church president’s daughter and one about a bleeding woman – are sandwiched together. Jesus is helping people and there’s a big crowd.  In the middle of the crowd,  a church president lies down at Jesus’ feet and begs Jesus to heal his daughter. On the way to the church president’s house, a woman sneaks up and touches the bottom of Jesus’ cloak, and she’s healed. Jesus stops and says, “Who touched me?” because he can feel that somebody just accessed the power that flows through him. The woman confesses, terrified;  but Jesus is happy. He tells her, “You found the power you needed! I’m so glad! That’s what healed you.” Then he goes to the church leader’s house and wakes up the little girl.

So here’s what my friend is asking: If that lady could just touch his clothes and be healed, is Jesus even in control of this power? And, Do I have to bow before him or pray to him just the right way – whatever that is – to get it?

These questions might come from someone who wants to find healing and can’t.
These questions might come from someone who distrusts power and feels shut out.
These questions might come from someone hopeful about being able to get close to the good thing.

When I said to my friend that I don’t think Jesus owns the healing power, my friend said, “Yeah – but – if this woman can just get it without Jesus even knowing about it, who DOES own it?”

And I saw something in my head, and I said:

“Imagine a banquet table that can never run out of wonderful food. Jesus knows where the food is. He’s tasted it. He goes around, carrying the food, telling people about it. If someone says they want it, he hands it to them, whatever he can carry that day. He tells everybody who’ll listen where the room with the table with the food is. He hands out maps. He wants everyone to have the good thing. He gets discouraged because not many people will be open – hungry – enough to go find it, but he doesn’t stop.”

And my friend said, “Yeah, but, not anybody can just get to it, right?”

Orthodoxy flashed through my head. And exclusivism. And freedom.
And I said, “No, I think anybody can. I mean, why not?”

Jesus’ disciples once were angry because a man who wasn’t part of Jesus’ school was throwing out harmful spirits by using Jesus’ name.  Jesus said, “Don’t stop them. They’re not against us; they’re giving people the good thing.” His “name” was just another map. Jesus wants everybody to have one. “You found what you needed! I’m so glad! That’s what healed you.”

I mean, the room’s unlocked anyway. There’s plenty. I don’t think Jesus gives a shit how I got there, what key I thought I had to have, what I brought with me. Jesus just knows where the table is and is trying to get everybody there.

This is my son. Listen to him. He’s got a map.

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