Practicing to be Unprepared

Proper 28C

stand-with-you

What a week, no? I think we’d all be in our rights to seek a little distraction, so I’m wondering: what’s your favorite genre of scary movie? I’m not talking about anything you might have seen on CNN or MSNBC or Fox News…

Myself, its crime dramas. You know the scenario. Someone does something wicked, but the culprit and motive or means are obscure. However, there’s a persistent sleuth—better yet if it’s an unlikely or compromised hero—who uncovers the truth and brings the evildoer to justice. And life returns to normal. Families and friendships and institutions mostly intact, if tarnished.

My sister, who lives with mental illness, loves medical dramas. She calls them impalement movies. And although they wouldn’t be my first choice of entertainment, I understand why they’re so satisfying to her. The sick or wounded character—whose life hangs in precarious balance—is rescued by an intrepid doctor, often in defiance of medical conventions. And the suffering is relieved.

Meanwhile, Hollywood caters to a substantial market for end-of-history apocalyptic movies. The Day After Tomorrow, Mad Max, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, World War Z and the whole raft of zombie movies. I have to say, this is not my preferred genre of scary movie. If I have to suffer through one of these, I’ll usually bury my head and plug my ears until the frightening parts are over. My husband John will attest to that.

Like all scary stories, the apocalyptic genre does come to resolution. The terrifying scenario ends, but typically not until after civil society is eradicated, and only a small company of heroes survive. I hate that outcome. As a fan of crime dramas, I prefer to see a protagonist to root out the evil before the known world is destroyed, and I want t­­­o believe that institutions and communities have capacity for self-correction.Plus, I’m an extrovert and I have little interest in a world with just a few survivors. Who would I talk to in coffee hour?

But our scriptural tradition offers us plenty of apocalyptic stories, no? Today’s Gospel has Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple, a description not so much about the end of the world as about the end of the uneasy peace presided over by the Roman client kings of the Herodian dynasty. The magnificent second temple was symbol of Jewish national identity, but it was also adorned, quite literally, with symbols of official corruption. The beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God were a very public reminder that the officials of the capital city cared little for the impoverished masses in the hinterlands where Jesus ministered. Then and now, that reality—or at least that narrative—is profoundly destabilizing. If not end of the world apocalyptic.

However, we know that Jesus did not think that the destruction of the beautiful and tainted temple was the end of the world, at least not as Luke reported it. Rather, in this lesson he was teaching about an interim time. The time after a known political and ecclesial order had come to a costly end, but before the end of days whose timing was unknowable then as it is now. You might say that Jesus was speaking to our time.

Admittedly, his not-quite-end-of-the-world prophecy was still plenty bad news, because—like the director of a scary movie—Jesus described all the present fears of his followers with unflinching clarity. There will be wars, earthquakes, famine, persecution. But also like the scary movie genre, the terrifying scenario resolved in good news. There would be survivors, Jesus promised. He didn’t say whether they would be few or many— although there were clearly enough for their descendants to fill coffee hour at Trinity, so I’m happy—but he did describe what they’d be like. Those who survived would be people of endurance. Possessed of their souls. Wise and able to give unrehearsed voice to their faith.

On Wednesday morning I woke up to an unsolicited text from a dear friend. This friend is transgender and prefers to use non-gender-specific pronouns, so I’ll honor their identity as I tell you what their message was. They wrote—

“I love you, your health and safety matter, and I’ll stand by you whatever comes.”

As your priest, I want you to hear that from me. Trinity Cathedral, I love you, your health and safety matter, and I’ll stand by you whatever comes.

As your pastor, want us to be able to say that to each other, so why don’t you join me in saying it aloud to those around you—

“I love you, your health and safety matter, and I’ll stand by you whatever comes.”

I think it’s safe to say that—no matter how we voted or how we feel about the outcome of the election—these are words and a wisdom that no opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. I’ve been practicing saying them to my many friends who feel threatened by an emboldening of hate: people who are LGBTQ, people of color, immigrants, girls and woman. In frightening times, we can’t say them to each other often enough.

In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell argued that “being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous of education and experience.” I am quite sure that my friend was able to reach out to me with words of such spontaneous compassion because they had been hearing words like “The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” all their lives. And they had suffered hatred and betrayal, but they endured with the Gospel at the center of their imagination. Because of that, when  frightening times came, they knew exactly what to say.

I wish had been the one with the wisdom to reach out to my trans friend first, because they are one of the people most vulnerable to the alarming rise in hate speech this election has engendered, and to public policies that would deny their personhood and integrity. But instead, my spontaneous testimony is one I actually have to practice.

Which is OK because it means that I have to listen harder to my friends whose identity puts them at risk, and to those who have suffered and endured. Even if we don’t know what to say right now—and I confess that I have found myself wordless many times this week—we can listen. And with endurance we will grow in wisdom and capacity to give voice to God’s saving truth.

We will learn it from our Scriptures, we will speak it in our prayers, we will sing it in our songs and hear it from each other. That is why we gather in Christian community week after week. Trinity, our city and our country have never needed your witness more: your unwavering commitment to compassionate action, to learning and listening, and to unconditional welcome. These unprecedented times may demand that we act on our baptismal commitments in ways that we never imagined, but we will not weary in doing what is right. As Benedictine Joan Chittister has said, endurance is the sacrament of commitment.

So today—and every day of the next three months, the next four years, the entire interim time that we are given by God—let us commit to love one another, to protect one another’s health and safety, and to stand by each other. Whatever comes.

2 Comments


  1. Since childhood I have prayed for the same thing every time I say “My Private Personal Prayer”. I embellish with specifics or additions, but the core of my Prayer is always the same. I pray for “Health & Happiness.” Health & Happiness is concise & has always covered what really needs to be covered.
    I have never been a person of few words, but to me “Health & Happiness” covers Everything & for some reason I adopted and accepted those two things as satisfying, appropriate. After my prayer I feel a personal calmness because I feel I’ve covered everything.
    I haven’t been a Child for decades, at least age wise, but I have never waivered in my prayers and I feel content that I have taken care of those near & dear to me as well the beings that I have never ever had direct contact with.
    I feel content and very good about the Outcome of what I’ve prayed for for all these decades. Yes, I have many Happy Healthy Family Members and Friends, but I remember many Dogs, Cats & even Fish that have benefited from long Happy & Healthy Lives because they were special to me and I knew them.

    Reply

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