In which Rev. Brian stops complaining and starts trying stuff.
“Core to the failure of home…of not fitting in, even to our own being–is the sense of not even knowing our own story.” –The Spirituality of Imperfection
“The title of the most popular story on planet Earth is and always has been What I Did Today, and despite its infinite tellings, twists, and turns, it always ends with the same refrain, ‘and I made it home.'”–Gregory Mobley, The Return of the Chaos Monsters: and Other Backstories of the Bible
A LONG, LONG TIME AGO (like…mythically long ago), a man and a woman were created by God, and allowed to live in a garden where their every need was met. God gave them one rule, to not eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And there they lived…until one day…
Man: This is so not my fault.
Woman: I’m not blaming you.
Woman: Very mature.
Man: I don’t know what means.
God: Man! Woman! Where are you?
Woman: Oh, man!
Man: Hey, don’t use my name in a pajorative way.
Woman: Oh, so when it suits him, he has a great vocabulary.
God: There you are. Why are you two behind those bushes? Are you hiding?
Man: I think if we just stay quiet…he’ll eventually go away.
God: I know you’re there. Ya know…being omnipresent and all.
Woman: Look, we can explain.
God: You ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Woman: That would be the short version of the longer, much more convincing explanation.
God: Well, you know what this means..
Man: Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait! Before you start doling out punishments, there’s something you really need to hear. (pointing at the woman) This is all HER fault!
Woman: Oh, man!
God: I figured this would happen, look..
Woman: No, no, no…not so fast, it’s NOT my fault! …The snake told me to do it!
(At the mention of his name, the snake slithers into the forrest from whence he came…grinning widely. The humans argue with God long into the night…fingers pointing every which way. End Scene.)
I missed my bus this morning. I missed it, just barely. It pulled away from the stop as I walked up to it. So i stood in the rain. I missed my bus, and I stood in the rain. Let me rephrase: I missed my bus…it was raining…and because I had failed to catch the bus, I stood in the rain to teach myself a lesson. It’s a lesson so simple, and yet, depending on how you measure, it’s taking me 31 years as an individual–or it’s taking all of us the length of human history as a people–to actually learn this lesson. I allowed rain to wash over me, to soak my shoes, to illustrate the actual thinness of my rapidly thinning hairline, and to endanger the contents of my trusty backpack. I did this as an offering. Let me soak in the rain now, to remember that had I bothered to run…just a little…had I taken a more active role in my morning commute…I would not have missed the bus at all. Let this be the day that I finally learn, with a bit of extra effort and movement, I have the ability to transform my day from “gray and rainy” to “cozy and dry.” I am a co-creator with the Divine.
Let this be my lesson. Every day.
4 WEEKS AGO:
Our scene opens in a bedroom that looks like the end of the world. Piles of old newspapers scattered by the window, mountains of clothes strewn everywhere. Empty food and drink containers scattered about. There is furniture in this room, none of it visible, buried beneath The Mess, except for a bed…discernible only because of the 31 year old man lying in it. He speaks…
Me: (staring at sealing) I can’t live like this.
Enter Flab, my pet demon, a 50 pound lizard-like creature, resembling a kimono dragon, but with worse manners. And he can talk.
Flab: (Sliding down a pile of clothes) Ok. Don’t.
Me: I’m going to get out of this bed, I’m going to build new furniture, there will be storage. Anything that doesn’t fit in the storage, gets thrown out.
Flab: (flinging old newspapers across the room, just for fun) Liar.
Me: And I’m canceling the newspaper. I’ll read the internet and save trees.
Me: It’s happening. Change is coming. You can’t stop me.
Flab: Not me. Flu.
Me: (stomach making noises as if evil itself is building an 8 lane highway through my bowels) True. I don’t feel well. But after the flu. When I beat this, then I beat the room.
Me: I’ll beat you.
Flab lets out a stream of putrid gas and slithers away somewhere beneath The Mess.
Me: I’ll show you. I’ll show you all. Just need to lie here a minute. (Looks at thermometer. It reads 103 degrees.) Oh my.
In our faith tradition, the Story of Creation actually begins earlier than that. It starts with God’s breath hovering above the water…before anything was made…when all was “wild and waste.” The popular conception is that to believe in a Creator God is to believe that God literally created all that is, the way it is, out of nothing at all, in a week. That’s not just a simple interpretation of a really beautiful poetic story, but it’s not even the whole story. God doesn’t speak from nothingness…God’s breath hovers above the “wild and waste.” Before Creation began, there was already stuff here…it was wild…chaos reigned. To believe in a God that Created all that is, it’s helpful to note that God didn’t just magically create everything out of nothing. God went through a process of pulling life together by separating something from everything. God tamed the chaos just enough so that life could grow. God calls into being, then God separates, and God blesses, “It is good.” That’s what Creating looks like, a process that unfolds over an indeterminate amount of time. And if God creates that way…then we can’t help but follow suit.
The process of becoming oneself is all about 1) Naming, or Confessing, calling out who we are, what we do, what we’re about; and then comes 2) separating, or differentiating. Whether it’s as adolescents, defining ourselves apart from our family systems, or later than that, standing out from a pervasive culture, we have to assemble an identity for ourselves, set our boundaries to contain ourselves…so we can become a “Me” rather than “just a face in the crowd.” Then 3) knowing we are “blessed” or “good,” imbued with goodness. This is the part I think a lot of people have problems with. To be named as God’s blessed, means that we have to be special, we have to accept a divine inheritance…which means we have to accept some responsibility for ourselves.
That bugs the $#!* out of us. It’s not fun.
3 WEEKS AGO:
Scene opens in the same bedroom, somehow even more consumed by The Mess. There are bits and pieces of unassembled IKEA furniture strewn among the ruins. A 31 year old adult male, with no diagnosed learning disabilities or health issues (the flu has passed) sits amidst The Mess, head in hands. It could be the middle of the afternoon or the middle of the night, there’s no way to know. The shades are drawn…and The Mess has made passage to the windows impossible. Flab giggles from underneath the coffee table (if you believe there is a coffee table…it’s a matter of faith, improvable at this time).
Me: I can’t live like this.
Me: I’m building furniture. There will be storage. Whatever doesn’t fit in the storage will be thrown out. (Flab laughs.) I cancelled the newspapers.
Flab: You’re sitting on them.
Me: (from atop a mountain of old newspapers) Yeah, but there won’t be anymore coming in!
Flab laughs. Harder.
Me: I don’t know what to do. Why do you make this so hard?
Me: Yeah, you’re always here, making everything more difficult.
Flab: How’s that?
Me: You take up all this space in my life, I can’t figure out how to get rid of you long enough to put things away or develop a system for taking care of myself, I can’t chase you out of here AND do this, there’s not enough hours in the day.
Flab: You’re stupid.
Me: i don’t know how to get rid of you.
Flab: And your face is squishy and asymmetrical.
Me: If I eat a pizza, will you stop talking?
Flab: It’s worth a try, I think.
Pizza. Tears. End Scene.
This kind of conversation doesn’t just happen in the Garfield Minus Garfield of my mind. Whether you’re aware of it or not, we are, all of us, struggling on some level to enjoy being at home–a place of peace, quiet, joy, love–while also managing the chaotic forces that have, from the dawn of time, threatened our ability to sustain those homes. And if it seems to you that it’s getting more difficult to balance the two…you’re not alone. There is something at work that seems to be making it more difficult for us to live active, healthy, justice-centered lives. In the last 4 years I have read countless books (just a few of which can be found here, here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here.) in which journalists and scientists and economists and theologians attempt to name this something. Gross inequality, unsustainable habits, outlandish expectations from our culture that we insist on living up to, addiction upon addiction…personal demons we hold close as pets. When taken together, they paint a pretty clear picture of the time we live in: Without a lot of intentionality and discipline on our part, without actively participating in the project of Creation, without owning our identity as Partners with the Divine, both as individuals and as a society, Chaos will probably win the day. And the real truth is…we’re kind of ok with that. Insidiously, we’re actually quite ok with some chaos in our lives, with things falling apart…as long as there’s something to blame for it. Because that is easier than the alternative: Being an active human being who cares about things. Every…single…day.
TWO WEEKS AGO:
Scene opens on the same bedroom, this time with new IKEA furniture assembled. The walls of the room are lined with drawers and shelves…but The Mess remains at large in the room. Flab lounges on my favorite arm chair, laughing…hard. I stand in the center of the room…staring blankly.
Me: Something…isn’t right?
Flab laughs harder, grabbing his belly.
Me: How do we get all of this (indicating The Mess) into there (indicating the unused shelves)?
Flab starts to wheeze, overcome with laughter. There’s the unmistakable sound of tiny claws along the floor boards. Something shoots out from behind the new dresser.
Me: I think there are mice in my room.
Flab coughs up a big ball of phlegm. Pauses. Laughs harder.
Me: Why do you do this to me?
Flab stops laughing. He glares at me. Our eyes meet.
Flab: I’m over here being comfortable. That is what I do! What exactly am I doing to you?
My eyes widen…then I look away from him down at The Mess which blocks my view of the floor.
Flab laughs harder than anything has ever laughed. Falls out of chair. End scene.
What if the biggest sin Adam and Eve ever committed was failing to take responsibility for their own actions? We tend to read that story differently, we tend to make it about a God who sets an arbitrary rule for his beloved creation and then punishes them forever when they break it. This allows us to live like adolescents, raging against an unjust God who punishes arbitrarily…living how we want, making our own rules…even if it’s not that great. What if the point of this story is more simple, and more heartbreaking than that? What if the only thing we have ever had to do to make God happy was take ownership of our choices? What if all of Creation–including the earth we currently know, and the heaven that so many of us hope to experience–depends on our ability to take responsibility for what we create? Every damn day.
And empty. Flab has scurried away, hiding from the light. Maybe he followed the mice out of the building. I’m not there, either. I’m on the move. In the last weeks I have connected with old friends, family, colleagues, church folk. I met a guardian angel, a gentleman from Algeria. I ate avocado ice cream. I performed show tunes with a very talented artist at a piano bar in New York City at 3:00a.m. I witnessed a group of women transform a theater in Chelsea into a playground where they exercised all the frustrations our unjust world foists upon them every day. I’ve also begun an exciting project, co-writing a really Weird Book. As it turns out, the more you choose something, the easier it is to keep choosing it.
God is doing fascinating and new things in the world every single day…and I have a goal to move around and witness some of that work every single day. And if I meet that goal every day for a year…I get a trophy (woot!), but more importantly…I get to keep my home.