There are plenty of things that make me wince. This week has been full of them. My heart is wore out. . I have nothing to say about any of this. . We went to a Christmas pageant at church that had a real camel and ponies and chickens, Roman guards that yelled at you, an inn with no room. I thought a rather unoriginal thought: a stable is a strange place to have a baby. . I wonder what Mary thought. I wonder if she had a tightness in her throat, hot tears burning in her eyes. Riding on a donkey, belly contracting; knocking on door after door. . Nothing is ever like we expect. Sometimes more beautiful, sometimes much less. . I think of my dad when I think of the night Jesus was born. He used to stand inside the barn before the sun had risen and look up at the night sky. So big. Stantions of cows behind him; I can smell their smell. I can hear them. He says it must have been beautiful. . His heart is my heart. I think it must have been beautiful too. . Other people say it was filthy and crude. But he was born within me and I was much more filthy. . This is the final week of Advent, and this makes no sense. Jesus, man of sorrows, you understand me. Just stay.
Has it bothered you, in the Cosmic Jewish Zombie statement below, the phrase "...to remove from your soul an evil force"? I was so startled by the images of Christ lurching forward wanting to devour brains* that I almost missed it. Such a long, complicated sentence, but the verb in the predicate is wrong. . He didn't remove anything, not even darkness; he added light. . I've been thinking about Jack London. I read "To Light a Fire" when I was about 10. I read it, ironically enough, in the coldest place in our house; a tiny room always closed off from the heat of the wood stove. I sat hunched over the book with knotted muscles, too sucked in to leave the room where I found it. I remember the passages about his frozen hands shaking, trying to light a single match. How he eventually, in one great gasp of hope, grabbed all the remaining matches by the fistful and lit them at once. They went out. Man versus nature; I didn't think it got any better than that. But oh it does, it does. Man versus himself is infinitely more painful. . He didn't die to take evil from our hearts; he died because forgiveness has a mechanism. Justice demands a price be paid**. He didn't need to compensate his holiness or his goodness; at the cross, he was beautifully, shockingly, horrifyingly both. He demanded death and then he died. Torn and stabbed, not even recognizable as a man. And what of us? I don't know. He chose to leave us human, oh so human. Hearts that grow cold. A flesh that pulls, always pulls, away from him. But at the same time, within us, the flame of God. He himself. Sometimes he's a roaring fire; sometimes we feel only the faintest flicker. He watches us. I think they all watch us: the demons and the angels alike***. . We want the predicate of the Christianity definition to be true, to have ugly desires removed from us, to be victorious as we would understand victory. But gave us something better: the chance, every single day, to bring honor to his name. To choose him over sin. To walk through life crippled and nearly blind to his presence, and yet loving him, loving him desperately. . We are nearing now the fifth week of Advent. Jesus -consuming fire, light of the world, the one who doesn't snuff out a smoldering wick- I give you my weakness. May you make it something lovely.
*Do you remember when that Danish newspaper ran 12 cartoons of Mohammad and those riots broke out? As many as 100 were killed; people marched holding signs with variations of the phrase Behead/Slay/Massacre/Butcher/Annihilate those who insult Islam. (The glaring irony, of course, is that much of the anger stemmed from the fact that Mohammad was depicted as a violent man.) I think it's interesting that Christians are almost completely nonreactive to mocking images of Christ. There's a website that sells t-shirts with the phrase Jesus f---ing Christ and then an illustration that is the most horrendous thing I've ever seen. It brought me to tears. Let it rile you; let your heart churn. The person who drew that, he died for them. Again, it is a love that defies all understanding. **I love that one of the names for Jesus, in the book of John, is Logos: most commonly translated as The Word but also a the term from which logic is derived.
***1 Peter 1:10-16 is incredible. Romans 6-8 also. You might as well pick up a copy of The Screwtape Letters, too.
I was looking at pictures of Hamas on Google when I came across an image of Christ that bore the caption "Christianity: The belief that some Cosmic Jewish Zombie, who is his own father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master so he can remove an evil force in your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. Makes perfect sense." My gut reaction was indignation, to say you've got it wrong. But the truth is, it's not really a misrepresentation. Irreverent, sure, but fairly accurate. . It's embarrassing sometimes to look square-on at what I believe. God, who speaks and creates light, laying there as a baby. Roly poly and smelling like milk. . I've felt this disconnect before: the shock of seeing what you know framed so differently you don't recognize it, you almost want to shove it away. A Muslim friend told me (speaking slowly, so patiently) You believe that Jesus is God but that's crazy. God cannot die. I had nothing to say. Just yes, it is crazy. I tried to explain that that's how great his love for us is, that he would do the unthinkable; he would walk as a man and bear the full weight of our punishment. He was God in the flesh, covered in sin, and he was God the Father, holy and righteous, eyes too pure to look upon such an ugly sight. There are times when I talk about him that I can almost hear the angels singing. And there are times that the words sound as if they're coming from someone else's mouth, and I'm standing by thinking "Do you hear what you're saying? Do you not realize how absurd that is?" . But what is this absurdity if not a measure of love? This love that is deep and high and wide and long and cannot be measured but with the recognition that it is completely crazy. If love could be a noun, it would have been that: God hanging and bleeding, dying for people who mock him. Jesus scorned the shame of the cross. I do as well. . He existed before time but was born as a baby; he was tempted in every way and was both 100% God and man. He stood alongside God and created the world knowing we would fail and need this tremendous act of redemption. He made us anyway. . This is the fourth week of Advent. Jesus, author of salvation, you wrote a story so magnificent it's hard to believe. . But I do.
*And now, a short story. A smart man would say that for reasons of integrity alone, a person's intellect should align with their beliefs. I am okay with the disconnect. I know that my mind cannot keep up. Here is one (of many) events that I hold to stubbornly when it all feels too unreasonable. I was at a show with some of my friends. Bush was playing. Veruca Salt opened. (Surely you remember Glycerine?) I was way up front and the crowd was getting crazy. I was way too skinny to be there. The weight of the people around me was so much. I couldn't breathe; literally could not expand my lungs. I knew that within moments I wouldn't be able to keep my feet under me anymore (was being swept to the left and the right with the crowd); I would collapse and would be crushed by their feet. They wouldn't be able to control it, even if they noticed. I prayed a single word, Jesus. I felt him say "Turn around." A logical mind would have known if I couldn't move, I certainly couldn't turn. But I did. I turned and the crowd parted like the Red Sea; a two-foot wide path a hundred feet long. I didn't even bump a single shoulder. I simply walked out. As an added kindness, my friend was there, standing at the end. She didn't even see; it was as if I had appeared from nowhere. I know him, I do. Let my mind be silent when it is wrong. He is real.
I was a member of Model UN in high school, mainly because I signed up for anything that sounded dull and dreary because I thought it might somehow make me a better person. We were taken to the university library to use this new thing called the Internet and told to research China's position on terrorism. I sat there for an hour typing in different keywords and not knowing how to make it go. I was used to a typewriter and did not understand the enter key. When I finally did find a page, the time was up and we had to leave. They told us to write down our links so we could use them next time. I carefully, so carefully, wrote down the 100+ character URL on a napkin I found in my backpack. (It was full of /'s and %'s and -'s and all kinds of things that made it look like an enormous curse word.) I didn't understand menus, or that the much shorter home-address would get me there. To my shock, when I went back, the URL didn't work. I went to the conference and sat there meekly in my hard plastic seat voting for whatever the fake Turkish delegate suggested because he talked really loud. I learned nothing that weekend except that kids who sign up for Model UN in other schools smoke dope and drink rum. . I remember when the Soviet Union broke apart bit by bit, countries like Azerbaijan and Tajikistan ruining any hope kids had of passing the map of Asia test. It was just what was normal in the '90's - a piece of land sliced up like pie. And then, suddenly, the UN decided that it was in the best interest of the world for borders to remain as they are. No more invasions and no more secessions. No more scrambling or rearranging; the map was to remain as it was. . So now the people who want more land or their own land or someone off their land throw rocks and Molotov cocktails and walk into train stations with bombs strapped to their chests. And the world watches like a tense mother thinking this behavior cannot be rewarded. And now the Mossad is charged with throwing a man-eating shark into Egypt's side of the Red Sea and the Hillary Clinton is being pressured to quit as Secretary of State for ordering acts of espionage on UN members and China is calling Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Prize ceremony the work of a few clowns. And the brightest people in the entire world are looking like mad men. And I wonder how this looks from Heaven - if God sometimes squints his eyes away from our neatly-drawn lines and looks at us as a planet surrounded by an endless expanse of darkness dotted with light and motion. Maybe he leans back even further until we're nothing but a pin-point that's indiscernible within the universe he's made. . 700 new potential planets have been found this year; the Hubble has taken pictures of 3,000 of the estimated 125 billion galaxies. It says in Isaiah that he measures the heavens with the breadth of his hand. . We are so incredibly small. . And the God who made all of this, the God capable of making stars that burn brighter and hotter than the sun, who may have done so for no other reason than because they're gorgeous, he made himself tiny. A baby growing in a girl's belly. He called himself the Son of Man and stepped into this planet brimming with beauty and chaos and he let himself be beaten and killed. But of course death cannot stop the author of life; but he did let death leave scars on his hands. . We are nearing the third week of Advent. Jesus -holy, almighty, infinitely more than we could ever imagine- I love you.
Elvis's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, singing Hound Dog to a hound dog and swinging that famous pelvis while the camera kept the frame steadily focused on his face, was only twenty-some years before my birth. Common decency dictated that he look like the kind of guy a girl could introduce to her grandmother. Teenagers were no doubt heartbroken at his on-screen neutering, but no marches were held and no windows were broken. . Move ahead in time five decades and decency is again in question: we have the case brought before the courts to determine whether or not it's legal to block computer-generated pornography of kids having sex. Mark Foley, of all people, lamented that the Supreme Court sided with the pedophiles instead of the children. Writing about it in TIME, James Poniewozik said "Or it sided with, you know, the First Amendment. Tomato, tomahto." . This case is actually eight years old. I read about it yesterday thumbing through an old copy of TIME. I remember having read it then but barely raising an eyebrow. (Or rather, having admired Poniewozik** for his deftly delivered punch; as if it somehow put Foley in his place. Ludicrous.) He wrote about it in 2006, before I had any kids. It was all semantics then; the future was hypothetical. Now I have three precious babies and it makes me sick. By what stretch of the imagination is animated obscenity considered speech? What does it say? We hold freedom so high in this country that it's scraped through the lowest pits. . My kids know how to throw some decent tantrums. It's not often, but it goes like this: The knees turn to rubber. They sink to the ground and wail, back arched back, snot running. They feel like life is out of control; they don't like the shots being called, and they react. I wish I were able to. It feels like life is an ocean, and we just ride the waves: it is what it is. . I remember reading about Danny the Red*, the guy who went around in the late '60's helping spark revolutions in Europe. I wondered, how does a person get there? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, it makes no noise. We all know that. That's why we're so quiet. But there's people like Kim Jong Il, who holds a nation hostage, acting as if he were God himself. Julian Assange, handed power by no one, yet able to make presidents and dictators and kings cower. This world is crazy. . I don't want power. I don't want to kick my feet and I don't want to yell. I only want something good for my children. I want them to live in a country that isn't so enamored by its own enlightenment that it acts like a fool. I want freedom to be valued more, not less; as it is now, we call it a pearl and then toss it to the pigs.
*Now he's Danny the Green. No, seriously. **Poniewozik wrote in '06 about a case tried in '02; the focus of the article was Foley, which is why, I suppose, his perspective on the CGI porn case was so black-and-white.
This is a (not so secret?) secret: the first year* of staying home with my baby, I almost went crazy. Maybe I did? I'm not sure. There were times I didn't even know if I was awake or asleep. My mind was slow like molasses. I'd walk out to our freezing balcony in my pajamas, hoping that the cold wind would make my head think. It didn't. My head always pounded; slow, numb, disoriented. . Then we left town and I went from nothing but quiet to sound, so much sound. My grandma Lola singing boleros. Soap operas blaring at full volume. My mom watching an episode of Diego with the Flaco. Matthew worked at the shop fixing cars so he'd come in for lunch, and there we'd all sit: my husband, my mom and dad, my grandma, my son (and then, my daughter.) Conversations shifting between Spanish and English, words running like water. Even on my days off, I'd go. I put in probably double my hours. . I thought that when we moved, it would all start again. I never ever knew that it would be like this. I didn't know how lovely it is to sit at the table and eat breakfast with my kids. I am not the best housekeeper in the world per se, but I make sure that dining table is fancy every night before bed so that their first sight when they wake up will be pretty. When it's time to dress them, it's like playing with paper dolls. I pick out something ruffly and poofy and frilly for Lolita every day; Flaco wears a denim jacket with the collar popped, and Otto wears ears. We spend the morning reading books and playing with blocks and coloring pictures (that sometimes extend to the wall) and breaking things -oh, always breaking things. We talk about politics and theology and history and planets and animals**. I cook them a hot lunch, served on our nice dishes: baked chicken with onions, rice and beans, cucumbers. I wear my apron and we put on music and we dance. And leap. And do something that's sort of like the worm but not quite. . They climb on me all day. Octavius on my lap, smiling at me, squealing so high-pitched when I look him in the eyes, Flaco draping himself over my shoulders, bony knees baring down, Loli pulling herself up, grabbing onto my hair for a little more leverage. . It is good, so good.
*Thank you, Betsy, for your kindness to me, especially for your company on those long nights when Matt was gone. I hated watching Dancing with the Stars. It was so much nicer at your house (and you always fed me good.) **Did you know that the Diving Bell spider lives in a bubbles under water? Or that the Pilgrim Shark's mouth looks like a gaping cave? Or that the Goliath frog grows three feet long but can't croak? Or that the giant Gippsland earthworm can grow even longer than three feet long, and you can hear it crawling underground?