Take Me to Church 4/21/19: Plenty

Prospect Park, 4/17/19.  By me!

Easter has less to do with one person’s escape from the grave than with the victory of seemingly powerless love over loveless power. (…) Easter represents a demand as well as a promise, a demand not that we sympathize with the crucified Christ, but that we pledge our loyalty to the Risen One.  That means an end to all loyalties, to all people, and to all institutions that crucify. 

William Sloane Coffin, Letters to a Young Doubter (John Knox, 2005)


Earlier this year, I found myself struggling to breathe.  I mean this literally as well as metaphorically: I was, from time to time, gripped by a hyperventilating panic I could not articulate, and my heart would pound and my blood would dam up somewhere and all I could say, when someone would ask me what was wrong, was, I don’t have enough time.  The first thirty-five years of my life, marked pleasantly enough by tangible successes, slipped out of my grasp.  I had to keep going onward and upward, and I could not.  Any step forward felt like a step into water: not so much a step forward as downward, traceless. And as though through water, the destination of the step looked uncertain, ill-defined.

Living through this feeling has been my Lenten project, alongside all of the Lenten paradoxes I’ve been thinking about.  I feel it every time I sit down to write one of these reflections—anytime I sit down to write anything, really.  Yes, I have to seize the moment; yes, I have to use my time wisely.  But I have plenty of it.  If this post, this poem, this story isn’t perfect, if my book gets rejected (again, and again, and again), it is not the end.

So today we considered this concept of plenty.  We considered it alongside the death of hundreds in Sri Lanka, many of them celebrating Easter, those for whom in one sense there is no more time.  We considered it alongside reflections on a world in which scarcity is more often the result of structural sin and oppression rather than misfortune.

In the cantata through which we sang during the service, we prayed for it.  Out of a cross, we prayed, through Henco’s music and Micah’s lyrics, make a table with plenty of room.

The victory of “powerless love over loveless power,” as Donna quoted from William Sloane Coffin in her sermon, inspires us to lean into yet another paradox.  There’s the obvious one, of course, that the fear and hatred backed by the might and wealth of empire did not get the last word.  Jesus looked that empire in the eye and dared it to blink, because he trusted in the power of that powerless love.

And then there’s also this idea of plenty.  Trusting in that love that Jesus did helps us to stay in the work of dismantling empire, which is itself the lie of “never enough,” of winners and losers, of life and death.  As we appreciate the plenty that we do have, as we try so hard to be grateful for the small things, Donna suggested that we take one big thing for granted: the everlasting life we are offered in the Resurrection.  Live like you have plenty of time, like you are immortal—because you are.  Live to put the lies of empire to death, as the Resurrection does, to leave behind your loyalties to the people and institutions that only survive to crucify.

We have to respond in big ways to the big lies of empire, of course.  This week a GoFundMe campaign raised over $2 million for the churches in Louisiana burned in a series of hate crimes.  So we fight the lie of white supremacy.

And we have to respond in small ways.  We have to find ways to breathe.  I am coming around to the idea that the narrator of this particular story that lives in my own mind—the never-enough story, the ever-downward story—is not a narrator who loves me.  It is the narrator of empire that comes pre-installed for so many of us born into the broken world, standard operating equipment that runs on Fear and/or Shame.0.  When I begin to feel like I have no time and no future, I lean out as much as I can.  Sometimes I can only lean out as far as, I think this feeling will pass.  I think it has passed before.  Sometimes I can lean out as far as, This is not what God wants for me.  This is not what Jesus died for.

Part of today’s cantata was “The Gardener’s Dance,” in which dancer and choreographer Brandon Kazen-Maddox (expertly dodging the dozen or so lit candles sitting in front of the Lenten Altar) paused to kneel in front of the cross/flaming creature and bend back, arms outstretched, in an inverted crucifixion.  It’s an image I’ll hold on to as I continue both the small and large work of dismantling empire: a crucifixion that demands not more death, but a leaning away from the forces that devised crucifixion in the first place, the forces that wrote the never-enough narrative, the forces that thought death would have the last word.


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