Well, I’ve missed you all, but here I am, trying to Blog Again. All this time away has been very nice, but now I am pretty rusty. Not sure I can remember how to even find the keys on my keyboard. I hope you will apply lashings of grace and kindness and not judge my grammar and spelling at all, which are both just as bad as ever.
There are so many things to write about, but the thing upward in my mind, besides this being the anniversary of the attacks on the US on 9/11 all those years ago, is the death of Queen Elizabeth II. We were getting ready to travel back to Binghamton when the news broke, and so, as I packed my suitcase one last time, I allowed myself to be distracted, if not transfixed by all the coverage on a very capacious and beautiful TV. All the channels were trying to pull themselves together, and there was a lot of repeated footage, and as I watched, one theme emerged: She Was So Dutiful And Selfless.
Of course, human people, no matter their political or religious inclinations, are apt to be sad when people die, but what astonished me was the astonishment so many people expressed. They didn’t expect to be sad. They had never personally met her. They’d never thought about any of it before. And yet there they were, in the street, crying.
Many of the commentators put it down to those bygone, now archaic virtues the queen possessed, chiefly that she committed herself wholly to her duty and set her personal feelings and wishes entirely aside to face the greater task set before her. This was reported in both wonder and awe but without the ability to consider the deeper implications of such virtue. None seemed even to consider if these sorts of choices or characteristics might still be within the grasp of human hands.
And why would they? Part of the work I set myself to do over the summer was to rapidly reread big chunks of Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. It is just as ghastly as before when I suffered through it the first time (speaking of my own commitment to selfless duty). It didn’t age well, really. The part that again struck me as so particularly wicked was this:
We weren’t born distrusting and fearing ourselves. That was part of our taming. We were taught to believe that who we are in our natural state is bad and dangerous. They convinced us to be afraid of ourselves. So we do not honor our own bodies, curiosity, hunger, judgment, experience, or ambition. Instead, we lock away our true selves. Women who are best at this disappearing act earn the highest praise: She is so selfless. Can you imagine? The epitome of womanhood is to lose one’s self completely. [Doyle, Glennon. Untamed (pp. 115-116). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]
I’m pretty sure this is right before the “Own your wanting, eat the apple, let it burn section.” Not that it matters. She has a single nail that she pounds relentlessly home through the entire text. And, no matter how you put it, it is still a horrible way to twist one of the greatest gifts God gives us—the chance to “lose” ourselves. To mischaracterize selflessness that way, as self-annihilation rather than salvation, turns the very possibility of goodness into, just to grab onto any passing cliché, barbarians gazing in wonder upon an aqueduct, thinking it is so beautiful, so clever, but not knowing what it is for and certainly having no idea how to build one.
So anyway, it is Sunday, and the scriptures for the morning put a lie to Glennon, and tell the truth about Elizabeth. In the first lesson, we recall the bit about how the people of Israel, having forgotten how badly it turned out for Eve when she did eat the apple, decided to do it again. Only this time, as a way of “owning their wanting” they gathered up a lot of the gold they had taken with them from the land of Egypt, and instead of making lovely jewelry, or anything nice really, they made a cow out of it. It wasn’t just any cow, it was a cow that really embodied for them all their spiritual desires for the things of now. But the point of the story isn’t their idolatry, their total commitment to themselves, their great and overpowering desires to have what they wanted, their unwillingness to say no to themselves about anything. The point of the story is that Moses, in horror and desperation, interposed himself between God and the people who were, at that moment, letting it all burn down. And God, because of the great love with which he loved them, provided a way out for those who wanted to repent and turn away from themselves. He rescued some of them out of the fire. And this was a picture of what would happen so much later.
Jesus himself takes up the thread in the Gospel for this morning. To those who were clinging to their own wanting, manifested as self-righteousness, at all cost, he tried, once again, to get them to see it from his point of view. What happens when you aren’t willing to give up yourself and depend on the God who made you? What happens when you eat the apple? When you start the fire? When you own your “wanting”?…(what a ridiculous thing to say anyway)
That is the great question of the age. The Lord himself, looking into the eyes of all who try so very hard to evade the question, likens people to sheep, or even to a helpless, inanimate coin, lying hidden along some crack in the wall where no one can see it. That’s what you are—the gold that’s melted down, “annihilated” if you will, to make something wicked. Or rather, because that probably does push the metaphor a bit far, you are the sheep who wandered away from the path in search of yourself, you were caught in a thicket and surely a cheetah was going to come along and devour you because that’s what cheetahs do. And yet the shepherd searched and searched until he found you, and then he lifted you up onto his shoulders and brought you safely home.
The Anglican funeral right is so beautiful, at least the one we use. For everyone who dies in the faith of Christ, we ask God to “acknowledge a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock.” We know he’s already done it. He’s trampled down death. He’s turned over the sting and curse of the grave. He’s lifted off the burden of sin and condemnation. He’s taken the self, the person whom he made, and preserved and defended her. He’s made her beautiful. He’s made it possible for her to give up herself into his hands over and over and over until suddenly there she is in that bright pasture, thronging with all the other sheep around the Throne of the One she loved so much and who loved her.
The thing is, the human family isn’t over. Even though no one remembers—least of all the newscasters of the day, the people feted and petted by the New York Times Bestseller Lists—the Shepherd is eternal. He is busy rescuing sheep out of every age. And to those sheep he gives blessed and holy work, to preach his gospel, to participate in his kingdom, to put out the fire of idolatry and death, to apply the soothing balm of God’s self-giving, outpouring love onto the wounds of those scorched and injured by the fire.
Oh yes, and also, Go to church!