Month: May 2017
Prisoners to Our Nature
There’s a terrific show on AMC called “Into The Badlands.” It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and although the exact date is unknown, it’s obvious from the skeletons of interstate highway overpasses and the presence of cars that the show is based sometime after our current era—or perhaps in a parallel reality. The idea of before and after seems archaic to me lately.
At any rate, guns are outlawed and territories divided into a series of fiefdoms run by Barons who control different natural resources. There’s a Baron who controls oil and gas, a Baron for river passage and transport, one who controls most of the grain supply.
It’s an interesting scenario that allows the writers to explore some surprisingly existential questions. The philosophical and at times overtly religious nature of the show has surprised me because I initially tuned in for the terrific, sweeping, panoramic cinematography and jaw-dropping martial arts sequences (some of which are exhausting to watch at nearly 10 minutes long).
There are several powerful lead characters in the show, but by far the most captivating and intriguing is Quinn, the Baron who controls the Poppy supply—and so the opiate trade. He’s ruthless and bloodthirsty, yet he speaks with a slow, calculated, genteel southern drawl that coats his evil intentions with fake empathy and understanding. He is the show’s embodiment of evil; the devil, ha-Satan.
And he is suffering from a brain tumor—a sly commentary on human nature. The tumor is a clever plot device that always reminds us Quinn has something lethal growing inside him—and that Quinn himself is lethal.
An interwoven storyline is about a female doctor who is attending to Quinn’s tumor. She’s doing so because the Baron, in a fit of madness that might or might not have been caused by the brain tumor, slaughtered the only other doctors in town–her parents.
She is a marvelous character with the best name ever: Veil.
It took me awhile to see the underlying and deeply theological themes of the show, but once I started watching it philosophically, I realized it paralleled biblical themes of seeing the world anew, sacrifice, and our struggle to be decent humans so closely, it must have been intentional. I mean, a character named Veil, really?
The interplay between Veil and the other characters, especially Quinn the Baron, is a brilliant plot device. When Veil is in a scene, she always reveals a deeper truth to another character. It’s not preachy. In fact, it’s extremely subtle. There’s so much action in this show and at times incredible amounts of blood, that it would be easy to write it off as just another entertaining, post-apocalyptic action series.
But that would be as big a mistake as trusting Baron Quinn.
When the Baron’s tumor causes a massive seizure, Veil convinces him to try a procedure that will poison him, but possibly cure him as well–something akin to chemotherapy, but with the primitive tools she has available (Victorian-era centrifuges, for example).
While Veil is performing the procedure—and possibly saving the life of the monster who she knows killed her family, she asks Quinn why he killed her parents.
He thinks for a moment, does this little thing where he twists the corner of his mouth and sucks some air through it with a disgusting “Tsst,” and replies with his slow, silky, mesmerizing southern drawl, “It’s just in my nature, I guess.”
As the doctor is preparing to start the chemical flow into the Baron’s bloodstream, he suddenly grabs her arm and says to her, “You could kill me right now, you know. Just turn that valve all the way. Nobody would ever know. I wouldn’t blame you. I probably deserve it.”
And Veil thinks about it. You can see her internal struggle, the clash between doctor’s moral oath to save life and daughter’s broken hearted anger boiling into lustful revenge.
But Veil can’t do it. She can’t avenge the death of her parents by murdering their murderer. After witnessing her inner turmoil, Quinn looks at her and says, “I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.”
And I’m like, “WHAT THE?!?!” …Pause. Holy crap!
I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.
What a mind-bending thought. Notice that there’s no good or bad implied here. Both Quinn, who we see as bad, and Veil, who we see as good, are prisoners to their nature. In this show, our nature is neither good nor evil. It’s just nature. Some of us will tend toward deeds other people (and perhaps ourselves) view as evil; others will tend toward perceived good. Good or evil, though, it’s often a matter of perception—both of self and from others.
Either way, the implication is that we are born this way, and there’s no changing.
I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.
As soon as Quinn said that I thought about Paul and St. Augustine, and all the other early church theologians and many Christians today who would agree with the Baron—he’s the Baron of Opiates, by the way. Did I mention that? Yeah. As I said, brilliant.
We humans are prisoners to our nature, and for Paul and those who follow him, that nature is evil. Paul believed our nature is inescapable, and so Jesus became the salvation for all human beings, who because of Adam and Eve’s transgression, are forevermore cursed to walk the Earth, live a life, and die—because death is bad, according to Paul. And it’s our nature, unchangeable. God may have forgiven us for our nature, but God doesn’t change what we are.
For Paul and those who followed, human nature is so bad we can’t even behave in paradise.
Paul would say our moral struggles—the internal, eternal wrestling over right and wrong we see in both Veil and Quinn, show we are flawed. I say moral wrangling shows we are human. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being human. Especially if we’re doing the hard work of moral wrangling.
I think Paul and Augustine and all the others who think we are a fallen species miss not only the point of Jesus’ teachings, but also the meaning of the stories about him, completely.
The Jesus stories are intended to show us that we are not fallen. Rather, we are ascending.
Our nature, our inescapable essence, doesn’t imprison is. It sets us free.
I don’t think Jesus ever intended to be a scapegoat for all humanity. I believe he was perfectly in tune with the nature of the universe—pure, unadulterated, divine love, and that he wanted to teach us about our true nature.
We are all divine at heart. Imperfect, flawed, too often cruel, without question. But that is not our nature. We are a work in progress. That’s why Jesus’ story doesn’t end with his sacrifice on the cross. It ends with his ascension. I think the ending of a story is pretty important—too important to virtually ignore. It’s the part that proclaims our nature sets us free.
Our nature sets us free.
Why is it that for thousands of years, Christianity has stopped three-quarters of the way through the Jesus story? It’s like reading A Christmas Carol and stopping just after Scrooge fires Bob Cratchit. “Ah well! There’s no hope for Scrooge!” we might mistakenly believe.
Jesus’ story doesn’t end on the cross. It ends with the ascension as he “is taken into the clouds.”
In The Bible, cloud imagery signifies the presence of God. So, when Jesus “ascends” into the clouds, we should understand the author meant to imply Jesus was surrounded by the presence of God. So deeply, perhaps, that he simply ceased to be material.
Our true nature, after all, sets us free. Even from the bonds of the flesh.
We are created from love to be love, just like Jesus. We have the ability to ascend to a much higher state of being, just like Jesus. It’s our nature, in fact, and as Baron Quinn says, “I guess we’re all just prisoners to our nature.”
In my mind, that’s a very, very good thing.
you who are
all the wisdom and grace
you create through
Before we took this form,
we were in perfect relationship with you.
In this form,
we seek perfect relationship with you.
After this form expires,
as all things do,
we will once again unite
in perfect relationship with you.
When the time comes
for you to take physical form,
we are formed and transformed
until the spark of human birth
graduates us to a new sense of being
and a new sense of love for you.
From the moment of our material birth,
we form connections with our parents,
the doctors and nurses caring for us,
and all the aunts, uncles,
and even strangers
who will soon become family.
We are carefully crafted for relationship, Holy One,
to all that exists
both seen and unseen.
all the people you have brought into our lives.
For every story, every lesson,
every shared laugh or tear,
we thank you for the deep,
personal connections and bonds
that transcend time and distance.
We give special thanks today
for all those who have mothered us over the years;
for all those nurturing spirits
who bandaged our cuts and bruises when we fell,
who encouraged us in times of self-doubt,
who picked us up and dusted us off
and loved us unconditionally,
no matter how badly
or how often
we totally screwed up.
Thank you to all our moms,
who simply love us for who we are.
Just like you, our non-judgmental
Lord of Love.
For all those who teach us to love,
we praise you.
For those who inspire us to be generous, just and kind,
we thank you.
For those who nurture our relationship with you,
In all our relationships
may we live the truth of your boundless love for us
by returning that limitless love
to everyone we encounter,
of every day of our lives.
We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ,
who loves us all without condition,
from before birth to beyond death.
For the Week of May 8, 2017
The Everyman Diary
Fragments from a diary dated to the time of the First Rip
What follows is the official English translation of one of the most significant archaeological finds in history. Now referred to as “The Everyman Diary,” the text was overlooked for years.
Discovered at a roadside antiquities tent in Machaerus (southwest of and across the Dead Sea from Bethlehem), the merchant claimed his daughter had found the diary in a small, unnamed, unexcavated, ancient village a few kilometers to the north.
The diary was ignored for decades because its provenance and authenticity could not be established until recently, when work at the unnamed town revealed it to be the home of an influential religious movement organized just after the First Rip. Like the town, this sect has no recorded name, although a remnant remains today.
This diary provides a rare glimpse into life just after the first paradigm-shifting Rip in the cosmos and the many ways people interpreted the event that changed our world forever.
I’ve never really thought of myself as an interesting person. I’m pleasant enough (I hope), but my life was largely spent moving from one tedious little box to another.
Wake up, clean up in a little box;
go to work, work all day in a little box.
Come home, do chores, sleep in a little box.
As I said, tedium.
The funny-not-funny thing about the little-boxes tedious life is that when you’re living it, you don’t recognize how tediously boxy it genuinely is. You’re happy with the predictable stability of it all. Even thankful, maybe. Tedium becomes mantra becomes God.
I wish I knew how to say that in Latin. It would probably sound a lot cooler.
We should be happy with our tedious little boxes–I was. I was happy and thankful for my tedious life. I didn’t ask for everything to change, for life’s little boxes to be violently tumbled around like loose change in a clothes-dryer.
On the contrary, I loved my glorious routine. I loved every minute of it, right up until the time it was shattered forever that bitter-cold summer weekend… years ago? Has it been that long? Or has it only been that long? I forget. I miss the reliable timeline of tedium.
Ah, well, baby steps, as they say.
It feels good to finally write about that fateful day that changed the world. The morning it happened, the worst sound I’ve ever heard startled me awake. It was the sound of a million buzz saws angrily sparking through unrelenting steel, the entire struggle amplified by a sound system I imagined the size of Jupiter with the distortion knob turned up to infinity.
I instinctively reached to the nightstand for my headphones and, embarrassingly, immediately regretted not purchasing the noise-cancelling pair. Not that they would have helped much.
I put the headphones on anyway, ran to the window, and saw a gash in the sky that reminded me of a knife wound. On the front lawn outside my apartment people were running in little circles, hands over their ears in mostly unsuccessful attempts to block the merciless shriek of whatever was happening. I noticed my friend Jay on the front lawn. I also noticed he was wearing noise-cancelling headphones but was doubled-over in a fetal position, writhing on the ground in pain. This made me feel better and worse at the same time.
UNISON PRAYER: God who is creation, help us honor you. Work through us as we try to create a more peaceful, loving world. Give us our food for today. Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil. Amen.
SONG: God of Wonders (YouTube Link)
The shrieking continued, and to make matters worse, our building started to shake a little. I ran out my door and glided down the seven flights of stairs to the street in what I’m sure was record time. Hoping I could block out the shriek of what sounded like God’s tormented death, I clasped my headphones tightly against my ears, flew through the front door, and landed in a clumsy lump on the front lawn at the feet of my neighbors.
Our reunion was short-lived as our building—our home, began to crumble. The shrieking began to change, too. Now, the sound felt like someone tightening a belt around my waist—ad they were tugging hard and holding fast.
The intensity of it brought me to my knees. It wasn’t just loud, it was thick. I know that’s a strange way to describe a sound, but I listen to my music loud. The sound outside was more than loud, somehow more than just sound. It was agonizing. Like, agonizing over a decision, and it seeped into my pores, eviscerating my tedious little boxes.
I heard reality’s broken hearted scream, and it sucked all the air out of me, out of the world, like it was all being neatly vacuum-packed for cosmic storage.
Another little box.
About a dozen of us made it to some little, deserted, not too-destroyed anthill of a town. We’ll set up camp and start rebuilding. We don’t have a lot of strength right now, much less motivation, so starting again will take some time. And who knows when another Rip might happen? Aside from the fact that fully two-thirds of The Rip’s existence was excruciatingly painful, it also created a new reality. I don’t mean this figuratively, either, although it did do that, for many. Myself included.
But, we’re apparently living in a new physics to which some people are not anatomically or genetically suited. Our family lost dozens of loved ones, hundreds of friends, and there’s no sign the epidemics are ending anytime soon.
Why did we survive? Who knows. Nature loves adaptation. We were unknowingly adapted. Some people say God is saving us for a greater purpose. Others say God has damned us and left us to rot.
Sometimes, I just want my tedious little-boxed life back!
Most often, though, I find myself drawn to this interesting group of traveling companions, this little community in a new world. The Rip has given us cause to reexamine our priorities. We have decided to stay together and live communally. We’ll start to settle in to this new world and invite any and all who happen our way to join us.
We don’t always get along. It’s not paradise. But we’re a weird little family with lots of strange ideas, and we all agree that whether God or nature, we survived. We don’t think that makes us “better” or “saved” or anything like that.
I think the living have a superiority complex.
UNISON PRAYER: Holy and Wondrous God, fill our lives with appreciation for each breath. Make our words tender and our hearts forgiving. Give us love, give us hope, give us peace. Amen.
We’ve been talking about God a lot lately and whether or not God created The Rip to reset the planet and cleanse it of evil. We’ve started to get a lot of travelers through our village, which has been great! They not only buy our produce and goods, they share news from other places. Everyone has a theory about what caused The Rip. I’ve been surprised how many of them involve God.
Well, I suppose that doesn’t surprise me. I’m surprised how many people think The Rip was the result of a vengeful God.
For example, in a reversal of “The Rapture” many Christians used to blather on at me about all the time, the self-proclaimed “New Christians” say we few, good folk were left behind while all the bad guys were eradicated either by the epidemics or the natural disasters caused by the Rip. Either way, it was all caused by God for God’s good purpose.
There are a few problems with that theory, the most obvious being that a whole lot of terrible people are still here.
I don’t know. In my tedious past I never gave God much of a passing glance. Now that all this has happened, well… I just don’t know.
SONG: Glory Doxology
SEPTEMBER 7 [at the communion table]
I wasn’t very religious before The Rip. I didn’t believe, I didn’t not-believe. I just didn’t really think about it. But now, with time to sit and think and look at stars and smell the fresh desert air and break bread and talk with my friends and just, well, just wonder about everything, I’ve started to think about God.
Maybe I’ve even felt God once or twice. Or maybe we’ve been in the desert too long. But now I[m beginning to understand light. God is light. God as light. God as love, always pulling us toward the light. We have endless discussions about whether God is leading or pulling. I suppose that’s what happens when life is no longer tedious.
I don’t think God did any of this on purpose. That’s not what light does. Light simply shines in the darkness and reveals what lies beneath. The Rip just happened. I think the key is seeing God’s light in the event and its aftermath, which I never would have said before The Rip. Maybe my change of heart proves the existence of God?
At any rate, The Rip gave us the opportunity to redefine our community for the better, and for that, I’m eternally thankful. I don’t feel tedious anymore, or boxed in. This concept we call God has expanded my mind, my heart, and sure, my soul, whatever that is, if it’s even a thing that exists physically.
Hey, I’ll always be a skeptic.
I invite you all to share a meal with our community now. You don’t need to declare anything, you don’t need to join our group of hopeful peaceniks. Please, just come and break bread with us as a show of unity in love of God and neighbor; break bread with us as a symbol of a new start and the beginning of a new reality, which begins with every single one of us gathered here today.
COMMUNION PRAYER: God of love and light, reveal yourself in this meal. Fill us with your spirit, wisdom, and holiness. Make us holy: wholly yours, holy human. Amen.
SONG: Go Light Your World
Do I believe in God now? Maybe. Sort of, I suppose. I sure do think about God a lot now.
Is thinking believing?
Because when I think about God, it’s a rabbit hole. I mean, what if God can cause something like The Rip but without intention? How does that work? Can something like The Rip just happen naturally? What does that say about God and nature? Is God an active universal force for love? As my friends and I are fond of asking lately, is God the light that reveals truth in the darkness, coldly, without attachment? Or is God so in love as to become beloved objects, that out of love God must occasionally make very tough decisions. Like whether to rip reality in two, I suppose.
I’ve decided that religion is making a choice between two contradictory ideas. Faith is being able to hold them in tension.
The Rip chopped up the electromagnetic spectrum, leaving gaping empty spaces of literally dead air where there was once useable frequency. I miss Smooth Jazz 101.7.
There are some funky, funky places around where poles are reversed and gravity is weak. In fact, my group has become hypervigilant about “gravitational sinkholes,” near-zero gravity points sort of like cosmic quicksand. You can’t see them, and if you get stuck in one you’ll just float there, spinning in circles until someone comes along to nudge you out. They’re not particularly dangerous, unless you got stuck in one for a couple months, I suppose. That’s why we wander around looking for stuck souls to gently nudge out of their cosmic quicksand.
As I said, freaky.
Some clever souls have begun to rebuild a communications network, and with that important piece of technology restored, we can once more receive all manner of rumor, innuendo, fear-mongering and hucksterism. I presumed a different world implied a better one.
At least my new faith gives me hope. And, truthfully, my new life is much more fulfilling, more interesting, less restrained than before The Rip. I feel alive. Renewed.
While there are some networks chartered to help people find their way to safe havens like ours in this strange new reality, most of the airwaves are crammed with shadow-government conspiracy theorists; end-times prophets asking for money to build a spaceship (as if); and reruns of Gomer Pyle, USMC. No, I do not know why. But in a completely unreliable world, having that one reliable thing, whether it’s Gomer Pyle, USMC or God… that’s something, isn’t it?
UNISON PRAYER: Holy God, forgive my judgmental nature and make me instead into your natural force of love. Help me remember that everyone is born of your creative energy, and make me always treat others with the love and adoration I have for you.
I’ll probably never answer my logical questions about God. But my crazy, maybe even foolish side just knows everything’s headed toward love and light. I just know it. And I’m tired of being terrified all the time. I went from tedious to terrified. It’s time for my life to be defined by a new letter of the alphabet.
Faith in something greater, even if I have no idea what the hell that something greater is, gives me hope for a new world, and energizes me to carry that hope to everyone I meet.