If Jesus is for the poor…

As I was about to take communion in a church in Findlay, Ohio earlier this year, I was struck when the pastor quoted Paul saying, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Paul goes on to say we should “examine ourselves” before we partake.

I took a hard look at myself and wondered about my standing with God. I thought of all my doubt. I thought of my trials and when I shook my fists at the heavens in anger; beating my chest was not even a metaphor. Times when I’ve said ‘Fuck You’ to God and really, deeply meant it.

I wasn’t sure exactly where I stood.

There was an uneasiness during this part of the ritual that I had not experienced before. Was I unworthy? Was I going to ‘drink judgement’ on myself? I felt unsteady on shaky ground.

Then I thought about the person of Jesus, looking for things I knew for certain. There is no one else that has been presented to me as perfect. Not even fictional characters, that I can think of. Maybe more than that, there was no one who even came close. No one who is thought of as spotless and wholly righteous. Other religious figures claimed to be prophets. Claimed to be enlightened. But Jesus claimed to be God – and also claimed perfection with that lofty statement.

My mind seemed to ‘settled in,’ remembering all the teaching and studying that I have done; my footing seemed to manifest under my feet again. “If I am going to hitch my wagon to anything,” I thought, “It might as well be perfection.”

Then I also traveled down another road in my mind.

If Jesus is for the poor, then I am for Jesus.

That thought seemed to anchor me down to earth, because I do believe that Jesus is for the poor. There are these counter-cultural aspects to Jesus that I love – the idea of an ‘upside down Kingdom’ where the lowly and oppressed from this life are exalted on high in God’s Kingdom and placed on the same plane as the Almighty Throne.

If Jesus is for the weak, then I am for Jesus. If Jesus is for cancer patients and widowed mothers and suicidal addicts and paralyzed children and abuse survivors and the mentally ill and the hopelessly hungry and the war-torn refugees and teenaged girls contemplating abortion…

then I am for Jesus.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I have to think of God as a symbol because I can’t wrap my brain around the mystery of ‘existence.’ I get caught in my own head a lot; questioning everything at every turn.

My disorder is difficult; a very fickle thing. I run the gamut of emotions – all in a given day. I struggle with thoughts of suicide as I have mentioned before. I struggle – wrestle and writhe and twist and grapple – with knowing my worth; wondering if I am a contributing member to society.

Sometimes I need to simplify my spinning, swirling ideas and this thought seems to help: If Jesus is for the poor, then I am for Jesus.

After that I took communion and was glad it wasn’t a mindless act as it had been at times in the past.

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For John and Maya

For John and Maya
At the Royal Palms Resort
In Phoenix, Arizona
On May 27th 2018

Patience is waiting before you climb to the top.
It is reaching that point together.
It’s looking down at the tree line with a complete perspective.

Kindness is as gentle as spring’s first flower.
It is as soft as morning rain.
It’s a leaf holding up a clear raindrop with impossible strength.

Perseverance is a will that does not bend.
It is a quiet resolve in the middle of a heavy breath.
It’s pushing against the easy anger and relying on present hope.

Trust might not be on time, but it is never too late.
It might be surprised, but it will rise to the occasion.
It may make mistakes, but it won’t let you down.

Hope springs forth.
It comes in waves that ring life.
It is the joy of a new marriage.

Protection is sacrificing self.
It is putting your safety between a bullet and a target.
It’s a call to service and a lifetime pursuit.

Love never fails.
It never gives up.
Remember that Love brought us all here for this ceremony.

May we, your friends and family,
stand with you and be for you.
May we be a testament to the life you start together today.

Congratulations!

My mother and I went down to the river

It was the warmest day in early fall. Faint, wispy clouds above, water running slowly over fragments of glacial rock beneath.

There I am standing, ankle high in the water, and I’m thinking about just how perfect this feels. Some folks gather at the rocky banks. My mother joins me in the water along with my friend, Stephen.

We wade out into the center of the Little Miami River and I trudge through the water trying to find a deep pocket to stand. Stephen and I hold my mother’s hands. I ask her if she is ready to be washed clean of her sins.

I say that as she is submerged beneath the water, it is a symbol of being buried in the grave with Christ, and that as she comes to the surface, she will be a new creation, a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. She says she is ready to be made new. She never learned to swim and is glad the water is not too deep.

We lower her body down into the water and the slow current courses over her. We raise her up and she exhales and smiles. Then, my friend and my mother grab my hands. They tell me that what I am about to do is a response to how much God loves me. My mother tells a story of me proclaiming my love for God when I was a boy. They dip me into the water and raise me up. There is cheering for my mother and I from the banks.

Make us new, Lord. We are thankful for this baptism day and hold it as a reminder that while our clothes will become soiled again, you can wash us clean and that you delight in redeeming us. Your desire to bring us back to you never fades. Your resolve is unending. I pray Lord, that not one would be lost, for even if one is lost, then our sum in none. I pray that we would be a complete body when we are returned to our former glory. I pray that we would forgive one and other like you forgive us. Lord, this season has been difficult for my mother and I. I pray that we would not give up loving each other well. I confess that I think I know what’s best, even now. There are things in this life that seem so unnecessarily painful. I want them to go away. Make them go away, Lord. Please. From a man full of doubt. A man whose faith is as strong as a dead leaf in autumn. Tossed and turned by a slight wind. One day I hope to be like that river, Lord. That made up its mind when it will bend. Amen.

He shook his fist from the stage

Because it makes you feel good.
Because it’s tax deductible.
You’ll cross off a box on that long list –
and you’ll sleep better.

What do we have to spare?
Hope to receive it back.
Everyone in the office is –
You should too.

The biggest check,
Has your signature at the bottom –
I wonder if that wing of the church,
has a name already?

Gold plaques
with embossed letters.
Full page spreads
in every local newspaper.

Because it’s a competition.
Because it’s about you.
He shook his fist from the stage –
and said you won’t feel guilty.

You really hate to feel guilty
It’s like being exposed a fraud.
You hate to feel guilty,
More than you care to give.

Grandpa Strittmatter

My dad’s dad, my grandpa Strittmatter, was confined to a wheelchair or scooter for a lot of his elderly life. I don’t remember many conversations I had with him, but I do remember that he was always smiling and I admired that. He was a WWII Naval vet and my grandma would tell me that when she got up in the morning to make breakfast for their eight kids, he would read the bible to her and keep her company. I admired that too.

grandpa_stritt

The Cry

…And we continue from the genesis, where began the life and legacy of God’s people. We move to the sons of Israel who travel to Egypt after being invited by the Pharaoh. There, Joseph has died along with his brothers and all of that generation. Despite this, the Israelites are growing in numbers. They are fruitful and eventually, they fill the entire land.

But then a new Pharaoh arises.

One who does not know Joseph and his lineage. This new Pharaoh fears the Israelites from the very beginning. He says, “the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.” He is afraid they will become a coursing river that swells and overtakes its banks. He is frightened for his empire that they will flood the land.

So, he decides to make them into slave laborers so, he can have power over them and oppress them. He is ruthless because he fears their foreign ways and worries they will join his enemies and fight against Egypt.

Families are then torn in two, separated and forced to live in cities the Pharaoh builds. This continues the massive oppression as Pharaoh seeks to regain the power he sees the Israelites gaining.

But the more the people are oppressed, the more they multiply and spread.

This angers the Pharaoh. So again he is ruthless. He makes their lives bitter. He breaks their backs with work in the city and in the fields. But he does not stop there.

He tells the Hebrew midwives to murder all the male children once the Israelite women give birth. He hopes to destroy their heritage. Because the midwives fear God, they disobey the King of Egypt’s commands.

The Pharaoh asks why they let the children live. The midwives are cunning and say, “Hebrew women were not like Egyptian women, they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives come to them.”

Now the Pharaoh is furious. Despite his tireless efforts, the people of Israel keep growing. But again, he does not stop there.

“Every son that is born to the Hebrews shall be thrown into the Nile,” Pharaoh decrees. He is inviting the people to join his sin. He is inviting them into the subjugation of an entire people group. He is inviting them to participate in genocide. In this, sin has moved from a personal level into an entire culture. The Pharaoh, with the help of the Egyptian people, will stop at nothing to thwart this ever expanding nation. He intends to rain ruin down upon them.

Made into slaves, ground into the fields they worked, separated from their families, their sons killed. All of this at the hands of a King who did not know their people’s history and saw them as nothing more than foreigners occupying his land. The people of Israel have nothing left to do, so they cry out to God hoping He hears them.