Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It's fairly standard to consider as spiritually dangerous the self-scourges that many imposed upon themselves as marks of faithfulness in "The Dark Ages." Some whipped themselves. Some sat for months at a time in all sorts of weather on top tall poles.... See Wikipedia's entry for scourge
Do we risk the same spiritual danger if we "walk in the way of [Christ's] suffering"?
Or is our imitation of his suffering rather like a vaccination? Does the imitation inoculate us against the real thing? Is that why in many parishes on Thursday the priest will wash only one foot, rather than two instead of both feet of those who volunteer?
Are these photo-ops which Jesus would welcome, and do you want to worship a God who expects them?
As a teacher, I am intrigued by Isaiah's opening:
The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
How many teachers would put into their personal mission statement, "My job is to sustain the weary with a word?" Might they be better teachers if they did?
How many students see their wakening as a call to listen? Would they be better students if they did?
Does one diminish what one may receive from a teacher if one holds low expectations to start with?
Do teachers diminish what we have to give if we care little for sustaining the weary?
I relate to the rest of the passage most poignantly as a gay Christian. While I have not been struck nor had my beard pulled for being gay or Christian, I have been spat upon and several times bullies have thrown rocks at our home. Some have threatened to run over me while I jogged, shouting "Faggot! Louise!...."
The rector of my parish in the 1970s refused week after week to share the peace with me, and the vestry sent me a letter asking me to leave.
A bishop summoned me for discipline.
And I have frequently received anonymous, threatening calls, which I memorialized in a meditation:
Breathing Calls I've Received
With mouth open, with vocal chords
on during exhales, off during inhales,
with sounds approximating uh:
inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale;
inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale;
inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale.
Then say softly, as the o in "who"
and sustain through one very long breath:
Say "Hello." Then, with lips fully
closed, rapidly and loudly click
the top of your tongue against your
soft palate. Alternately breathe
loudly through your nose, as
click, click, click.
inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale;
click, click, click...
until the listener hangs up.
Say seductively, softly, with lots
"Hi, sweetie. Hey there?
How are you? Hello.
Hi there. You. Yes. You.
Repeat infinitely. Allow the person
called to speak briefly at any point,
but answer only with this litany.
Pucker your lips as for a kiss.
Inhale through the pucker
in short, continuous jabs of sound,
until you or the one called
gets too tired to continue.
In a low crescendo of aspiration,
say ah, but do not turn on
chords when doing so, as
"ah, ah-, ah--, ah---,
Ah, Ah-, Ah--, Ah---,
AH, AH-, AH--, AH---"
Begin again as often as needed.
Alternate the size of your mouth
to vary the effects.
Burp. Slurp. Hiccup.
Burp. Slurp. Hiccup.
Make a series of clicks,
such as a cowboy makes
when he urges horses faster.
Punctuate rigidly thus:
2 sets of clicks. Silence.
3 sets of clicks. Silence.
2 sets of 7 clicks. Silence.
5 sets of single clicks. Silence.
An African American in my freshman honors class at the University of Alabama in 1966 wrote a paper I vividly remember in which she described walking across the campus facing real heckling as well as actions hard to assess. Just three years earlier, Governor George Wallace had stood "in the schoolhouse door" to try to block the integration ordered by the court. He was unsuccessful, but hearts take time to change. 'Did the baseball accidentally come so close?', she asked herself.
She explained that to survive her vulnerable isolation, she fixed a permanent smile to use approaching all strangers, yet she feared her smile might freeze in its mechanical insincerity. Her diction echoed Isaiah's in the presence of enemies:
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
When I founded Integrity in 1974, I was essentially saying:
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Many still do not hesitate to declare folks like me guilty, but far fewer now than then. I know in whom I have believed. His property is always to show mercy.
But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. *
I have said, "You are my God.
My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
Yes, yes, Lord!
Most TBLG persons of my generation (née 1936) can well understand.
I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.
Over the years, especially early on, I found that males quickest to avoid me have themselves been gay and deeply closeted. Their avoidance is sometimes my first clue about their closet. Straight men comfortable with their own sexuality have little reason to be afraid of the sexuality of someone else.
Coming into class early one morning in the 1970s, I spotted a young woman scheduled to have an interview that day. She was dressed to the nines and had obviously spent hours preparing her looks to their best advantage.
"You look great, Jennifer!" I complimented her. She smiled, knowing that I was right.
"And you look sharp too, Phillip," I said to the young man sitting next to her.
Indeed, he had spent hours buffing up every day for many months, and he knew that he deserved the compliment. The glee of all the women around him confirmed my assessment, but he looked on uncertain.
"Have I said anything wrong?" I teased.
"Not yet!" he responded with a broad smile.
"Fair enough," I responded. "Now class, turn to page 322...." I continued as soon the bell rang.
This passage clarifies the healthiest understanding of humility to be found anywhere in the bible.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself....
Christ knew that he was in the form of God. He was God's equal. He had nothing to fear from the worst the world might give him.
We Christians who have been marked as God's own forever are also in the form of God. God has made us God's equals. We have nothing to fear from the worst the world might give us.
So are we TBLG Christians in the form of God. We are God's equals, even when most straight Christians in the world have not yet had that revelation.
By baptism each Christian of any sort has been reborn into a new person 'in the form of God' -- even when other Christians sit in fierce judgment.
True humility does not derive from our being worthless, but from our being of great worth. We empty ourselves because we are joint heirs with Jesus. We have equality with the God of the universe! It is from that perspective that we can have "the same mind...that was in Christ Jesus."
It's a mind thing. Jesus' first commandment requires us to love God with our minds.
We have no need to exploit our equality with God. We have no need to lord it over those who persecute us or say all manner of evil against us. We can become obedient even to the point of death knowing full well that we are safe, even privileged in having this mind of Christ.
This is the longest reading appointed by the lectionary for the full Christian year. Don't shortchange yourself by slipping into an early service where it is unsung.
Put aside all that could distract you. Plan the rest of your day well before you get to the service, so that you won't be calculating during the service how you will get all your chores done.
Don't look at your watch! Gracefully give it your full attention, Imagine that Matthew himself is the lector. Let the Holy Spirit work on you through it.
Publication History of "Breathing Calls":
- Queers! For Christ's Sake! From May 12, 2004
- Jotspeak.com. From August 2010
- Earth's Daughters 27 (1986): 6. Used my pen name Li Min Hua
- Talkwork 2 (1991): Side 1 of an audio cassette
- Fine China: Twenty Years of Earth's Daughters Springhouse Editions, August 1993: 162. Used my pen name Used Li Min Hua
- Short Fuse Issue #66 (1996): n.p