Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Jesus: The Electric Album

Take out your pencil. Today’s post begins with a pop quiz on that Jesus-on -a-mountaintop story in the Gospel of Mark.  Have you read it? Have you heard it? Do you know what it means?

Don’t worry. There’s only one question on this quiz and it happens to be multiple choice:

Trans-fig-ur-a-tion means:

a. First century plastic surgery

b. A biblical plan to compute your tithe

c. A Christian weight loss program

or….

d. The glory of God breaking open the heart of a man on a mountaintop.

(Ding. Ding. You’re right. Of course, it’s “d”.)

To be transfigured, to have your whole self, your whole person turned inside out, is an experience that many a mom knows well. Carrying a child for nine months reshapes everything.  Your heart swells with love and your body with life but so do your hands and your feet. Rings no longer seem to fit and shoes are too tight.

And just when you think there is not a single inch of you that this little person does not occupy, delivery day draws nigh.

Upon a tidal wave of contractions, you surf the ecstatic — burning stages of birth.  And with every fiber of your being, this little tiny person is propelled into the world.

You feel like you have just climbed a mountain.

And when they place that little slippery purple person on your naked chest, there and then, life itself is transfigured. In the baby’s face, you see your loved one’s eyes and maybe your grandmother’s nose.

The spitting image of your hopes and dreams.

(And I know that adoptive moms go through their own transfiguring experience, too. And it often takes a lot longer than nine months!)

Bring that little person home and very soon your mantel and your hallway are lined with photographs: baby pictures, school photos, family portraits. Images, reshaped and transformed and transfigured over a life time.

Some of us work like the devil to try to live up our parents’ expectations. While some of us run like Hades to avoid turning into our mother or our father, our parents or grandparents.

Most of us are also scared to death, I believe, to discover whose image actually is stamped on our souls.

The catechism says it is the image of God — the image of Christ. Can you believe it?  In a culture that is prone to value firearms more than families, in a society where profits are often more important than people, can we still believe that each and every on of us is created in the image of Christ?

Jesus of the People by Janet McKenzie

“Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie

At the turn of this century, there was a contest that called on artists to create an Icon of Christ for the third millennium. It was sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter and it drew nearly two thousand entries from over nineteen countries. Sister Wendy Beckett selected the winners, as well as, the runners-up.

The chosen images drew visceral responses – many written up in the Washington Post.

One anonymous e-mailer shrieked: “It is nothing but a politically correct, modern, blasphemous statement reflecting the artists’ and the judges’ spiritual depravity.” 

 Another critic complained that a certain entry made the Prince of Peace look like the artist formerly known as Prince. And yet another called the winning entry – a blatant rip off of Jimi Hendrix from the Electric Lady Album!

But others were deeply moved by these newly cast images of Jesus. A Catholic priest wrote, “I am sitting here with tears brimming over and running down my face.  These are magnificent images of haunting, inviting serenity. Jesus would recognize himself in these images.

Jesus as a thick lipped and broad nosed ebony woman. Jesus as an olive skinned, dark haired Middle Eastern peasant. Jesus as a gaunt, gray haired, gay man. Jesus portrayed in bursts of color and glorious light.

Jesus transfigured before our very eyes.

Now the transfiguration of Jesus as the Christ, a scholar writes  “is one of the strangest tales the gospels have to tell.  Even with the voice from the cloud trying to explain it, the transfiguration is a cosmic and a confusing event. Even Jesus — who spent his life in conversation with the prophets — has no words.”

Instead, a vision erupts on a mountain top and images appear. Up the mountain, Jesus climbs with Peter and James and John. When they reach the top, Jesus can no longer contain the glory of God.  It splits his heart in two. It spills out of his every pore: blazing and blinding, exquisite and ecstatic.

The image of Elijah is seared onto his soul. The commandments of Moses beat in his heart. The holy three enveloped in a cloud. But when the cloud is lifted, only the image of Jesus remains.

And it is the same Jesus, the man with whom his friends had traveled a dusty mile. The same Jesus whose mother and brothers they knew. The same Jesus they had seen hungry and tired and sore. Out of the cloud, steps the spitting image of God. Jesus of Nazareth. Flesh of our flesh. Bone of our bone.

In this last flash and blast of Epiphany, walk down the mountain, friends. Take a look around and try to catch a glimpse of such glory. In the eyes of a child. In the arms of a beloved. In the voice of a friend.  In the face of a stranger.

Just about anywhere. Just about everywhere. Just around the corner, the human face of God waits to greet us – if we but recognize him.

May God’s glory break open the hardest of hearts – no matter who we are – no matter how impossible that might seem.

May God’s love transfigure and transform us into the likes of love, into the likes of him.

So, let us pray. Day by day.
JoaniSign


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Labor Pains & Stretch Marks

great with child

Theotokos, God-bearer, Truth-bearer.

It was Advent of ‘83 and I was pregnant with God.

Well at least a little bit pregnant with God.

That frosty November, I was new to the Episcopal Church and flattered beyond belief to be joining the worship planning committee. You see, I grew up Roman Catholic and Sunday services were just endless reruns of Father Knows Best. We lay folks stayed glued to our pews. Fenced off from the altar by a rail, we knew our place. Only the priest was allowed to perform those magical mysteries and pronounce God’s hocus-pocus.

So miracle of miracles in Advent of ’83 at Immanuel-on-the-Hill, and pregnant with my second child, I played the Theotokos. I played the Theotokos in a very awkward and makeshift, hippy-dippy liturgical drama – Mary, Pregnant with God.

Such a brilliant narrative arc! It was a three Sunday cycle through the three trimesters. On the fourth Sunday: pant; blow; PUSH!

It was my shortest pregnancy of record – so different from the previous three.

Being the mother of three, I have spent the better part of three years pregnant. And what my brain might not recall from those twenty-seven months – my body most certainly does:

Seasickness on land; nauseated with just one whiff of coffee (Best pregnancy test ever! I love the smell of coffee.); expanding waistline; swollen feet; wobbly gate; expansive in mood; energetic in spirit; exhausted by the smallest of efforts; cranky and uncomfortable; floating on hope; anxiety ridden; excited as hell; bursting with life.

Ladies, did I leave anything out?

You know that horrible hymn? Come labor on? Well God blessed me and gifted me with wide-birthing hips. So assisted by my friend, Gravity, I did not labor long.

I delivered my firstborn, Zach in just two and a half hours. Dainty daughter, Colleen was born in just four. And Jacob, number three, was nearly spontaneously birthed on the sidewalk outside the Emergency Room.

There was no time for drugs. There was barely time to get to the hospital and push.

So with the baby born and nuzzling at my breast, naturally manic me was euphoric squared, euphoric to the 1000th power. Blissfully exhausted and wide, wide awake, every little fiber of my being was belting out the Hallelujah Chorus.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given!

Now everyone has given birth. Be ye male or female, young or old, everyone, everywhere has given birth. Made in the image of the Creator, we are all fertile souls. And even if we are not in the business of procreation, we are all in the business of co-creation.

Over the course of the last nine (well actually eight) months, I birthed my fourth amazing child. And at sixty years of age, this is more than a minor miracle!

Back in September my bipolar brain conceived her. Formed in the pit of my stomach. Nourished by my frazzled flesh and bones. She kicked my insides and stole my sleep. A labor of love, she stretched me beyond knowing. Expanding in the dark — she was born in the light.

This past Saturday on April 25th.

SpeakeasyDC was both birth coach and midwife. Unhinged is her name.

Eight amazing storytellers told eight amazing stories about living with mental illness, loving someone with mental illness, and working in the field. Three hundred people packed the house. Laughter, tears, understanding, and standing ovations.

The truth was told: my truth, their truth, our truth, God’s truth, nothing but the truth.

Labor pains and stretch marks, the truth will set you free.

So friends, ready to get a little bit pregnant?

JoaniSign