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plain & simple Posts

His Hands

I grew up in a church that had a tiny chapel just off the entrance: south-facing stained-glass windows, folding chairs and a stage. On the wall was an image of Jesus, the Sallman Head, a 1940 portrait painting in which a brown-eyed Jesus looks up and to the right (stage left). He has no hands.

We children gathered in the chapel for “junior church,” and the sun in the windows shone upon our Savior as we sang our love for him. It tinted his face red – a blushing Jesus. I suspected it was because of our singing.

We were loud.

One of our teachers reminded us, “There’s a difference between shouting and singing.”

She never raised her voice. She always seemed angry.

Every theology is both sexual and political.

A Jesus-head with no hands is intellectual and safely compartmentalized. In a frame. On a wall. Beautiful in the mid-morning light. This Jesus who only receives. This Jesus who never speaks. This Jesus, chin tilted up, eyes open, always looking above. He is transcendent. He is not present.

We sang to him.

We stomped our feet and clapped our hands.

But Jesus never joined us. Never even seemed to care. He had other, more interesting things to occupy his mind. That big, beautiful brain behind a high forehead. We could not wake him.

It made me suspicious. What good is God in a frame?

After all, there is no such thing as a neutral theology.

But I’d been given an immutable God: insensitive to the presence of children – calm in the face of our shouting, indifferent to our praise. And I began to doubt.

My church had set aside children, shunted us off from the sanctuary to sing our songs in a tiny chapel far removed from the meeting for worship. They were unable to see in children the theological partners they needed. There in junior church, we were invisible – entrusted to the care of a two-dimensional Jesus.

But we were the image of Jesus. Joyful. Exuberant. Chaotic. Creative. Loud. We kept forgetting, “There’s a difference between shouting and singing.”

Meanwhile, our parents sat silently in meeting, chins tilted up, eyes closed, waiting. Moved by the rhythm of our distant shouting, they struggled to still their hands.

On Hunger

Sexuality is theology. My desire to know and be known is physical. My need revolves on questions of vulnerability, of openness, of intimacy, of nakedness. Both mystical union and communion are full-bodied experiences – the bread and the wine and the ecstasy. Why, then, is sexuality so tightly bounded by our weekly Sunday morning discourses? Are we attempting to protect God? To control God? Are we afraid?

I’ve heard the stories of a sterile, effeminate Jesus – pierced but never impregnated. “Who touched me?” God asks. And I look around confused, not because there is a crowd here and everyone has come into contact with Jesus, but because We. Do. Not. Touch.

Except we do (at least in secret), and I am ashamed. Ashamed to admit the truth of my desire. Ashamed to let others see who I am.

In worship I’ve learned to cover myself with fig leaves and hide in the bushes. God enters our meetings, calls my name and yours, but I’m hiding. “Who told you that you were naked?”

I close my eyes, feign meditation, and hope he’ll just go away.

But Jesus stays, determined to undress my oppression: economic, political, theological.

Jesus upends decency.

“How can you ask me for a drink?” she asks.

“He would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is,” he thinks.

But they had forgotten that even David entered the house of God, took the consecrated bread, and ate.

I, too, am hungry.

Or I Could Stay

I’ll be the first to admit I was driving a little bit fast. And the road was icy. But my sister didn’t have to keep complaining, asking me to please slow down. I’m a safe driver. Experienced.

That’s when a light blue Ford Tempo cut into our lane. His brake lights flashed. I couldn’t stop. Swerved to the right but clipped his bumper. And we were spinning.

Whatever it was, it would work out. I’ve been in so many accidents, and I’ve always walked away.

This time, I was walking along a driveway. Didn’t know where I’d left the car. Knew that my sister was fine. A man, standing in front of the garage, told me I had died. He seemed to sense my shock. Let down his guard and admitted that there might be a chance to go back. But there would be brain damage, memory loss, incoherent speech, no way that I’d ever live independently.

Or I could stay.

I couldn’t imagine staying. Missed so many people. Was willing to go back no matter the cost. Needed to go back. There were still so many things I had to do in life. Things I’d done before and wanted to do again.

So I went back, and I did them.

I went on all the slides. And had pillow fights. Ran in the park. Dug huge holes. Buried my legs in the dirt on a sunny day. And laughed. So much laughter.

There was joy in my innocence. And there was pain.

I saw people I knew. Recognized their faces. Sometimes remembered their names. But most didn’t know me. Didn’t say much. Smiled like they couldn’t think of anything else to do. Didn’t seem to like me. Some just never came. And I couldn’t understand where they were. No one would tell me.

It was just past 4 in the morning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t keep my face dry. Kept on reminding myself that it had just been a dream.

I saw people I knew. Recognized their faces. Sometimes remembered their names. But most didn’t know me.

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