Monday, May 24, 2010


The day after I learned of my cousin's suicide, I took this picture of the demolition site for what was previously First Baptist Church of Clarendon. This was maybe two days since I'd been forcibly yanked out of my usual morning numbness by the powerful smell coming from the demolition site: the smell of old church buildings... a combination of water-damaged wood, old paper, candle smoke and prayer.

As it happened, that was also the last morning my cousin saw on this earth.

The sense of smell can be so incredibly powerful, and that scent literally stopped me on my way to the train station. I felt momentarily possessed: my immediate visual image was that I'd just inhaled Spirit with that scent, as the prayers and tears and memories of all who had worshipped in that space were released when the bricks and mortar and wood and drywall were ripped apart by the demolitioner's wrecking ball. Did the demolition crew feel it? Could they hear the voices of the choirs that had sung and the cries of the babies that had been baptized and the laughter of the couples who were wed? Could they hear the tears of the bereaved at the funerals? Could they sense that empty feeling in the guts of those who could not believe, but who attended week after week, pretending that they did?

Because I could. All of that pushed right over me like one of those waves that smacks you in the back when you are turned away, looking for a loved one who was sitting on the sand a minute ago, straining your eyes in another direction and expecting calm seas behind you...

Which, incidentally, is what the news of my cousin's suicide was like... but the difference is that the scent of all those church memories was like a playful wave that just comes up to your shoulders and the water is warm and feels soft on your skin and it picks you up and carries you very gently for a few inches and then sets you down again...

but hearing that Nat took his life? That was like one of those waves that breaks and smashes into the back of your head with an audible *slap*, cold and cruel and uncaring, momentarily filling your eyes and nose so that you can't breathe and you can't see, and you're suddenly aware that the sea is full of dead things and your mind is full of drowning.

I did stop breathing for a few seconds when I read my Mother's text, telling me what had happened, asking me to pray for my Aunt and Uncle. I remembered Nat's dark eyes from when we were kids, and the baby face he never outgrew. I remembered how he used to be calm and a bit gentle with his brother's wild kids. I remember that I never felt like I knew him, but I wished that I did. I haven't seen him in years, and I won't see him again. Not here, on this earth, in a way I can understand.

He was only 30.


The thing about this, Nat, is that now your Mom will suffer for the rest of her life in a way she has never suffered before. I imagine you thought you'd somehow alleviate her suffering by exiting the stage, but you don't get to do that, hon.

Nobody can erase themselves from their Mother's memory.


And the truth is, nobody can simply vanish and leave the world untouched. No matter how insignificant you feel, somebody remembers you, and so you altered that person's life, even if just for a second. And everyone has a spirit, so even if your spirit is weak and conflicted, you still had a place here. You still had the possibility of becoming whole, of helping others, of playing your part, of finding some measure of peace... the prayers, weddings, baptisms, and funerals that have taken place at Clarendon Baptist. I don't know any of those worshipper's names. But I remember them... everytime I pass that crumbling ruin where their Church used to be. I know they were there. I can *feel* that they were there.

I don't know why you did it, Nat.

I wish I'd known you better, but there's nothing to be done about that now.

All I can do is pray:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
dona nobis pacem.
Agnusi Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
dona eis requiem.

Rest in peace, Nat. I'm so sorry that I didn't know you were hurting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

God's Crazy Love

Image:Ken Tennyson (edited in IrfanView)

Love makes you do crazy things. You spend money --LOTS of money-- buying bus and train tickets to see your beloved in another city. Then you spend more money --again, quite a lot of it-- to switch those tickets by 2 hours here and 4 hours there, forsaking sleep --which you love dearly, by the way-- just to spend a few more precious moments with your beloved.

Yes, I'm talking about myself. Anyway...

Love makes you do crazy things. You give up all of your freedom to a tiny, feral human being who is totally dependent on you and not the slightest bit grateful for what you've given up on their behalf. In fact, they don't even recognize that you're a separate person for months and months after their birth. Unavoidably parasitic, they take away time, money, and sleep. They strain your relationship with your spouse, and your relationship with yourself as you adjust to the reality of being simply a giant milk dispenser... bather and cleaner of poop for this tiny being, who may or may not grow up to blame all of their personal failings on you.

Love makes us do crazy things. We stay up late, listening to the same friend tell the same tale of woe, crying again and again over this pattern in their life, yet continuing to blithely ignore our reasoned, caring advice about how to avoid repeating their mistakes. We let them ruin evenings and days, and yet we are still there for them, willing and ready to listen, to comfort... again.

Love IS crazy. Clinically so. The chemical cocktail that is released in our brains when we fall in love is roughly equal to a cocaine high. Similar chemical processes occur in the sexual act, in breast feeding, and, of course, in that mother lode of chemical roller coaster rides, pregnancy, where women are subjected to the humiliation of having their normal emotional responses to life events distorted as the whole world becomes a funhouse mirror.

God is love.
God is love.
God is love.

Is God crazy?

I know that question doesn't make literal sense, but there is no denying that Christians worship a God who is crazy in love... in love to the point that He subjected Himself to the constraints of a body, with all of the chemical/biological wackiness that this entails. God went through puberty. God cried. God stubbed His toe and was made fun of and was hungry and thirsty and really tired sometimes.

And why? Because He had to get as close as He could to us in order to save us. And He did. He wanted to do that, to get as close as skin, as flesh, to His Beloved Ones, to show them how to live and how to love one another. And then He let us murder Him.

That, folks, is CRAZY. It makes no sense. Why didn't He just start over? Send another flood? Ctrl+alt+delete? Why go to such lengths to save us ungrateful sods?

I don't know, but I'm SO grateful.

There are a lot of explanations for why we baptize. I grew up in a tradition that said baptism was a sign of the Covenant between God and man that superceded the rite of circumcision. And, while no one's feelings should be hurt by no longer needing to circumcise your male children to show one's commitment to God, I believe this explanation takes away from the fact that baptism is, at its source, an act of gratitude.

We are saying, in effect, that we accept Your love... Your crazy, unconditional, no-holds-barred love that led You to take on flesh and die. We accept the gift of community that You directed us to, that You modeled in Your life on earth. We accept all of this, and we commit our children to this protecting, immense, boundless, crazy love, too. We pour water on them... water which cleanses, water which gives life, water which leaves no pore or crack untouched, but settles in and surrounds whatever it touches... because water symbolizes those aspects of Your love.

We also commit to try to be Your kind of crazy to our children... to love them as well and as totally as we can, given the limits our human capacity to love.

Love made, and makes, God do crazy things. Praise God from whom this love, and our baptism, and ALL our blessings flow.