“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” Duke Ellington
“Is it too much to ask that we be more honest about the pain, disappointment, doubt and abandonment that are part of our lives?” Brian D. McLaren
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me?” Psalm 22 (Sung by Jesus on the cross)
I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is a bishop. He was a bit frustrated because one of his churches had tried to re-write their baptismal liturgy to remove all references to evil–you know, trying to “keep it positive.” God knows we’re done with evil in the world, and God forbid we should acknowledge it, oppose it, renounce it, and try to kick its ass! I suppose this congregation should also substitute the outward symbol of water with a wool blanket pulled over the candidate’s eyes, lest he or she get all washed up or wet during the service. And don’t get me started on the whole “re-birth” metaphor, as if we need to talk about death and resurrection anymore!
Which brings me to the blues, and its importance for our spiritual journeys.
It is good for the soul to tell the truth and acknowledge that we got problems, issues, challenges, pain, and disappointments. Yes, even in church, or perhaps especially in church, it is important to sing the blues. God gets the blues (especially when God observes my behavior). Virtually all the Biblical writers had the blues. My momma had the blues. My girlfriend gets the blues (especially when she observes my behavior). My bishop gets the blues (especially when, oh, never mind). I got the blues. We all got the blues. And that ain’t bad. In fact, it’s good!
Bono, the singer for U2, once wrote in an Introduction to The Book of Psalms (Canongate), that King David was able to write such moving poetry (laments are really blues lyrics) because he had “taken a beating.” Bono says this about the best blues lyricist in the Bible (other than Jesus): “David was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. And this is where it got interesting. He composed his first psalm, a blues by a man shouting, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’”
Jazz pianist David Arivett poignantly places the blues in the context of worship: “When we try to contain, control, or limit the lyrical content in songs to only express the positive experiences of humanity, we only end up denying a large part of reality. But whenever we articulate and express our pain, our longings, or our frustrations as finite human beings, we find healing.”
But leave it to one of my favorite blues musicians (other than “Howlin’ Airedale, Muddy Paws, Damn Right I’ve Got a Tail” Sam) to find just the right way to phrase it. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown got his name from a high school teacher who said he had a “voice like a gate” (as in open the floodgates of tears, emotion, sorrows and pain – letting it all out!). Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana, but grew up in Orange, Texas. He was good friends with Roy Clark, and the two of them used to jam on “Hee Haw” (the thought of which gives me anything but the blues!) He lived the blues, dying of lung cancer and having his home in Slidell, Louisiana, washed away in Hurricane Katrina. Although he could have sung it, Brown said: “For me, the blues is a positive thing and not a negative thing, which it is for a lot of people. They callin’ for help and tryin’ to tell people how much problems they’ve had in life… When I write the blues, I try to help everybody, from little children up to grandpa and grandma. It should be positive. It don’t have to be sad.”
In other words, we got the blues. And that ain’t bad.
Join us at St. Michael’s on Sunday, February 8th at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. for “The Spirit of the Blues” Mass!More
“The New Year means a fresh start, a second wind, another chance, a kind of reprieve, a divine act of grace bestowed. It is important to remember that; whatever the fact may have been, it cannot be undone. It is a fact. If we have made serious blunders, they are made. All our tears cannot unmake them. We may learn from them and carry our hard-won lessons into the New Year. We can remember them, not with pain, but with gratitude that in our new wisdom we can live into the present year with deeper understanding and greater humanity. May whatever suffering we brought on ourselves or others teach us to understand life more completely and, in our understanding, love it more wisely, thus fulfilling God’s faith in us by permitting us to begin this New Year.” Howard Thurman
New Year’s resolutions are fine and helpful. But perhaps more transformative in the coming year would be restitutions, absolutions, and evolutions.
RESTITUTIONS: It is important to acknowledge the ways we have fallen short—the mistakes, poor choices, and apathetic indifference—the “things done and left undone.” Admitting our wrongdoings and reaching out to restore right relationship can accomplish so much more than standing our ground and digging in our hearts and heels. Open and forthright communication, literal confessions of the ways we have injured one another, and honest attempts to come together to be reconciled—these saving graces can help heal the wounds we inflict on others and on ourselves. Denial of or turning a blind eye to obvious errors in judgment only deepens the chasm of complicity in the spiraling out of control scheme. Tell the truth so that the truth can set you on the path toward true freedom.
ABSOLUTIONS: There is a powerful part of the Holy Communion service that we typically call the absolution. It arrives just in the nick of time—right after the confession! The priest is privileged to pronounce that God’s grace provides all that we need for a real release from guilt, anxiety, and punishment. It is a declaration of forgiveness, no strings attached. The New Zealand Prayer Book expresses this spiritual reality powerfully and succinctly, summarily launching us toward a fresh start: “God forgives you. Forgive others. Forgive yourself.” We can begin to move forward from previous false starts and past failures of nerve by simply accepting this extraordinary gift—and offering it to others and to ourselves. Believe it—God has enough faith in us to allow us another year.
EVOLUTIONS: Growth can be painful. But the previous year’s experiences (the highs and the lows) can deepen our faith and expand our capacity to learn. The process of spiritual evolution takes time and happens over many years, countless new beginnings, and a multitude of fresh starts. Awareness and intention lead us forward. If we dedicate ourselves to developing and diversifying, to becoming more complete and whole, to take the hard-won lessons of life to heart, mind, and soul, we will find ourselves in a far different and better place from where we began again. The layers of life experience cover us with wisdom, perspective, and patience. Like a well-aged wine, over time we begin to reflect our roots, relationships, and reach, the rocky soil, varied contexts, and unpredictable weather in which we grew, even the ancient container of faith in which we were formed. We become different. And that is not a bad thing.
May the New Year take us beyond the mere recitation of resolutions, toward restitutions, absolutions, and evolutions. It is always a gift to start over.More
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down.” John the Baptist
“My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson, the author of The Innovators, once asked Steve Jobs, the Apple visionary, which product he was most proud of, assuming Jobs would name the iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Surprisingly (or not), Steve Jobs said that making an exceptional product is hard, but making a collaborative team that can continually make innovative products is even harder (and more important). So the product, Jobs said, that he was most proud of was Apple itself—and the collaborative, creative team they built together at Apple.
The “A” team strategy of Apple reminds us of the “A” team possibilities of Advent. Advent rolls around each year to offer us an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, to start over, to reimagine new possibilities that God calls us to collaboratively create. Like Apple, the best ideas and practices emerge when we function as a team, when we come together in community and offer our respective gifts, infusing and improving one another’s ideas by our mutual mission-making.
In some ways, John the Baptist, the face of Advent, is to the religious tradition what Steve Jobs, the face of Apple, is to technological innovation. They both offer good ideas to set us off toward the creative, collaborative advantage of Advent. John the Baptist was a singular voice—one who wore camel hair and ate locusts—crying in the wilderness, telling anyone who would listen: “Repent, for there’s a big change ahead!” Steve Jobs admonished the sometimes skeptical: “Stay hungry, and stay foolish!” John the Baptist reminded people that the accumulated obstacles and debris of failed efforts had to be leveled from time to time, and the deep ruts of monotonous routine should be filled in, in order to propel us forward. Jobs put it succinctly: “I want to put a ding in the universe!” John the Baptist had no problem telling people what he thought they needed to hear and how he thought they needed to change, calling them a brood of protective vipers. Steve Jobs often stood outside the box and threw rocks at pre-conceived reality, asking “Why join the Navy if you can be a pirate?”
In Advent, we have the opportunity to join an “A” team, to link up with a community of continual creativity, ongoing collaboration, limitless imagination, and recurring innovation. Advent comes again to remind us that things can change, we can change, and together, we can change things. Advent is always to our advantage.
“I baptize you with water. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John the Baptist.
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules…You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things…they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs
Saddle Up, Pilgrim
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Saint Augustine of Hippo
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of people and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain
There are many reasons that I travel. Sometimes I am sharing my faith with folks on the Mainland who are hungry for good news. Sometimes I need to retreat in solitude to be renewed. Sometimes I am ready to party like a rock star in Las Vegas with a good friend. Sometimes I want to learn from a new culture and take a course to enrich my understanding of the world. Sometimes I travel solely to serve with an organization that is making a real difference. Sometimes I crave adventure and set off toward a distant land with absolutely no previously planned itinerary. But there is another kind of travel that is equal parts intention and openness, planned with a purpose in mind, but accepting of spiritual surprises along the way.
In the Christian tradition, we call this pilgrimage. It’s been an important part of my spiritual growth and awareness for many years. My first real pilgrimage was to the Holy Land in my 20’s, just after seminary. It changed my life in ways that I am still realizing today. Since that time, I have been blessed to experience all kinds of pilgrimages that have fed my soul and enhanced my relationship with God – everything from Celtic journeys to Iona in Scotland and hikes up Patrick’s Mountain in Ireland, to a Blues, Brews, and Pews trek through the Mississippi Delta. Lately, I sense that I am being called to lead a pilgrimage or two myself, to share what I’ve learned along the way with others who might seek to walk their prayers and experience for themselves the power of sacred sites and holy people in God’s world.
The idea of pilgrimage is rooted in the biblical narrative, from Abraham’s call to go to an unknown land so he could both be blessed and be a blessing to the world, to the children of Israel’s wandering in the Wilderness on their way from captivity in Egypt to a Promised Land, from Jesus’ 40 day hike in the desert as part of his own discernment process, to Paul’s missionary journeys in the Mediterranean and beyond. It has long been a part of the religious tradition as pilgrims have visited Mecca, the Holy Land, Lourdes, the Santiago de Compostela, and many other places in search of a deeper faith. Pilgrimage is part wanderlust, part intention, part openness, part prayer, part reading and reflection, part unexpected encounter, and part sharing with companions along the way. It is a journey taken slowly and deliberately for those seeking inspiration, insight, renewal, and healing. And, if undertaken with the right spirit and the right people, it can also be fun!
In future years, I hope to lead groups to the Celtic lands of Scotland, Wales, England, and Ireland. I’d also love to share the Memphis-to-Mississippi-to-New Orleans Blues and Jazz Journey. Perhaps even a trek along the Santiago de Compostela in Spain will come to pass. But the first pilgrimage that I will lead will be to the beautiful island of Molokai, right here in Hawaii, in the steps of Father Damien and Sister Marianne. Both of these saints have been sources of extraordinary encouragement to me. We will hike down (or saddle up and take the mule!) to Kalaupapa and spend the day in the place where Damien and Marianne ministered to those with Hanson’s disease. We’ll pray in several churches that Damien built. I’ll be presenting some meditations on the lives of these extraordinary saints of God. And we’ll have some time for recreation and renewal on Molokai’s quiet and secluded beaches. I will also arrange a visit to one of my favorite bookstores in Hawaii and perhaps a discussion with one of the world’s greatest photographers. We are tentatively looking at a 3-4 day pilgrimage in either March or April of 2015 for this Pilgrimage to Molokai. More information will be forthcoming. In the meantime, keep moving…
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T. S. EliotMore
ON ORANGE TICKETS, UMBRELLAS, AND OBSTRUCTED VIEWS
IS THE POPE CATHOLIC?
“Our relationship with Christ is personal but not private. We are not isolated and we are not Christians on an individual basis. Our Christian identity is to belong.” Pope Francis
On my bright orange ticket for the Audience With the Pope on June 25th, the bold print revealed just who he thought I was: REPARTO SPECIALE. That’s right, O Ye of Bleacher-Seats Status. I was a SPECIAL GUEST. At the Vatican. With the Pope. Obviously, I am a Very Important Priest.
The poparazzi’s cameras were ashutter as we strutted through St. Peter’s Square, all 12 of us in clerical collars, some in full black or purple cassocks, sporting the coolest of Italian accessories such as shades and hats. The Vatican Security detail, upon realizing the caliber character dictated by our ticket color, parted the rope turn after turn.
Once we got to our clerical club-level seating, we realized that only one small section separated us from His Holiness, the section reserved for the UN Peacekeeping Force from Argentina and more cardinals than you’d find at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. A dapper man in a fully-tailed tuxedo showed us to our section. I chose a row with a clear sight line of the pontiff’s pulpit, congratulating myself further when the entire next row over got bumped for a bunch of Colombian nuns.
Out in the square, the Pope in his Popemobile greeted all his fans as the Swiss Guard Band played a set list much more festive than pompous. Finally, to the cheers of the faithful, he ascended the steps and sat in his chair.
Or, at least I assume he sat in his chair. While I had a clear view of the pulpit, I had forgotten that the pope doesn’t speak from a pulpit. He speaks from a chair, a chair which was entirely obstructed from my view. Hey Father Genius, ever heard of the term Ex Cathedra which literally means “from the chair?” What is the Italian word for dumbass?
So, during the entirety of the Pope’s inspiring message to the world, sitting within fifty feet, I managed to steal one glimpse of his notes and caught two hand waves as he emphasized a pastoral point. My chair wasn’t nearly as prestigiously positioned as I had thought. And as it turned out, I was exactly where I needed to be.
It started raining. There were very few umbrellas in sight. But the Italian lady sitting next to me happened to have one. She spoke no English but grabbed me by my clerical collar and pulled me close. I leaned in to her and smiled, protected from the downpour.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what the Pope had to say that day. His sermon was about how we are all in this together, from the back row to the corporate suite, from the VIP up front to the vendor at the very back who sold me a Pope Bobblehead. The Pope said that there is a distinct catholicity, a broad and inclusive universality to our faith that connects us and brings us closer, regardless of who we are, where we come from, what color our ticket is, and what language we speak. The church is one big umbrella that reaches out and gives us all a respite from the storm.
So, in fact, as a Christian, I am special indeed. My orange ticket did not reveal that truth. The obstructed view and the umbrella did.More
GIVE ME A BREAK!
(No, Really, I Need A Break)
“On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” Genesis 3:2
I do pretty well at keeping the 10 commandments. I haven’t murdered anyone lately. No stealing or adultery. Occasionally, I will covet my neighbor’s motorcycle and boat, until I remember the maintenance required and I quickly become utterly content! However, there is one commandment that gives me fits – Honor the Sabbath. That is, intentionally take time to rest and renew, to recharge the spiritual batteries and spend time with God – reading, reflecting, communing. Workaholism is the one addiction that seems to be passed down in my family. There’s a corollary commandment I should also mention – Do not make an idol of anything. Our culture has idolized “busyness,” “hard work,” and “productivity,” to the point that keeping the Sabbath has been banished to the corner of unpardonable sins.
The Sabbath principle is not about saying “no” to important work that needs to be done, or to volunteer opportunities to which we may be called (especially in a “small” church trying to make a “big” difference). It is about saying “yes” to carving out space in our schedules for other priorities that feed the soul and make God proud.
A few months ago my family asked me to join them for a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate my niece Jenni’s graduation from dental school. Despite the fact that I had not joined on a family vacation in 20 years, I still said no! I came up with my usual excuses: 1) I can’t afford it; 2) I have too much to do at St. Michael’s; and 3) My new book will have just come out, so you know I’ll be busy. Then one day, I was sitting with my spiritual director (note to self – sometimes the best motto is “Don’t just do something, sit there!”) when I realized what a crock of idolatry I had erected. I was about to reject a rare opportunity to spend quality time with my family; see some special places including Ephesus, Corinth, and Rhodes; and celebrate a momentous occasion with people I hold dear. I changed my mind and said YES! As it turned out, the timing perfectly aligned with an opportunity to realize a long-held dream to take a course at the Anglican Institute in Rome – it begins the very day we arrive back in port. See what happens when you observe Sabbath and get your priorities straight. For two and half weeks I will be fed socially and spiritually!
The Sabbath principle is an important one for our spiritual growth, as individuals and as a community. God took time off. So should we.More
THE PROOF OF THE BEER IS IN THE DRINKING OR THANKS FOR BEING YOU
“I could hardly function at work today after staying up till 2:00 a.m. last night reading The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God. Thanks for being YOU and for sharing YOURSELF with the rest of us!”
A Bishop in the Episcopal Church
“John the Baptizer came fasting and you called him crazy. I came feasting and you called me a lush. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Jesus, Luke 7:33-34 (The Message Translation)
The only stories that I can tell with any sense of authenticity are my own. And the only stories that you can tell with any sense of authenticity are your own. We are uniquely made, yet in all of our storied and gloried uniqueness, we actually reflect the divine image. We are all different. God made us that way. And that makes for a much more interesting story, not to mention interesting life.
John the Baptist was not Jesus. And Jesus was not John the Baptist. Yet neither was immune to the critics. The same people who complained that John fasted complained that Jesus feasted. The same folks who thought John’s asceticism was nuts, thought that Jesus’ indulgence was offensive.
But Jesus understood clearly that you cannot please everyone and that God does not ask us to please anyone – except the One who made us and knows us best. In the Kingdom of God, opinion polls don’t count for much. The proof the pudding is in the eating. And the proof of the beer is in the drinking. Whether you prefer one to the other is beside the point.
Being yourself and living out your own unique calling as a singular child of God like no one else is precisely the point of the spiritual life. Henry David Thoreau observed: “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I know as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I require of every writer, first and last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives.”
Fortunately for all of us, Thoreau lived and wrote what he knew from his own experience. Criticize him if you want, but he was Thoreau and for him, that was enough. I believe that when he got to heaven, God did not ask him “Why were you not Shakespeare or Yeats or Charles Schultz or that actor who portrays the most interesting man in the world in those beer commercials!?” Nope, God asked simply “Were you Henry David Thoreau?” If the answer was yes, the response was “Come on in and have a beer.”
The best compliment I have received thus far about my new book came from a Midwestern bishop the day after it was released. He said simply: thank you for being you, and for sharing yourself with the rest of us. I can’t imagine higher praise. So allow me to say to each one reading this particular story and my unusual take on the spiritual life: Thank you for being you. Ultimately, that is all that God requires of each of us.More
“I should like a great lake of finest ale for the King of Kings.” St. Bridget of Kildare
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Benjamin Franklin
I have a new book coming out on May 6th. It’s about two of my favorite subjects: God and Beer. It’s titled The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving, and Living (Simon and Schuster/Howard Books). Doing research for this book was as much fun as research can be!
In the book, I address a number of modern heresies such as 1. Religious truth does not contain the whole truth; 2. God is not funny; and 3. The spiritual life is a solo pursuit. A heresy is simply half the truth parading as the whole, and a lot of what is advocated in the name of religion and spirituality these days seems to be half-truth. So, in the book, I tell the “rest of the story.” I reveal the “whole and holy truth” about life and the quest to serve God as real human beings. I call attention to God’s sense of humor and the understanding that solemnity and spiritual awareness have nothing in common. And I advocate on behalf of a spirituality that is connected – to our fellow travelers, to all of God’s good creation, and to life outside the church doors. For the profane can be as inspiring as the profound, the secular as revelatory as the sacred – and ultimately God hallows all of it.
I’m a storyteller. So, ultimately, this is a book of stories. I weave together real-life experiences from my day job (and sometimes night job) as a parish priest, my travels around the world, my conversations with interesting people, and my evenings in a colorful bar in Marfa, Texas – Padre’s, which I own. I reflect on life lessons learned from baseball, Las Vegas, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Miss Hawaii, and my own mother. In the midst of these adventures what emerges is the importance of the qualities of generosity, openness, sacrifice, and transformation. And no, I did not make anything up!
But what most people really want to know about the new book is simply this: “Am I in it?!” Yes, you are in it. Not necessarily by name. But I give thanks to the good people who have walked with me, prayed with me, laughed with me and encouraged me along the way. You have supported my somewhat unique ministry to the world. I give thanks for my dogs, my friends, my family, and my faith community. But you’re also “in it” in another way. In the prologue to the book, I suggest a simple and enlightening test to reveal whether someone is a godly person, inspired by the spirit of God. It’s called the Beer Test. If a person is one with whom you’d like to share a beverage, one with whom you’d like to sit down and share stories over a cold beer (or root beer), the chances are good that such a one is indeed anointed by the Creator and on the path toward true spiritual enlightenment. If you are reading this, it is quite likely you fall into this category. So, I raise a toast to you. Because I’d raise a toast with you!More
“There is no life – no life without its hunger. Each restless heart beats so imperfectly. But when you come and I am filled with wonder, Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.” You Raise Me Up
“We can’t save them all – but we have to try.” Sokchea Eng Evslin
His name is Sinbad. He had me at sin. And even more so at bad! These are two topics about which I am one of the world’s leading authorities.
Just a few weeks ago, a new friend of mine and his wife (Luke and Sokchea) found an old, scared, scarred, tired, hungry, abandoned dog wandering near their home here on the island of Kauai. He was disabled and had difficulty moving and even sitting. His tail was tucked firmly between his legs. He shook with fear as Luke approached him. They discovered that he was microchipped and registered as Sinbad. When they called the humans who held his papers, they denied that they knew him. “We don’t have a dog” is all they would say. He was scheduled to be put down by the Humane Society during Passion Week. After all, they have 100 good, healthy dogs waiting to be adopted. Surely, no one would want a dog with such physical and psychological challenges. His photo was perhaps the saddest looking one I have ever seen—head drooping, eyes down, shoulders hunched: the pain and fear were palpable.
At first the Humane Society told me Sinbad was “unavailable.” Then Luke convinced them to let me see him. As I walked in to the grassy yard, he immediately assumed his “signature position” – crouched and cowering, lest I had come to do harm, which he no doubt had experienced often in his life. Eventually, he warmed up and came over to give me a sniff and a kiss. His tail, though firmly in the downward dog position, started to wag. He was dragging his back legs, and I could tell that he would be a challenging dog to adopt. So I adopted him.
My dog Nawiliwili Nelson, my girlfriend Monica, and I picked him up on Good Friday, a day that thought it had dibs on death and unhappy endings. It’s a day marked by fear, denial, betrayal, and ugliness. Yet eventually it is really about sacrifice, commitment, forgiveness, and unconditional love. These are the qualities of faith that bring us back to life, even when things look bleak, forlorn, and hopeless. I am sure that on the original Good Friday, Jesus must have thought at least once: “I can’t save them all – but I have to try.”
I know I must be a challenging human to be adopted by God. To be loved and cared for. To be lifted up when I fall. To be fed when I am hungry. To be carried when I cannot carry on. That is why I love Sinbad. That is why, even on Good Friday, I know that Easter will come.More
WHOLLY JESUS! OR WHERE IS DOLLY PARTON WHEN YOU NEED HER?
“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap.” Dolly Parton
The Miniature Sicilian donkey is the perfect mascot for Palm Sunday: The Sunday of the Passion. The MSD, after all, is that rare combination of cuddliness and affection with a bit of donkey attitude thrown in for good measure. The endearing face is balanced by a dark cross emblazoned on its back. My friend Suzanne McCord used to supply us with a steady stream of these bad boys (and good girls) for every Palm Sunday procession at St James Church in Austin. My personal favorite was a particularly good-natured donkey by the name of Dolly Parton. It made perfect spiritual sense to have Dolly Parton lead the Palm Sunday procession. After all, this is a day that takes you from the playful poking of palm fronds by those engaged in the liturgical version of “The Wave,” all the way to the stark realities of isolation, betrayal, and suffering as the same celebratory crowd turns into an angry mob shouting “Let him be crucified!” At the end of this most schizophrenic service, one is left to wonder: “Uh, what just happened?”
Jesus happened. Life happened. The whole and holy truth happened and was revealed. And we got a rare glimpse of how it really works. What we have traditionally called “Holy Week” – that sacred time from Palm Sunday to Good Friday to Easter – should probably be called “Wholly Week.” It is the entire unsettling story of how we human beings are transformed and reborn – even how we die and are resurrected.
What else would you expect from a man who said the most confusing and conflicting things? Here are a few examples: “Those who lose their lives will find them”; but “Those who find their lives will lose them”; and “If you want to be the greatest, be the servant of all”; and “It is more blessed to give than to receive”; but “If you want to receive what really matters, give everything away”; and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you and bless those who curse you”; but “Father forgive them for they are clueless”; and “My grace is free but count the cost”; and, finally, “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain” (oops, I think that was Dolly Parton who said that last one). But you get the point. What’s cheap is costly. What’s costly is cheap. Or something like that.
In other words, what is holy is wholly. And what is wholly is holy. And that’s the truth – according to Jesus. And to Dolly.More