I’m feeling very nostalgic for the 80’s these days. Although I was inching my way to 30 and beyond as the decade progressed, it was a time when I arced through many galaxies on the journey to becoming who I am today. And yes – without a doubt – God was woven into every element of every fiber of this time.
You may wonder why I say that… Well, I lived in the juiciest years of that decade as an executive by day, but dressed all in black and skulking around dark, smoky, loud, generally unsavory nightspots when the sun went down. I stayed out too late, I smoked too many cigarettes, I definitely drank too much. And I danced and danced and danced, imagining it happiness at the time.
There were many happy moments, but happiness was what I sought. Happiness was an elusive pursuit, always bolting around the next bend before I could grasp it. And how I tried to gather it up in clenched and greedy fists, fueled by a heart that was broken and smashed so many times it seemed irreparable at any cost. A big part of the problem was that I was both the perpetrator and the victim of this vandalism, although it was the latter that I believed was operative. It was an exhaustive cycle of breaking and faux-fixing, sort of like running one a Saharan ultra-marathon without enough water or proper training, but getting a drop every now and then and thinking things were fine. Eventually I would collapse under the weight, but that’s another story for another day.
Anyway, I’ve written about this before, and I will restate this clearly: I never want to shed that part of me. Oh yes, that is in the past, but like the foundation of a house, it is part of me, and without a doubt God – being so clever and being God and all – God used every twig, scrap of paper, gum, spit, and who knows what to keep building. God is a great recycler if you ask me.
Frequently I encounter people who have returned to church, as I did, or who wish to do so. Very often they are eager to shed prior skins, of perhaps they deny that those skins were ever there to begin with. A sense of scrupulosity encroaches and takes root, often choking the soul with it… all with the best intentions. At my job, I do not launch into too many stories of my past, but I feel for these people, and I pray for them. I was not too tempted to this because of the sidelong way in which I was inching back to church in 1990, feeling like I was negotiating with God. I’m not sure if that was good or bad, but it was how I felt, therefore that kind of dumpster dump of sin did not happen in that way.
God has loved each one of us into being. I never really doubted that, even when I lacked the language, the experience, or the deeper desire to understand that. Perhaps you might find someone lesser than because of who they are. Maybe they are an undocumented immigrant that you do not believe belongs here. Maybe they are disgruntled people of another race who you wish would just get over it and get to work. Perhaps it is a person of another religion, a Muslim for example, one of “those people” who are taught – as far you can tell – to hate and kill the infidel, which is you. Is it LGBTQ people for you, wishing that they would stop “shoving their sexuality in your face?” Do you savor your ire for people on the other side of the political divide, saying things like “Republicans have no heart!” Do you think that “liberals hate and want to destroy America?”
If these or any other categories register for you, and if you believe in God, might I suggest that there is a problem. Having had to get over my own “Catholics are stupid” misguided stage in the past, and to let go of saying things like “all Republicans” are evil, I understand the allure of generalization. Yet, I have come to understand the very Catholic and catholic command to eucharistic living in Christ. What a pain in the neck that is, because as James Joyce once wrote, “here comes everybody.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am very Catholic, and I am also very annoyed with the actions of the Republican party these days, from the White House on down. Trust me, the Democrats earn my ire in other ways, at least they are not in the same hurry to consign so many to a life without basic healthcare. Somehow I must confront the delicious tempation of wanting to say “all of them” and “those people” and “the haters” and so forth. Like an oreo cooking dangling on an string before me, the craving for this treat can be quite powerful – overwhelming at times – as I crane my neck and stick a lusty tongue out of my mouth to savor a bite.
It is so bad for me to do so.
For the gazillionth time I am quoting author Anne Lamott who famously said these words:
Like the Marathon des Sables I referred to in an earlier paragraph, this post runs to the length of an exhaustive jaunt, so let me wrap it up. In today’s Gospel from Matthew we hear these words from Jesus:
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
I put the entire reading here for as an example of what I’ve been ranting about for thousand words or so… The wise don’t know everything. The little ones know things. The Son reveals to whom he wishes. Come to me. Meekness, humilty, rest.
Why is this so hard for us to understand? Where is the part where you have to walk down a long, stone church aisle on your knees 47 times before Jesus forgives and loves you and grants you salvation? The act is done, the issue is what we do with it.
As I consider my memories of the underbelly of nighttime netherworld in the 80’s, I also consider how – for some reason having to do with God wanting me to hop on the train – I took on a yoke I swore I would never wear. And I found that slowly, and over time, that burden was lighter than I imagined. Sure there is challenge, pain, hurt – but the yoke provides the answer. That yoke is Christ, and today I will go through the same motions of wanting to put the yoke on, as I resist – just like almost every other day.
Care to join me? (What would this post be without a good 80’s song?)