At the Christian college I attended, giving up sugar for Lent (and replacing it with Splenda) was one of the ways we entered into that suffering. Some of us gave up Facebook. One year, I fasted. One year, I took on vegetarianism (something I stuck to for five years). Once, I was almost convinced to give up sarcasm. Almost.
I was choosing suffering in small doses, hoping that the slight ache of missing – sugar, Facebook, hamburgers – might remind me of a greater suffering.
Another way of thinking about Lent is that Jesus submitted himself to this world, and he suffered for it. This means that Lent is a time to remember: life is suffering.
How can you prove a case in court when evidence can be faked? How much do I have to exercise to justify eating whatever I want? Where the hell is the last small key in the Water Temple?
So many questions.
Sometimes I’d ask my parents. But while my development was important to them, my adolescent musings on philosophy (and video game strategies) were taxing. Only a handful of the people I knew at church played Legend of Zelda, so I mostly avoided them. Teachers were amused by my vocabulary, but their answers rarely satisfied my curiosity.
I’ve been working on compassion. It’s the aim of my spiritual work—to focus on interaction that is healing and care-full. Unfortunately, compassion isn’t my default, and I don’t always get there. But it’s a goal.
An example from work.
She came for her drink 15 minutes after I’d finished it.
“Yes, that’s yours,” I said. “Yup, almond milk … Yeah, I can put it in a to-go cup.”
She asked a few more questions. I offered a few more snappy-direct responses. She left angry. It was not my best moment.
I used to dream of having superpowers. And winning the lottery. And marrying someone super rich and beautiful. And finding out I had a rare condition that made me smarter than everyone else. Only a few elite scientists could see it in me. Every once in a while I even dared to consider that the world around me was of my own construction, and if I focused hard enough, I could manipulate everything in my life to be what I wanted.
I really, really wanted out of my boring life. Honestly, I still want it. Maybe we all do. The problem is that we know – whatever we dream up – it can’t free us.
I delight in brilliance. Like so many folks my age, I love good writing, probing videos, beautiful photography. Images of smart people, overlaid with substantive quotations (preferably in a bright, clean typeface). These things are fine, maybe even excellent. They encourage, inspire, challenge. At least for a moment or two. Long enough for my friends to hear me talk about it, for it to be shared with others on the internet, then forgotten.
Not the worst way to waste a life. It is my generation's bane to be surrounded by beauty and changed so little by it.
Well, it does, but not all of it. The story of Jesus’ death is a pretty cool revelation into transcending oppressive systems. I love the parts that prove we need no longer be shackled by empire, by religion, by social norms. But then there are the other parts, the parts about everlasting life, wrathful murder, necessary substitutionary atonement. I get hung up on those things. Why would God have to kill Jesus, or even worse, want to kill Jesus for me? Why does my wrongdoing mean Jesus has to die in my place? That seems pretty messed up to me. I won’t sing songs about that.
There’s a real cool idea in theology called the Cosmic Christ. It’s the belief that Jesus, the human person, was the incarnation of something eternal, the Christ.
Quakers have known about the Cosmic Christ for as long as we’ve been around. That eternal thing that any of us may meet when we are present in the Present. The some-thing, attending to you in each moment, pulling you toward the momentum of Goodness. And we know it as the same dude who said stuff in the Bible and called himself Jesus. Rack up another one for the Quakers, y’all, because everyone else is LATE TO THE GAME.
We’ve called it the Inner Light, the essence of Christ in all peoples. Which we’re into, right? Which we live by looking for Christ in everyone, right? Which we look for in each other, right?
This morning, I went to a tax preparer to amend my tax return, a routine task for this company, but all did not go as expected. My preparer, James, was late. We met at an office branch he seldom uses, which we discovered has malfunctioning heat, and systems which had not been updated to the new software. So while we waited for technical assistance, we talked.
I told him I’m a youth pastor and a barista at a local coffee shop. James was raised Southern Baptist, went to Christian private schools, and graduated from a bible college. After graduating...