patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Thursday, April 4, 2013

you get what you give

Continuing on in Jesus’ interminable mountainside sermon, this morning I read, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV). Or, put more succinctly, you get what you give.

Thinking I’d invented a pithy aphorism, I googled it, but, alas, “you get what you give” was one of “About 3,280,000,000 results” in “0.25 seconds” of searching. Most of the results seemed to be references to a cheesy 1990s song by the New Radicals, a probably cheesier Glee rendition of it (apologies to my daughter Lulu, who’s a secret fan of Glee), and a 2010 Zac Brown album that didn’t appear to have a song by that name in it. So much, in any case, for originality.

Jesus’ comment is basically the upshot of the Golden Rule: Do to others what you’d have them to do you, ’cause, if you don’t, all the bad stuff you did to them is going to be done to you.

One might read this as a curse, a punishment, but it occurred to me as I was thinking about it that maybe it’s more of an existential rule, one of those invisible traits of God Paul says that everyone can see God’s creation. One gets one’s comeuppance.

In my experience, in any case, this is surely so. I once, with the blithe cruelty of a ninth grader, asked this girl Elaine why her arms were so hairy, and within weeks I’d grown a dark pelt on my own arms. A coincidence of our adolescence, perhaps. For me, though, it was clearly the result of my own judgmentalness. If you're mean to people, people are mean to you. If you let your bad mood stink up the room for everyone else, they get in bad moods too and you suffer their stink wherever you go. &c.

So, Jesus' pronouncement upon judging others is like a those first curses of scripture, for me: not so much a punishment as the natural consequencs of being out of sync with God’s way of doing things. Eating poisonous fruit leads to pain and death. Passing your own bad decisions on to others wrecks your relationships with them. That’s just how things work.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

life stinks

Having questioned Jesus’ rhetorical skills the other day—in regard to his serving two masters analogy—I would like to laud them in what I read for today: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34 NIV).

I just love the personification of tomorrow here! That days worry and have trouble. How true that seems.

And how pessimistic and human-sounding, especially when he says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.” It makes him into a more pragmatic and gloomy guy, more down-to-earth, than I typically think of him.

When I said so to Kris at breakfast, he said the line reminded him of those old Jewish “life stinks” jokes, like that one Woody Allen told where two old women go to a restaurant, and afterwards one of them complains, “Such bad food!” and the other one says, “Such small portions, too!”

It amuses me to think of Jesus like that. A real guy, quipping wise, sour truth about this life he emptied his godself to take on.

Friday, March 29, 2013

pond-water creatures

Since it is spring, I took my run v-e-r-y slowly this morning so that I could pay attention to the birds. I counted thirty species in six miles. The exciting ones for me were a female northern parula (took me a while to identify it), numerous yellow-rumped warblers (I only ever see them in early fall, when the poison ivy berries are ripe), a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a flock of cedar waxwings (I’ve seen lots this year, for some reason, but they always excite me), and a pair of what must have been purple martins and not house finches because they were red all over.

My reading for today from Jesus’ mountainside sermon mentions birds:  “[D]o not worry about your life,” Jesus advises, “what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 NIV).

It’s good advice but, in my experience, hard to follow.

I do take comfort, though, in God’s apparent love of birds. Surely he’s not only feeding them but observing them, as I do. Keeping track of their songs and habits. Admiring them. Watching them mate. (Disturbing thought, given the analogy.) Perhaps counting them. (There were forty-two cedar waxwings.)

Spring offers so many reminders that God cares about every part of his creation: the smallest animals—birds, bugs, pond-water creatures. God values “the flowers of the field” and even the grass that springs up everywhere and that, as Jesus points out, we mow off without so much as thinking about it, tossing the clippings into the fire (Matthew 6:28-30). And, according to Jesus, God cares about us humans even more.

Imagine it: Right this second, the maker of all creation is thinking about you! Having a look at what you’re up to. Paying attention.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

slinging the slang

I started out with the plan of arguing that the basis of Jesus’ analogy about money and God—the one cannot serve two masters, that “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24 NIV)—for me really only works for God and money. Not for any other two masters I can think of. For example, I currently have two bosses, and I don’t hate either one of them. I don’t really even prefer one to the other. I mean, I get it that having money as my master would significantly interfere with having God as my master. No problem there. It’s just, the analogy doesn’t work for me as an analogy.

Then it occurred to me that it’s Maundy Thursday, the day before our traditional commemoration of Jesus’ execution—a bad day, it seemed to me, to be finding fault with Jesus as a rhetorician in this instance.

So, I’m not going to go there. Instead, I will tell you where the word maundy comes from, as I’m sure you’ve been wondering that ever since you read the word here, maybe ever since you first heard the news. I know I have.

It is a shortened form of the first word of the Latin phrase, Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, the first sentence of the Mass said on that day back in the Middle Ages. The Middle English word maunde—which came to refer to the Last Supper and also to the ceremony of washing feet which Jesus performed at the Last Supper—derived from the French word (remember, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, they were there in England, massively influencing our language the way they refuse to let us do these days) mandé, invented in the days when Latin language for all things religious was so ubiquitous that people made up little shortened versions to sling around. Religious slang, as it were.

The Latin phrase is the Vulgate translation of what Jesus says to his disciples when he’s washing their feet: “A new commandment I give you: Live one another, as I have loved you.” Mandatum—or, for short, maunde or mandé or maundy—is the word commandment.

My research of this matter took me back to—no surprise when the Holy Spirit’s involved—this business serving two masters. Here’s the explanation of footwashing—or, more generally, the love one another mandé—that Jesus offers after Peter first balks, then gives in, saying, “Then, Lord…not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:9): “Do you understand what I have done for you?...I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 3:12, 15-16).

We are to be, in other words, servants to one another, to treat one another as our masters—just as Jesus treated all of us as his master, in some sense. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am,” he explains (John 13:13). But he is also our servant. As our master, he serves us, just as we should do to one another. That’s Jesus’ definition of love.

Not too sure if I got to a point, here, but it’s been fun trying.

PS: The noun slang, as I’ve suggested here, really does derive from the verb sling. I checked. I love etymology. (But I love God more, just to make that clear.)


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

is alligator fish or meat?

Fasting seems to be out of fashion anymore. Even during Lent. Or, did fasting use to be—like during Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert—something other than what I think of when I think of fasting: namely, eating nothing?

Here’s the evidence. Used to, Christians fasted, apparently. Otherwise, why would Jesus go on about how to do it right? Here’s what he says: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18 NIV).

Fasting was once common, evidently. And reward-worthy (if performed correctly).

But what was that fasting? Was it, as today among Catholics, that people abstained from meat every Friday during Lent. Or ever Friday throughout the year, as was the case in New Orleans, when I lived there? Or did people, regularly and ostentatiously refrain from eating altogether?

I’ve been hearing, lately, of hunger strikes in the news. And it’s Lent, so there was a report on the radio about whether, for Catholics who don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent, the alligator was considered a fish, and could thus be consumed on Fridays, or a mammal, and thus couldn’t. (Answer: fish; can be eaten).

And, in my yoga class, I recently underwent a fast of sorts: we were only allowed to eat fruit for three days. They called it a fruit cleanse, but I refused to use that terminology, which makes me think of defecation and anorexics.

The fruit fast was hard, especially on day 2. My stomach growled even as I was eating. But day three was better, and afterwards, I felt so different. Clean.

Not saying much of anything here, I fear. I feel all blogged up. And I missed a day, yesterday. Oh well. Just a few more days till Easter!

Monday, March 25, 2013

gute nacht

Tonight my yoga instructor read from a book written by her yoga teacher, Baron Baptiste, who was raised without faith of any kind and then apparently, in adulthood, became a Christian.

In the passage my yoga instructor read, Baptiste was going on about how growing up he had thought all that was important in life was power and sex. Then, he figured out that didn’t fill him. There I was face to the floor in child’s pose, not really paying attention but just concentrating on my breathing and wishing she’d quit reading stuff and make us sweat, and she’s going on about how this guy discovered that “the real toughness was living from my soul, not my muscles or macho-ness” (or something like that). Then, suddenly, she quotes this guy quoting Jesus: “Be therefore transformed by the renewing of your mind from within.” It made me, there in child’s pose, my fleshy body sandwiched between thirty something skinny souls, cry real tears.

Afterwards I discovered that it was actually Paul, not Jesus, who said that (in Romans 12:2), which was distressing, and that the “from within” part isn’t in any translations I can find. But still. That is my scriptural gift to you tonight, via Baron Baptiste, via my yoga instructor. It is a good thing to think on and cry about.

Gute Nacht.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

cross-country in my semi-trailer

Me: So why do you think Jesus says we shouldn’t go on and on about what all we need since God already knows what we need anyway but then, immediately afterward, gives us the right way to pray, the ideal prayer, in which he has us praying for God to provide our various needs. I mean, isn’t that a contradiction?

Kris: Only if you think prayer is for God’s benefit. Which it’s not. It’s for our benefit. You know, like how he said that man wasn’t made for the Sabbath but that the Sabbath was made for man? It’s the same with prayer. Prayer, just like the Day of Rest, is for our benefit, not God’s.

Me: But how does it benefit us to pray?

Kris: Well, articulating it, putting it into words, helps us know what we think.

(He then gave me a made up example that didn’t help me—as made up examples never do—about how every time I take off cross-country in my semi-trailer it always makes him so mad and how saying that he’s mad helps him realize that’s what’s going on. There ensued a little argument in which I said he wouldn’t ever pray his anger to God—he can barely admit it to me—and he said that the psalmists and Job often prayed their anger, so it must be okay, and I said, it’s not about whether it’s okay or not but that I knew he’d never do it, that the only prayers I’ve ever heard him say were for things he needed—or wanted, in any case, and the argument ended, as our arguments generally do, with his saying, “You’re probably right.”)

Me: So, then, how does it benefit you to pray for what you need?

Kris: Because it’s good for thought. Good to say it and think about it, rather than just live from moment to moment without ever thinking about all the things you need that God takes care of.
Me: Ah.