Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Real Baby Jesus

Of all the early Christian writings that did not make it into the Bible, my favorite is the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas", a collection of stories on the "Boyhood deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ." And of its many stories, my favorite is this:
Later he was going through the village again when a boy ran by and bumped him on the shoulder. Jesus got angry and said to him, "You won't continue your journey." And all of a sudden he fell down and died.
Some people saw what had happened and said, "Where has this boy come from? Everything he says happens instantly!"
The parents of the dead boy came to Joseph and blamed him, saying, "Because you have such a boy, you can't live with us in the village, or else teach him to bless and not curse. He's killing our children!"
(Greek Text, Chapter 4)
Who among us hasn't said or thought "Drop dead!" towards someone who hurt us? The difference is that we don't possess the power of God. Infancy Thomas portrays Jesus as one who has to grow and mature just like the rest of us, and along the way learns to use his talents and wisdom for the good of others. Here is the Incarnation in all its strange glory: a young man who is truly God, but also unmistakably human.

That is what I love about this gospel. It doesn't try to force the Incarnation into human logic. It celebrates it as a strange mystery: Jesus Christ, True God and True Human. Can we ever truly understand just how strange it must have been to be Jesus? The emotions and brain of a human being, along with the wisdom and power of God. What word is there to describe this reality other than strange?

The Truth that Infancy Thomas conveys is that the Incarnation is not this pretty feel-good image; it is messy and chaotic. It is not God coming to clean up our problems, but a Parent sharing in the beauty and wonder of their children's lives. Now, this may not be the Jesus, nor the God, that we want. It certainly wasn't for the bishops and theologians who rejected this gospel. But for at least a handful of average, ordinary Christians, Infancy Thomas spoke of a God who chose to be just like them. That is strange and glorious, and perhaps, worth a listen.

"You demand truth along your lines, your logic. Truth does not exist for you. You exist for it. Stop your arrogance and embrace the paradox of love."

As the final words of Infancy Thomas say, "To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Gift

Today we celebrate the only gift worth celebrating: grace.

Grace did not first enter the world at Christmas. It was present from the moment time began. God oozes it from their very pores. No, the Incarnation was not about giving grace, but seeing it clearly. We are such an insecure people. God knew that the only way we could feel their love was to become one of us. And so Jesus was born, that we might know just how much we are loved, for we are all family.

Unfortunately, this Truth has yet to sink in. You would think two millenniums would be enough time, but apparently not. Our insecurity is too strong. We fear the vulnerability of love. So we hide behind greed, vanity, lust, and violence. We confuse happiness for joy, even though we have neither for long. It is all so very sad.

But that is why God gave us Christmas. An annual reminder that it doesn't have to be this way, that grace is always there for the taking, if we just open our hearts and see.

"I cannot escape you; but why would I want to? You are beauty, glory, joy, ecstasy, and the shiver up my spine when I feel your touch upon my soul. You are something truly wonderful. A word like love can never fully contain your essence, but it will have to do, for you are warm and sublimely wonderful love."

These words are my Christmas gift: to you, to myself, and most importantly, to God. They come from the newest addition to "The Book of We Are", a journal entry I've titled "No Escape". They describe a vision I have glimpsed for over two decades, but have only really looked at in the last few months. And the more I gaze, the more aware I am of what matters and what does not. This is the gift of grace.

"You call and reveal, sharing your love, your being, with no expectation of response. But how could I not respond? You flood my soul and I cannot possibly contain it within. I cannot escape you, and I never will. Thank you my friend."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The End

"What of that which you fear most: death? Yes, the end will come, not just for you, but for this world as a whole. Do not be afraid, for this is a great joy. It is not an end, just part of the process of life. That is not just good, it is wonderful."

Will the world end this Friday? Does it really matter? Either way, the dance of life and love will continue. So who cares what form it takes?

"Let the dance of life carry you far away from this corner of the universe. Journey to planets and places unimaginable. Watch a star be born, then turn around and watch another die. Touch a planet and give it the spark of life. Let yourself be the creator, just as you were created. Forge your children of the stars into a sword of love on the anvil of tragedy and sorrow. Let them fall horribly, knowing that they must learn to run on their own.

Now follow me back to our little planet. See it for what it is: a jeweled marble in the playground of the universe. Watch it spin wildly for eons, until our sun dozes to sleep, and we fade into the night. Laugh at the divine humor of it. Life and death on the grandest scale."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Let Us Begin

Last night, I finally finished re-reading "Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi" by Donald Spoto. I am left humbled and speechless.

I hear Francis's voice over and over in my head: "Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God -- for up until now, we have done little or nothing."

And then there is Spoto's description of the day Francis died:
Francis told his caregivers, "When you see that I have come to the end, put me out naked on the ground, and allow me to lie there for as long as it takes to walk a leisurely mile."
... His friends followed his instruction, and placed him stripped on the floor of his cell -- it was the full realization of the dramatic moment before Bishop Guido so many years earlier. Thus, as he lay dying and the afternoon began to fade, Francis's final prayer was a sublime gesture ... the action by which he expressed what he was and Whose child he was, about to be born again in eternity. In the core of his being, Francis was at last utterly dependent on God alone. His poverty was absolute: there was now nothing between him and God. After a brief time, he was clothed in his tunic again and gently lifted back on his straw bed.
His companions ... took his hands. "I have done what is mine," Francis whispered. "May Christ teach you what is yours to do."
There is something so utterly beautiful and wonderful about this scene, and how I long to be with God that completely. But I know that I have to do what is mine first.

I don't particularly like to write. It usually just feels like noise. There's already too much noise in our world, and the thought that I'm just adding to it makes my skin crawl. But God wants to me write; they want me to share what they show me. How can I say no? As Brother Francis said, “Who are You, my dearest God? And what am I but Your useless servant.”

So help me begin, Brother Francis, Brother Jesus, Sister Mary, and all of the Family, to serve the Lord our Parent -- for up until now, I have done little or nothing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Follow Me On Twitter

Yes, I've taken one more step down the rabbit hole of social media and joined Twitter. You may now follow me, if you feel so inclined, via: @jwbidwell

I must say that I was very hesitant to do this. Social media seems to take on a life of its own. Can I use Twitter, or will Twitter use me? But then I read about Pope Benedict joining, and I figured I might as well give it a try. Fittingly, he is the first person I chose to follow. I cannot imagine him returning the favor, but one can hope!

And speaking of online connections, if anyone is actually reading this blog who is not one of my family or friends, I would really love to hear from you. If you feel called to do so, please send me an e-mail at: joebidwell@about.me

Thank you to everyone who is reading this. I truly believe what I write: We are family.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Welcoming the Incarnation

Last Saturday, I stumbled upon a new documentary, "Wish Me Away", about country singer Chely Wright, and her process of accepting her sexuality and publicly coming out as a lesbian. What I watched, however, was the story of a woman denying grace for so many years, until she finally recognized that the Incarnation dwelt within her all along. Is that not the task set before each of us in this season of Advent?

"You are my child. More than that, you are myself. We are one, linked forever. What you feel, I feel. What I know, you know. We are love incarnate. We are life."

The Church has long taught that God became human, so that we could become God. But I say that Jesus came to open our eyes to a divinity that already coursed through our very souls. That awakening is what we should be preparing for this Advent, for it is the gift our family needs most this Christmas. The many ways we abuse our siblings, as I have written about the last few weeks, certainly testify to that.

Perhaps the depth of this need is why I was so powerfully moved by Wright's film. Her story begins with a childhood prayer that becomes a daily mantra asking God to take away her gayness. Such pleading led her where it leads too many of our brothers and sisters, to put a gun in her mouth. But then she makes one last prayer, for peace, and finally hears what God has been whispering to her all along: that she's already exactly who they created her to be. And she knows she has an obligation to speak this truth, to share it with all her siblings who still have their fingers on a trigger.

Wright's truth is this: homosexuality is not a "deep wound" needing to be cured; it is a beautiful part of God's design that demands to be embraced. Her witness is evidence of what I tried to convey last June in "The Gift of Homosexuality" post, that our LGBT siblings have much to teach us about love. The most important lesson of which flows from the Incarnation: love trumps biology and everything else.

There is also in Wright's story a general reminder for all. Her childhood prayer did not spring up out of nowhere; it had a source. Corporate religion loves wounds; they keep its version of a hospital in business. Unfortunately, that means it often inflicts the very damage it claims to heal. Is there one among us who hasn't suffered from friendly fire? But that is why God became one of us, so that we might be able to see the difference between our rules and their truth, and to know what really harms our family. That is the grace, the peace, that we wait for so longingly during this time of Advent.

"We are the song of life, of love, of a mother and father who made us by sheer force of will. So much of life is a paradox, but it is there that we find God the most. It is there, in the confusion and that mess that we must dwell. It is there that we experience true beauty, true joy. It is there that we can see something wonderful, something that sends a chill down our spine, and puts a smile on our face and a laugh in our heart, where we know with certainty who and what we are and why we are here in this time and place. It is in that moment that we are at peace."