Fangirl Theology Series: Stranger Things

ST2 Poster

Stranger Things has become one of my all-time favorite shows.

It’s a delightful and frightening coming of age tale in which the weird kids, the preppy teens, and the messed-up adults save the day.

It’s a tale of parallel planes and nostalgia trips that allows us to ask the “What if” questions of life:

What if an evil force invaded, and the little ones and the broken ones, saved the world?

What if there is a world within a world, a place that is here and not here, and it’s threatening to break through?

How do we deal with the repercussions of confronting the darkness in the world?

After looking at the evil in this story, what do we learn about the evils that plague our own reality, and how do we confront it?

There are evil forces at play in the land of Hawkins, Indiana, in the form Demagorgons and warring governments who care more about beating each other than the lives of their citizens. There are the loveable “losers,” the girl with no name but fantastic powers, the single mother barely hanging on, the cop still grieving his daughter’s death, and the dysfunctional step-siblings.

And beneath it all lies the Upside Down, an alternate dimension of death, decay, and darkness, with a creature (and, in the second season, creatures), who seek to infiltrate our realm and destroy us.

In short, it’s a biblical story.

The Bible contains stories of the looming threats of the otherworldly powers of darkness and the present power of Empire, not to mention actual monsters (Job 40:15-24 and 41). Its list of heroes includes infertile nomads, foreigners who glean the fields, a shepherd boy overloooked by his own father, and a refugee born in a manger.

And beneath is all is the Kin-dom of God, God’s Dream for the world, the New Heaven and New Earth, the here but elsewhere, the now but not yet, a space of interdimensional, thin-planed existence.

*****

Storytelling is a formative experience. Sci-fi and fantasy are some of my favorite storytelling mediums, because they remind us of the world’s enchantment. We remember that magic is real, we are not alone, and there are things more beautiful and great than we can comprehend, yet are within our reach.

It’s been a while since I’ve dug into the theology of a good story, and I want to begin again with the dark enchantment of Stranger Things. 

On the blog, I will be spending the next two weeks digging into the theology in Stranger Things through a few themes. I hope you will join me on this and other journeys through the lens of Fangirl Theology!

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Newlywed Reflections on Revelation

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“I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.” Revelation 21:2 (The Message)

The earrings dangle from my ears, pierced through once-closed holes by my soon-to-be sister-in-law. The old, golden necklace hangs from my neck, its ornament matching the one on my earlobe. The engagement ring, once a trinket of my soon-to-be husband’s great grandmother, rests quietly on my finger, anxiously awaiting its partner. The bodice and Spanx hug my body, sucking everything in, hopefully in a not-too obvious way. The headpiece pinned onto my head sparkles in the afternoon light with its golden bangles, and the veil is tucked neatly into the mountain of bobby-pinned curls. My eyelashes are darkened by touches of mascara. The eyeliner and pink eye shadow bring out my dark eyes. The pink lip gloss brightens my lips. Everything here highlights what is already there naturally instead of hiding it all away or making it into something it’s not.

The large bouquet is composed of home-grown wheat and flowers plucked from the shelves of Michael’s. The lace dress with matching sleeves to mask the fact that it used to be strapless is simple but elegant, if I may say so myself. A bustle hides behind the gown so I can lift it up to dance the night away, and I will kick the golden wedges on my feet off the moment pictures are done.

It’s not a resplendent get-up. But damn, do I look beautiful. And for once in my life, I feel ready.

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“One of the Seven Angels who had carried the bowls filled with the seven final disasters spoke to me: “Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.”” Revelation 21:9

The harbinger of death, destruction, and apocalypse suddenly becomes the doting parent of the bride.

Both of my parents attended and played significant roles in our wedding. Mom walked me down the aisle, and Baba prayed a blessing over me and my husband. While both of them are in my life right now, Baba insisted that my mother be the one to, for lack of a better phrase, “give me away.” She raised me, after all. I know it. She knows it. Baba knows it. The whole family knows.

It was she who walked me down the aisle as she has walked with me my entire life. It was she who took my hand out of hers and placed into the waiting hand of my husband, symbolizing a transfer from one family and one partner to another. She kissed our cheeks and told us she loved us, welcoming her son-in-law as her own and leaving me behind to make a new life with another instead of her. She went to her seat and watched us exchange our vows and promises to one another, and she came back up the aisle alone.

For years, it was me and Mom against the world. It was our home that sheltered, nourished, and emboldened me to make my own. It was us that weathered apocalypses together, who stared into dark secrets uncovered in our lives, saw the people we loved exposed in true form for better or worse, saw dreams die and new ones born, grappled with fears and insecurities and lived into our strengths. We weathered the despairs and joys together.

And that day, she put my hand in Bryce’s as a way to say, “Go, and do likewise.”

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“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making God’s home with people! They’re God’s people, God’s their God. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

I can’t imagine something new coming into the world without tears spilling or laughter bursting.

I didn’t cry on our wedding day. I don’t cry when I’m overwhelmed by joy.

I laugh.

I giggle.

I grin my wide, toothy, ridiculous grin that distorts my face and drives my husband wild with happiness.

My husband cries.

When our friend Makayla read a poem, his lips quivered and his eyes watered, but they never broke contact with mine. As he began saying his vows to me, his voice broke as a sob escaped and he struggled to maintain composure as he got the rest of the words out.

It was my giggles and his sobs that ushered in our union and brought us into the world together.

Will it really be like this when God’s Kin-dom comes?

Is that why we stand when the bride walks down the aisle? To see her into this new world, this new life with her greatest love and joy?

Is that why we cry and laugh and spend so much time, money, and effort on marking these occasions?

Maybe so.

All I know is, if that day brings half of the peace, joy, and overwhelming love we felt on October 14th, we might really be in Paradise again.

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Our vows:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear:

To honor and be faithful to you as your husband/wife, partner, and best friend,

To love and embrace you in times of joy and struggle, 

And as we learn and grow together, 

To stand behind you as your support, in front of you as your leader, and by your side as your equal,

As long as we walk this earth.”

Kneeling for the Kin-dom of God

On Shrove Tuesday, (or Fat Tuesday for those adverse to fancy liturgical language), I slid down a slick ramp and busted my left knee open.

I was working in a parsonage office, and my boss brought to my attention that it had started raining, and I’d left my car windows down. I had taken the recycling and trash to the dump on my way to work, and without the cracked windows, my car would have been real ripe for the drive home.

Heeding his words, I grabbed my coat and went a little too fast out the door and onto the small, descending ramp attached to the house.

And I went down. Hard.

As I recovered from my embarrassment, I bit back curses and gingerly pushed myself up from the soft ground. I could feel the wet blood sliding down my leg and seeping through my favorite pair of jeans, which had, of course ripped. Nevertheless, I hobbled to my car, rolled up the windows, limped back inside, and asked my boss for a first aid kit.

This nasty cut bled through the 3 Band-Aids my boss gave me and 3 more at home.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, my knee stung and prickled as I knelt in front of the altar and the deacon smeared ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, muttering, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On the first Sunday of Lent, after days of replacing bandages and applying Neosporin, small amounts of pus replaced the blood. Kneeling for prayers at my Episcopal service was unbearable, and I was in a constant state of adjusting myself on the kneeling altar.

By the second Sunday, getting on my knees for prayer was a bit more bearable. A hard scab covered the worst parts of the wound, but a small remnant of exposed skin remained open to the environment.

I began to regret being part of a denomination in which most of our prayer time was spent on our knees. We made our confessions crouched over rickety altars. We partook of our holy meal while kneeling. Whenever we asked to be made right with God and for the world to be renewed, we did so in the most submissive position a body can take. And I did so with physical pain simmering in my body.

When you spend a lot of time on your knees asking for renewal, and you’re already in some type of pain or discomfort, the desire for said renewal to happen becomes much more urgent.

*****

I’ve been thinking about my knee and kneeling in light of the American athletes bending down on football fields, soccer arenas, and basketball courts across the nation.

I think about how I knelt in reverence, and how these athletes knelt in protest, and I can’t help but think they’re somehow connected.

When I knelt in painful awareness of my busted knee, I did so out of submission to and reverence of God, with a sense of humility, smallness, and even defenselessness.

I knelt in preparation for, during the receiving of, and while returning from the Eucharist, a communal meal symbolizing Christ’s nourishing presence within us.

I knelt during prayers of confession, wondering why the One who made us and the universe would entertain the notion of letting us approach with our tiny pleas for forgiveness.

I knelt to lower myself before God, in order for the Kin-dom of God to be made real, first in me, then in the world.

Back in 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling down during the playing of the national anthem to protest the system that this country gave birth to, one that allows the police to brutalize and destroy its citizens with no consequences. He knelt, not because he’s not a patriot, nor because he disrespects veterans, but because he cares about the people deemed unworthy and disposable.

Other athletes began to join him. They, too, knelt in defiance of the corrupt ways of our country, and they hoped that in their kneeling, others would be inspired to make a different world possible.

Instead, people lashed out. Instead of clinging to justice, they clung to their star-spangled idol.

Those who are against this movement say they care about respecting the flag and the country, and about revering the lives lost to protect it.

But I don’t think that’s really why they’re upset.

They’re not mad that Kaepernick knelt or that others joined him. They’re mad that he wouldn’t stand to honor the country that disproportionately mutilates and murders black and brown bodies, bodies like his. They’re mad because these “sons of bitches” broke a code of conduct for an inanimate object that idolizes an idyllic lifestyle that exists at the expense of black and brown and other marginalized lives.

Like the Pharisees with their tithes of mint, they give their fair share of salutes and attention but neglect the more important matters of the law: “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

But standing for the flag isn’t the reverence those who seek a more just, merciful, and faithful nation need to show. If we are serious, like Kaepernick and his supporters are, about making America a more just nation for all people, we need to show reverence and submission to something greater.

This requires us not to stand, but to kneel.

We need to show that reverence to God’s Dream for the world, in which justice rolls down like water, the wolf and the lamb feed together and a little child leads us all, and we will no longer need written laws, creeds, anthems, or codes of conduct, because the love of God will be engraved into every heart and soul.

It is to God’s Dream that we pledge our ultimate allegiance. Not America. Not the American Dream. Not even the flag.

And it’s an allegiance we show by getting on our knees.

We show that allegiance by kneeling and confessing our complicity in a corrupt system, even when it is extremely uncomfortable and even painful to do so. We show that allegiance by kneeling in front of our siblings of color in submission to their leadership, since they know the way forward better than we ever could.

We kneel to make ourselves open to discomforting change and transformation.

We kneel to say God’s will, not America’s, be done.

Because the truth is, God’s Kin-dom isn’t something we stand tall and proud for as it enters. It’s one that is ushered into the world as we kneel down in submission to its presence and in defiance of the empires of the world.

We kneel, because we owe our allegiance to this Kin-dom, not an prideful, idolatrous, exclusionary, supremacist Empire.

Joy As A Middle Finger

Content warning: mentions of attack in Charlottesville

“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” Micah 4:4

McGuffey

McGuffey Park in Charlottesville, VA

When I think of Charlottesville, the terrorist attack I was mere inches from obviously comes to mind.

But I also think about chanting and standing in solidarity with my black and brown friends as the white supremacists trudged down the street, remnants of pepper spray dripping in purple streaks down their once pristine white polo shirts. I think about the red-clad Antifa marching up behind us in a sea of red shirts and black and pink helmets, and the relief I felt when our group cheered them in, finally understanding what everyone meant when they told me “Antifa will keep us safe.” I recall the clergy arriving and linking arms to form a human blockade to stop the “parade” in their attemp to perform a very physical and literal exorcism of the streets.

And I think about going back to McGuffy Park after seeing the last of the “alt-right” leave. I reminisce on the time spent lounging under shady trees, sharing fruit snacks with my new BLM friends, trading stories about theater rehearsals and loved ones, meeting fellow activists, enjoying the sweet summer breezes and laughing at the Charlottesville citizens walking their dogs and going on jogs as if their city leaders hadn’t declared a State of Emergency.

And it made sense, because at the time, it really didn’t feel like a dire situation.

For a glorious half hour, it felt like a normal summer day.

It was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

It was pure joy, bliss, and contentment. It was safety.

It was resting on the ground beneath us and actually believing it might be level for everyone. It was vulnerability without fear of destruction. It was trust and love.

It was holy, holy, holy.

After that blissful half hour, we began marching on the Downtown Mall after hearing reports from fellow activists of renewed Nazi activity at another location. Even though we knew we were walking into more threats, the rush from our earlier victory over the neo-Nazis coursed through our veins, giving us hope that we could keep them at bay again.

When we marched those streets, we did so in victory. We did so in joy.

*****

When I think of Charlottesville, I still remember the joy. Oh, how I cling fiercely to that memory of joy.

I do not remember the joy in spite of the moment of terror that snatched it all away. I don’t remember those sweet moments to escape the reality of the pain, terror, and trauma from which my friends, fellow protesters, and I continue to recover.

I remember the joy because of the terror and the turmoil.

I cling to those joy-filled memories in a desperate effort to reclaim them from the terror that plagued that whole day and culminated in a terrorist attack by a white supremacist.

I keep that flicker of joy we had at the park safe and alive with all my might as a middle finger to those terrorists who would seek to destroy black and brown bodies, and those bodies that stand with them.

I remember the joy as a way to say to white terrorism and white supremacy, “Fuck y’all. You won’t win. Not this day, not this movement, not these lives.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that makes us laugh at insults like “race traitor” and whimpers about “Jewish privilege” and “reverse racism.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that got us back on our feet to march to our people in need.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that gives me the audacity to plan a wedding in the midst of this chaos and hatred.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that is keeping me going today.

I pray it’ll last.

Where Do I Begin?

Antifa

NY Magazine

Where do I begin?

Do I begin at St. Paul’s on Friday night, when the white supremacists surrounded a sanctuary of worship after beating up a gang of peaceful students, threatening and intimidating the people who came to answer the call of the God of justice?

Do I begin on Saturday morning, when the group with which I came couldn’t even get to Emancipation Park, the original site of the rally, because they knew they’d be marching to their arrests at best and their deaths at worst?

Do I begin when we finally got to the streets as the white supremacists were on their way out, and the white people put their bodies between the black and brown ones so the neo-Nazis couldn’t threaten them physically but could still taunt and demonize their sacred humanity?

Could I even begin when we got back to McGuffy Park after the white supremacists left and had a golden half hour of peace and joy, where we traded snacks and stories as if it were just a normal Saturday spent amongst friends?

Should I begin when we took to the streets again so we could meet some friends in need, when we marched and chanted and for a few shining moments held our fists up in victory?

Do I begin with the terror and chaos, the crashing cars, flying bodies, and screaming voices, of being separated from my group and not knowing if they were alive, injured or dead, of not knowing what the hell was going on except it was something awful?

Or must I start at the beginning of our nation’s history to unearth white supremacy’s origins, which have been embodied over and over again, from Native American genocide and slavery to Jim Crow laws and police brutality?

Where do I start? Where do I stop?

*****

DavidSmash

New York Times

The events are too much to recount. Should I begin with the people instead?

There was my main group, three activists from Black Lives Matter (BLM) and four from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). The BLM folks strategized where we would march and stationed themselves on the front lines during confrontations with the white supremacists. My fellow SURJ Care Bear and I provided snacks, water, and Aspirin to our Direct Action friends. Two SURJ de-escalators put their body between the three men in BLM and hoards of neo-Nazi, fascist white supremacists. We were seven brave souls doing God’s holy work of justice and mercy, demanding the acknowledgement of the sacred humanity of black and brown bodies, and handing out cough drops when the yelling broke our voices.

One of the BLM guys loved fruit snacks and always gave me a hug when I handed him a pack. He was always at the head of the pack when a confrontation with white supremacists occurred, at great risk to his own life. Another man had such a calm demeanor that I wondered what he was even doing there, until I heard him passionately chant and yell whenever he was on the front lines. Another carried a megaphone and led the whole community in our cries and made us double over with laughter at his witty one-liners. He’s a theater person like me, and he told me about the August Wilson play he’ll be performing in for which he hasn’t even begun to memorize his lines. (#Relatable).

My fellow Care Bear carried copious amounts of water and trail mix in her bag. Our de-escalators ran after our BLM comrades everywhere they went to make sure they stayed safe.

The so-called “evil” and “violent” Antifa prevented the white supremacists from beating clergy and stood by us when the alt-right passed us on the street, making sure we were safe and supported. They took control of the streets in the chaos following an act of terrorism, administering first aid and keeping people off the streets so fire trucks and ambulances could get through. We refused to go anywhere without them.

The people of SURJ made sure we all stayed together. After a terrorist drove through our fellow protesters and had us fleeing for our lives, they ensured that everyone was accounted for before seeking a safe house.

A seminary friend and community organizer prayed with my BLM friend after he witnessed the collision. Another seminary friend was the first familiar face I saw after escaping the chaos and the one I clung to in a desperate, terrified hug.

The family that housed my friends and I let us sleep on their furniture, breathe in their lavender and sage, gobble up their dark chocolate and honey, and rest in the sanctuary of a scenic and peaceful landscape after the chaos and hatred of the day.

In less than 24 hours, these people became my family and my great protectors.

I would march with them again any day.

*****

Is now the time to talk about returning home? Is this the end of the story?

On Saturday night, my fiance held me, the tension of watching and waiting finally over, his relief literally collapsing into me.

On Sunday, we watched movies and cooked meals together, and he kept looking at me and saying “You’re home,” as if he didn’t dare to believe it, because if circumstances had been different, it wouldn’t have been true.

On Monday morning, I used my prayer beads to pray in gratitude and in pain, for justice and for the steadying of my own heart, for myself to keep doing this holy, difficult, important work and for the families who have lost their loved ones to this same work.

On Monday afternoon, I went to work, and one of the first things I saw was my co-worker, a woman of color, leaving her lunch in tears because of a stray “…but don’t All Lives Matter” comment.

And then later that night, all my colleagues held a surprise bridal shower for me, and we ate cake, drank wine, and played Utter Nonesense for hours.

On Tuesday, I saw the posts and comments lumping my BLM friends and Antifa accomplices into the same category as those that threatened to and even succeeded at killing them. I read everything from “they’re the flip side of the same coin” to “everyone is equally responsible for making this happen,” as if our very presence in the face of evil was something to demonize and condemn.

Despite giving evidence that the BLM chapter of Charlottesville committed no violent acts, despite video footage of white supremacists viciously attacking people of color and other protesters, they didn’t listen. The president condemned us all and gave us a name associated with the evil we had encountered, as if we were worse than them.

And to add to the heartbreak and pain, to poison an already salted wound, the people saying and accepting these falsehoods claim the same “Christian” title I do.

We’re barely halfway through a new week, only days separated from Charlottesville, and still the tensions simmer. Still, the battles continue, not on the streets, but in the office and over Facebook and even in our own homes.

Now that I’m home, how do I keep fighting? Must I fight my own people?

Where do I start? When does it end?

*****

Do I conclude with a prayer, a prophecy, or a call to action?

Do I conclude with anything, or do I just let this be?

Do I tell you what to do next, or do I leave the choice up to you?

Do I remind you that real activism isn’t fuzzy hats and fuzzy feelings but hard, heartbreaking work that isn’t about you at all?

Do I dare give you an ending when this is far from over?

“Fuck It All” As A Sacred Prayer

Inland Church

One Thursday a few months ago, I sat curled up in the corner of my office bathroom, quietly weeping. And in that tiny, dark, holy space, with the bathroom fan turned on to mask my quiet screams and sobs, I prayed the most honest prayer I had in a long time: "Fuck it all. I can't handle this shit anymore."

At a Pentecostal revival I attended at age 17, surrounded on all sides by thousands of teens and a number of Jumbotrons, doubled over in surrender and tears, I prayed with all my might: "Take it all. I don't want anymore."

In the bathroom, I wept as thoughts of overdue bills, dead-end jobs, crappy diets, chaotic politics, and legislated hatred consumed my mind, and all I could say was, "Fuck it all."

At the revival, I wept as I thought of the strained friendship hanging by a thread, the boy I liked causing the strain, the endless anxious thoughts and lack of self-confidence, my "backsliding" faith, my absent father, my unhappy mother, and the fact that I wasn't having a "real" Pentecostal experience even as the Spirit slayed my friend beside me. I threw myself over a row of seats, surrounded by youth leaders and peers, and wailed over and over, "Take it all."

"Fuck it all" has become my new "Take it all." They're both prayers of surrender, honest acknowledgments that things aren't OK but there's only so much I can do about it. They are prayers of hopelessness, brutally truthful exclamations about the pain and bullshit so prominent in this world that I don't know how to begin to deal with it.

They are psalms, filled with pain, hopelessness, and crushing despair that drive us to finally throw the burden of trying to deal with everything off our aching shoulders. One prayer may have harsher language than the other, but both hold the pain and humanity of the psalters, prophets, judges, disciples, and Christ himself.

Surrender can be relieving, but it's not a white flag waving idly in a gentle breeze or raised hands lifted up in serenity.

It feels like slamming fists on the ground to feel a scrap of the pain you feel inside, constricting your body in tension so you can feel all of that discomfort within yourself, and finally falling flat in exhaustion, hopefully malleable again.

It feels like losing.

It's acknowledging that the war between yourself and God-like control, between you and absolute understanding, in short the greatest battles we ever wage with God, are over, and you have lost.

It sucks to lose and surrender. We are taught our whole lives, especially us Americans, that loss and surrender represent failure. We are taught to win or die trying.

But these prayers of surrender save us from being consumed by our own mad desires to be like and become God. They serve as our own internalized, self-destructing towers of Babel, so to speak.

These aren't prayers of prosperity. They're not prayers to make things better, nor prayers of trust in God's goodness and provision.

But they're honest, soul-refining prayers, and as such, they are holy.

Weeping Before Resurrection

Jesus Wept by Daniel Bonnell

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

My last course at seminary wasn't even a class. It was a small conference about spiritual formation with classes I took for seminary credit. For one of those classes, about spiritual formation in worship, our main assignment was leading the conference participants in opening and closing worship. The theme was Jesus' "I am" statements.

The day before our conference started, the Pulse nightclub shootings occurred. Only days into the conference at this point, we were all still reeling.

Our professor let us choose which statements we wanted to build our worship time around. I chose Jesus' "I am the resurrection and the life" statement. I spent the morning worship guiding the participants through a theater exercise I had based my capstone project around. I invited those gathered to hear me read John 11:17-35 out loud while they "acted out" a role. They could choose any "role" they felt led to embody: a main character, a side character, an invisible character, Jesus himself, and anyone in between.

I began to read, watching everyone get into their characters. Some walked around like Jesus' disciples entering the scene. Some ran like Mary approaching Jesus. Others wandered around, feeling a bit lost and self-conscious. But it took very little time for my own spiritual director, Linda, to get into her role.

She had a small scarf with her that she placed around her head. She sat cross-legged on the ground.

And she wept.

She wept loudly. She wept like a woman in the throes of grief, pain, and loss. She wept like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus' other mourners.

Her niece had unexpectedly lost her life only weeks prior to this conference. I knew she was heartbroken, seeing it in the tears in her eyes when she first told me, but I didn't expect her to react this way, so public and raw. That morning, I saw her grief in the shaking of her shoulders, the pain and loss literally doubling her body over.

This wasn't acting in a way that went through motions, something detached from the actor. This was real, raw, embodied engagement with the text, with her own story and the story of God. This was a real expression of grief and pain.

She wasn't acting like Mary, Martha, or another mourner. She had become one of them. She had become part of the story, because she was already living it.

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.

Eventually, I brought everyone back together to reflect on their experiences and conclude our morning worship. But the whole time, I worried my professor would tell me I had ended the experience "wrong." I feared she would tell me I shouldn't have left the group with Jesus' weeping when the hope of Jesus being the resurrection and the life was the "point" of the story.

But I couldn't do it. I couldn't get to the resurrection first thing that morning. It didn't feel right.

Jesus weeping was the reason I had chosen the text, after all.

And I needed to weep.

So did Linda. So did most of the people there, more than likely.

So do most of us at any point in time in our lives.

 

We needed to weep over the fact that terrorist attacks against the most vulnerable in our society still happen, beautiful people still lose their lives at tragically young ages, and despite our best efforts, death continues to be a reality.

Y'all, I get it. Resurrection, new life, justice, and peace are things coming, that we await with bated breath and cling to in our darkest hours.

But in the midst of the pain and shit, we need to bawl our eyes out and grieve over the fact that it's not freaking here yet.

I've heard various reasons given as to why Jesus weeps in this scene. The one I've heard the most is that Jesus felt overwhelmed at how much the people didn't seem to get that he was the resurrection, that they didn't understand the true weight of his words.

This seems a little weak, not to mention more than a little petty, to me. I don't see Jesus as the kind of guy to get moved to tears because silly mortals didn't get everything he tried to explain them.

I think Jesus grieved his friend's death, Mary and Martha's pain, the fact that any of us have to die, and the fact that he, too, would suffer death's sting.

Sure, Jesus might have known he would survive in the end. Perhaps he knew death wasn't going to have the final say.

Yet he still broke down in tears at his friend's funeral.

He still needed to grieve resurrection's absence in that moment.

When I get really strong anxiety attacks, all I can do is curl up in a ball and weep, because even though I know my anxious, intrusive thoughts aren't true and don't have the final say, I need the space to weep and mourn the fact that they are there and will always be with me.

We know the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but holy shit is it long, and we lose way too many people as we push it to bend faster and be more inclusive. Sometimes we just need to weep so we can honor the exhaustion we feel, grieve the lives we've lost, and be pissed that things still have such a long way to go.

We know the principalities and powers of the world are nothing compared to the glorious, upcoming reign and kingdom of God, but it's still necessary to cry out and scream against the unjust practices of our politics if we hope to bring that kingdom to earth.

Jesus wept before he went and woke up his friend. We have every right, and perhaps even the duty, to do the same.