If I was the Apostle Paul, I would start this letter with something like, “Dearly Beloved in Christ.” And then I would write some brilliant, heart and soul-searing advice about how to be the Church together. And then I would run from the Romans and wind up getting arrested while preaching the gospel in a pagan center like Ephesus and then go to prison and get beaten and tortured and continue to write staggeringly insightful and loving epistles on, like, my blood-stained garment (I don’t think they gave Paul paper in prison, right? And they didn’t even have pens back then) that I would sneak out the window to a waiting messenger who would then take it to the Jesus people in the city it was intended for, and my words would survive and be translated into many languages and people would read them many hundreds of years later and be very touched by them.
But I am not the Apostle Paul. I am Victoria Weinstein and I am sitting in a study on the top floor of a little house in Lynn, Massachusetts, typing into a keyboard while rolling my right foot around on a frozen water bottle, because I have plantar fascitis. I will not be risking my life by talking about Jesus of Nazareth, because everyone has heard of Jesus of Nazareth already, and a lot of people they know and understand everything that happened to Jesus of Nazareth (P.S. Important Things About God!) and are total asses because of this (there will be cuss words in these next posts — please understand that I am committed to total authenticity here, and I apologize if it offends you), and some people are wondering about what happened with this whole Jesus thing, and some people are sick and tired of the whole story and wish it would go away already, and you, dear reader, you have expressed curiosity about it.
You are wondering what Easter is about for me, and for you, and I have offered to take you on my own Holy Week journey, starting from today, which is no special day but a Wednesday night in Lent.
I want to make it clear to you that I am writing these posts as a friend who is also a minister, who is also a Unitarian Universalist, who is also a Christian. Who is mostly, for the purposes of these posts, a lady who loves Jesus and who has 100% crazy irrational beliefs about what happened during Easter. So let me say from the start that it’s totally okay with me if you part ways with me at any point in this journey but I hope you won’t, because it’s lovely to be together whatever our beliefs or non-beliefs. I have been a Unitarian Universalist all my life, and a woman of Jewish heritage, and a Christian officially since 1999 (when I was baptized), and I am very used to people being freaked out by my beliefs: either offended that I am not Christian enough, or offended that I am Christian at all, or offended that I am a Christian who reads Tarot cards and has witchy powers and practices (I can’t help any of that), or offended that I am a Unitarian Universalist with unpopular opinions who dares voice them.
I like labels when they’re useful, and those of us who want to work as ministers in any legit official capacity need to identify as some flavor of religion, so that’s fine with me. I am a Christian-flavored Unitarian Univeralist, or maybe a Unitarian Universalist-flavored Christian.
Here’s why: Jesus is my personal Lord and savior.
But kind of not!
Let’s break this down, because that’s fun. Now that I’ve shocked you, let me help you up off the floor and ‘splain.
Yes, ”personal Lord” is taking it too far. I love the majesty of the word LORD, especially in the context of considering creation itself. When I look at mountains, for instance, LORD is the best word I can come up with for what they evoke. But “personal Lord” is kind of cute. It’s like Jesus is a little pocket version of that LORD-energy of the universe that I mostly think of as God. I kind of like that.
“Savior” is a nice term for someone whose spirit presence, teachings and love guide and guard and sustain me like Mr. Jesus does. I don’t believe my soul needed or needs saving in the conservative Christian sense (and I take Jesus’ own preaching on that subject in his first century apocalyptic Jewish context), but I could honestly say that Jesus “saved” me from dipping my toe into a variety of religious traditions and never getting deeply immersed, challenged or transformed by any of them (and not for lack of desire or trying). Thanks for saving me from wandering around the religious marketplace hungry and thirsty and lonely, Jesus!
Since a whole bunch of the Christian world would totally deny my legitimacy in the faith, I am also fine just identifying as a “Jesus person.” I don’t really like “Jesus follower,” because I so often walk right off the Jesus path and wander into the wood or stop for a really long coffee break to people-watch or go shopping or something and totally ignore Jesus, it’s really not fair to say I’m a follower. I’m a terrible follower. I’m a devotee and lover of Jesus. If you want to read more about that, find the book Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism. I wrote one of the chapters.
Another reason I’m a Christian-flavored Unitarian Universalist:
I love the Bible and I read it all the time – mostly the Christian scriptures. I think about it all the time. It’s the best book ever put together by the most dysfunctional species on the planet and maybe in the entire cosmos. Can you imagine any other species coming up with this range of evil, betrayal, stupidity, agony, and transcendence? I love lions and everything, but they just don’t have our variety. The Scripture of the Lion: “We got born, we nursed from our mom, we hunted stuff, we tumbled around, we learned how to hold other animals down with our paws and tear them apart with our teeth, we slept, we woke up, we formed prides, we had some alpha male battles, we were created awesome so we didn’t really evolve into anything much different than we were a million years ago. We had no moral dilemmas. We didn’t like dying but we didn’t fear death.” Done.
The Bible is the family photo album of the Western world and I can’t stop looking through it and going back with a magnifying glass to look some more. To wonder which side of the family I most resemble (it changes as I age). To re-read the scary and disturbing parts because they’re so horribly fascinating. To get high on the glory of the visions of the prophets and the mystics (John of Patmos! Joseph!). To laugh at the jokes (Proverbs! Jeremiah’s snark! Jesus’ snappy retorts!). But most of all, I read the Bible to stand in solidarity with the ultimately impossible human project of naming the God-thing. God is an experience and an encounter, and we keep trying to define it as a noun. I won’t try to do that myself but I sure do appreciate those who did. Those are the parts I read over and over and over: the parts where human beings directly encounter God and try to explain what that was like. In Jesus, I feel like he had a direct encounter with God that was his whole life, and what happened after he died, and then happened to his community of followers after that, and then that happened to the communities that formed after that, and so on, down to me and my community.
I love all kinds of communities and treasure their sacred stories. I’m not interested in making people Christian at all. I’m REALLY interested in helping groups of people become communities. I don’t care who or what we are or what we believe: communities save. If you want to know my deepest religious conviction, I believe that the thing that gathers us into communities is God. It is holy. It is “deep calls to deep.” I have been having direct, unmediated experiences of God all my life, but it didn’t amount to much of anything until I was called into a life of community. Community is where the God who speaks to us by our lonesome pulls us out of self-absorbed mystical musings and makes of us a people.
This would be a good time to say that I consider Easter the most important and serious time of year to reflect on how God makes of us a people. It’s about Jesus’ individual path, yes, but Jesus didn’t have an individual story — he had a story on behalf of the community, the ecclesia, the koinonia. If you know that I am a scholar of the congregational covenant tradition, that will not surprise you. The Easter narrative that starts on Palm Sunday has its origins in Passover, when God makes the monotheistic nation of Israel a people. So, this is really, really my time to totally give in to my amazement at that miracle, which I really experience as miracle every day in my work.
With all that love for the Bible, I have an appreciation for other sacred scriptures like Nature, and Shakespeare, and poetry and Sondheim. As a Unitarian Universalist, I get to shape worship around multiple sacred scriptures, and if I was a Christian minister who had to preach from the Bible every week and craft the liturgy around it, I think I would miss the other scriptures a lot.
When I’m in a Christian community, I love how easy it is to talk about spiritual matters, because everyone shares a common language. You can pray without prefacing your prayer with a lot of euphemisms (“O, Source Of Life, O Spirit of Community, O My God Are We Ever Going To Get Going On The Actual Prayer”), you can sing Jesus and Christ-y songs and not worry about them being too Jesusy Christ-y. That’s a nice experience, although I have noticed through the years that you can’t really assume that just because you’re all ostensibly Christian, you’re all on the same page about anything theological. We have entered a new age of eclectic spirituality where pretty much everyone you meet outside of the Bible Belt has a variety of religious influences. They’re Methodists who do yoga and go to a medium in Salem to talk to the dead, and they have a little Buddhist meditation altar set up at home. This is why I really love shared spiritual practice best, where you all go and try to do something in common (or read something, or work on something) and then you come together and do theological reflection on that activity. That’s where I experience God-time most: in conversation and listening and sharing the scary work of surviving life and coping with mortality.
So that’s a little bit of background. Now let’s talk about Palm Sunday. Are you ready? Any questions?