Tag Archives: Death

What Is Love? (Baby, Don’t Hurt Me…)

Easter, Rick and Morty, Warm Bodies, and Asgard.
Just What IS Love, anyway?

Sometimes…what you really need is for someone else to pay a horrible price.

The clip above is from a Rick and Morty episode where Summer works for an independent business owner, at what is basically a vintage thrift store, “selling” items that grant the purchaser their deepest desires, while also cursing them. Needful Things.
Oh, and the shop owner is the Devil.
The idea is that Mr. Needful (the Devil) gives you what you truly want (or maybe…what you think you truly want), but makes you pay a horrible price for it.

The store’s only function and purpose is to curse people. And Summer, all the while aware of what’s truly going on and who Mr. Needful, her employer, truly is, is fine with it. Because, according to her logic, “Fast Food gives people diabetes and clothing stores have sweat shops. Is there a company hiring teenagers that isn’t evil? This is my first job and you’ve been nice to me. You respect me.

Well at the end of the episode, Summer discovers she’s just another con, and the Devil really doesn’t care about her. So feeling used, angry, hurt, sad, taken advantage of, and with no way of getting back at the one who hurt inflicted all this upon her, she turns to her grandpa Rick for help.
And do what it takes to physically punish the one who has it coming to them.

And then others.

“Because sometimes…what you really need is for someone else to pay a horrible price.”

Now you might’ve been a little incensed at the language or steroid use-the content, but admit it: Didn’t part of you relish in the physical pummeling of those who “have it coming”?

Don’t you wish defeating your enemies could be a task so easy as beating them up?

Don’t you wish those enemies could suffer? Don’t you wish those that deserve it, could suffer?
Even just a little bit?

Well anyway, it’s Easter. And last time I wrote about a spiritual holiday, it ultimately posed the question, “What do we do when we don’t know the end of the story?” When all we have is the beginning—the unknown.
When all we have is new life.
And Easter kinda has that air of the end of life. Or…at least when you continue that theme of not knowing or understanding the whole story. The end of all you knew. All you hoped for.
The death of dreams.
The death of hope.
The death of connection.

The death of life.

And it’s a funny year, this year, to talk about death like this, because of all that’s going on in the world.
It kinda feels like death is all around us. Knocking at our door. And all we have been doing is walling ourselves off to the inevitable. Death.

We fight. We hate. We fear.
And we struggle. Struggle to survive. And hold on to any bit of power and control that we can.
All in a bid to stave off death for that much longer.

It really is like being in the start of one of those apocalypse films.

All of them have similar themes: a fight for survival, warding off death, and extreme “othering.”
I have to admit, I love a lot of those films. Be they post-apocalypse, like Mad Max: Fury Road, or vampire apocalypse, like Daybreakers, or zombie apocalypse, like Warm Bodies.
In fact, those are actually my three favorite for each category (let alone in general).

For those that don’t know, Warm Bodies is like a zombie apocalypse Romeo and Juliet story. In fact, the protagonist of the film is a zombie named “R”, because he doesn’t remember his name, who falls in love with one of the living named, “Julie.” (See how close they’re riffing?)

But Warm Bodies isn’t like other zombie films. Sure, zombies pose a threat, they are the undead, and they feast on the brains of the living. But in Warm Bodies, zombies seem to be a metaphor for how society already is. Factioned. Divided.
Othered.
And with many now who already go through life like the living dead.

In Warm Bodies, zombies exist in this limbo state. Undead, but not yet all gone. You see, it seems the only fate for the undead in Warm Bodies is to become “bonies.” When they give up. And lose all hope.
Apollumi

But there’s another reason Warm Bodies is a different type of zombie film. You see, in Warm Bodies, the undead can come alive. Or rather, the living dead, become the living life. More alive than those that aren’t zombies in the first place.
In Warm Bodies, the dead come back to life. And not in the “Night of the Living Dead” sense, where the dead come back as undead.
No.
In Warm Bodies, the zombies hearts start beating once again. They’re…born again. So to speak.

And the old paradigms that had sustained society: walled off cities, social division, fighting to survive, othering; all of it dies with death.

At the end of the film, R bleeds. And he becomes fully alive. And he isn’t the only one.
The film ends with a summary of what happens in the aftermath. R comments that from one perspective, getting shot in the chest hurts him, like a lot. But ultimately, for him, it felt good to bleed, to feel pain.
To feel love.
To feel.
And for the rest of the zombies, they all learned how to live again. R comments that for a while, it seemed like everyone had forgotten what that meant: to live.
And the cure? The cure to death, to bring life?
Connection.
R goes on to say how scary it was at first, painful even. But that every great thing starts out a little scary, and might even hurt to begin.
The final shot is of the massive dividing wall being destroyed, and collapsing.
No more walls. No more divisions. No more others.
All are one. In a new life. A new world.
A kingdom that’s conquered death.

This is how the world was…exhumed.”

Many see Easter as the beginning of this new world. Or just like how they see Christmas through the lens of Easter, they view Easter through the lens of their dogma about a Second Coming.
A Reckoning.
Justice.

“X gon’ give it to ya!”

And yet…all too often, they miss the bigger meaning.
Sometimes when you stare at something massive, you actually run the risk of oversimplification, and of missing the actual scope of it all. Seeing only half the picture.
And so for Easter, this new life, this new world, has turned into one that is to come. It’s removed, distant. A hope for some kingdom to come. A promise at the end of a long bridge.
A place far away from here, that death seemingly can never get to; never reach, never touch. There are those on the inside, and those on the outside. And each “deserves” what they get. “Those bad people? They had it coming. And now we’re safe away from them, and from death.” It provides comfort. Stability. Perhaps even an assurance that you did right, did good, and that you’re right where you should be. (Maybe that’s why we need others to suffer. It’s easier to see we’re the good guys then…)

But…when faced with the whole picture, well then it very often feels like all hope is dead. Because the place that you hoped in, that you kept thinking was someplace else. Behind walls. Protected. Safe.
Well now it’s threatened.

To discover the whole picture can feel like Death has infiltrated the Kingdom; infested the place. Corroded it.
It may even make you feel powerless.
Broken.

Death is too strong.
And it can make you feel like nothing.

…Maybe the Cross makes you feel that way.

I would imagine it did for those in history, on that day. To see Him up on the Cross, it may have felt like Death itself had taken Heaven and…sundered it in two.

Asgard is not a place, it never was.
It’s a people.
Heaven (or the Kingdom of Heaven) is not a place, it’s a people.
And because it’s not a place, anywhere could be Heaven.
This could be Heaven. This could be the Kingdom.
But it might just take you being broken to see it.
A Kingdom here. Now. A new type of Kingdom.
A Kingdom of Life.
A Kingdom of Love.

It’s not a place. It’s people. And it’s here now. All around you.
Do you witness Heaven? Or do you fear Hell?

You see, it’s not the pain which ruins you, it’s what you do to avoid the pain.
If you’re afraid only of breaking, let yourself be broken.
BREAK.
Let spirit crack you open to discover (living) water springing forth like it did for Moses. Discover yourself being forged.
Transformed.
And discover that living water. Discover life.
Which can only come from the rock (of your hardened heart) being broken, its wall destroyed, collapsing.

I titled this message, “What is Love?” And I have to admit, I’m still trying to sort out a definition that sits well with me. What I can say is that I find myself in agreement with lyricists of the past as to what love is not.
Love is not some victory march.”
It’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

True love is precisely this:
Forsaking the promise of eternity itself for an imperfect individual.

Love is something that breaks you.
But it’s a good break. It breaks you TO LIFE.

Jesus was broken by love.
And I think on a certain level, that is what we really needed: For someone else to pay a horrible price.
Perhaps this time away from each other, isolated and alone, is a lot like being in a tomb. But there’s the other thing Easter promises:
The stone rolls away. Walls fall.
And when that happens in your life, may it lead to so much more.
Instead of looking to break others in the name of “protecting” life, be broken.

Let love break you this Easter Sunday.

Discover life. Feel your heart beat. (Perhaps even for the first time.)

And see how glorious it is to hurt in your chest.
How good it feels to hurt, to be pained, to bleed (into one another, even).
What I mean is, see how good it is to feel love.

 

Ultimately…see how glorious it is, when everything is new.

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Filed under Celebrating, Celebrations, Easter, God stuff, Holiday, Uncategorized

Baby Jesus, and Secret Hidden Messages Just For You

(in which I present my Christmas thoughts this year by discussing not so secret messages, which version of Jesus you prefer, The Mandalorian (Baby Yoda), The Book Thief, Death, Birth, and All Things New.)

I just finished reading “The Book Thief.” I was given the book by someone who told me that the narrator reminded them of me. It didn’t take too long into it that I realized the narrator is Death.
That’s its own thing, but given how much my head’s been swirling lately, and just how many thoughts go circling around up there, I can see the similarities.
But it’s the last line that really clinched it for me, a last note from the narrator.

I am haunted by humans.”

It’s true. Well…it’s true that that’s how the book ends. But not just that.
It’s true of me too. I am haunted by humans. One of the greatest gifts I can say I’ve gotten was stories of old, of people I never met nor knew. Letters written. Windows into just a PART of someone’s life.

But isn’t that what a story is anyway? Just a window? A person is so much more. And to know the person is SO much more than just knowing the story.

Every story ever told really happened.
Stories…are where memories go when they’re forgotten.”

I can’t speak to why memories get forgotten, but I can say with a certain conviction that stories impact us all differently, and the emotions they elicit in each of us individually can be just as varied as their impact.
But stories have themes. They may even have recurring messages. Some are poetically weaved throughout—subtle. And others are overtly stated right at the beginning.
In The Book Thief, the last line is the narrator stating, “I am haunted by humans.” But one of the first lines is this: “HERE’S A SMALL FACT You are going to die.”

Seems a bit overt, probably probing, begging you to ask yourself the question, “Am I okay with this? Am I okay with dying?” Maybe even makes you get a bit more philosophical in your self reflection and introspection, “What’s it mean to die? What’s it mean to be alive? What’s it mean to die while still living?”
But the more I read on, the more I realized that the Book Thief is less about the character of Liesel Meminger, and more a character study of Death itself; AND as a result, a means of which causes you, the reader, to engage with the character of Death, and perhaps more subtly, your relationship to that character—to Death.

How do you relate to Death?

 

Well. Going back to Christmas. We’ve got a story of Birth, not Death (though, maybe as you’ll see soon, perhaps the story of Christmas is as much as story of Death as it is of Birth).
Put simply, I think the story of Christmas, of Bethlehem, and of the birth of a baby—the revelation that the most important thing in the universe is an infant—also serves to reveal more about you, the reader, and how you engage with each character.
It’s almost inescapable.
Unavoidable.
And ohhhh how we try so hard to do so. Let’s make it about making sure we say the right thing around the holiday, or do the right thing, or buy the right thing. Let’s keep busy. Let’s not think too hard. Let’s do just enough acknowledgment that we feel we’ve serviced the “heart” of the holiday, but not in a way where it changes us, or causes us anxiety about ourselves. Let’s not think too hard about it so as to ask the questions that REALLY SHOULD be asked, the ones that may just bring about the end of us.
It is, after all, simply the birth of the “Savior,” and we KNOW what name to write on the birthday cake.

And it’s the end of the story—the death and resurrection—that we’re left with.

But what does the beginning tell us? What does it reveal about ourselves?
Which version of Jesus do YOU pray to?

I started this post with a clip from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. It’s probably my favorite scene from that film because it presents such a real and honest display of everything I’ve been saying up to this point.
What version of Jesus you prefer and like the best says more about you than it does about Jesus.

And what’s wrong with liking the baby version the best?
Because it’s weak? Because it’s not the savior? Because it requires care and a more delicate hand on your part?

See, the grown up, bearded man version of Jesus is the one we go to. That’s the one that “carries us” when we’re struggling (why there’s only one set of footprints). The grown up version is the one that takes care of US, dies for US, saves US.
But the baby version…well…the baby version requires YOU to care for IT. The baby version requires YOU to take care of IT.

It’s the baby version that requires YOU to die for IT.

The baby version requires more on your part. More questions. More self reflection. More introspection. More anxiety. Maybe even the end of you. It requires honesty. Vulnerability.
It requires being an adult. Being a parent. Care. Tenderness. Protection. Realness. Stress.
Humanity.
You feeling weak, frustrated, open to hurt.
It requires you being human.
Sooo…

How do YOU relate to BABY Jesus?

See, I don’t think that’s a question we want to ask ourselves. So we project. We know the end of the story, after all. And the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus becomes more about what the end of the story means.

I am haunted by humans.”

Recently—much like most redblooded Americans—I began watching Disney+’s “The Mandalorian.” It didn’t take long to reveal the big shocker of the series: a baby Yoda.

Image result for baby yoda
Friggin adorable. You should see him eat a frog. Or play with spaceship controls. Or disobey.

Whoa! Spoilers!” You say. To which I respond with, “Welcome to the internet.”

But the series turns heel at that moment. And what you THOUGHT was a story about one character and his history, becomes about how he relates to an infant.
See he doesn’t know baby Yoda, or what a Yoda species means, it’s power, rarity, bigger narrative implications. He just sees an infant. An adorable one.
And come episode three, the titular Mandalorian abandons everything to take care of the infant.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the story’s end, because we the audience don’t know what this baby is, or how important it is, or what will happen to it in the overall narrative.
Like we do with the infant born in a middle eastern cave, and laid in a food troth.
We know the end there. “It is finished.” (Though I don’t think all of us understand the end…)

What if all we had was the beginning (of the story)?

Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve had countless times where students have approached me to say they’re convinced I said something in class just for them. Like I was speaking for their benefit, and speaking directly and only to them. Like I was coding secret messages in a general message JUST to reach out to them.
Funny thing about truth is that sometimes it pierces in such a personal way that it feels as if it’s talking to JUST US. And I won’t lie, sometimes I DID code secret messages in a general message JUST to reach out to specific individuals.

But sometimes a story can feel so personal simply because we think we know the ending. Or maybe that the storyteller does. We think we have it all figured out, the story. It’s like that with people too. We think we know the ending. Or that the other person does.
When in reality, it’s just the beginning. And what that means to us is that we don’t know the ending.
We only know that the story has truly just begun.
And that lack of knowing what happens next, well…if we think we have it figured out, what do we need the story for? What do we need another person for?

Personally, this year has brought about a lot of change. Like…a LOT.
This year has brought about the end of me in so many ways, it’s impossible to fully get into without long, drawn out conversations that stretch far into the night.
And anyone that knows me well enough knows how difficult and challenging this season has always been to me. Not just Christmas, but my birthday as well (which happens to be coming up soon, and falls prior to Christmas). This whole season, just difficult no matter WHAT else is going on in my life.
And I can always tell the struggle has begun because—without FAIL—my lower back begins to hurt to the point of debilitation. This year it hit two days ago. And each year I think, “Gah. What did I do? How’d I pull my back THIS bad??” And then I realize this happens EVERY YEAR.

But something clicked this year that has changed what I view this season to be. No, not that it cured my lower back pain.
The theme. What’s at the heart of the story of this season? The birth? Baby Jesus? All the questions and self reflection and introspection that relating to Baby Jesus brings?

Do not be afraid.” Zacharias. Joseph. Mary. The shephards. “Do not be afraid.”
This is one of the first lines of the narrative in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that provide us the Nativity Story, the birth of Jesus.
Do not be afraid.”
THIS is the theme of the story. Each of these characters may have been told the importance of Jesus, what Jesus will be, all of it. But what they were facing in the here and now was this: an infant. A baby.
“A baby changes everything…”

How much responsibility. Care.
The END of you. A NEW relationship.

And it’s scary. It’s frightening. There’s SO many what-ifs. And it will more than likely be the end of you. But all of this is GOOD NEWS. The END of FEAR. Which is good news in itself.

You have everything to fear, and yet you’re told, “It’s okay. You have nothing to fear.”

This is how the story starts. Overtly.
And if anything is subtly weaved throughout the rest of the story, it’s this message.

So I may not know the future. I don’t, actually. Just like I don’t know what’s gonna happen in The Mandalorian, or if having a baby Yoda is somehow going to play into The Rise of Skywalker.
I don’t know it. And not knowing the story can be very scary. And present the end of me.

But I’m not afraid.

And no, this isn’t me making a subtle secret message. (But then again, I’m not that good of a storyteller.) I’m not being poetic, I’m not being mysterious or obscure.
I’m saying this directly and overtly.

DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
I bring you good news. And it’s this: You don’t have to be afraid.

This will change everything, sure. It’ll be the end of you, sure. But you don’t have to fear it.
You don’t have to fear anything that causes you fear.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.
For this is only the beginning. And it’s not just a season. It’s a new life.
THIS is the new year. And none of us have anything to fear.

It’s true. WHEREVER you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

And Christmas means YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR.
So…WHEREVER you find love…DON’T BE AFRAID.
THAT’S good news.

There is no fear in love…perfect love casts out fear.” – 1st John 4:18

And I believe THAT is worth giving thanks.

So.
Let’s all give thanks to tiny, 8lbs 6oz, newborn infant Jesus, who doesn’t even know his shapes and colors.

 

(UP NEXT: What is Love? Baby, Don’t Hurt Me…)

->and the world WILL be better for this…

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Filed under Celebrating, Celebrations, Christmas, God stuff, Holiday