I am in Brazil right now with my wife visiting her family. My parents are here as well, and today we went to the statue you’ve probably seen in photos of Rio de Jainero, Cristo Redentor, which means Chris the Redeemer. I haven’t had too much time to write up any thoughts about faith, but I wanted to share with you a photo I took of the gigantic Jesus looking down on Rio.
Author Archives: Jeremiah Sierra
It’s been a really long day, but before I go to bed I thought I’d share with you this painting by Maria Lassnig that I recently saw at P.S. 1, which is part of the MOMA. It’s called The Reconciliation. I think it pairs well with a little Iron & Wine.
Sometimes you need crunchy guitars to get you through the day, and some days you need to listen to Bach to drown out the rattle and whirr of the window unit. I know this particular song is turning a bit into a cliché, the piece of music that those of us who know nothing about classical music listen to on repeat, but I don’t really care. You could call anything old and beloved a cliché, except it hasn’t lost its beauty and meaning. Not to me, anyway.
The other day I wrote this note to myself (another necessary cliché, perhaps) as I was wading through a long to-do list:
Of course, I was in the middle of writing an email and listening to music when I stopped to write this down. I am a hypocrite, sometimes because I know the right thing to do but choose not to do it, and sometimes because I am pulled in so many directions I am often trying to go both ways at once.
Maybe that’s why we pray, to carve out a little space, to find a way. Prayer is simply pointing yourself in a direction.
I haven’t been praying much lately, to be honest, but nonetheless prayers are still answered. The next issue of Trinity news is almost done and St. Lydia’s met its fundraising goal though donations are still needed if you have a few bucks to throw our way (and I feel the need to show you this ridiculous and fantastic meme that Emily Scott, our pastor, made).
Work doesn’t always feel like a clean and simple checking off of to-do lists (I’m sure you know this). It’s often messier than that because it involves our own fallible hands and minds and, worse, other people. The work of living together and creating something good, whether it’s a magazine or a church, music or a meal, is sometimes a slog, but it’s also necessary and it’s the only way forward.
Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us – a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain – it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to this sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say going through the motions – this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgement of effort – the labor, the motions, the dance – of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.
This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.
Basically, this is a reminder that loving your neighbor as yourself, and even loving yourself, is a choice you have to make. Sometimes love is easy, and sometimes love is work.
I’ve just finished reading Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. In it, revolutionaries hold international businessmen, dignitaries, and an opera hostage in a house in an unnamed South American country. They speak many languages, but with help and time they eventually learn to communicate with each other. It’s a lovely and melancholy book about, in part, the things that connect us despite our differences and the way life breaks us apart.
We recently celebrated Pentecost, the day that the disciples found themselves speaking languages that were foreign to them moments ago. I wonder if it was like listening to a new song, and being surprised to find you already know the melody. Of course, things eventually got much more difficult the disciples, but they did not stop traveling and learning and spreading the Good News. The Gospel was not static and neither were they.
Occasionally, I see the trend among Christians to create a whole separate culture (see: Godinterest). While I do think that it can be helpful to create community with others who share your values, it’s possible to cut yourself off from what others can teach you, giving you a skewed view of the world and making it difficult to have any discernible impact. You can’t serve a world you can’t see and you can’t love people without listening to them.
One of the things I love about living in a city like New York is how often you encounter people different from yourself, how many languages you might hear walking down the sidewalk. Sometimes I also hate this part of living in a city, especially at 8am on a crowded train when somebody is playing a Candy Crush with the sound turned all the way up and someone else is asking for money.
Living with others is hard work. We all know this, if only from navigating our Facebook feeds, but shutting ourselves off from others is not an option. Living with and loving other people requires us to move, to cross borders. It requires us learn new languages.
For about as long as I’ve been living in New York City St. Lydia’s has been my home. It’s a progressive, inclusive community that combines liturgy and a meal. The people who attend range from young twenty somethings who have just moved to New York to homeless men and women to even a few families with kids. It is, I think, an example of what church can be at it’s best.
We’re moving into a new space, so I’m sharing this video with you so you can get a sense of what we’re like and what we’re up to (and I confess I’d love it if you’d to consider making a donation). If you’re ever in New York, come visit!
Maya Angelou died today at the age of 86. A friend of mine posted A Conceit, one of her poems, online, and it’s small and lovey. It begins:
Give me your hand
Make room for me
to lead and follow
beyond this rage of poetry.
This poem makes me think of an essay I read by Mary Karr called Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer. In it she writes:
From a very early age, when I read a poem, it was as if the poet’s burning taper touched some charred filament in my rib cage to set me alight. Somehow—long before I’d published—that connection even extended from me outward. Lifting my face from the page, I often faced my fellow creatures with less dread. Maybe secreted in one of them was an ache or tenderness similar to the one I’d just eaten of.
Which makes me think of all that Angelou has done with her witness and her words to connect us and change us for the better. Rest in Peace.
Well, it’s Friday before a long weekend, and you’re probably finishing up work and trying to get out the door. So here’s just a little link: Morgan Freeman, plus helium.
Every Wednesday, I’m going to post a song I’m listening to along with some thoughts on faith and links. Sometimes the song and the reflection will connect and sometimes it will just be something I think you’ll enjoy listening to while reading. – Jeremiah
This past weekend at St. Lydia’s we read John 20:19-30. In it, Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, but Thomas is out. We hear Thomas’ familiar reply, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Of course, we all know what happens next.
Many of us who are intimately familiar with doubt find some kinship with Thomas and his inability to believe. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” says Jesus. I haven’t seen, and I often find it pretty difficult to believe.
I recently came across an article via Episcopal Café by John Falcouner, which was a helpful reminder that there’s more to faith then belief. He writes:
Religion is about living in the world in a certain way, seeing it differently, experiencing it differently. It entails beliefs, but it is a matter of beliefs, ways of acting, communal expectations, covenants, rites, and so on fitting together into a context that forms the background of an entire life (a “form of life” Wittgenstein calls it—Philosophical Investigations, section 19). No one of these is fundamental to the others. Religious beliefs, practices, and acts each have meaning against the background of and within the web they form. Together they are the meaning-context for religious life. Beliefs, theological or otherwise, don’t have a special, more fundamental place in their relationship with the other parts of religious life and experience. They are part of a whole, and to be a religious person is to live within that whole.
Beliefs have assumed an inordinately prominent place in America. You cannot be a Christian without right belief, seems to be the mindset in much of Evangelical Christianity. From Episcopalians, I more often hear something along the lines of, “We shouldn’t act before getting our theology in place,” an idea that often makes me want to roll my eyes.
Yes, developing a coherent theology is important (somewhat, and for some people, anyway), but I think it rarely precedes action. That’s just not how human beings work. It’s part of a whole “form of life,” which is messy and often all out of order.
Christian Wiman gets at this a bit, in this excerpt from his poem, One Time.
But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man.
We, people of faith, theologians, are really closer to poets than scientists anyway, scrambling for the right words to express what’s going on just beyond our understanding, hoping that when the moment comes, we’ll see God standing before us.