Lent 18

Yesterday I took a break from prose to share a poem. The other Lazarus is certainly the lesser known of the two named in the gospels. The famous Lazarus is said to have been brought back from the dead by Jesus. The lessor Lazarus’ only claim to fame is that he is the only person ever given a name to in the parables that the gospel writers ascribe to Jesus. Everyone else is a rich man, father, household owner, dinner guest, servant or slave. At least the lessor Lazarus gets something. He doesn’t get much else in the story. He begs for scraps from a rich man, dies poor, then goes the live in “Abraham’s bosom” where the rich man watches with envy from “Hades.” He begs Abraham, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Abraham says, it’s no go. He then he begs for Lazarus to warn his five brothers not to live like greedy shitbags so they can escape his fate. Again, Abraham says nope: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Some academic Bible scholars and progressive theologians speculate that John’s Lazarus, rising from the dead is a grandiose retelling of Luke’s parable. Jesus raises someone from the dead and the religious leaders still disbelieve and crucify him. Some pretty crazy conservative theologians, who take all of these stories literally, go a long way to speculate in the opposite direction. Some even go so far as to suggest that the revived Lazarus of the fourth gospel may have actually been “the disciple that Jesus loved;” may have even penned the anonymous gospel often ascribed to John. These days I’d rather deal more with the plain reading of a passage than a fanciful speculation (whether I believe them to be historical or not is almost beside the point).

That poem has been in the works for a few months. In it, the Lazarus of the parable becomes a symbol for how I have felt too much of my life.  ‘You’re poor. Just live right and believe right. You’ll get your day.’ Unfortunately, that’s not a far stretch or some fanciful reading of the text. We live in a time when a Kansas congressman and freaking doctor applies Jesus’ saying “the poor you will always have with you” to his mission of repealing the Affordable Care Act, with a few additional repugnant remarks. That is the world I grew up in. And I believed it, even when I got state subsidized free school lunches and church members brought us our Christmas presents.

Some of Jesus’ teachings are great! Love your neighbor. Judge not. Even turn the other cheek definitely has it’s placed (though that too has been grossly abused). But most of his parables, unlike his moral sayings, are about “the last days” and “judgement.” They can make it really hard to live into the spirit of his moral teachings. The apocalyptic parables can be used to keep oppressed people content in their misery, even undergird a sort of “spiritual” pride about one’s suffering. All of this while fostering some eagerness for the end, “the separation of the sheep and the goats.” ‘Love your enemies. But just wait ’till Jesus gets a hold of ’em!’

I have only shared that poem a few times at open mic. Not because of its personal nature. Most of my poetry is pretty personal, downright vulnerable. A friend in the scene calls my work, “self-lacerating.” I suppose some of it is. But I am not sure if I like that description or think that it’s completely accurate. That poem is about searching for love, healing, and hope in this life. It is about finding community when you have long felt isolated. And to be perfectly honest, it is also about finding sexual healing in a life that has been marred by guilt and shame about being a sexual being.  It’s about desiring a world where “goodness” or “morality” isn’t inextricably intertwined with – or defined by – hating one’s own life or hating others to feel better about one’s own lot in life. It’s about wanting to no longer hate “my enemies” or even the enemies of justice and equality. But rather it’s about just wanting to see some damn justice and equality.

I said on day one of this series that I intended to take up the three fold practice of acting justly toward god (or the universe), towards myself and towards others with renewed intention. But in truth, that’s what I hope I do with all of my writing and all of my life, beyond these 40 days.

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