Rebuilt.

An evening of night terrors means I go to the gym at midnight. I lift until I’m tired and my eyes are heavy-lidded, and then I come home.

I have this problem where, about thirty seconds after I’ve said something, I realize exactly how it cuts to the quick. I’d inadvertently hurt someone I care about last week, and as an apology tumbled out of my mouth, clumsy and earnest and not as thought out as I wish it had been, I said: “I’m struggling to find value in myself after everything that happened.”

I really thought my epoch of loss in this new era of being an amputee was over. Not so much. This is still a storm of grief. A colleague once said to me that dysfunctional environments lead to minutia becoming important, like debating the merits of open-toed shoes in a workplace facing a funding crisis. The same holds true for our lives, when something hits us hard and threatens to destroy us. If recovery becomes too big, we focus on the small, or stupid, or unimportant.

I fell down that well–see my last three posts; selfish privilege, cruelty to animals, self-immolation and blind spots press my buttons hard. Not my circus, not my monkeys, and I’ve got eighteen deleted and gross comments in the form of hyperbole, death threats, physical admonishment, and comments about my family members from six authors that teach me exactly that lesson. I’ve also learned how to block IP addresses, so I don’t even have to read the hate speech before it disappears into the masturbatory ether in which its authors dwell. The urge to print it out and mail it to the parents of the senders is pretty strong; no one needs that toxic, abortive garbage, though. It’s a really easy way to ignore the life raft you’re on by focusing on the already drowned.

Short version: I’ve got a pretty great life.

I just stood up at my best friend’s wedding as the Best Man, something I thought I’d die before doing a few months ago. I’m a leg down and I didn’t die. I’ve got a job I love and my health improves every day. I’m writing all the time and people are able to read and interact with my work. I don’t have a lot to complain about at the moment, beyond the wonky shoulder I gave myself from too much time lifting too much weight tonight.

There’s a young woman in my limb loss support group who knows about my love of Lego; she’s built me out of spare parts twice, once in the wheelchair and once newly-legged up (above). We find little joys to swap and laugh about amidst the awful crap that happens to us and that’s how we’re reborn.

I have to keep reminding myself that we’re an Easter people, and rebirth and regrowth are part of this story, and nihilism is gross, and navel-gazing in too much focus is equally gross. I’m really trying to build new connections and give this life of mine meaning through the people I connect with and change me, even as I get chances to change things around me. Not dying in early January requires some rent paid somewhere for all this bonus time. I’m trying to balance that out.

It’s Friday the 13th and it’s the first day of the year that really feels like fall; there’s something to cherish in that. I’ve managed to avoid pumpkin spice anything thus far, and I’m chaperoning a haunted hay ride with a dear friend/ex-boyfriend next week, which is one of my favorite little pangs of nostalgia.

You work hard, you find things to value beyond yourself, you acknowledge that none of this is about you, and you plan to stick around, and good stuff tends to happen.

So, maybe we go for more of that. More life.

The lessons of trolls.

  1. Just because you could do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The aggressor from several posts ago has a few friends who like to get frisky and violent with their language. It’s caught in the spam filters of the comment section here, but it’s still shocking stuff that will find its use somewhere, someday, in art or conversation.

On Facebook, several of us started a thread talking about this, a few of whom know/remember the person in question. Ultimately, the only way to deal with a troll is to ignore them; there are tools at play here to disenfranchise, damage, limit, and “doxx” this person; there are tools that protect me and my family from these threats. I’ve employed the latter and I’m not doing anything regarding the former. As one friend of mine from the drama camp almost two decades ago posited, the aggressor in question blogs enough about her unhappiness and the limitations of her life. There’s nothing I could do that would add a level of anything meaningful to that.

Ultimately, this was a good lesson for me in what happens when disenfranchisement and too much free time mix. It turns the internet into a weaponized form of mental illness. I hope to never have the time or means for that to come into play.

The biggest surprise for me is that a few of these toxic and sad people can’t help but keep lobbing what they view as insults. And it just doesn’t affect me, but it provides a lot of insight into the kind of people they are, what abuse they’ve suffered, and what hurts them.

OT, NT, Testamental Change Vs. Progress.

To quote a hero, “It’s been a bit of a day.”

I started today with a frustrating doctor’s appointment, rolled into a long day of work, noted a series of continued harassment from the friends of the woman (she’s at most three years younger than me; I resist the urge to call her a girl, out of both trivial sexism and the clarity that regardless of her circumstances, she’s an adult who is responsible for her actions and their consequences) who’s taken an interest in attacking me as the latest in a long line of internet altercations on her part, and the cherry on top is I got love-tapped by a van full of methodists; I was picking up a package from the UPS guy when the big blue van pulled around slowly and hip-checked me, knocking me to the ground. I’m eighty percent sure the driver yelled “Shit, I hit the cripple!” as she leapt from her vehicle to make sure I was okay.

The good news of the day: 1) I guess my neighbors know me well enough to make me THE cripple in my complex; I demand a sash; 2) I signed the paperwork for the play festival in CA that’s doing my new play, “Ableist Bull Caca (ABC)” in December; 3) I’m fine, but for a bruise on my left hip that’s Gorbachevian in its shape; 4) Virginia Wesleyan University will be performing my 15(!)-year-old play, “Forward Motion,” in an evening of freshman shorts this winter. That brings this full circle. We’ll get there in a minute.

I don’t just have good days or bad days these days; I have quiet days and loud ones. There are the ones without event and the ones in which everything happens. It’s either a couple of tumbleweeds and a deep sigh or sixty pages of War and Peace,  but it’s never in-between.

The fulcrum of everything returns to January 9, the night before I lost my leg. That’s the big Before and After in my life, and I suppose it will be for some time to come. The chaplain at Penn Presby who took a liking to me (I think–I definitely took a liking to her) was a woman named Dasha, who listened better than anyone I’ve ever met.

That first night we talked, she sat with me and prayed. There was more than a little comfortable silence. They had me on the good drugs, so I was looser of tongue than usual, which is saying something. And so I opened my mouth and wanted to talk about Job and Lot, and how the Old Testament God really had no qualms about being a jerkface. I lobbed a Shalom Auslander quote I love–I’m not sure if it’s from Beware of God  or Foreskin’s Lament:


If you took the Old Testament, dumped it in a word processor, and did a find/change substitute for ‘God’ with ‘Fred’ and read it aloud, you’d say ‘This Fred is screwed up. Fred is a profoundly damaged person. Fred is not someone I want to be around.’

She laughed. “So what changed God?”

I’m not sure. I’m still not sure God changed. My friends who are rabbis meet this idea with an explanation that Christians assume they’ve got a horizontal morality (do good works in fellowship WITH God) against an Old Testament idea of vertical morality (do good works because God is angered by our sins, and wants us to ask forgiveness). As a former (very very lapsed) jew myself, I have quibbles with the binary nature of this, as my faith experiences at all levels of judaism didn’t seem marked by fears of an angry God (and we know how I feel about choices made out of fear).

I do know that the Old Testament, even amidst its depictions of divine rage and human suffering, made persistent promises of better days to come for Israel and all of us. And Jesus fulfilled that promise and changed the world. I understand that. I still walk with the anger of what happened to me, how to go forward, and how to live into it without confusion. God doesn’t cause suffering, as I’ve said before, but he allows us to find lessons in it. I often wish it didn’t hurt so bad, even as I remember to trust.

And so that’s my day. Reconciling two different perspectives across a kairos moment of God between the OT and NT, and my own moment therein.

Oh–that bit about “Forward Motion”–it’s a play I wrote in 2001-2002, that was purchased for publication by Playscripts in 2006. Its scripts and productions pretty much pay my student loan, and it was the moment I went from a guy who writes to a writer, by Stephen King (“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”).

And while I patterned the female lead after several women in my life, the woman in question who’s currently targeting me was one of three girls who workshopped that play in the summer camp I counseled and taught. Which goes to show you: 19-year-olds probably shouldn’t teach 16-year-olds, and every connection we make on this planet has both destruction and lessons in it, if we work the thread enough. I don’t wish to have anything to do with her, but if not for passing that script around all those years ago, I may not have developed the guts to submit it for publication, which set off a whole bunch of bright moments in my life.

OT to NT. Suffering to Understanding. At least I think that’s so.

Compassion Out of Fashion.

It has been a magnificently sorrowful series of days, personally and otherwise.

The death of friends, of icons, the mass murder in Las Vegas, the return of illness: a pall hangs over the world, threatening to snuff us out at any moment. This dark reign of awfulness seeps into our pores.

You can feel the rot on the wind, if you’re seeking it out. And yet we have one another. And that counts.

After wading through the muck of yesterday’s shooting and the inundation of a job in PR/communications that requires a continual absorption of the revolting truth of these deaths, and getting clocked in the jaw with the news of Tom Petty’s passing, I raised up on my clunky prosthetic leg and wandered out of my office. It was time to go home. But, as usual on difficult days, my head is like a neighborhood on the wrong side of town–it’s not advisable to take a walk through there alone.

And so, I realized, I needed a meeting.

When I talk about my recovery, people pop their eyebrows up. “You’re such a hyphenate!” says my dear friend Tim, a military amputee I met in one of my support groups. “A gay, Christian, progressive, alcoholic, activist amputee. Where’s your parade?”

Oh, Tim. Every day is my parade. That’s what I do.

Anyway, three weeks ago, I hit a thousand days of sobriety. It was a little under four years after my first AA meeting, but there was a  falling off the wagon between those two dates. Amidst all this loss and destruction and disease, I’ve managed to stay sober. Faith has something to do with that; so does purpose, which this disease has brought roaring back to me. And of course, I have some of the best friends a guy like me could hope for. I’m never alone. I’m never without support or adventures. I’m lucky on that front.

After tonight’s meeting, my friend Alan and I went out for a sludge-esque cup of coffee and some much-needed laughter. We’re angry. We’re stewing in it. We don’t know what to do after a day like today.

It’s so easy to see the snark and vitriol in all of this; an echo-chambered acquaintance of mine posted a particularly gross photoshopped image of Trump, intended as satire.

I showed it to Alan, and he arced his eyebrows my way and said: “You know, if you’re seeking to humiliate anyone, the first person you humiliate is yourself.”

And I blinked. It wasn’t the first time someone said that to me this year.

About three months ago, a former camper from my college theater/summer camp counselor days started a flame war about opinions on her nettiquette and the circumstances by which three family dogs had died and the fourth was put in danger via misbehavior and negligence.

My friends chimed in; eventually, so did I. And then her friends made disparaging remarks about me, my physicality, my family, and threatened my workplace. The authorities were involved. A police report was filed, and further steps were taken to ensure the safety of me, my livelihood, and my family. I was notified when she recently moved, and was apprised that she now lived dangerously close to a family member one of her friends had threatened (the threat is still posted to her blog as a comment, and she refused to take it down when asked). It became a scary situation that I didn’t take lightly. And I continue to back-pocket the whole thing as if I’m waiting for an animal to attack.

And of course, Alan and I ended up talking about this tonight. “You know,” he said, as the conversation wound down and I began to understand that drinking anything other than decaf after six p.m. was a serious mistake, “It’s possible to be a victim and a bully at the exact same time.”

He’s right. He’s almost always right. The thing about being marginalized (as it could be argued both myself and my antagonist in this situation were) is that, in order to normalize yourself or get back to the center, sometimes you engage in punching down. And that’s exactly what happened.

Because in interchanges like the one we had, and in the pall of weeks like this, it’s so easy to feel like you can’t make a ding in the universe, like you’re the pawn to energies and evils that you don’t have the energy or agency to fight. I’m not going to let that happen to me. Life is rare, and precious, and there are dents to be made and changes to see in the world before this is done.

 

 

MurderWorld: What We Can Do Right Now.

As of noon today, the reported casualties of last night’s massacre in Las Vegas stand at 58 dead, 515 wounded, with both numbers likely to rise as facts continue to come in.

We are no longer in the world we knew. This is a world of murder, of acceptable slaughter, where ploughshares are defiled and beaten into instruments of death. And it makes zero sense to me.

Please, gun proliferation enthusiasts–please, help me understand, what you find holy in these machines of annihilation. Please help me understand why these lives are a necessary sacrifice. Does it help the corn grow? The trains run on time? Is it schadenfreude that it’s not you, your loved ones, your family lying in pieces on the strip?

Why is this allowable? Why wasn’t Sandy Hook the last straw? Why did we make the murder of preschoolers acceptable? What makes Alex Jones’ lies attractive? What lies will we be told, will we tell ourselves, that will make this “other”‘d enough to find some good television and forget about it?

I posted something similar in the wake of Orlando: I do so again, and will do so the next time, and the time after that, and as many times as will arrive in my certain-to-be-short life.

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW:

Thoughts and prayers are a start. But more than that is required of us. We’re called to take action, so here’s how to help victims of the Las Vegas shooting.

The first thing that you can do is donate blood. The number of victims is still rising, and the need will be staggering before this story fades from public consciousness (I’m resisting cynicism, even as I type this. I’m sorry).  You can seek out blood donation centers throughout the state of Nevada. You can also donate blood wherever you are, as any and all support of the overtaxed blood bank system will be of value in a time such as this.

Second,  be careful about what you’re posting on social media. In a disaster, you have a responsibility for the information you share, Unconfirmed reports are dangerous. I’m queasy over the multiple hoaxes already in play about this shooting. Avoid graphic videos or photos or information that will trigger emotions in others without warning. It’s rubbernecking, it’s disrespectful, and we can and should do better.

If you want to contribute monetary resources, I recommend a donation to the Red Cross, as they have been on the ground since the opening moments of this horror. You can also donate to local organizations in Las Vegas, especially organizations who provide mental and emotional therapy in crisis situations, such as Volunteers in Medicine of Southern Nevada, which provides mental and physical health care to people who are marginalized and in need.

There are already multiple GoFundMe pages supporting victims of the shooting, and these grassroots efforts are already going viral.

I’ve already done this and will do so often in the weeks to come: write to your Congressional representatives asking for common sense gun control laws. You can find your senators’ or representatives’ address and even a letter of basic explanatory language. Never underestimate the power of a chorus of passionate voices who have simply had enough of this bloodshed.

Let’s take some action, together, now. We can help, we can provide aid, we can take meaningful steps to limiting the capacity of the next of these heinous acts to come. But we have to choose to be better and stand united.

Thinking and praying alone just gives a sense of gleeful inevitability to the opposition. I find that unacceptable. I hope you do, too.

Fear as the Decider.

“I have yet to make a serious choice in my life birthed from fear that left me proud.”

An old coach from my youth made this his mantra. This year, I’ve worked hard to make it mine, failing constantly in my self-perception, my health, my journey to walk again, to return to the work place, to realistically consider loyalties and friendships as impervious to all this. The unspoken truth amidst all of this is that fear is the magic bullet of the oppressors of our era; fear keeps us in check, even as it builds a rabid army of the afraid.

But I’m trying. And then there’s that Green Lantern ring, right alongside the words of Jesus. Faith isn’t an absence of fear, but instead a trust that breaks fear’s hold on you. Willpower is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome it.

Hal Jordan and Jesus Christ would be friends.

I watch the words of Christianity be warped into a rictus that does nothing but punch down and weaponize the fears of others, and I wait for this paper court of horrors to fall apart. Similarly, I wait for all of us, especially those I love, to put faith in something stronger than their fears in this dark reign of national leadership.

I have to believe we have better days ahead. We can’t lead the path from taking steps in fear.

No evil shall escape my sight. Let’s do this.

Tired of Talking? Good.

Here are three things I plan to do today and tomorrow in response to Charlottesville. If you’re tired of praying, proselytizing, arguing, whatever, I encourage you to join me.

TELL YOUR LEGISLATORS: IT’S TIME TO ACT UP.

I’m making calls and sending letters to elected officials in and from New Jersey. Here’s a handy guide from the ACLU on how to make your voice heard.

LEARN ABOUT AND CONTRIBUTE TO THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER

The Southern Poverty Law Center is awesome. It speaks truth to power, fights against massive and systemic injustice, and is unafraid of being on the front lines and trenches of meaningful change. Support their work and learn more about how you can actively help.

LOOK AT HOW WE LET BIGOTRY FLOURISH…AND DO YOUR PART TO SHUT IT DOWN.

Learn about where this hatred comes from. Identify the spin that normalizes it. Refuse to allow for it. Continue to talk about, condemn, ridicule, marginalize this awfulness. Know its story, so you can tell it appropriately and for what it is.

By all means, keep the prayers and sermons coming. They have a place. But they’re the preparation; your actions are your currency in what’s next for the life of our nation. Make a move.

Separation of Church and Hate.

We spent much of the weekend observing the protest and counter-protests in Charlottesville, gobsmacked at the horrific spectacle of white nationalists marching in ostensible opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee but actually in grudgingly-admitted shifting social landscape of our country.  Peter Cvjetanovic, outed via the process of “doxing” via social media as the frothing-with-rage torch-wielder that has become a vitriolic icon of bigotry overnight, casually explained he was a white nationalist but not a racist: “White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”

Let’s consider that for a moment: “We just want to preserve what we have.” What does that look like? Why does it sound a stone’s throw away from what I hear in churches that regularly affirm themselves in verbiage as a welcoming place, when the old days of health and vigor and attendance are spoken of with wistfulness and an attachment to a return to those days as the only accepted form of progress?

We have to confess the sin of hatred and racism and bigotry, in its many forms but one consistent flavor: it’s a bitter, implacable feeling of assigning blame for change and societal alteration to anyone and anything that can be identified as other. As a white, cisgender male, I’ve consciously and unconsciously taken advantage of tremendous privilege on this front my entire life. As a gay and disabled man, I’ve learned a lot about otherness and discrimination since January.

That’s not this post, however, despite my desire to rail about it. That’s a story for another time.

I got home from church about 11 yesterday morning. I was frustrated. I opened up Google Images and dove through the pictures of Charlottesville on Saturday. And I started playing a game with the close-up photos of the story.

You can quickly play a game of looking for over Christian Imagery.

Check this out. The three organizers of Saturday’s rally. What’s around Heimbach’s neck?

I found steely resolve in the images of clergy gathered in counter-protest. I found myself deeply, gravely disturbed by the crosses and crucifixes on flags, around necks, carried high and occasionally alit by a marching population of racists.

Outrage is the appropriate response to this, as Christians. It’s possible to be physically peaceful and empowered by righteous anger at the same time, and now is the time to carry that banner if there’s ever been one.

The image at the top of this post is intentionally provocative. It took me a long time to embrace Christianity as something I wanted for myself and the world because of grievous mistrust, because of the appropriation of both faith and culture as hyper-effective weapons of hate.

And it’s still happening. The voices are getting louder. Last week, we were assured our 45th president had God’s permission to wage war, if it came to that. Those gathered in proclamation of hatred in Charlottesville on Saturday surely believed God was behind them, if not in their pockets.

What do we do next? Proclaiming love isn’t working. I refuse to be made an agent of hate by this.

What’s the best outcome we might be able to hope for, a month, a year, a decade out? Is prayer our only option? Because today, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Amputease: the Furnace of Rage.

I’m tired of being angry.

For those just joining us: I lost my left leg below the knee to a massive bone infection in January. It was my “good leg,” after damage to the right last year. Over two months of hospital stays, some surprising love from people I’d thought lost (and betrayals from those deemed stalwart) and half a year of recovery, I have my prosthetic and am slowly learning to make this work.

I can’t believe how much anger I have in me about this. I keep trying to find meaning or to balance all of this out with some sense of gentility or purpose.

I’m not there yet. I need to find a purpose for this anger, first. It’s not going away on its own.

It’s really not cute, either. I used to be teased for my redheaded temper; now it’s more like a norse berserker. I’m channeling this energy into the gym and I’ve gotten strong, even as I’ve gotten less peaceful.

I worry every day about breaking something irrevocably. I worry everyday that that something will be me.

 

The Promise of Heaven, The Sanctity of Earth: Sermon, 7/30/17

 

Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

My sermon at Grace-St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mercerville, NJ, Sunday, July 30, 2017.

Regular and real updates to resume shortly. But for now–here’s what I preached:

Mustard seeds to great shrubs. Yeast to leavened bread. Hidden treasure. A pearl of great value. A net cast into the sea and a bounty of fish, with the best of the catch sorted out for our baskets. We’re to understand our treasures in the kingdom of heaven as the best of what is new and old, appreciating what we have in new ways while finding altogether fresh blessings not yet imaginable by us in our mortal time spent here on earth.

Okay. Okay, I get that, there’s also the unspoken and yet implicit portion of today’s gospel: the kingdom of heaven is available for all of us, right in front of us for us to claim, and yet we also must acknowledge its profound value and indeed, its steep price.

What will the kingdom of heaven cost us? What does becoming a disciple of Christ require? Is there a price tag attached to this that we may not be ready to face? What are we prepared to trade for salvation?

I ask myself this a lot lately, as I struggle with even the most basic elements of faith. I can’t decide right now if I’m angry at God, if I’m trusting of him, or if I’m just a disfigured cripple shouting at the rain. Yes, I’m afraid I find myself staring at what’s left of my body these days and sometimes wondering if there even is a God, or if religion is just a complex board game I don’t quite know the rules of, but I’m trying to play along just in case the cool kids notice me.

That’s hard to say, and it’s got to be hard to hear, knowing my current occupation and the path these last few years have set me on. The kingdom of heaven sounds like an incredible prize at the end of this life, complete with an incredible cost. Why then, does it seem some of us pay more than others? Is God like my therapist, charging us on a sliding scale? If this is real, and my faith and deep want of belief trusts in my best moments that it is—what is the high price of heaven, and how do we make its cost count in our time here?

All we know for sure is that this will remain a bit of a mystery until we breathe our last and life eternal reveals itself to us in that next moment. And the nature of worship, of glorifying God, of our quest to be the best disciples of Jesus Christ we can be, is to make sense of this life. What we’re doing while we’re here has to matter. And here’s where I get a little frisky and scary in my assessment:

This life of ours is not a test.

And perhaps what we’re being told in today’s gospel reading is that there is something so inscrutable, so mysterious, so complex and cosmic in the kingdom of heaven that our time is best spent…not contemplating it. But contemplating instead our time here, with one another. And how to best heal one another, to brighten this bleak and bleeding world. The kingdom of heaven is an unsolvable riddle for a reason, a trailer to a movie that we can agree we all want to see, even if we don’t completely agree on the plot. And so, we’re best to consider it as the hereafter, a grace note after this life, but never to give it more importance than the here and now.

This is the only way I can make sense of today’s gospel, really. It’s the only depiction of heaven that I can draw both sense and comfort from; I don’t see any version of life as a series of trials that gives way to heaven that makes sense given the path I’ve walked—pun intended—over the last two years. If I was to envision our time on this planet as a preamble to heaven, complete  with messages from god therein, then I suppose I’d take what’s happened to me—the loss of my limb, disfigurement, deformity, disability, a promise of more amputations to come, a constant blanket of pity and loss tossed over me like so much existential napalm—were I to look at this life as a message from god in that sense, I’d think he’d be telling me to die. To leave this place, because there are more worthy of this life and more able to enjoy its bounties.

But that is not why we’re here. And I don’t believe god did these things to me. She is present as we suffer, but he does not cause the suffering. We’re not rent asunder as some sort of lesson in his eyes, to appease her. The New Testament makes short work of those parts of the Old Testament, making it clear that even our god is capable of evolving and softening and becoming kinder and broader and deeper in his understanding of herself and of us.

And I know I’m swapping pronouns of gender, because I’m pretty sure god does that all the time. When you embody everything in creation, why limit yourself to one fixed point of gender identity? That seems so…boring. And God is many things, hurtful, confusing, playful, infuriating, dynamic, quizzical, and awesome…but god is not boring.

There’s a terrible movie that I’ve been mulling over regarding today’s gospel. Pay It Forward came out a decade and a half ago, and it was supposed to be a movie that solidified Haley Joel Osment as a movie star after the Sixth Sense. Yeah, so much for that. Anyway, a young boy in the Las Vegas suburbs devises a system by which he helps three people, and in turn, they help three people, and so on and so on. The catch is that it has to be a method of help that costs something, that requires real effort and thought.

His first two instances of help happen quickly, and then the movie plods on with his mother and his teacher falling in love and a whole bunch of other fluff that feels awfully hallmark movie-sequel. And then, in the third act, he witnesses a classmate being bullied by a larger, brutish kid. He’s terrified. And he takes a deep breath, recognizes his fear, and steps in between his friend and the bully.

He expects to take a beating. Instead, the bully flips open a switchblade and ends his life. And two minutes later, the movie ends. Haley Joel Osment dies and then the movie ends! At the time, I found the film shockingly cynical even as if seemed rote and shallow; what a cruddy way to send us into the lobby!

But I think of today’s gospel. I think of the moments where I’ve changed for the better amidst some of this awesome loss of the last year and a half. And one thing is true, and constant: what comes easy doesn’t stay.

And that, perhaps, is what we’re being teased and taught about the kingdom of heaven here. We’re going to face moments in this life that will terrify us beyond imagining, that will destroy us in ways we can’t even consider. But the trick of this life is to make that hurt count, to find a sort of painful progress in how we love and support one another. The kingdom of heaven awaits us, but we have to be ready to for it to hurt like hell as we gain admission.

And maybe, in helping one another, in taking on each other’s pain and loving and living for one another, we find more and more of that heaven, right here on earth.

At least, I like to think that’s so. God bless all of us as we find our path and love one another in new and transformative ways.