Jesus: A Wednesday Speculative Profile

Nothing was ever quite the same after I met Joshua. He had a knack for upending life, bringing in the unexpected.

I was in the middle of teaching a class when he first came in. We were talking about rhetoric and the ethics of persuasion and finding common ground, when all of a sudden the door opens, which wasn’t that unusual, and this guy looks in. He’s a little wild looking, but overall, he’s fairly nondescript. I couldn’t give you a clear physical description of him.

I stop and turn, leaving space for him to jump in with his question if he had one and there’s nothing. I wait expectantly.

Nothing.

I turn back to my students, “So, how can you use appeals to pathos ethically?”

“Come,” the stranger at the door beckons, “follow me.”

He then bounds off, the last thing I saw of him before he was out of the classroom, was a knowing smile, with a twinkle in his eye.

I didn’t.

*

I was out with some friends on the lake. We were sorta fishing, but mostly just wanted to hang and laze about in our boat. I kinda hated fishing, to be totally honest. I’d fished a handful of times with scouting as a kid, but it was so boring (and then you had to kill and gut the fish, which was gross and smelled awful). Anyway. We were fishing.

We’d been out all day and were about to come in. Nothing to show for our efforts. Which is the absolute worst. Usually, we at least had some fresh fish to fry, but nothing. Just vaguely smelling like worms and lakewater.

Then, suddenly, there’s a guy on the shore. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t totally recognize him at the distance (not to mention the angle the sun was at).

He calls out to us, “How’s the fishing?”

“Rubbish!” I yell back, as my friends mock my persistent and haphazard use of British slang.

“Try it once more! Cast all your rods on the left side.”

We all look at each other, rolling our eyes, but something about this exuberant guy made me want to humor him.

So we did. Expecting nothing.

I held my rod lacklusterly, not paying attention, until it suddenly jerked and pulled me forward before I caught myself.

As I braced myself against the deck, I looked around and realized that everyone else was experiencing the same thing. We started to reel in our respective catches. As we’re all reeling and reeling, straining against what felt like a blue whale, I look back at the shore and the man has his hand to his mouth, trying (and failing) to stifle laughter.

I land what I think is going to be some monster fish, as do all of my friends. The deck is groaning under the collective weight of these massive fish, when an entire school of fish leaps out of the lake and onto the deck, flopping everywhere. Where suddenly swimming in fish. Slipping and sliding as I try to get out of the ankle-deep pile of fish. The boat is now taking on water, and we’re desperately trying to navigate back to shore, fighting off untold numbers of fish, and the man is now doubled over in laughter.

We land the boat and all manage to get off, pulling fish out of our pockets and sleeves.

As we struggle to figure out what is going on, I finally got a look at this stranger, wearing bermuda shorts, sandals, and a floral shirt, unbuttoned showing his dark brown chest. He had some sunglasses that he pushed up to rest on his black, flowing, shoulder-length hair, revealing the same face that peeked into my classroom. He reached out his hand, saying through an ear to ear grin and barely recovered from his laughter, “Hey, I’m Joshua.”

“Get the hell away from me, man. I cannot handle whatever it is you’ve got going on,” I retort, pushing his hand away.

“Oh, come on, I’ll make you fishers,” he paused, that twinkle in his eye back, suggesting he was very pleased with what he was about to say, “of men.”

I left.

*

This was a mistake.

The storm raged all around us. Shit. We’re going to die.

We were stranded in the midst of a wild snowstorm, off road, wind and snow blowing in all directions. I couldn’t see anything. Anywhere. We’d tried to walk through it earlier, but fell through the snow banks that were everywhere, not to mention, just being utterly unable to keep our feet steady with the wind and snow.

The snow was starting to bury our truck. Soon we would be unable to open the doors.

A figure was up ahead. Somehow walking eerily through the storm.

“Uh, guys, you see that?” I ask, nudging Andrew next to me, pointing out at this vague person-like figure moving in our direction.

I don’t believe in the abominable snowman or yetis, but damn, what else could be here?
As the figure got closer, the colors were bright, florals maybe?

“Shhhhhhhiiiiiiiit.”

Everyone looks at me slightly shocked, but awaiting my explanation of what could possibly cause such an exclamation given the near-rock-bottom place we already were.

“It’s that Joshua dude.”

“No way, it can’t be. No human could possibly survive this storm, especially be walking like that. Ask him.”

I look incredulous, but after some more cajoling, figure, what do I have to lose?

I roll down the window and stick my head out and yell, “Who are you?”

“C’mon, man, I’m Joshua! Just look at me!”

He had a point.

But for some reason, felt possessed to say what came out of my mouth next.

“If it’s really you, Joshua, ask me to come to you.”

“Alright, Conor. Come.”

I did.

Jesus: A Tuesday Speculative Profile

I was late. I had to finish up some things at the office before I could leave for the day and my manager kept piling on tasks that I had to finish. It was exhausting. We had our regular meeting of the fringes that night and I was looking forward to actually doing something about all these systems of oppression that surrounded us. Seize the means of production and all that.

I hopped off the bus and quickly walked through the last couple of blocks to get to where we were all meeting. The place was packed. Sports cars and even some sort of law enforcement vehicles were out front. People were everywhere, many of whom I don’t think I’d ever seen before. Something didn’t seem quite right about all of this.  

I walked inside and there was JC, at the table, surrounded by some of our regular crew: John a gay spiritual leader, Pete the sort of violent anarchist from Southeast Asia, and Mary the black, queer activist and pioneer. Yet, there were others I didn’t recognize at first. But as I looked closer, I was bewildered. An ICE agent in the corner chatting with a regular, Carlos. Then there was a crowd of Wall Street types, dressed to the nines in suits that probably cost more than I made in a month. A handful of others were scattered throughout the room that I’d never seen before, that looked somewhat uncomfortable with the crowd.

What was happening.

We were supposed to be planning a protest for this weekend against the very sorts of oppressive forces that these newcomers represented. How could we do that with them all around us? What the hell was JC thinking?

I was fuming.

My fists were clenching, unbidden. Breathe. Calm down. There’s gotta be a reason for this. I was just calming myself when one of the Wall Street bros (he looks like a Chad, he’s gotta be a Chad) came over to JC and hands him this bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet that cost more than I had made in my entire life. Combined. Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I lost it.

I stormed over and snatched it from the dudebro’s hands, as JC was reaching for it.
“Now, look, man. I know you probably don’t realize this, but we could do so much more good with the money you spent on this bottle. Think of the poor! What are you even doing here? Do you even know what JC is about?”

He was flabbergasted. Stumbling over his words, as I clenched the bottle, a miracle that it didn’t shatter into a thousand pieces (or a testament to my scrawniness).

JC reached up, gently removing the bottle from my death grip.

He nods apologetically to Wall Street, as I turn to look at him, deflated and hurt.

“JC, what’s all this? We were on the cusp of SOMETHING. We were about to do great things. Great things! And now…” I trail off as I wave my hand at all the partying and gluttony that surrounded us, “this.”

JC looks at me, then to the bottle in his hand and turns it over, drinking in every detail of the craftsmanship. Hyperfocused.

He gestures for a couple of glasses, opens the bottle and pours two glasses.

He hands one to me, which I refuse, putting my hands up in front of me.

He shrugs and purposefully swirls the wine beneath his nose, breathing in.

He sips, letting the cabernet flow gently throughout his mouth.

“Mmmmmmm.”

“I…I…I don’t understand. I thought you stood for the marginalized, the oppressed, the sinner, but these…”

“I do.”

“But, how can you stand for all of them, when you’re, you’re here, eating and drinking with the enemy! The oppressor! The very thing we’re fighting against! Drinking their wine!”

“It’s a mighty fine wine.”

“JC…that’s the point. We could do so much good with that money, instead of squandering it on wine. Typical Wall Street…selfish.”

JC moves his hand to my shoulder. He reaches for the glass of wine he offered me earlier and offers it again. His eyes steady, looking directly at me. That mix of steeliness and joy that is so damn intoxicating. His lips turn up in a weary smile.

I take the glass.

“That is a mighty fine wine.”

I join him on the couch.

“Conor, are these not all sinners? All need what we preach. Even the oppressor, the sinner, the enemy.”

“But, but, how can the oppressor and the oppressed sit and eat at the same table? Doesn’t that fail to really bring about justice?”

JC sorta shrugs and looks meaningfully to the bottle of wine on the table.

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

*

“JC!”

JC looked up from the ground, where he’d been drawing in the dirt with some kids.

“What’s up?”

I looked sheepishly around.

“Can you heal this woman’s daughter? I tried and…” I sighed and lowered my head, “nothing happened.”

“Bring her here.”

I mouth, “thank you” as I go with the woman to bring her daughter to JC.

As we enter the woman’s house I’m struck once again by how little they have. There’s a beat-up laptop on the table, open to a GoFundMe page, trying to raise money for treatment for Rebecca, the woman’s daughter. Brochures for various alternative medicine are scattered throughout the house. The woman, Kristina, looks like she hasn’t slept well in months. Lines of worry crease her face.    

“Sorry about the mess,” she says to me after we’ve been in the house for a few minutes, as if she just realized the disarray and disaster that surrounded us.

“Don’t worry about it. What’s going to be the best way to get your daughter to JC?”

We figured out how to get Rebecca from the house to JC (Rebecca’s wheelchair worked most of the way and then we cobbled together a ramp and some other things to make it the final stretch).

As soon as Rebecca wheeled up to JC, his face lit up.

“Your sins are forgiven you!” He shouted, arms raised to the sky, before crouching down and kneeling in front of her, clasping her hands in his, their eyes locked, whispering earnestly “your sins are forgiven you.”

Weeping, she breathed, “Thank you, brother.”

As JC straightened and turned to return to the children, she caught his shirt, “Wait.”

“Wait.”

He stopped and turned to face her again, waiting.

“Heal me.”

He nodded and crouched again, placing his hands on her knees, and pressing his forehead to hers, “Rise, and walk.”

Kristina and Rebecca embraced, mother and child, as if for the first time, holding each other. Tears streaming down their faces.

JC grinned softly before jogging over to the kids playing, his hair flowing in the wind.

On Fatherhood

On my wedding anniversary, my daughter was born. I became a father (I suppose I was a father in some technical sense prior to that, but I didn’t feel like a father until I saw our child’s head crowning). What does it mean to be a dad? It is unlike anything I have ever experienced (and I’m sure those feelings only increase as my time as a father goes on).

Reality hit as soon as I saw her body—she was real, breathing, moving, living, and I had created her—we had created her. I knew in some abstract sense before then that I would be a father soon, that there was a child inside Cec, growing and living. But it wasn’t until I saw her, I looked on her, that I really felt that that was true. I’d felt her kick and move before, but always via Cec. All my interactions with her were mediated.

The doctors and nurses and midwives immediately placed H on Cec’s chest, skin-to-skin. I ran my hand through her hair, my finger gently touching her cheek and hands. We hung out in the delivery room for a couple of hours while the hospital staff finished their checks and work. I was in a daze, perhaps because I was starving and exhausted after twelve hours without food or sleep, but also just glowing with joy at the reality of our child. The moment was unreal—transcendent—moving beyond this reality and into some other plane of existence that feels almost like a dream, where emotions are heightened to an extraordinary degree.

We moved rooms and eventually, a few hours after she was born, in the late quiet of our hospital room, I held H—pressed her body close to my bare chest and sat in the low hum of the medical busyness that surrounded us.

As I sat and held her and looked at her, I felt bound to her. We are connected. Tied together forever. Inseparable. If this is love, it’s of a different sort than I’ve ever felt. I look at her face and am swallowed for hours. I am utterly and completely responsible for her and utterly and completely helpless to protect her from the whims of God or the universe or the world. And yet, we are bound. Nothing can cut the cord that binds us together.

She contains infinite possibility. Cec and I are here to help her explore and unlock some of that potential. We are the gardeners, to bring her the water and sunlight that she needs to grow and live and be. She could be anything, could like anything, could do anything. And will. And I hope to see it.

Is this how God feels? Does God look down on us and feel bound to each and every one of us? Does God watch me and feel responsible and helpless all at once? Does God watch me flail and cry and wish He/She/They could just explain in terms I understood what the point of everything is? Does God suffer when I suffer? Rejoice when I rejoice? Do I give God some inexplicable and deep, abiding joy? Does God smile when I do?

I’d like to think so.

I feel tied to H by something greater than either of us—we are bound, sealed, linked, tied, connected. Our fate is intertwined. I will go wherever she goes, a part of me will always be with her—holding, comforting, mourning with, watching, laughing, crying, being.

We are bound. I am responsible. I am helpless.

I’m in love.

Year of Communion

My life in 2019 will be quite different from the life that has come before—I’m a father, potentially beginning a PhD program in the Fall, and still pretty new to this whole marriage gig. In part because of that and partially because I fell short on almost every one of my numerical goals for 2018 and still don’t have a sense of what’s reasonable or even good to strive for, I’m largely avoiding goals that describe the amounts of various actions.

Instead, I want to focus on the way I engage with things. My word of 2019 is communion and I hope to use that to guide my interaction with the films and television I watch, the books I read, and the miscellaneous other media I engage with, as well as to inspire my interactions with others around me.

PERSONAL

As I do that I hope to use my reading and watching and writing and listening to connect with others and to better understand the world around me. I want to watch everything, read everything, know everything. That desire sometimes results in a relentless pursuit of media consumption for consumption’s sake—an empty pursuit that may view films and books as items on a checklist. I know that I can never watch everything nor read everything, so to combat this voracious appetite, I want to deeply engage with everything that I read or watch this year. The quantity of experiences may decline, but I hope to truly find a state of communion as I engage with media this year. To savor each experience that I have. Sucking the marrow out of the bones of the experience, if you will.

I’m going to work to use any theatrical viewings as further communing experiences by going with friends I haven’t seen for a while or want/need to reconnect with. I am not great at keeping in touch with friends that live elsewhere and hope to improve somewhat with that this next year.

RELATIONAL

As I type this, I’m holding my newborn daughter (H) on my lap, while my wife sleeps in the other room. I want to ensure that throughout 2019 I commune with both of them together and individually. I want to strengthen our relationships as a family, to commune with Cec and be aware of her needs, as her husband, but also to be a father to our daughter—to hold her, talk to her, be with her, get to know her.

I know that life is busy and wild and will only get more so, but I don’t want to lose the small, quiet moments of communion in that busyness. I hope to treasure them and to truly revel in the small things. The soft, clear look in H’s eyes when she opens them or the way her fingers curl as she holds them near her mouth or how she furrows her brow and takes on the persona of a grumpy old man.

I want to set aside the cares of work and the world as much as I responsibly can when I come home to simply be with Cec and H. Communion is somewhat elusive, but I can be there for when it comes. I can be a willing participant, ready and available to commune when the moment comes. I hope to choose communion with my wife and daughter, as much as possible. We’ll see if I can remember this when I’m half-asleep and H wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming and refusing to calm down.

SPIRITUAL

Perhaps the thought that guided me to communion as my word for 2019 was connected to the study of the New Testament for Sunday school this next year. I want to focus on Christ and God and building a relationship with the Divine—I hope to commune with them. Cec and I were talking about Christ and why people are drawn to him. Much of my interaction with Christ is intellectual, which I think can be a type of communion, but only if I engage with it in certain ways.

I want to find more moments to commune with the Divine. As we go through the New Testament for studying, I hope to look to Christ to get a better understanding of who he is and what he teaches. As Cec and I read and study and teach in Gospel Doctrine, I want to draw attention to communion throughout scripture. Gina Colvin drew my attention to one of her faith community’s mottos that describes the attitude of communion that I hope to seek and establish:

As if around the table all humanity stands.

Hopefully we can build a sense of community in our class to create opportunities for communion among ourselves and with the Divine.

Another thing I plan on doing to find a state of communion with the Divine is to write more of my speculative profiles of the Divine—the three I have written have helped me feel a more emotional connection to the Divine. I plan to continue to use my writing to explore what I learn in my study and to find new access to the Divine.

Communion is a communal event and I hope that we can all find communion together. If you have thoughts on how to find communion with God or how we can commune together, please share. Here’s to 2019 being a year of communion, remembering that all humanity stands around the table.