Following Jesus Where He Leads

 


One of my brothers is fond of saying, “If you want to be like Jesus, then you’d better be prepared to do what Jesus did. And if you’re going to do what Jesus did, then you’d better be prepared to get what Jesus got. Otherwise, you’re not prepared to call yourself a Christian.”


Never a truer word was spoken.


Jesus came to establish a new reign among human beings. A reign that was characterized not by power but by humility; a reign that rejected empire and violence but was characterized instead by a family of humble followers — the children of God — united by peacemaking, love, mercy, and forgiveness.


This new “Kingdom” was not delivered from the top down but is raised up from the lowly and outcast to model what God’s forgiveness and loving-kindness look like. And Jesus plainly expects us to work for the establishment of that reign on earth — as in heaven.


Jesus didn’t do lazy. He didn’t call us to sit back and expect God to do all the heavy lifting. Jesus teachings and the example of his life were intended to show just how far we were expected to go in acts of loving, forgiving, and offering ourselves for the good of all. And Jesus made clear that we should expect to lose everything if we want to gain the world that God wants for all of us.


Jesus’ teachings were really not hard to understand. We wouldn’t know that from the way his followers act today. I mean, the teaching is really clear!


Love God.

Love your neighbor *as yourself*.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Turn the other cheek.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Forgive seventy time seventy times seven. (In other words…keep forgiving.)

Your sins have been forgiven.

The first shall be last.

The humble shall be exalted.

Do. Not. Judge.

Care for the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner.

The rich will have a hard time entering the Kingdom. (Not because they’re rich, but because they have a harder time letting go of their possessions.)

Treat others as you want to be treated.


And Jesus further affirms…”Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.”


But Jesus also knew that while the teaching would be hard…harder yet would be the way the world fights against the principles of the Reign of God. And the way the world treats those who follow his teaching. They crucified him. Many of his followers were martyred. And many of his followers have been persecuted the world over for following the Way. The narrow Way.


But those who claim to follow Jesus don’t get to lay claim to being persecuted if we aren’t following his teachings. If we don’t follow the Way. If we fight against peace, if we judge, if we do not love…if we fight for power in the public sphere, or strive for riches and reject the poor, the outcast and the stranger - then we don’t get to claim to be a follower of Jesus, nor do we get to claim we’re being persecuted for doing the very things that Jesus said not to do, or not doing the things Jesus commanded we *should* do! Nor, as Jesus made clear, do we get to claim that we love him.


The road is narrow precisely because it is hard to lay down all of our selfish ambitions, our judgments, and our hurts in order to follow the teachings of Jesus. Because, if we fight for the poor, love everyone regardless of their faults, forgive hurts, fight for peace, lay aside judgment, right wrongs and seek justice and mercy for all — the world will hate us. As it did Jesus. The world will persecute us. Jesus said so, and they persecuted him.


So, we who claim to follow Jesus…what’s it gonna be? The Christian Way is not a spectator sport. But it is also not an agenda to validate our personal hatreds, ambitions, and judgments.


Following Jesus is not easy. But there are only two choices, really. Follow him and be prepared to lose everything, or don’t follow him and stop claiming that we do. We don’t need to be Christian. There are other paths to follow in the world. But, if we choose to follow the Way, be prepared to do what Jesus did. And to get what Jesus got. Otherwise, we’re just fooling ourselves. And in the process, dishonoring both his life and his death. For Jesus demonstrated even on the cross how great and how far our love and forgiveness and mercy are supposed to extend…


“Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.”

solace

solace
for marcell and cameron, who loved each other well for a time

we cannot stay for long, here, on these
sand-swept plains, these restless

prairies where we once emerged; stood
huddled, loved and danced together against 

our tender exile. we may never understand
one another, we whose dust has not yet

settled; whose bodies, still learning, 
tangled nonetheless; making beauty of 

unspoken fears by sweetly groaning our
self-isolation into one another’s eager

mouths when night became merely
lonely. i do not know which is more

painful—confronting these vast land-
scapes where our smallness is revealed

in terror and longing; or perhaps loving
in spite of our insignificance when

the only solace that may be found is in
the eternity of stars we reach for. re-

member when we lay tangled and grasping
in our small room—a universe—that made 

us impossibly possible; where you
and i whispered together conspiring,

articulating dreams out of wind and nothing-
ness and beautiful, foolish passions.

can we forgive one another for not
knowing who we are; offer absolution
 
while these winds scour us, and drive
us apart into our own divided places where 

our hearts, wounded, wonder at our stumbling
over love? we would easier interrogate the 

sands that drift between us, stubborn
as they are, and we may also be. but this 

earth that we inhabit together for these few
moments… in times of dread and tiring

winter… it will tell us. we will listen to
the howling skies recalling how warm 

love was, whether or not we knew it then. of
course, how could it not have been. it is always 

more than we deserve and never lessened by
who we aren’t yet. so come, beloved, let us 

rest a while until the world sooner ends; until
those days when we will waken, and love 

comes dancing on the plains, and the stars
tumble from our eyes so we can see ourselves.


© 2018, Karekin M Yarian, San Francisco, CA. USA.

Icarus

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To James Wright, Ohio River Poet


 

 

 

I thought of you this morning,

imagined you whispering

the white moon soft into


my open mouth, your kiss

become a bone bright sliver

stitching stars onto my tongue.


you spilled your words, your

heartland spirit, here beneath

my skin. how do I claim you


Ohio River-Buddha,

your noble plains? I feel

your leathery face, your


chin, rough against my

cheek, softly searing your

exalted America deep


into my flesh, a scar. can I

share it with you, be

a worthy child? You gave me


your rough bowler's hands, a

tender willow heart, softly

plaited like the reeds.


I want to pluck your poems

from the hilltops. can we

fly together, you and I, away


from this divided island, share

a single sun or am I doomed

to falter in my loneliness


and tumble? would you love

me, father, my own heart, my

flesh? had I known you,


I'd have shared a drink

with you (though I know it

would have killed us much


too soon). I'd have impaled

my body on your clever

pen, and kissed your sweet,


nostalgic eyes with my own

dying just to taste your

sweet country, now forced


under my skin by blood-

soaked hands, who’ve torn

your sweet valley in two.


(c) Karekin M Yarian, 2018, San Francisco, CA, USA

A Meditation for Advent

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Blessed are you, God of mercy and might,
with tender comfort and transforming power
you come into our midst.

You remember your ancient promise
and make straight the paths that lead to you
and smooth out the rough ways,
that in our day
we might bring forth your compassion
for all humanity.

For these and all your mercies, we praise you:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Blessed be God for ever! AMEN

What am I waiting for?

A voice says, 'Cry out!'
And I say, 'What shall I cry?'
When words seem futile
and they seem inadequate
and they seem heavy.

What shall I say? 

What am I waiting for?

I wait for a return to our eternal home. 
That place of promise where things are as they should be.
The place just beyond the veil that covers my own eyes.
That place on the other side of the mirror
or the other side of the Universe?

I wait for God, the origin of all that is spectacular and plain.
As if I knew what to look for, being rather unaccustomed
to paying attention to the plain,
and rather bad at recognizing the spectacular even
when it unfolds gently before me
in unexpected places.

Isaiah says:  "the word of our God will stand for ever."

I wait for that word... because it sometimes seems silent.
And I forget that, in that silence, God waits with me.
I wait for lighting bolts
and great revelations
as though the Incarnation
were not enough.
The Word made flesh
who dwelt among us
and dwells among us
Incarnating among us
and in us
and with us
Until the end of time.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
'Here is your God!'

What am I waiting for?

I wait for the One whom eternity cannot contain.
Large enough to surpass the Universe and all that we know and sense and feel...

and yet still small enough to slip through our fingers
to slip through the cells and the atoms and the particles
into infinite smallness.

I wait for the One who is more than time
and space, and quantum physics, and string theories

And I forget that we worship One whose name is Emmanuel:
God with us.

See, the Lord God comes with might,
God will feed these flocks like a shepherd;
God will gather the lambs in upraised arms,
and carry them in a soft bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

I wait for the One who inhabits the Universe
and entered time with the wails of a tiny Child.
One who is infinitely strong
and infinitely vulnerable
One who needs nothing from us
and yet desires everything that we have.

One whose self-emptying sacrifice and love
was laid in a feeding trough
in a tiny backwater town
in a tiny backwater province
among a peculiar people.
One with dubious parentage
who was swaddled
by a woman of ill repute.
One who would know rejection
more intimately
than I have ever known.

A mewling baby... our God,
helpless and at the mercy of the world.
Too young for words
Too young for ideas
The Eternal One... too young.

I forget that we grown-ups often,
if not always,
get it wrong.

I think... one day I will be wise
Age will make me wise.
Experience will make me wise.

I forget that I should be like a child.
But I forget that life is a choice between wise and jaded
and that I can easily fall one way
or another
depending upon my mood.

What am I waiting for?

I wait for that life which informs our living;
for Christ's compassion which changes our hearts;

I forget that God cannot be contained by our grand theologies and
our random exclusions.
Cannot be contained by our certainties
and cannot be pushed away by our doubts.

What am I waiting for?

I wait for Christ's clear speaking which contradicts our harmless generalities;
for Christ's disturbing presence;

I forget that Christ does not permit me to remain silent
on issues of faith, on morals, on issues of war and peace;
And I forget that for all my words
I often say nothing of any meaning
or spend too much time reducing the world
to delightful platitudes
and ultimately meaningless sound bytes.

I wait for Christ's innocent suffering;
Christ's fearless dying;
Christ's rising to life breathing forgiveness;

Because while I deal with the complexities
of my own internal life;

While I struggle to be better:
a better partner
a better listener
a better friend and colleague

While I unpack the meaning of my Christian life
what it means to be a brother among brothers
to serve rather than to be served;

While I try to listen to the voice of God
and look for the face of Christ

I forget that it is as close as the nearest mirror
or the nearest friend;
and that God speaks in the softest whisper
of my conscience, or the unnoticed "hello."

I forget that Christ has already done
what he set out to do:
That God lived our human life
died a human death
and that he rose again;

Having been rejected, God triumphed.
Having been an outcast, God embraces
one and all
with arms bared in rage at our petty divisions.

What am I waiting for?

Isaiah says again: "Go up to a high mountain,
herald of good tidings to Zion;
lift up your voice with strength,
herald of good tidings to Jerusalem.

Lift up your voice, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your God!'"

When is the beginning I await if it has already begun?
Do I trust the Spirit to rise up within me?
The Spirit who, from the beginning, attracts us to God's goodness
who even now confronts us with God's claims.

I forget that God is already with us
and that I need to trust
that God's plan is unfolding
in spite of my fears and doubts to the contrary.

And I forget that the Holy Spirit
allows me to say such things;

That it is She who gives voice
to words which still astound me
regardless of how many years they have been said.

What am I waiting for?

Do I forget that I already have God's permission
to speak the Good News;
to give hope to the hopeless?

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
'Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
God will come and save you.'

But I forget that praise alone
does not fulfill Gods purpose.

What am I waiting for?

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! 
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 
God has taken away the judgments against you
do not let your hands grow weak. Your God, is in your midst, 
God will renew you in God's love; 
God will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. 
God says: I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. 
And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, 
and I will change their shame into praise and renown. 
I will bring you home.

My brothers and sisters:
as you prepare to reflect
on the Advent of God
as you search for meaning
in words like
waiting
and
anticipation
and
expectation...

Lay down your wisdom
and your will
and your words

search yourselves:
your hearts...
your faith...
your doubts...

empty your hearts,
bring nothing in your hands;

As we open to receive the Spirit
who converts us from the patterns of this passing world

As we trust to God to conform us to the shape of Christ

I ask you:

What are you waiting for?

On Why We Pray

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When we pray, we don’t pray to change God’s mind, to urge God to fix everything, we pray to change our own hearts. We pray to be made compassionate if we are selfish; we pray to be given strength when we feel weak. We pray so that we might take action against injustice or suffering rather than sit idly by. We pray so that we are humbled by our flaws and yet grateful for our gifts and strengths. If our heart is hard, we pray that it be made tender. We pray to see ourselves with clear eyes, neither too proud nor filled with self-doubt and judgment. We pray to be filled with empathy for those who are sick, abandoned, imprisoned, or suffering. We pray to be given the strength to do what is hard. We pray to remember what is within our power to do, and also to remember what is beyond our capacity to control. we pray to remember in hope that all is not lost, that it is NEVER lost. And that we have a role to play in making things better. We pray to grow closer to God and to those who have gone on before us so that we remember the faith that inspired simple lives to be better lives.

This is why we pray. Not to relinquish our own responsibilities to one another, but to remember them! To inflame our sense of right action, not to extinguish it by soothing our conscience to sleep.

So, we pray! We pray so that our eyes become clear and our hearts emptied enough to make room for Love. We pray to be awakened. For God to awaken us all to our present duty! It is here that the world will be made whole.

#WorldAIDSDay #GettingToZero

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HIV/AIDS has defined my generation. As a queer person over fifty, it doesn’t take amazing powers of observation to note that there are far fewer gay men in my generation than there ought to be. Of the men my age that I do know, a large percentage of them are HIV positive. I am lucky to have escaped HIV infection myself.

By the time I was 30, I’d lost many of my closest friends. Many more would succumb since then. They were frightening times. And those times are not over yet.

I came out before we knew what HIV/AIDS was. We heard whispers of “gay cancer” and “gay pneumonia.” We watched on as the media called the disease GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder) and immediately stigmatized our community. I remember having to go back into the closet after having been out, because I worked in the food service industry and we worried about the stigma. And quite a stigma it was…even after we knew what it was and how it was transmitted.

I remember once being refused treatment by an emergency room hospital nurse because she was convinced that I must have AIDS even though I assured her I did not have the virus. This was in 1994. I still remember her with her plastic helmet and visor covering her face, the plastic covering and gloves that she wore and her refusal to take a blood sample.

Since I was first sexually active, I have never until PreP been able to enjoy an intimate sexual experience without the threat of HIV looming in the background. It was always there…waiting. I have taken the “test” more times in my life than I can count, and it was never easy - waiting to know.

I have watched my HIV positive sibs stigmatized, watched as our community struggled with how and whether to change behaviors, struggled with how to communicate about sero-status (or not), and watched as pharmaceutical companies profited off of our desire to live even while reaping huge financial benefit.

I remember buried lovers and partners. I remember buried best friends and people I thought I’d grow old with. I have witnessed untold suffering and struggle even among those who have survived.

I watched HIV/AIDS undermine the movement towards LGBT* rights, and I have watched the struggle with the disease knit together gay men and lesbians into a strong community of support, for without those women who cared for our community members during the worst of the pandemic among the gay community, we would never have survived it.

I have watched HIV/AIDS decimate countries and populations across the African continent. I have watched as at risk populations shift and morph due to ineffective education efforts, cultural dynamics, homophobia, transphobia, stigma against sex workers, and economic circumstance; watched rates of infection soar among African-American and Latino populations, watched as younger gay men ignore the lessons we’ve learned only to have HIV spike again among young gay men; watched infection rates soar among people of color, the trans* community, among older straight populations who think that it doesn’t affect them; watched HIV take root in southeast Asia, the populations of South America.

I have watched cottage industries around HIV/AIDS support turn into multi-million dollar cash cows.

I have watched candle-light vigils shrink as our LGBT* community sinks into the complacency of HIV/AIDS as a treatable disease.

I have watched survivors grow weary with fatigue and survivor’s guilt, and watched sero-positive friends deal with the effects of long term medication. And still, death awaits them eventually. What is it like to live your life as a dying person for twenty years? Thirty years?

I have witnessed friends who still dedicate every bit of free time to AIDS Walks and Runs and Cycling routes that traverse the nation, afraid that if they stop no one will remember or care anymore about the trauma of this disease. About the people we’ve lost, the great creative minds, the lost potentials, the love and the laughter.

As far as I’m concerned, there can never be enough conversation, never enough reminders about HIV/AIDS and it’s consequences. Mine is a generation where grief, sorrow, and the trauma of this disease are always just beneath the surface. It has informed our struggle for rights and for acceptance.

AIDS is not over. HIV infections continue to soar. And current estimates suggest that nearly 50% of HIV positive people don’t even know that they’re infected. Today, World AIDS Day, is important. We must never let the dialogue stop until HIV/AIDS is wiped off the planet. Whatever it takes. However long it takes.

Please share this if you wish. Remember those who have died. Remember those who still live with this disease every day. Remember those of us who have survived and grieve and struggle to remind the world that it is not over yet.

Learning to Wait Again In Hope

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We are an impatient people. We hate waiting. We want the things we want - now. We rush to build careers, rush to get married - to find love. We can’t wait for weekends. In the world of social media and the endless news cycle, we rush to judgments and criticisms. We speak without thinking, without waiting.

We sit on the edge of a precipice, ready to leap at the slightest provocation, expecting that whatever awaits us on the other side will quickly catch us so that we never really run true risk. It’s the hallmark of entitlement.

It’s no wonder that the one season of spiritual and liturgical time dedicated to waiting is one that almost no one pays attention to anymore, let alone honors. Advent shouldn’t just be for Christian folk. It should be for everyone. Sadly, some Christian folk don’t even bother with the season. And the world is worse off because we don’t show it what it means to slow down. To wait. To wait in hope.

I’ve become convinced that beneath the frenzy of our lives, there lingers either carelessness or hopelessness. Either we don’t care about what the future holds, or we dare not hope. And this is a terrible indictment of a culture that has lost its spiritual center.

We don’t seem to have a problem pausing in momentary and transient celebration. We can do so in the most hedonistic and overindulgent ways. And we don’t seem to have any issues with stopping to momentarily mourn something or someone that has passed away - even though we often do it with a moribund nostalgia.

But we aren’t a culture that thinks ahead to future hope, unless of course it involves career trajectories and marriage plans and long term retirement plans for investment.

Advent hope is different. Without a future vision of the day that the world becomes whole, when peace and justice reign, when wars shall cease and all will be well - what do we have to work for?

The Christian season of Advent is a time not only of remembering, but of hoping. We remember the coming of our teacher and Lord Jesus in his earthly life, and we await the return of that hope in a future time when the Creation will be restored at the return of the Christ consiousness.

For the non-Christian world, our celebration of Advent should be a witness to a hope that transcends the particulars of Christian faith, and offers a pause in our lives to reflect. Just what DO we hope will become of us? What is our part in that future hope?

Can we pause from the busy-ness of the world and its preoccupations long enough to indulge in hopes and dreams that one day the world will find its center again and make peace instead of war? Where we will ensure that all have enough?

Can we pause long enough to think about a vision of a world that is restored and pulled back from its folly? Where we will no longer take out our anxieties for enough on our fragile planet?

Can we take a break from the frenzy of our lives, day in and day out, to consider that the future we bequeath to our children ought to be one of hope rather than hopelessness, and are we willing to take the time to offer them that vision here and now?

Advent is a season for hope. A hope remembered, a hope restored, and a hope renewed in the midst of care and worry. Take some time to pause and reflect.

What in the world do you look forward to?