Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #8: Angry Advent
Really, it’s OK to be angry. As long as it’s “righteous anger." Right? That means as long as it is for the appropriate political or spiritual cause that the rest of our Facebook friends agree with us about and those stupid people over there don’t agree with us about--but what do they know anyway because they are from a.) the city or b.) the country or c.) the university or d.) the planet Mars.
Seriously, I hesitate to write this particular meditation for a number of reasons (and I’ve got the numbers to prove it). First, there is SO MUCH ANGER about all the things already isn’t there? Second, my ironic stance has often been interpreted (mis- or otherwise) as angry (see Edwin Woodruff Tait). Third, I try to keep politics, as such, out of Ironic Advent (full well knowing that every breath we breathe and every idea we express is political in a way*). And fourth, obviously, the planet Mars.
I was very much looking forward to church yesterday, mostly because it is the first of two Sundays in Advent that feature good old John the Baptist, the wild holy man cousin of Jesus. John may or may not have been “angry” (I think he probably was), but he definitely was a little, shall we say, edgy. And this hairy, locust-eating, somewhat rude (I refer to his disrespectful attitude towards the religious and political leaders of his day) prophet gets two of the four Sundays of Advent.
The first Sunday is dedicated to the crazy signs in the sky and stuff. The last is about Mary and her crazy pregnancy. I’m sensing a theme here. Although you wouldn’t know if from the church announcements. Last week was “Advent Peace” Sunday (that’s the one predicting that the world is about to be destroyed by a death star). Then, this week is “Advent Hope” Sunday (that’s the one where John the Baptist come along telling everybody to repent, especially the religious leaders, whom (notice my command of pronouns, dear reader) he refers to, some might say without anger, as a brood of vipers. That may sound less angry to our ears than sons of bitches but I’m not sure it is. Next week, when John is in prison, depressed and waiting to die, will probably be called “Advent Joy Sunday,” but, hey, far be it from me to criticize.
Anyway, I wrote a song about John the Baptist, so if you stick around till next week, “Advent Depression Sunday” as I like to call it, I’ll share that with you. This week, I’m thinking about anger. Chewing on anger, I guess, which I’m sure a thousand counselors, interestingly enough all former guests on the Oprah show, have told us is the biggest no-no in the post-guilt age. Obviously, the Prince of Peace, not to mention Oprah and Oz, want me verily, verily, to eschew anger and chew on the new Deepbro Chopright book instead. I would like to do that. I really would. Look at my sincere eyes. But my Advent liturgy addiction, especially my devotion to SAINT John the Baptist (take that, Oz), the hardestscrabbled of all hardscrabble Baptists, will not allow it.
Anyway, or anyways as Jennifer Lynne Ricke says, I started the day very tired (in bed by 4 A.M. though), but it was my own dang fault for doing the things I did that kept me up that late. And I had already decided that church, for me, was going to be the 5 P.M. service in Fort Wayne (little did I now about the snow storm!). So I got up slowly made a good late breakfast and was sipping my second cup of stovetop Italian-press Café Bustelo (take that hipsters), when a text comes scrolling and screaming at me just, interestingly enough, as the snow starts to fall outside my window.
It was from somebody I care about. Somebody who is trying to “do Advent” this year. Trying to get back in the flow, as Richard Rohr would say. Well no, he probably wouldn’t. He would say that she is already in the flow and really confuse people like her who are trying to, in fact, get out of the rut. Then he’d probably say that the rut is really the flow, you just have to read his books and you’d understand. Like I said, though, I’m not one to criticize.
Sorry. Anyway, the text went like this:
Oh my God. . . . I got so mad this morning. . . . OK, I should have gone into town to Our Lady of Guadalupe or out to my new Queen of Angels, but it’s raining cold (not cold like Indiana) and <nameless rich suburban church with completely clueless priests> has an 8.30 A.M. mass, so I went. Old priest stumbled up the stairs, so I thought he would be OK. And the sweetest little altar girl (she was very young and small), whose feet did not reach the floor and she rocked her little legs to music . . . she reminded me of Noel’s sweetness. [Noel was our brother]
But that was the end of my happy morning. His sermon was all about “entitlement,” using the recent election as examples. Oh, and something that happened at a golf course. Interesting to talk to <nameless rich suburb> about entitlement! Was this Advent message meant to make me angry and pissed off? He said his sermon was going to be about gratitude?!
Well, he started off with the readings. The sermon was supposedly based on the gospel reading about John the Baptist. And then he started talking about how this country has a sense of entitlement. Not the people in <nameless rich suburb>. Oh no. Not them. Other people. He used the riots that happened after the election as an example. "People didn’t get what they wanted, so they rebelled." Hell, I think rebellion can be good! Anyway, he’s judging all those people for their sense of entitlement. Said that eight years ago, when a black man was elected (how did “black” get into this?), did everyone rebel? NOOOO. They all “accepted it with grace.” I almost screamed. I almost got up and walked out.
But then I thought that I was supposed to be participating in Advent, maybe part of a tolerance lesson for me. BUT, THEN he told a story about a time when he was invited to a very prestigious country club. It was very special because it was right after the Masters was held there. So anyway, there was a “celebrity” who was invited and, believe it or not, he showed up UNSHAVEN and NOT DRESSED UP. This just showed his sense of entitlement and that’s the problem with our society!
[Ben Camino may or may not have screamed some things at this point about the fact that John the Baptist wouldn’t be caught dead in a <curse word> place like that and, if he were, he’d sure as hell not shave and dress up. I guess that would just prove his sense of entitlement, though, being the cousin of Jesus and all.]
[Ben Camino, a sinner saved by grace, may also at that point have shouted back—in a text—“<Blank!> I hate that church!” In case you are too worried about me, and I appreciate your concern for my soul (that is, my whole being), just know that I’ve been to this church before and I’ve said that before. She went on:]
O my God, this old coot was the most judgmental priest I can remember listening to. I wanted to go to another service at a different church just to feel better. Not to be so angry. To get my Advent fix. Blessed, not mad.
Really, the little altar girl was the only pure part of the service. I was wondering what was going on in her sweet mind. She was swaying to the music and seemed to be happy serving. I kept trying to see through her eyes, but I couldn’t I was so angry.
Well, we had a long talk as I sipped my third cup of stovetop Italian-press Café Bustelo. I said a few things that I probably definitely am not going to write in this liturgical meditation. I know what you're thinking (unless you are still thinking about Richard Rohr, because that, I must confess, would really take me by surprise not to mention hurty my feelings). You are probably saying, judge not that you be not judged, dude. Whoa there, Mr. not very political righteous anger. It doesn't matter. I hear you and I respect that criticism. If I'm wrong at some deep level, Lord (and friends) help me learn my lesson. Just listen to me, though. I've been to this church several times. I've even waited after to talk to the priests. I don't know what else to say except that, as far as I'm concerned, that brood of vipers needs to get its stuff together. Or leave it alone (as a Pentecostal preacher I heard in Brooklyn many, many years ago used to scream).
And you know what? There is something to be said about "entitlement." Let's please have that discussion. No doubt, it is a two-edged sword. BUT you're not going to start with a gospel reading about John the Baptist preaching justice as a way of preparing for the kingdom and the King (while dressed like a lunatic, just sayin') and then, while ignoring yourself and the congregation in front of you, "judge" the person who came to the prestigious golf course unshaven or the people who complain and protest because of their fears, especially of racism, as examples of "entitlement." I'm actually less concerned with the attitude than with the cognitive dissonanace. Did you listen to the gospel? To the reading from Isaiah? I was screaming by the time she got the golf course, for reasons I have already stated.
So that's the story of Angry Advent. Saint John, I'm pretty dang sure was angry. Call it something else if you'd like, call it righteous exhortation. You snakes. And remember, it was the religious leaders, the wealthy and powerful, that were the butt of his prophesying.
But this is nothing new. And it's social gospel 101, maybe. I'm just saying. It's exactly one-fourth of Advent (deep down, I'd say it's a lot more). The first reading from Isaiah--you should read it friends if, for nothing else, its poetry--is . . . epic apocalyptic, if there is such a thing. The bud shall blossom our of the roots of the family of Jesse (David). And the spirit of the Lord shall be on him. How will we know? He will judge the poor in justice and decide aright for the afflicted. He will do mean things to the "ruthless." And justice will be belt around his waist. That's how and why the peacable kingdom will come (you know, the dog will lie down the cat, the coyote with the goat, and the child with . . . the serpent).
Interestingly, John the Hardscrabble, dressed in camel skins and wearing a leather belt around his waist, cries out. Oh yes, the kingdom is coming. The king is coming. But first ya'll folks got to get it together. Or leave it alone. Especially you religious snakes.
Anybody still awake. I got one more thing. I drove through the snow storm and made it to church at 5. OK, 5.05. I missed "People look East" one of my favorite Advent hymns. Then came the readings. Yes, Isaiah, PREACH. Then came John (I think that was the name of TV series back in the 60s). Oh man. That's a saint I recognize. Hardscrabble and unshaven. Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Then the part I was both waiting for and worried about. The homily (that means a very short excuse for a sermon for you non-Catholics). I don't know the priests name, although I talked to him afterwards. I swear though, he was 4' 10" at the most. Ben Camino is gigantic, some say monstrous, so our conversation must have looked really funny. I'm happy to report, though, that it was happy.
He spoke of the theme of "conversion" given in the readings of the day and in the Advent message in general, as a call to a converted community, a converted society. The Isaiah reading spoke of justice, especially for the poor, and painted a beautiful symbolic picture of unity across previous divisions, even as dangerous enemies "shall be neighbors" (like the cow and the bear).
"John the Baptist," he said, continues this theme. "Calling us to do our part to prepare the way for the coming King and his kingdom. And we do that, as he says to the Pharisees and Sadducee by producing 'good fruit' not just words. And that fruit is justice, which simply means doing right by your neighbors. By your fellow pilgrims."
Father, Ben Camino thinks, are you a priest or an angel sent down to help my unbelief? Turns out, Father is from Burma, studied with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle in Manila (the president of Caritas International), and works, primarily with Burmese refugees in Fort Wayne. He was, as I said, less than 5 feet tall (although at 6' 5" Ben Camino sometimes misjudges short people, like those under 5' 11".). But he stood tall on the Second Sunday of Advent. And, boy, did I need him to.
Missy left church angry. I think she had it right. I left church really, really happy. Sat there thinking for a long time. I hope I had it right too. I've been plenty angry about sermons I've heard and not heard in church, including this church. The point isn't the anger as such. The point is Advent.
Hope? I am all about hope. Peace? Bring it on, baby Jesus! Oh, wait. I've got something to do with that? Yes you do, Ricky Bobby. You mean, it's not just about me and the baby and the angels and the cow lying down with the bear (why do the lion and the lamb always get first billing?)? Yes, John the Hardscrabble Baptist Saint says to us. Yes, it is about you. But not THAT way. YOU SNAKES, he screams to us, veins bulging. Get it together, or leave it alone! See this leather belt of mine? I call it the belt of justice. Let's whip this place into shape.
That's the story of Angry Advent, the Second Sunday of Advent
Finally, I made a list of fun facts about John the Baptist.
1. There aren't any fun facts about John the Baptist.
2. John the Baptist would not like us making up lists of fun facts abut him.
3. John the Baptist actually baptized infants.
4. When he was younger, John the Baptist was an altar girl.
5. Not really.
6. He once got so angry that he punched his mom in the stomach. From the inside.
**Thanks to my sister Missy, who got this going and who shared her righteous anger. Here's a picture when she was happy. Last Christmas (looks sort of like a little altar girl if you ask me).