Chapter 1- Saint Cookies, pg. 6-7
Read 7.2.17

I didn't want Alma White’s name on the Litany of Saints. Having her name lying on the table, illuminated by the nearby Paschal candle, alongside the names of Saint Francis and Cesar Chavez, felt wrong. I want racist to stay in the “racist” box. When they start sneaking into the “saint” box, it makes me nervous. But that's how it works. On All Saints’ Sunday, I am faced with sticky ambiguities around saints who were bad and sinners who were good.

Personally, I think knowing the difference between a racist and a saint is kind of important. But when Jesus again and again says things like the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, and the poor are blessed, and the rich are cursed, and that prostitutes make great dinner guests, it makes me wonder if our need for pure black and white categories is not true religion but maybe actually a sin. Knowing what category to place Hemlock in might help us know whether it's safe to drink, but knowing what category to place ourselves and others in does not help us know God in the way that the church so often has tried to convince us it does.

And anyway, it has been my experience that what makes us the saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God's ability to work through sinners. The title “saint” is always conferred, never earned. Or as the good Saint Paul puts it, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). I have come to realize that all the saints I've known have been accidental ones – people who inadvertently stumbled into Redemption like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and managed to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are as kind as they are hostile.

Chapter 2- Absolution for A**holes, pg. 18
Read 7.9.17

Thinking back, I can say that maybe my sin toward Larry doesn't rank up there with embezzling tithes or schtupping the choir director, but if someone comes to your church and you make up excuses not to serve them with grace and love, it's still despicable. And the fact that I “learned” from it all and haven't done that kind of thing since doesn't make up for it, because I'm sure if I had a minute, I could come up with other things I've done in its stead. Which means that I am in perpetual need of grace.

Quietly, Caitlin took it all in. She took a drink of her water, then reached out for my hand and said, “Nadia, Jesus died for our sins. Including that one.”

Including that one. Including every one.

It feels like a strange and abstract thing to say. “Jesus died for your sins.” And I've squandered plenty of ink arguing against the notion that God had to kill Jesus because we were bad. But when Caitlin said that Jesus died for our sins, including that one, I was reminded again that there is nothing we have done that God cannot redeem. Small betrayals, large infractions, minor offenses. All of it.

Some would say that instead of the cross being about Jesus standing in for us to take the really bad spanking from God for our own naughtiness (the fancy theological term for this is substitutionary atonement), what happens at the cross is a “blessed exchange.” God gathers up all our sin, all our broken-ass junk, into God's own self and transforms all that death into life. Jesus takes our crap and exchanges it for his blessedness.

Chapter 3- My Lowest for His Highest, pg. 28-29
Read 7.16.17

So often in the church, being a pastor or a “spiritual leader” means being the example of “godly living”. A pastor is supposed to be the person who is really good at this Christianity stuff – the person others can look to as an example of righteousness. But as much as being the person who is the best Christian, who “follows Jesus” the most closely can feel a little seductive, it’s simply never been who I am or who my parishioners need me to be. I'm not running after Jesus. Jesus is running my ass down. Yeah, I am a leader, but I'm leading them onto the street to get hit by the speeding bus of confession and absolution, sin and sainthood, death and resurrection – that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm a leader, but only by saying, “Oh, screw it. I'll go first.”

I stood the next day in the copper light of sundown in the parish hall where House for All Sinners and Saints meets and confessed all of this to my congregation. I told them there had been a million reasons for me to want to be the prophetic voice for change, but every time I tried, I was confronted by my own bullshit. I told them I was unqualified to be an example of anything but needing Jesus.

That evening I admitted to my congregation that I had to look at how my outrage feels good for a while, but only like eating candy corn feels good for a while – I know it's nothing more than empty calories. My outrage feels empty because what I am desperate for is to speak the truth of my burden of sin and have Jesus take it from me, yet ranting about the system or about other people will always be my go-to instead. Because maybe if I show the right level of outrage, it'll make up for the fact that every single day of my life I have benefited from the very same system that acquitted George Zimmerman. My opinions feel good until I crash from the self-righteous sugar high, then realize I'm still sick and hungry for a taste of mercy.

Chapter 5- You Are Not "The Blessing", pg. 47-48
Read 7.23.17

While we as people of God are certainly called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that whole "we're blessed to be a blessing" thing can still be kind of dangerous. It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world, waiting to descend on those below so we can be the "blessing" they've been waiting for, like it or not. Plus, seeing myself as the blessing can pretty easily obscure the way in which I am actually part of the problem and can hide the ways in which I too and poor and needing care. Seeing myself or my church or my denomination as "the blessing" - like so many mission trips to help "those less fortunate than ourselves"- can easily descend into a blend of benevolence and paternalism. We can start to see the poor as supporting characters in a big story about how noble, selfless, and helpful we are.

After meeting Bruce and struggling with what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world when I am so prone to pride, I looked harder at Matthew 25 and realized that if Jesus said "I was hungry and you fed me," then Christ's presence is not embodied in those who feed the hungry (as important as that work is), but Christ's presence is in the hungry being fed. Christ comes not in the form of those who visit the imprisoned but in the imprisoned being cared for. And to be clear, Christ does not come to us as the poor and hungry. Because, as anyone for whom the poor are not an abstraction but actual flesh-and-blood people knows, the poor and hungry and imprisoned are not a romantic special class of Christ-like people. And those who meet their needs are not a romantic special class of Christ-like people. We all are equally as sinful and saintly as the other. No, Christ comes to us in the needs of the poor and hungry, needs that are met by another so that the gleaming redemption of God might be known.

No one gets to play Jesus. But we do get to experience Jesus in that Holy place where we meet others’ needs and have our own needs met. We are all the needy and the ones who meet needs. To place ourselves or anyone else in only one category is to lie to ourselves.

Of this much I am sure: I wasn't the one who allowed Christ to be revealed in the encounter of the sarcastic pastor and the weeping bishop. It was Bruce's need that revealed Christ. Bruce didn't get to play Jesus and neither did I, but Bruce did allow himself to bear a need that someone else could, however imperfectly, meet. And when the grief of our brother was cared about, Jesus was cared about.

Chapter 6- A Thief In the Night, pg. 60-61
Read 7.30.17

Apocalyptic texts try to explain the present by injecting the present into the future. Like if, in order to talk in code about the Tea Party, I wrote a Battlestar Galactica episode where the crew of the ship or slowly taken over by Cylons who wanted to privatize the fuel production on board.

But I'm not going to do that. I can't actually project what is happening now into the future. I am terrible at predictions. But I can stand in the present and puzzle at what happened in the past. I can take depositions, give my own testimony. I can ask other people about their lives, try to make sense of what has happened. And whenever the evidence doesn't make any sense, I know exactly who to suspect. It's Jesus. Again.

Like when Diane, a young mom in my congregation who has a mentally unstable and emotionally abusive mother, emailed me and said, "The weirdest thing just happened. My mom posted on Facebook about what a hard time she is having and, well, you know... The stuff she usually posts, and she ended it by saying that she still feels God's love and presence. Normally this would have sent me into a mini-rage about how delusional and self-obsessed she is, but that didn't happen, Nadia. Strangely my first response to reading her post was Of course she feels God's love and presence. That's just God's nature. It's disorienting to not have the same resentment toward her that I've held onto for so long. But I think, having heard that message of God's love so much at church, that I believed it for myself and maybe I believe it so much for myself that I even believe it for my mother."

Maybe the blessed exchange I talked about earlier means that Jesus is skulking around like the Grinch after having stolen other people's stuff, heavy laden with a huge red sack of our resentments and resistances and a bunch of other junk we never managed to get rid of ourselves no matter how much we know we should. Maybe he's just going from one person to the next taking off with our useless trash.

Chapter 10- Panic Attack in Jericho, pg. 99
Read 8.13.17

Once, years ago, a group of my friends and I were sitting around the lobby of a hotel, having escape from a pointless clergy meeting in a conference call. Someone suggested we all go around and say out loud the adjective that, if someone used it to the scribe us, would be the absolute worst. "Boring," someone confessed; "failure" from another. When it got to me there was no equivocating. I shifted around in the overly colorful hotel armchair before finally saying, “Needy.”

My mother claims that the first time I said more than one word at a time, I skipped the two-word combinations altogether and went right to “Do it self.” Yes, thank you very much, I will do it myself. I do not want to need anyone else. After years of therapy and twelve-step work, I’ve finally realized that trying not to need others isn’t about strength and independence; it’s about fear. To allow myself to need someone else is to put myself in a position to be betrayed or made to look weak. Not that this realization ever really helps me in the moment. I want to “do it self.” I want to make my own decisions and not be beholden to a tour group, and I want everyone to understand that I am strong as hell, which is increasingly difficult to pull off when you’ve just asked everyone if they have Valium and they don’t and they know how scared you are of the stupid f****ing unlit road you are now about to go up in the dark.

Chapter 19- Blessed Are They, pg. 184-188
Read 8.20.17

 What if the Beatitudes aren't about a list of conditions we should try to meet to be blessed? What if they are not virtues we should aspire to? What if Jesus thing blessed are the meek is not instructive but performative – that the pronouncement of blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself? Maybe The Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus as lavish blessing of the people around him on that Hillside, blessing all the accidental saints in this world, especially those who that world – like ours – didn’t seem to have much time for: people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise Mercy instead of vengeance.

Maybe Jesus was simply blessing the ones around him that day who didn't otherwise receive blessing, who had come to believe that, for them, blessings would never be in the cards. I mean, come on, doesn't that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?

So on that All Saints Sunday, I imagine Jesus standing Among Us offering some new Beatitudes, and I said to the congregation:

Blessed are the agnostics.

Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren't sure, who can still be surprised.

Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.

Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.

Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at Communion.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.

Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.

Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.

Blessed are they who don't have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore.

Blessed are they who can't fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who "still aren't over it yet."

Blessed are Larry's wife and Billy's mom and Amy Mack's friends.

Blessed are those who mourn.

You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers.

Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small, the parts of ourselves that don't want to make eye contact with a world that loves only the winners.

Blessed are the forgotten.

Blessed are the closeted.

Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the under-represented.

Blessed are the teams who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek.

You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them.

Blessed are those without documentation.

Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.

Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right.

Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.

Blessed are the burned-out social workers in the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.

Blessed are the kindhearted NFL players and the fundraising trophy wives.

Blessed are the kids who stepped between the bullies and the week.

Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven.

Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn't deserve it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.

I imagine Jesus standing there blessing us all because I believe that is our Lord's nature. Because, after all, it was Jesus who had all the powers of the universe at his disposal but did not consider his equality with God something to be exploited. Instead, he came to us in the most vulnerable of ways, as a powerless, flesh-and-blood newborn. As if to say, "You may hate your body's but I am blessing all human flesh. You may admire strength and might, but I am blessing all human weakness. You may seek power, but I am blessing all human vulnerability." This Jesus whom we follow cried at the tomb of his friend and turn the other cheek and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God's Beatitude- God's blessing to the weak in the world that admires only the strong.