The Easter Vigil: Doing Good Together

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Trent Tate’s Fireflies out of the Bottle

Under the burden, the cynicism, and the pace of modern life, Passover and Holy Week interrupt us with timely “signals of transcendence” that call us to stand together, across our various political, cultural, and religious divides. We are beautiful, if broken and vulnerable beings with a profound need for liberation and resurrection—and each other.

The women who arrived looking for the dead body of Jesus on that first Sunday morning were told he was not there, that he had been raised, that he was alive and had gone on ahead of them to Galilee; there they would see him, just as he had said. Amazed and terrified, they fled from the tomb and told no one what had happened. In the original version of Mark’s Gospel, the story simply ends right there. It leaves the story open-ended, inviting the reader to wonder about and puzzle over its meaning. “He is not here, he has been raised,” we hear. He is not here; he is not where we think he is.

This is a story that tells us at the very least that God, the really real, cannot be captured by anything: not by death, not by a tomb, not by religion, not by technology, not by any philosophy of truth. God cannot be packaged and marketed for popular tastes and consumption, no matter how user-friendly and entertaining the purveyor of religion tries to make it. But because we live in a free-market world that has been constructed to satisfy our personal preferences, we begin to imagine that even God exists to satisfy our personal needs. In a world where we can customize our ring tones, our faces, our spouses, our children, and our religion, we come to expect that even God can be customized for our own purposes.

Whatever else it may be, however, this story of Jesus’ resurrection is not about maintaining our control and living with a positive attitude despite the stresses and strains of modern life. The women who encountered the empty tomb didn’t go home and take on a new attitude that things would turn out okay in the end for those who believe; they didn’t just decide to start looking on the bright side of things. No, they fled in terror and amazement and didn’t tell anyone about what they had seen. This is a story that interrupts our usual notions and expectations of the way things are supposed to be. We don’t have any control over this story, and the ending is left open.

The phrase “resurrection from the dead” literally means, “coming alive from out of dead things”. It’s the picture of one who “stands up from the midst of corpses”. It’s a coming alive, a waking up from sleep, a standing up to walk in compassion with others who are different and vulnerable. The story of the resurrection is a very particular gift to each and every one of us. It’s a gift we need. Without it, our lives can be dominated by fear of others, or intimidated by death, and this fear isolates and divides—it locks us up in our own notions and tribes, stifling our capacity to love and appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of each and every other.

This season of the resurrection is a powerful time to come together. The Front Porch offers a distinctive public celebration of the Christian tradition’s “coming alive” for all in the Austin community on Saturday evening, April 15th at 8pm, at Scholz Garten. HERE IS THE RSVP LINK. And here are just some of the artists: Sam Baker, Rabbi Neil Blumofe, Meesha Akbar, Shinyribs, Body Rock ATX with Riders Against the Storm, Jimi Calhoun, Sherry Gingras and the Djembabes, Gregory Eaton, Brant Pope, Chucky Black. There will drums, improv, slam poetry, singer-songwriters, dance, a 2nd Line jazz band, and more. Come celebrate with us and dance until midnight Easter Eve!

Monday, February 17th

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Happy Monday, Front Porchers. Last week was a good week for us; on Thursday, Sam Baker, his band, and more than a hundred of our closest friends joined us for Actually Unplugged, and then Ray Benson preached at Parable on Sunday. But the action isn’t slowing down; the Southwest Showdown begins at 11:00 this Saturday. Come out to the Seminary of the Southwest’s annual family-friendly barbeque cook-off. Proceeds go Episcopal Relief and Development, and the inordinately talented Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars will accompany the Texas barbeque with Texas country music.

As the two or three of you who regularly read my posts know, I usually take this space to write about some notable figure or event linked to the day’s date. Today, as I scanned my top-secret historical calendar, I found some good stuff: in 1600, philosopher Giordano Bruno was executed; in 1819, the Missouri Compromise passed; in 1863, the Red Cross was founded; in 1929, Chaim Potok was born. But what about the billions of lives that don’t find their way into the annals of Wikipedia? We don’t read about, or even really think about, their experiences, their accomplishments, their fears and desires, but they existed, from the first sentient hominid to the aged farmer in third century BC Chile to the child just born into poverty in Mumbai. They are sparrows, just as we are, and their lives are as immediate to them as ours are to us, and every bit as important and dear. Once those lives are gone, those accomplishments and experiences stay with us, invisible and inaccessible but present nonetheless. That’s as good a reason as any to be kind, to pour out our souls, to give recklessly and fully, to love as hard and as much as we possibly can; we can leave something behind, an undetectable legacy of goodness that is better than an article in an online database.

Monday, February 3rd

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Happy Monday, Front Porchers. We’ve got some big stuff coming up. Next week, the inimitable Sam Baker and his band play Actually Unplugged. As we’ve mentioned before, Sam’s unique minimalist folk stylings, paired with themes of faith, loss, and hard choices, make this a perfect date night for the evening before Valentine’s Day. Then, next Sunday, we’ll host Parable at Opal Divine’s. This time, Ray Benson will preach, with an assist from John Burnett. Don’t miss this alternative worship service, led by over thirteen feet of human being.

Today is also the one hundred and forty-third anniversary of the passing of the the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race. As one of the most important amendments to the Constitution (here on the Porch, we’re also big fans of the Twenty-first), it’s pretty clearly a big deal for ensuring that democracy can reign. However,  it took nearly a century for this nation, founded on ideas of freedom, to create such a law demonstrates how often the ethically crucial is overlooked, intentionally or otherwise, until it becomes a pressing need. In honor of this, we invite you this week to think about yourself, your country, or any organization to which you pertain through this lens: What necessary things are we ignoring simply because we haven’t thought about them? What can we change that we didn’t even realize needed changing?

Monday, January 27th

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Happy Monday, everyone. It looks like a nice, quiet week here on the Front Porch, so pull up a chair and pour yourself some lemonade. Next week, though, we’ve got Sam Baker coming to play Actually Unplugged. Such an intimate performance, with songs about such light topics as pain, faith, and redemption, make for a perfect Valentine’s date night. The week after next, Ray Benson will join us at Parable.

 

It’s also the the anniversary of the death of Isaak Babel, the great Russian and Jewish writer  killed in Stalin’s Great Purge for criticizing of the Communist Party. Babel’s particular genius is the dignity he grants various characters: Cossacks, Jews, high-ranking political officials, peasants. It was this unflinching gaze into the Other that drew the ire of the Party elite. As a prose stylist, as a storyteller, and as a proponent of the fractured nature of life, Isaak Babel is an inspiration to the Front Porch’s mission of treating all perspectives with dignity.

Monday, January 20th

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Happy Monday, Front Porchers, and happy MLK Day. Thanks to everyone who came out for Actually Unplugged and Parable last week. We sure enjoyed them, and hope you did too. Now we’re gearing up for the next month’s Actually Unplugged and Parable. The former is set for Thursday, February 13, and will feature Sam Baker, whose hard-hitting songs about life, death, and faith should set the mood perfectly for the evening before Valentine’s Day. Parable will keep on rolling as well.

The impact and power of Dr. King will be explained and discussed elsewhere, by those far more qualified than I. However, today is also the eighty-ninth birthday Ernesto Cardenal, who deserves recognition as well. Throughout a varied life, Father Cardenal has fought in a violent revolution, studied under Thomas Merton, joined the Sandinistas, founded an aesthetic community, held a cabinet position, been publicly rebuked by a Pope, and nominated for a Nobel Prize in poetry. For more than half a century, he has called for a reassessment of the violence and corruption so entrenched in Nicaraguan politics. It seems fitting that his birthday fall on MLK Day, as it allows us to honor all of those who have fought against the evils of discrimination in all its ugly forms.