I haven’t spoken to my biological father in 2.5 years.
Honestly, it’s one of those things I don’t really think about too terribly often. Like, say roughly as often as you maybe think about changing the oil in your lawnmower…which, you should really do that, I read online that it increases the life of your small engine and now I’m trying to change the subject. Whenever I find I must unexpectedly name the part of my life I dutifully keep bound and gagged in the trunk of my soul, because someone remembers my father from high school, or has demographic questions about my lineage, ill-fitting last name, or INCREDIBLE complexion (my face’s Patronus is a huffing 15-year-old popping a lip-zit in the bathroom before school picture day), it gives my intestines vertigo.
An artist's rendering:
You: “Hey, so what’s all that loud banging coming from the trunk? It sounds like a human voice muffled by a gag. Is there someone in there!? DO YOU LITERALLY HAVE SOMEONE IN THE TRUNK OF YOUR CAR THERE’S NO WAY I’M EVER ASKING YOU TO TAKE ME TO THE AIRPORT AGAIN.”
Me: “I don’t hear it. (TURNS UP NPR) So what’s your gate?"
You: “I’m flying Southwest”
(INCREDIBLY LONG SILENCE. MUFFLED SHOUTS ARE STILL AUDIBLE OVER FRESH AIR)
You: "I love Terry Gross."
Me: “Yeah, me too."
The great lie of the universe is that people don’t want, need, or have time for our pain, and that what they most desire from us is unflinching equilibrium, and confident togetherness, and flawless organization, and efficient production. Somewhere we’ve managed to pick up the belief that the divine has this Machiavellian need to sacrifice wholeness and truth and liberation on the altar of platform, and mission statements, and earning potential, and wide-reaching influence.
No idea where we picked that up.
In the 3rd chapter of the book of Exodus, there’s a fella with a rather long beard (who looks a lot like Moses) wandering about with a flock of his father-in-law’s sheep in what the original Hebrew reads the "after wilderness” or the "wilderness beyond wilderness” or simply “north of Reseda”. Earlier on in Exodus we discover that this bearded fella (who looks a lot like Moses) has had to flee his adopted Egyptian home in the palace of Pharaoh after murdering a particularly violent task master, and burying his body in the sand.
Spoilers: the sand covering what we’ve got buried back in Egypt always gets blown away.
Now, back to the “after wilderness”.
We soon find out that definitely-Moses has encountered a bush currently ablaze with a flame that somehow never manages to destroy it. Naturally, because there’s fire, Moses is drawn in, he’s interested. Then the fire starts talking, and things really heat up from there.*
(*NOTE: Don’t let anyone tell you blogging is a dead medium.)
"And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
Sometimes the Bible is this book of mystical, cellular truth tapping into the core of what it means to be alive. Other times it’s just reminding you that humans REALLY DIG things that are on fire, and that, my friends, is what makes it a best-seller.
"When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Eventually the talking campfire gets around to the whole point of this exchange by proposing that Moses return to the scene of his crime in Egypt in order to request that new Pharaoh (a member of his formerly adoptive family and the most powerful man on Earth at the time) release all of those slaves his empire depends upon for cheap labor.
Naturally, Moses accepts immediately.
Or complains about being a bit unconvincing as a motivational speaker representing what amounts to an inexhaustible campfire requesting the need of Pharaoh’s slaves ASAP.
"Then Moses said to God, 'If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?' God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”* And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
The phrase “I AM WHO I AM” are the 4 Hebrew consonants ‘yod’ ‘hey’ ‘vav’ ‘hey’. They’ve been translated “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE” or “I AM ALL THAT IS” or “I AM BEING ITSELF” or “Ziggy Stardust”. In Jewish tradition, the phrase is called the “tetragrammaton” (i.e. the 4 letters), and is left untranslated. When Jewish believers pass over the divine name throughout their readings of the holy scriptures they denote its presence with a simple “THE NAME”.
Over time, a few rabbis began arguing that the speaking of the 4 consonants ‘yod’ ‘hey’ ‘vav’ ‘hey’ weren’t actually a name at all, but rather, simply, the sound of Moses’ breathing in and out and in and out amidst the silence of his unanswered question. The argument being that when humans return to the scene of whatever crime has been committed by or to them in order not to masochistically or vindictively punish themselves or others, but to liberate and bring healing into a broken, violent, and misaligned system (especially if it involves a fair amount of internal vertigo),
their name becomes the name of God.
Their life, their pain, and their truth rather than obscuring the divine from view, serves instead to scrape the bugs off the windshield of the universe, bringing God more clearly into view. This also means that from time to time, God’s name could be something awesome, like Moses, and other times God’s name could be Brent.
Yeah, like Brent from accounting.
In the case of Moses (and Brent), God’s name, God’s essence, God’s concrete realness is found not in the burying of his pain and baggage in the name of good religious marketing, but in their unearthing and enfleshing and sacrificial bearing for the liberation of others. Which could be why it would later make sense for God to yet again enter a world suffering under the vindictive reign of another Pharaoh in the form of another man who chose to unshackle another crop of slaves with his sacrificial death on the cross of empire.
This man's earliest followers even began saying that his death (and unexpected resurrection) served to rip the fabric separating humans from the divine, so that they might finally see God as the one bearing shame rather than piling it on.
When I occasionally choose to honestly own and name my pain, I find it has this counterintuitive power to open up all sorts of possibilities in other people who might still be toiling under the weight of whatever they’ve got buried in the sands of Egypt. When I give them the deep cuts, and the b-sides, and I open the trunk, instead of wincing in the white-hot-heat of my profound limp, I find they aren’t burned up by it, and neither am I.
In fact, I find that time and again, both of us are smiling and barefoot in the presence of whatever has scarred (and yet not killed) us both.
When we return to our scars, not to airbrush them, or downplay them, or leverage them for a better market share, but to baldly uncover them for the sake of another's liberation, it cracks the very ground of our sepia-toned world of performative fakeness wide open with something that could have only been forged in the fires burning out in the wilderness beyond Reseda. In those moments we don’t have to explain God or name God or point God out, because from our eyelashes, to our fingernails, and even to that ever-widening pile of unchecked emails that make up our stubbornly stiff-backed life on the other side of whatever almost killed us, we become the only explanation, site, and name God ever asked for.
So don’t be alarmed when people begin taking their shoes off from time to time in the presence of a fire that burns, but yet doesn't consume you.
Yes, even you, Brent.