A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
Buffalo, NY — with Robin & Linda Williams
A live performance with Robin & Linda Williams in Asbury Hall at Babeville
I’ve been reading a fine book for Holy Week, Short Stories By Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine, about the parables in the Gospels, and thought how much better Sunday School would’ve been had it been taught by a Jewish scholar rather than the rigid joyless fundamentalists of my youth. Jesus was Jewish, He wasn’t a Protestant, for God’s sake. Levine covers the whole string of them, the runaway boy, the tardy workers, the kindly alien, the good CPA, the mustard seed, the rich man and Lazarus, and respects the mysteries they represent.
This is a difference between Jews and my people. My people weren’t interested in the stories, only the morals; they skipped the details and went straight to the conclusions. Oy, vey. And now the worst of them are reforming the faith around the personality of the emperor. Oy, double vey.
It all begins, as Jesus said, with the commandment to love the Lord God with all your heart and all your soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. As I read this, I was in seat 10D and my neighbor in 10E was leaning against me, her head on my shoulder, my daughter, who, in a sense, is myself, and so it’s hard not to obey the commandment. Back home, we live next to two condominium buildings, a multitude of neighbors, most of whom I don’t know, though we try to keep our section of sidewalk plowed in winter and we are understanding about each other’s trees that cross property lines.
Jesus is not joking when He delivers this impossible command, but nonetheless it is religiously ignored by most Christians, including me.
When I was 17, I thought the first part of the commandment told me to join a Trappist monastery and the second part told me to be a communist, and the onset of puberty — which, for us fundamentalists, came around the age of 24 — settled the first and reading a little about Leninism took care of the second, and so I was left to my own devices, loving God by listening to Mahler and reading poetry, and being mannerly to neighbors, and that’s where I am today.
My neighbor in 10E was asleep, and our heads were touching, and I tried to absorb the thoughts in her head so I could love her more fully. She worries about me; I am 55 years older than she, and she protests when I refer to myself as her old dad. “You’re not old, you’re the best dad there is,” she cries, as if saying it makes it so.
I have not been good about passing the teachings of the Lord on to her, my grievous fault, due to my resistance to the damp airless religion of my youth, but nonetheless my fault. This fault is unbearable and so I’ve accepted the idea that all of us sinners will be accepted into God’s presence eventually. It’s a natural belief for a person in the field of comedy to hold. Comedy is about surprise and contradiction and irony. And heaven will be an amazement. The last shall be first. This is a comical idea.
It’s utterly simple to make a crowd feel bad, anyone can do it, but when they laugh, you feel the grace of God at work.
Rabbi Amy gives us the miracle of the feeding of the multitude as Jesus’s joke on his disciples who were worried about credit cards and whether the deli was still open, and Jesus told them to keep passing the platters of loaves and fishes and they did and the food never ran out.
At the end, the disciples ran away from the Crucifixion. It was just too much. I run away too. Someday I hope to understand. I don’t yet. The loaves and fishes is easier. So I’m not a real Christian. So shoot me. You do and I expect to rise again. The saints and martyrs will be there and also Mabel and Gertrude and Fern, our grade school cooks who fed the poor, and also the monks who were boiled alive by the cannibals but they didn’t taste good because they were friars, and of course Jesus, who hung on the cross and cried out to Peter who said, “Yes, Lord?” And Jesus said, “Peter, I can see my house from here.”
As indeed He could. And so can we. And if you get there before I do, tell all my friends that I’m coming, too.