Gethsemane

Olive trees and a starry sky.

Olive trees and a starry sky.

(This year for Lent I decided to blog about matters of faith.)

Intermittently for a couple of years now, Gethsemane has been on my mind, and I’m not really sure why. What I do know is that I find it the most moving passage in the Bible. More so than the crucifixion, more so than the death of Lazarus. More so than anything else.

Maybe I’ve just missed all the right homilies or something, but it is strange to me that Gethsemane is not mentioned more often when discussing Jesus’s human nature. It is, in my opinion, by far his most human moment. More so than kicking over tables in the Temple, more so than when he wept. Righteous anger and sorrowful empathy are qualities we’ve long associated with Gods/God. But anxiety? No. Uncertainty, the desire to escape, soul-deep levels of stress? No. This the province of Man, not God.

But what gets me is, Jesus asks for so little for himself. He asks a lot from us, for us. But rarely does he express anything like a selfish desire. At the wedding of Cana he tells his mother that it isn’t his time. His wish to put off everything that will happen once the ball gets rolling is human. Of course, if we wait until we are ready to begin anything we will never begin. It’s why we have people in our lives who push us forward.

Jesus’s journey as the Christ is bookended at both ends with these exceedingly rare moments of self-interest. At the beginning, at Cana, he wants more time. At the end, in Gethsemane, he wants exactly the same thing – more time. He is denied on both occasions.

However, at Cana there isn’t it the sorrow, stress, and anxiety that there is in Gethsemane. That moment has always been vibrantly alive in my imagination. The cool of the night, the pale dusty ground, the moonlight on the olive trees, the outline of the mountains in the distance. Utter silence. The beauty of the surroundings at odds with the dread sitting heavy in Jesus’s gut as he contemplates what tomorrow will bring. Just like any of us facing something inevitable and horrific, he hopes in vain that maybe reality will shift. It doesn’t. Jesus is the one who works miracles for others. Miracles are not for him.

But I still haven’t gotten to the heart of the issue.

Jesus asks his disciples to stay up and pray with him. It is such a small ask, and yet they’re unable to find the fortitude, the wisdom, the generosity, to comply. Instead, they fall asleep. And Jesus feels betrayed, angry, and abandoned. There is no moment more human in the Bible than this one. We fail each other relentlessly, and the hurt of that failure is as germane to being human as is eating. If you live long enough, and not even very long at that, others will hurt you. More than that, those who are supposed to be there for you will fail you, and you will be alone.

Every day I see people living in Gethsemane. If you don’t, then apparently you’re not on Facebook.

Ironically, I think one of the ways we worsen this experience is by seeking to protect ourselves against it. In particular, I see people try to find perfect shelter in romantic love. “If I find the right man, I will never feel alone again.” We put a tremendous amount of burden upon our partners these days. I believe this is because so many of us have lost a strong mooring in our families and communities, and we try to make one person become all things. More importantly, instead of relying on God for our strength, we rely on one person. I know I did this prior to getting married, and I know I’m not the only one who has. Of course, you can’t know what lies outside of your education and experience. Life is a process, to paraphrase my good friend Charlie Grey. And to close with a quote from my mother, “Be kind to yourself.”

 

 

 

 

Trump

When I first moved to LA, I was prejudiced against the Hispanic community. I was 18 and stupid, and I am not even sure exactly what the heart of my racism was, other than just a vague sort of discomfort about “the other.” I remember coming home for Christmas and complaining about hearing so much Spanish. My dad let me know just how wrong I was to have such a complaint. By the time I graduated, I’d forgotten my bias and my first job out of college was working at an equestrian center. I was the only white woman in a large, all male, all Hispanic workforce. They treated me with respect. They treated me like family. We bartered for lunch – I’d bring coca-cola and they’d serve me carnitas cooked over a little grill in an unused horse stall. To this day, the best lunches of my life and the best job I ever had.
Years later, in North Carolina, I went to a religious conference as a representative of my church. We had round table discussions. I sat at a table of about 12 people, all white, all wealthy. The last question of the day was, “Discuss the challenges of the growing Hispanic population.” I was all set to talk about how great it was to have these bi-cultural churches. To my naive shock, what I heard instead were endless complaints and some examples of outright racism. Adrenaline flooded my body, my heart raced. I was the last to speak. I talked about my experiences in Los Angeles and I started to cry. I didn’t tell them what I thought about what they had said, I just told them how I’d been treated by the Hispanic community. And cried. The session ended for the day and several of the people came up to me and told me they weren’t racist. Some of them grabbed my hand while they did it, like I was a priest who could absolve them of their sins.
 
Right now, I feel the same way as I did sitting at that round table as I watch our country embrace a man who has said far worse things about Mexicans than what I heard at that church conference. A man who is running on bigotry as policy. A man whose security has escorted out peaceful Muslims, Blacks, and Hispanics from his rallies. A man who has retweeted white supremacists.
 
It is easy to veer toward racism if you don’t have people like my father in your life to set you straight. And I’d suggest that everyone is racist to a degree. But we must constantly strive toward the better angels of our nature. Trump appeals to the worst of us, to our fears and our greed. But here is the thing, my friends – with Trump, you do not know which way the ball will bounce. Are you a creationist? An atheist? Any shade of brown? Do you homeschool? Pro-life or pro-choice? Does your company work with Central or Latin America? Do not assume you’re safe from fascism just because you’re not Black or brown. Will you be the one escorted from rallies for what you believe? Trust me when I tell you – you do not know who will be safe and who will not, for expediency is the currency in which Trump deals, and in only that is he truly wealthy.

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given

Fledge, née Strawberry, with Polly and Digory

Fledge, née Strawberry, with Polly and Digory

Last June, I met my friend Tamara for dinner at The Blue Heron, a restaurant in Clemson. She returned to me my box set of The Chronicles of Narnia, my favorite books of all time. The table was small, and I set them down on the floor. We mentioned to each other several times that I shouldn’t forget them, but I forgot them.

I’d had that box set for more than twenty years.

I remembered before I arrived home that I’d forgotten them.

But I was strangely okay with it.

My hope was that it would make its way to a Lost & Found box and, after awhile, somebody would declare it unrecovered and take it home. Maybe it would be a cook with kids the right age, or maybe it would be a server who always meant to read those books but never had.

Outside of my parents, no one has had more influence over the way I think than C.S. Lewis. As an adult, I’ve loved and appreciated his nonfiction works very much, but nothing will ever compare to reading The Chronicles of Narnia as a child. They taught me about the kind of person I want to be and I’ve never outgrown them. C.S. Lewis was shamelessly traditional and sincere, espousing noble conduct, bravery, honesty, and valor. His stories were strong on redemption and forgiveness, good humor and adventure. His characters lived out in the world, lived in bright color, and fought for justice with cheerful hearts. What could be better than that? I wish I could write such things. I can’t though. If I could, I would, but I’ve been given other things to write.

Lately I’ve been feeling the itch to go back through the wardrobe door. It’s been too long since I’ve visited Narnia. I’m going to get myself a new set of the Chronicles of Narnia, hoping that the old has found its way to its new home. Whoever that new owner is, they received the best gift I’ve ever given. I have faith it wound up were it was supposed to go.

 

Love Your Enemy

Ani, not long after I got her in March of 2003.

Ani, not long after I got her in March of 2003.

When I first got my horse Ani, I immediately entered into conflict. She was difficult, even dangerous, and constantly frustrated me. I believed the solution was to force her to understand what she needed to do to live a good life. Because if she was well behaved, then I’d stop being frustrated, and could treat her with the all-the-time love and kindness that she’d no doubt appreciate.

After a particularly frustrating training session, we both stood in the center of the arena, sweaty, exhausted, yet still tense. I stared at her, angry, wishing she was different. Then for some mysterious reason, a new thought popped into my head. I thought, if I were her, how would I perceive this situation? And it occurred to me that I would feel lost in the midst of change and confused as to what was expected of me. And then I thought, if I was her, how would I want to be treated? And I realized I’d just want someone to love me and tell me it was going to be okay. So I petted her neck and told her exactly that, and for the first time in days, she relaxed. And I cried.

It might seem like the story should end with, “And from then on, everything was okay.” It wasn’t. Ani, as it turns out, had been severely abused. I wound up taking her to a few trainers, many of whom specialized in problem horses and many of whom felt she had the deepest trust issues they had ever dealt with. Eventually, I was contacted by other people who had purchased horses from her previous owner. All of the horses were extremely dangerous. Some of them wound up being put to sleep. None of them returned to life as a riding horse. Her previous owner was convicted in North Carolina – and animal owners will know how rare it is that such cases reach successful conclusion. As for Ani, a year after I bought her, she finally got to the point where I could trail ride her.

A very different Ani in 2005.

A very different Ani in 2005.

It sounds like such a simple sentence, but it isn’t. A former racehorse, Ani was relatively okay with man made places like nice arenas. Take her out to the woods and she’d freak out. To get her to trust me enough that we could go on a nice ride through the forest took working with her just about every single day for a year. It was a huge commitment. A lot of people thought I was crazy to spend so much time on an animal who was so mentally damaged. The thing was, though, underneath her fear issues she was a very sweet horse. At no point did she ever hurt me. I never even fell off of her. And perhaps most importantly, she taught me volumes about patience, love, and loyalty.

I was sitting in church on Sunday, thinking about politics, and about how we seem to not only expect to find the worst in our enemies, but hope to. We Christians throw around the phrase “love your enemy” a lot, and I think there is a sort of complacent sense that this is achieved simply by refraining from killing other people. I am being hyperbolic, but not by a lot. Frequently, our best effort at loving our enemy comes in at gritting-our-teeth tolerance, and often not even that. So again, while sitting there in church, I thought, “Well, what does love mean?” I think it involves treating others with kindness, respect, and appreciation. I think it means approaching them with humility and engaging with them in a real and human way. And I do think love involves honesty, always honesty. It is not love to pretend to be okay with things one is not okay with. But so too it is not love to come at the world with judgment and anger, with the hope that all our negative expectations will be borne out, proving our righteousness. Instead, we should hope to be proven wrong and celebrate if we were mistaken, even if only in part (and that’s another thing, isn’t it? We often deal in all or nothing sums in our judgment of others). Ultimately,  we should always look for the return of the Prodigal Son, not hope that he remains lost.

My neighbor has a new dog. He’s a very large (but too thin), unfixed, black pit bull with ice blue eyes. Not gonna lie – I love animals, but he’s one creepy looking dog. He obviously has a lot of fear issues and is currently allowed to roam free in our downtown neighborhood. He’s been menacing my dogs and people walking down the street. For the better part of the last twenty-four hours, I’ve wanted to kill him.

Tonight, driving home from comedy, I saw him cross the street. He had something white in his mouth and I thought it was a kitten. I stopped my car, got out and said softly, “What do you got there, buddy?” He dropped what was in his mouth. It was a soft pretzel he’d found in someone’s garbage. He was hungry. I went home, got some chicken and threw it at him (he wouldn’t get within fifteen feet of me). He’d swoop in, eat, bark, eat, bark. He thinks I’m his enemy. Granted, I did want to murder him for the majority of the day, so there’s that. But I don’t aspire to be anybody’s enemy. My hope is that I remember to treat others the way I want to be treated.

 

 

Annual Handy Dandy Guide to the Kentucky Derby – 2015 Edition

SUBTITLED: A Tale of Two Horses

Well, looks like American Pharoah <---the spelling on that drives me insane --- is for real. I haven't been a huge fan of American Pharoah for the following reasons. One, he's owned by Ahmed Zayat, who is a world class idiot. He's also super enthusiastic about horse racing and loves his horses more than a lot of owners, but he's an idiot. For example, back in 2009, Zayat decided to block Rachel Alexandra from entering the Preakness. Rachel had not been nominated to the Triple Crown, so he could have made that happen, had he entered all his nominated runners. His reasons were that Rachel hadn't had a rigorous schedule so it wasn't fair (not true), that the Triple Crown is a showcase for future stallions (?), and that, as a filly, she was more likely to break down, so he was saving us all from seeing her dead on the track. (Ugh.) Rachel, of course, won the 2009 Preakness. [caption id="attachment_1991" align="alignleft" width="300"]Do you see how darn cute this horse is? So happy turning for home! He's pretty adorable, you guys. Do you see how darn cute this horse is? So happy turning for home! He’s pretty adorable, you guys.[/caption]Two, Bob Baffert has been so high on this horse for so long, it just felt too over-the-top to be real. Even now, despite his absolutely sterling performances in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, I still feel skeptical. (There’s a link to the Arkansas Derby embedded in this article.) Perhaps more to the point, Baffert trains not just American Pharoah, but the other horse featured in this post, Dortmund. I’ve been a Dortmund fan from the get, and it’s irritated me how Baffert has described American Pharoah as a supernatural being and Dortmund as rather ordinary. This has evened out since Dortmund won his last two races, but even so – I definitely feel like Dortmund received the Rodney Dangerfield treatment from Baffert.

Three, American Pharoah only has two races this year thanks to a suspensory-related injury. He’s sound now, but I think it’s tough to come into the Derby without having had a dogfight ahead of time. Both of his races have been ridiculously easy, so it’s hard to say if he’s gotten enough out of them. Also, especially with soft tissue injuries, I find myself just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But I’ll also say this – watching him glide over the mud in the Rebel Stakes turned me into a believer in his ability, and watching him canter home, happy as a lark, ears pricked, in the Arkansas Derby turned me into a fan of him as a horse. He loves his job and he’s profoundly talented. He’s a superstar – no doubt about it.

As already mentioned, the second horse in this tale of two horses is Dortmund. Dortmund likely doesn’t have the raw talent and ability that American Pharoah has, but here are the three reasons why I love him. One, he has heart. He’ll be undefeated going into the Derby. Undefeated horses stroll into the Derby here and again, very rarely do they win. Often, their undefeated record marks a lack of rigor in their prep races. That absence of conditioning usually shows up in the Derby, in the case of Dortmund’s sire, Big Brown, it perhaps came into play in the Belmont. Dortmund is different. I don’t think any undefeated horse has come into the Derby as battle tested as Dortmund. Watch him lose this race and then somehow find a way to win it again.

Dortmund winning by a nose, as he is wont to do. Please note his enormity compared to the two little bays beside him.

Dortmund winning by a nose, as he is wont to do. Please note his enormity compared to the two little bays beside him.

Two, I love his looks and athleticism. He’s an enormous chestnut, standing over 17 hands. But for a big horse, he’s nimble. He has stumbled coming out of the gate a couple of times, but he always rallies quickly. He runs straight and true, every time. Because he is so big, nobody is going to push him around in the wild stampede that is the Derby. However, big horses tend to suffer from getting blocked off and not being handy enough to avoid traffic. Baffert says Dortmund is a stop and go kind of horse, so maybe he’s good enough to have that not be an issue. He’s obviously a super sound horse, which is awesome. Just as great, he has a wonderful mind. He can win from way back or from the lead. He’s so tractable jockey Martin Garcia can put him anywhere.

Three, I always root for the underdog. Granted, at this stage in the game he could possibly go off as the Derby favorite, so that doesn’t make him much of an underdog. But his sire, Big Brown, has been a massive failure at stud. Until recently, Baffert talked about him like the redheaded stepchild of the barn. And maybe, just maybe, he’s broken through to a whole new level. He clicked off his final eighth in the Santa Anita Derby in 12 seconds flat. That’s FLYING and that’s what you need to win the Derby – the ability to close. He’s already won over the quirky Churchill Downs surface, so maybe he’ll prove himself once and for all on the first Saturday in May.

I’ll be honest, this year these are the only two horses I really care about. I also love a horse named Bolo, but he may not even get into the race. So, just know if Bolo wins, I’ll be really happy. But for a great recap of the other top contenders, let me send you to this excellent summary of the horses to look for.