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Big Fat Tuesday – Br. Mark Brown

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St. Mathias/Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras

Happy St. Mathias’ Day.  And happy Fat Tuesday–Mardi Gras.  It’s Shrove Tuesday and Lent is upon us.  The season of preparation, of penitence, abstinence and re-orientation.

And it’s different this year. We live in a world very different from the one we lived in just one year ago. Events of historical magnitude have taken place. The economy—ouch!  The election of Obama–hurray! And this year I turn sixty—boo! Of course, that’s only of historical magnitude to me. In any event, this Lent is not like the others.

Because it feels so different this year, I gave myself a little assignment: I would write five “platform statements”—five statements that summarize what I believe about life. Five beliefs that I stand on, my platform.  And in 25 words or less.  (The creeds of the church I take as a given, by the way.  I’m pretty conventional in that respect.)  So, here are my five platform statements.  I got it down to 21 words.  Here’s where I stand on Mardi gras, Fat Tuesday 2009.

1. Life is Big.  2. And I want more.  3. “Love is his meaning”.  4. The Kingdom is coming.  5. The best is yet to come.  I’ll unpack these briefly.

1. “Life is Big.”  I say “Big” because all those multi-syllabic words like wonderful, marvelous, magnificent, stupendous, fantastic, fabulous just don’t touch it. The largeness, the magnitude, the expansiveness of the cosmos as God has created it I think are best conveyed by understatement.  So I’m sticking with just plain “Big” (with capital B).

Everything you look at is Big—if you really look at it.  There’s even bigness deep down in small things. The chemistry, the physics, the quantum mechanics in a grain of sand or a blade of grass are Big Big Big.  Wherever we look, the world is Big.  There is a Bigness to Life.  An inexhaustible expansiveness.  An inexhaustible expansiveness of sheer possibility in size and color and shape and form and density and plasticity and movement and transformation. Wherever you look, Life is Big.

2. And I want more.  I want more of the Bigness of Life. Some of you may know I like to cook. The most gratifying thing for a cook is to see crusts of bread sopping up the last bit of sauce from a plate and then people asking for more.  When we give someone a gift, the most gratifying thing for us is to know that people actually enjoy what we’ve given them.  Life is like that.  The Life we have is a gift.  The best way we can say “thank you, God” is to enjoy the gift, to savor, to cherish it. To lick the plate clean and ask for more, like our dog Duke. He licks that dish clean and then says, “I want more and I want it now!”

Platform Statement # 3. “Love is his meaning.”  What can I say?  Julian of Norwich said it best. “Do you want to know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well: love was His meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did He show you? Love.” [from Revelations of Divine Love]  We find meaning in life through love: love of God, love of friends and family, love of the stranger, love of the world God has so generously given. Love is Big, too.  Love takes us into Big places.  Love makes Big Life Bigger.

Platform Statement #4: The Kingdom is coming.  Or, to put it another way, the human enterprise is a progressive thing—the divine/human enterprise is progressive.  We human beings have the capacity to imagine, design and implement social progress.  We’ve seen proof of this in the presidential election.  That we elected such a gifted man and that he happens to be African American is exciting.

But what thrills me to the core of my being is what this election reveals about our capacity: the capacity to imagine social progress, and then to design and implement it.  We saw a problem, we got to work, we fixed it.  It has taken generations, but we did it.  I take enormous encouragement from this.  We live in a different world today because we made it so; we dreamed of something better and worked for it.  And if we can do this with such an intractable problem as racial inequality, well, the sky is pretty much the limit.

Platform Statement #5. The best is yet to come.  I’ve been saying, “Life is Big.”  And it is.  And it’s even bigger than that.  I’m speaking of the life beyond this one.  From this world we enter one of unimaginable Bigness.  Exponentially expansive, I suppose, in time and space, or whatever dimensions there are in eternity.  I don’t think very much about life after death—there’s plenty to keep busy with here and now. But this is something I’ve never doubted, even though I’ve doubted many things.  The greater context of this cosmos, as grand as it is, is an even greater reality.  A place where, as Julian put it:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well indeed.”  Easter is coming—and I mean the big one.  Big Easter is coming.

Life is Big. And I want more. “Love is his meaning.” The Kingdom is coming. The best is yet to come.  My twenty-one word platform.

Some of you may be wondering, “What planet does Br. Mark live on?  Does he know what’s going on in the world?  Does he read the news?”   Actually, I’m a news junkie. Did you see Maurine Dowd’s column in the Sunday Times this week?  She of the sharp wit and razor tongue says “The only thing we have to fear…is everything.”  In a column entitled “Dark, Dark, Dark”. It’s precisely when the world up close is so threatening that we need the view from 30,000 feet. Well, maybe 60,000 feet just now.  Or, to put it another way, it’s in the dark that we need to reclaim our core beliefs, to plant our feet firmly on the platform, the ground of our core beliefs.  So, I’m not just whistling in the dark.  I’m screaming back at it.

I’m reminded of the old Gospel hymn “Hallelujah Anyhow!”  “No matter what comes my way, I’ll lift my voice and say, Hallelujah anyhow!”

So, what will be my Lenten program? Of what will I repent? What will I abstain from?  What disciplines will I embrace?  I plan to repent of smallness and confinement.  I plan to abstain from the petty, the parochial, the peevish. Love is about living in big spaces, unconfined.  Fear and anger and contempt take us into small, cramped spaces. I plan to abstain from small, cramped spaces.  And I intend to fast from indifference, from indifference to Life, in all its bitterness and sweetness. My Lenten discipline will be to lick my dog dish clean and ask for more, and right now!

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!  Happy Fat Tuesday.  Happy Big Fat Tuesday!

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