By Aaron Tabacco (cross posted from his blog Quorum of the Outcasts)
You know, the entire Passover and Easter season used to be my very favorite time of the year for spiritual renewal. Not in a social connect-with-family-and-friends-and-food sort of way…but rather because at one point 23 years ago, weeks before taking the step to officially be baptized into an organized Christian religious community, a wise old man offered me the chance to read a book called “Jesus the Christ.” To this day, I think it still stands in my mind and heart as the most touching interpretation and telling of the life of the man Jesus and his mission, without too much of the dogmatic manipulation of any specific agenda. At the time of my introduction to that book, I read the entire large volume in a week…in fact, during the entire high holy week that led to Easter Sunday so it was a very private, deep, introspective journey. It was from that book that I actually came to believe that the relationship I was supposed to have with god was, in fact, an intimate and personal one. There is something to be said for the popular lyric: “your own, personal Jesus.”
Today I find that this season means much less to me, though as I reflect on where I am at this very moment in my life…this minute, this hour, this day…I relate so very much better and more personally to the lived experiences of Jesus. A man for whom this week that is so celebrated with songs and food and family in many sacred and secular ways was really the week of his greatest angst and agony. I find it strange actually…that so many people either relate to these recorded events with a false sense of ignorant, self-deprecating awe of the ‘inaccessibility’ of the whole Atonement, or with completely superficial performances as making sure all the children’s ties and dresses match. At the end of the day, I have neither affection for nor resonance with any particular religious tradition anymore. But I do still own the personal, introspective transformational experiences that mark this week for me as I consider this man and the story of his life.
You see…I just get it.
I get the agony of no way out. I get the betrayal and rejection and abandonment of those who were supposed to be closest to you in your life. I get the persecution and judgments that fall onto you when the established church calls you either devil or apostate or worse: misguided. I get the distant adoration of people who hold you in high esteem and the irony that they have no idea of your daily agonies or burdens but are all too eager to have your blessing or comfort or healing power. I get what it is like to cry, as though blood were dripping from every pore of your body, for this to NOT be your fate…to literally beg God to take away your future for a quick and easy death or to pass the burden to someone else. I get what it is like suffer, not because of who you are, but because of who you are not: that you are not what others want, hope, believe, or expect. I get what it feels like to be a source of bitter disappointment and disapproval in your closest, chosen family when you can’t enter the streets looking and acting the part of the king and priest they want you to be or keep up appearances. I get what it is like to be profoundly lonely in your sacrifices, even while being doted over by a woman who would devote her entire existence to you if only you had the ability to receive it and return it. I get what it means to be betrayed by a friend who, more than anything, sees himself as good and who only has the best of intentions, no matter how disconnected from reality they may be. I get what it is like to have no way to go back to the way it was; no way to stay in the moment where things are; and no way to create a future that offers completeness as you had always imagined or hoped. I get what it means to literally wish to lay down your very life to protect and redeem the people you love the most and to wish to put an end to your own suffering and the stagnancy that will always come from pretending that nothing can or should change. I get what it means to be labeled as selfish and cowardly because the people who should adore you most aren’t getting what they want from you or who interpret your actions to be some sort of pursuit of selfish pleasure when you should be taking care of the needs of others as they see them from their limited viewpoints. I get what it is like to be fearful, hopeless, self-sacrificing, noble, committed, brave, loyal, unwavering, and hopeful all at the same confusing time while others look upon you as weak, arrogant, and prideful. I get what it feels like to be abused at the hands of others who feel they are only enacting the laws of god and the land as they know it while they sit in judgment of you and your ‘situation’….who reduce you to a lifestyle, a political decision, or a mental problem. I get exactly what it feels like to be held up in front of the entire population and likened unto thieves and murders by those who perceive themselves to be on the side of good.
The only thing I don’t get it what it must be like to feel the relief of all that suffering that can come only from death because you see…I don’t get that option. I can’t take my life because then I become exactly what those around me have labeled: selfish, cowardly and apostate…a murder of myself so that I can take the easy way out; a destroyer of the lives of my own sons and my own devoted “Mary” so that I just don’t have to deal with it all anymore. That doesn’t stop me every day, however, from waking up in a life that feels like the garden of Gethsemane: seeing that every single breath and step will come with uncertain difficulty, and uttering mental prayers to have this ‘cup’ removed from me…to disappear into some far away land where I can exist free from pain around every public and private corner…only to know that there is no escape; to awaken with the hope that the garden of thorns and pain, will in reality be a garden of peace and safety…but to realize that it isn’t so.
Life isn’t all bad…I do have minutes, and hours, and days when the sun seems to shine warm…when it feels like I am covered by gentle palm branches that cool and comfort me. Times that feel more like the ease and peace of the earlier events of that week: triumphantly entering the city as an honored guest, dining with dear close friends who cherish you; teaching, learning, and worshiping through the presentation of your authentic self to those around you. So…it isn’t all bad. But at the same time, those moments don’t remove or deny the other truths as well…the truths that the future is unstoppable and the suffering is once again, just around the corner. At the same time, I know, just as he did, the moment of peace and relief and calm that comes from fully accepting who you are and understanding your role in life; I know the feeling that comes at that time when it just all makes sense and you no longer care because you realize you get it and most just simply know not what they do…nor will they ever; that all of this has happened before and it will all happen again. I get the feeling and hope that is the idea of redemption. And I live in hope that these transitions I constantly find myself in will eventually result in the ressurection to a new and complete life.
So you see… while I may not choose to ascribe to any religious practice anymore (why would I willing spend every day subjecting myself to crowds of misunderstanding, mockery, judgment, and at times outright verbal abuse…or worse, the pretend love of Judas’ kiss in public with the knives of betrayal in private?)…I most certainly retain in my heart a very deep, profound, and intimate connection with the man Jesus and his life and death. Some may read these words and think I am comparing myself to God and as such that I am arrogant and blasphemous. I am not making that comparison in any way. I have never once in my life thought highly enough of myself to propose that I own any kind of godlike perfection. But what I do get is the intimate workings of the mind of a man so grossly misunderstood as to live and die in profound loneliness, surrounded simultaneously by people who both adored and despised him. I get it. I get it all. My own, personal Jesus.
Aaron Tabacco is a father of three teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest who came out three years ago in the context of a 15-year LDS marriage. He and his entire family, including his former wife, remain fiercely devoted to each other and have found happiness through authenticity, compassion, and courage.