Negotiating with God, and The Examples we Set

I want to do something that I love to do, which is put two scriptures in conversation with each other. The lectionary suggests these two for this week:

Genesis 18:20-32

20 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.[a]23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

This passage is a man literally haggling with God, trying to save a town that is mostly garbage. If you want to know how garbage it is, just read chapter 19. Abraham is put in a weird position here, though. God wants to exert holy judgment on a city filled with sin. But Abraham knows people. He also knows that you can’t punish a whole population for the sins of a portion of it. Even if there’s only 50, or 45, or 30, or 20, or 10 decent people in there, you can’t nuke them.

Abraham’s argument ultimately goes unheeded. When the town attacks his nephew Lot along with the two angels God sent to investigate, all bets are off. The fire comes, and Lot escapes. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are ash and cinders, in God’s righteous fury.

Was God right to nuke Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham probably didn’t think so. Abraham understood that within humanity, there is no solid binary. One can find the evil in the hearts of people, but one can also find the good. Sometimes, the evil outweighs the good. Sometimes, the hatred and violence overflows, and justice must be poured out in order to make things right. God did what God saw fit. Abraham wrote the minority report, in a sense: if you can find 10 good people, is the town damned?

Abraham could have gone further. 8 people? 5?

Is it worth it to utterly destroy a city if there is only one good person in it?

The sin of Sodom was it’s inhospitality. It wished to do violence upon Lot’s guests, and then Lot’s family. Lot was an outsider, and the town did not act in a neighborly fashion. As a result, God punished the people of Sodom, and spared Lot’s family.

God found the one good person and spared him, I guess.

But was it worth it? Could the town have been saved? Could the people have been reformed with time, patience and care from better leadership? Possibly.

So let’s put it in conversation with the Gospel text:

Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Lots of things are going on in this passage, but what I see here is Jesus teaching an ethic of neighborliness, kindness, and hospitality. Treat your neighbors like family, and God will treat you like family. Don’t return a question with hostility. Instead, make the choice to be kind, even if it’s an inconvenience. Be the kind of person people can rely on, and the kind of neighbor that would help a person in a pinch.

Contrast the kind of behavior Jesus is teaching as a corrective to the kind of behavior found in the people of Sodom. Abraham seeks mercy for the whole because of the goodness of the few. There is good within people, though it might be hard to find. Jesus’s teachings seek to make that a little easier to see.

So why don’t we cultivate goodness, neighborliness, and kindness? We shouldn’t fear God’s wrath in order to do good. Rather, do goodness for goodness’s own sake! Virtue stands on it’s own, and one should not need personal benefit as a reason to be kind to others. Humanity is better when we care for each other, not just ourselves and maybe our family.

Kindness is a virus. Love is contagious. Be the example of kindness in your world, and you might have longer reaching effects than you think. You might even save a city from itself.

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Waiting for Pentecost

243208-699x450-types-campfiresThis past week, the Church Universal had a birthday. Pentecost has come and gone, and it feels like almost nothing has happened at all. Though the scriptures speak of tongues of flame resting on the heads of the faithful, blowing open the doors of faith to people of every nationality and background, I have to wonder: where has that Pentecost power gone? And will we ever see it again? Rather… will I see it again?

I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual low season for about a year now, since I left the ministry. May 13th was my one year anniversary of leaving the church for California and the open waters of academia. It’s hard think about, honestly–that’s why I’ve been sitting on these emotions for a month now. I’ve seen annual conference season come and go, and all the drama that entails. I miss the relationships I made in the ministry. I don’t miss the drama, and the search for ever-elusive fire the church continues to seek that once burned bright on Pentecost.

I continue to be in a strange place, spiritually. I don’t know when or if I’ll get out of it. Perhaps I should read some Kierkegaard and commiserate over our existential angst. Maybe I should read something more uplifting to get me out of my despondency. I don’t know anymore. All I do know is that the church’s fire has lost some of it’s shimmer for me. Seeing my home denomination’s ever-tumultuous struggle with identity makes me all the more confused, and sad.

I miss the simplicity of the faith of my youth, faith in a church that seemed strong and vibrant, with direction and passion. I miss idealism and hope. I want to still have hope. Hope’s hard to come across these days. I miss the Pentecostal fires that I feel like I must have had once.

So I guess for now I wait for a new Pentecost, either in my old church or in a new one that I find myself in. Time marches on. I’m done with my first year of course work, and taking the time now to learn Italian, which is rewarding in its own ways. But I do miss the passion of boundless opportunity that seems lost as the church devours itself with litigiousness, bickering, and alienation to the gospel of love that I fell in love with years ago.

Perhaps we’re all waiting for Pentecost. We can’t make a Pentecost happen, after all. We can’t control it. We can’t command the Spirit to transform us. That takes patience and faith. I hope I still have that kind of faith that allows transformation. I’m probably in a state of transformation right now, but it’s so slow that it’s hard to notice. Fires smolder still in my heart. I just hope it will be kindled anew someday soon.

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Easter Light

art-blur-bright-289756

The light is such a fragile thing.

Last night, at Easter Vigil, we were all given small candles during the portion of mass that was in darkness. As we gathered outside, it was a feat to try to keep this small candle lit against the wind, bearing a small portion of the light that was shared from the Paschal candle aflame.

Light that we can make is such a fleeting experience.

A fire can be incredibly powerful. Fires can rage, and consume vast portions of the countryside. It can cook food, warm a house, and bear light against terrible darkness.

And yet it is so dependent upon certain conditions.

A wick. Kindling. Wax. Fuel. Shelter from wind and water.

Incandescent electric light is no less fragile. Be it through a magnesium bulb, or through flourescent chemical mixtures charged with electricity, light can flicker and fade in an instant if only one requirement is missing

A chain of fairy-lights can be ruined if one bulb goes out.

A neon sign with but a mere crack will not illuminate anything.

And what dangers exist when the light is gone? A light house in disrepair can cost hundreds of lives at sea. An airport runway without light is a disaster waiting to happen.

Without light, death is but a moment away.

Light is such a fragile thing.

So when there is a light that refuses to go out, that is worth celebrating.

There is good reason for Christians to use metaphors of light when describing the power of the one whom we call Christ. Christ enters our world in the midst of a dark season. Christ dies, and yet death cannot keep him extinguished. Christ bears a light that, though in appearance fragile, is stronger than any darkness that might threaten it. Even when it goes out, it never stays gone.

The light of Christ is resurrection itself. It is that which keeps the door of death from remaining shut. Christ’s light reverses all perceived laws of entropy and decay, and infuses our world with power and life that peers into the abyss and shouts:

“You have no power over me!”

This Easter, the light is as ever threatened. Be it from natural disaster, or the sin of humanity, we are always threatened by the dark.

Light seems so fragile.

But the light of Easter, though it bears the fragility of light, it has other-worldly resilience.

May the light of Easter shine in you all.

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Walls, Bridges, and the Future of the UMC

horizon

Hello, my name is Grant, and I am an exile of the United Methodist Church. The exile is somewhat self-imposed, I’ll admit, but it is an exile all the same, as I am no longer a part of a body which I once loved dearly enough to want to work for its future.

The body has expelled not only me but a great number of my cohort. Many of the people that I know to be godly, spirit-filled people well-equipped for ministry in the UMC have been chewed up, spat out, and left embittered by the church. In fact I can only think of a handful are still doing ministry. I went to class with them, worshiped with them, and saw them grow, and nonetheless, the majority hit a wall.

Walls, sadly, seem to be the structures that the United Methodist Church desire to build.

This coming week is a big one for the UMC as hundreds gather together for the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, coming together to discuss what is being called “the Way Forward.” The issue that they ostensibly wish to tackle centers around the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, their marriage and ordination within the church, and all matters of faith that seem to revolve around this question. There have been countless digital and paper pages written about which way the People Called Methodists should go.

This is not one of those blogs.

I will not discuss the vagaries of the proposed plans, Traditional, Simple, One Church, or any alternative. I have no desire to hash out or defend any particular plan, as that is best left to the people who will discuss them in their committees. No, I simply wish to work out my many emotions and theories about the direction my spiritual home, my fellow bearers of the Holy Spirit, seem to be going in.

classic-chiseled-faceThe Rising Walls

Right now, it is my guess that the way that the church will decide to go will probably be the one that will be most painful for everyone involved. It gives me no pleasure to say that, but I simply do not think that, with all the money spent and power gained by the conservative/Traditional Plan supporters, there is slim chance that the General Conference will do anything but go with what they have defaulted to since the 1970’s. Yet, in the event that the Simple or the One Church plan does pass, the pain will be no less great. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In every single event, every option will end with someone building a wall.

In the eyes of the people in favor of the Traditional plan, it is a matter of conservation. They believe that the correct path of the church is to defend itself against what they see are faulty or ungodly interpretations of God’s Word. Their faith is a faith that demands a wall be built between them and the ungodly who somehow defile or lessen the strength of the church’s authority. Their church, their faith, cannot withstand and encroaching world of gray uncertainty. And so they will build more walls. More divisions. And more people will run into those walls full force, and then dazed, will walk away disheartened.

Perhaps you might say my characterization is inaccurate, or insensitive to the dear and heartfelt beliefs of those in favor of the Traditional plan.

At this point in my life, I don’t care.

I used to care. I used to care very deeply, in fact. I dedicated my life to engaging in dialogue, creating an open space in study and in church meetings to discuss matters of all kinds of range and depth, often to wonderful results. However, this was in the local church, and when it comes to denomination-wide matters, the game changes entirely. Soon, control and power come into play in a whole new dimension. And the darkest, most fearful beliefs of those afraid of change, afraid of the other, and afraid that what they knew and loved might not always be how they imagined it would be come to the fore. Fear reigns. And when one is afraid, one seeks to defend. And what better defense is there than a wall?

I have seen what these walls do to those who believe in the gospel of transformation, renewal and grace. There is little grace in a wall, and there is little grace in the fearful. I am tired of being afraid of offending those who have little grace in their hearts. I am tired of being afraid of people who, in seeking to defend their little kingdoms from perceived threats, end up ostracizing, alienating, and disowning people who God desires to know, and love, and give grace to.

Mackinaw-Bridge-Walk-2018-from-south-tower-1Extending a Bridge

One of my dear friends in the Louisiana conference asked her congregation, “Who does God love?” In asking this question, she sought to truly probe those who let fear and suspicion color the gospel. Does God love the refugee child at the border? Does God love the woman who has an abortion? Does God love the Lesbian, the Gay man, the Bisexual? Does God love the Trans man, woman, or non-binary person? Does God love the sex worker? Does God love the poor? The African American? The Latinx? The downtrodden, the forgotten, and the unloved?

I will answer her question with a resounding YES.

God does love all of these people. And because God loves them, God wants us, in God’s church, to love them. 

God’s love is extensive, and radical, and life-changing. God’s love says YES. God’s love and grace is so vast it can encompass anyone who seeks it. God does not discriminate, and neither should we. More than that, God affirms the gifts and graces of all who seek to know the divine, and that includes all of the above and then some. God affirms and loves those who seek faithful relationships with each other, no matter how that might look.

On the other hand, God desires us to abandon our walls. God didn’t want us to build up huge towers. God, as revealed in Christ, told his followers to go out and tell people of the grace that God offers. Go to every town, every nation, every corner of the earth. Tell them what God has done for them, and then show them with their love.

I believe in an ever-changing world, influenced by the Almighty power, grace and love of the divine. I am convinced of a future that God is going to reveal to us in due time, and that future is revealed in the most “unconventional places.”

God’s love doesn’t look like a wall, or a building, or a bulwark or barrier. God’s love is a bridge, from the future to the present, an Advent realized when we understand that God’s power is manifest when we share in blessed communion with each other, and seek the good, the just, the merciful and the grace-filled.

constructionThe View of the Construction from Exile

No matter what happens, the church is going to be in pain for the foreseeable future. Walls will be built, no matter what. And in 20-30 years, those who built the walls will find that the ones they tried to exclude will still be inside their supposed safe-space, and will cry out for justice once again.

Because that’s the thing about God’s grace. You can try to resist it, and you might even succeed. But God is infinitely creative, and the cry for justice and love will never die, not completely. The fight will continue. But I believe that in the end, of course, we will see that the ones building bridges will have the new iteration of the church that looks just a bit more like God’s kin-dom. One that may not have as many people, or as much money, or power, or public prestige as the ones with the the high walls, but it will be vibrant, and rich, and life-giving. It’ll last longer, and give hope to those who need it. It’ll be warmer, and filled with much needed grace.

That’s the church I want to be a part of.

That’s the bridge I want to help build.

So this week is going to be hard. Walls will inevitably be built.

But we must always keep an eye to the future, to see what God’s going to do next among the rubble and the ruins.

God has a knack for resurrection, after all.

 

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Cold and Broken Hallelujahs: A meditation on Leonard Cohen, Shrek, Dystopia, and Hope

acoustic-guitar-playerWell I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah…

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah…

But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…

Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do ya
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah…

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…

–Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”

There is no greater irony that a whole generation was introduced to this moving, powerful song in the movie Shrek.

That’s probably something Leonard Cohen would have smiled about, honestly. This song is about the complexities of life, of lost love gone sour, of the highs and the lows that compel us to sing hallelujahs, through a lover’s sigh, through a heartbroken weep, through a spiritual moan. The droning, rhythmic rhyming of the song, along with the repetition of the core lyric “hallelujah,” in both major and minor chords, is a masterwork in songwriting, and is rightly beloved to this day.

And I first heard in a movie about a farting ogre who wants to be left alone.

shrek-reboot-oh-no

Exactly.

 

Shrek is a dark, bizarro-world fairy tale, and was designed to be so by Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former Disney film producer who molded Shrek as a unsubtle middle finger to the Disney brand. Outwardly the parody is stark; the story is set in Duloc, a fantasy kingdom run by a tyrant who wants to rid the forest of fairy tale creatures, all the while insisting his sterile, joyless kingdom is the “perfect place.” In every corner, princess pastiche and fairy tale endings are mocked and brought down to the level of adolescent humor, farts, burps, and all. Nevertheless, the meaning of the film is one of realistic expectations: fairy tales aren’t real. Happy endings are rare, and when you get one, seldom will it look how you expected.

To this, I think Cohen would have approved. As do I.

Shrek has become a cultural touchstone, and a spawner of various and plentiful memes. The poignancy of the original film has been dulled by lackluster sequels and disappointing cash grabs. Like David, temptation dulled the shine of something that was good. Whereas David was tempted to abuse his power with Bathsheba, the property known as Shrek fell prey to the temptation of merchandising, sequel-izing, and diminishing returns. In the end, the song proved true, and all that is left of the property is a cold and broken hallelujah.

hqdefaultThe Shattered Utopian Myth

There is no such thing as a perfect place. At least, not realized on this earth just yet.

The farce of Shrek is that it’s a satire of Disney’s films as well as company image and practice, promising happy endings all the while commoditizing nostalgia. It says to the audience, “The things you were promised are not real. Sometimes, the world is terrible, and the best thing it can offer is a flimsy duplicate of a magical reality. But, in the end, you might find happiness if you accept yourself, and others, for who you truly are, warts and all.” That’s a valuable thing in this world. However, that doesn’t mean that the venomous bite of satire doesn’t still sting, and remind us that more often than not, the Lord Farquaads of the world win. The utopia we were sold isn’t real. The swamp is reality.

I want to talk about utopias and dystopias for a bit, because at this point in time, we need to take a good look at the world and appreciate what it really looks like, and how it’s always looked like. Specifically, we need to talk about the dystopic reality of America, and the hard truth that, actually, it’s always been pretty bad.

America was built upon mythic foundations. As soon as Europeans landed here, the myths began churning. For the Spaniards, it was a wilderness with untapped wealth, hoarding gold and riches undreamt-of before. The English and French wanted this wealth as well, and found instead of gold, vast plains for farming, mountains for mining, and animals for trapping. But, over time, another myth began to settle in: a myth of a new life in a new world. This was when the common people started settling, from puritans seeking freedom from persecution, to poor settlers just wanting a chance away from the cramped cities of Europe. More and more Europeans spilled into the west, and gobbled up the continent, and when the United States was founded, a new myth found life: Manifest Destiny. This kick started the engine of discovery and land acquisition. When at last the USA spanned from sea to shining sea, we had declared the land tamed, conquered, and our Shining City on a Hill was all but complete. Fast forward to World War II, we came into unprecedented wealth and industrialization, fueling another myth: the American Dream. This myth has continued to tantalize the masses to this day, and spur many a dreamer to entrepreneurship and fortune.

If you will notice clearly that all of these myths exclude some people. Specifically, the indigenous people of the Americas before the Europeans arrived, as well as the African slaves and their descendants that Europeans stole from their home continent. Oh, and can’t forget the women who were disenfranchised politically until only the 20th century. Let alone all of the other immigrants from all over the world that are systematically disenfranchised and taken advantage of. The myths of America are not for them. They do not fit in America’s Duloc-perfect vision of society. For them, America has only promised a swamp.

There are many in America today who yearn for a supposed bygone age of greatness, that we must return to. That age was always a myth though, a myth that tantalized people to maintain the utopian lie we were sold. There have always been disenfranchised people in America. The past is not great, and never has been. Duloc isn’t real, and the king has always been compensating for something.

America has almost always been a dystopia, if we’re being honest. And we need to be honest, because our hallelujahs, though they might be in earnest, are not always filled with joy. They are all too frequently filled with pain, heartache, anger and fear.

flower-hope-earth-climate-change-e1493332891171Hope in the Midst of Dystopia

This semester, I’ve been given the opportunity to take a class on the theologies of Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg. If you don’t know who these guys are, that’s fine; I didn’t until last fall. However, a number of my colleagues cite them as primary influences, specifically their insistence on hope. I’m going to be challenged by them, to be sure, not only because of the learning curve required when reading German theologians in general, but because hope is always a challenge.

Hope has always been a challenge, specifically to the reality of now. Hope is a belief in a future that things will be better, despite all of the terror and despair in the present. Moltmann wrote his theology of hope in response to the horrors of the Holocaust. Instead of rejecting God, as many philosophers and academics did, Moltmann doubled down on a positive, hopeful eschatology, a promise that in the end, God in Jesus Christ will right what is wrong with our present reality, our dystopic present, and redeem it.

Moltmann and Pannenberg had no illusions about the myths we tell ourselves, or the dystopic realities of the 20th century. I often find myself wallowing in despair about how broken things are. In that, I find that I probably need a season of my life examining hope.

In other words, hope might get me to leave my swamp.

Hope can inspire hallelujahs that might be warm, whole, and joyful. The cold and broken realities may not last. Duloc’s tyrant might be overthrown. And we might indeed find a happy ending, if not a fairy tale ending. It certainly won’t be the way we expect it to be.

And that suits me just fine.

 

 

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January Lament

287px-bertram_mackennal_-_griefO that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
[a] as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.[b]
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered[c] us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
12 After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?
Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?

–Isaiah 64:1-12

cb2fc387-2fe6-450f-81d6-794680d20ebd

This picture has raised the hackles of many a friend of mine, and many an American, for good reasons. In view is two Americas: on the right, represented by Omaha elder Nathan Phillips, cries into the world the desire for justice, fairness, and for the very right to be heard at the Indigenous People’s March. On the left, an (as of yet) unnamed high school student, who had come to the capitol for another march, the March for Life, an anti-abortion rally, earlier in the week. Accompanying him are others from his same school, Covington Catholic High School, a private religious institution sponsoring him and his classmates for this event. Were they to remain in their own rally, for their own purpose, I have little qualms with. I might disagree with the anti-abortion lobby, but they have a right to free speech as much as anyone.

The problem though, is that everyone else does too. And that is something this young man could not allow without mocking and harassing other people. More than that, marginalized people, people who have historically been victims of genocide and abuse.

Atop his head, of course, is a hat that says “Make America Great Again.”

How, exactly does this smug child, obviously encouraged by the adults in his life to behave in this fashion, make America great? Of course this is rhetorical. America, for him, won’t be great until all people he deems beneath him are put in their place.

Such is the history of America.

I was raised in the nineties. I was told all my life that racism was over, the battle for gender equality was overblown and winding down, and everything was going to be better in the future. All of this, of course, was told to me within my own bubble of white privilege. I’ve previously talked about how my eyes have been opened multiple times in my life by the violence, hatred, and depravity of the world, usually done by people of my own demographic. From the backlash in small-town Texas against the violence of 9/11, in which discrimination, abuse and persecution of people of middle-eastern and Asian descent, to the perennial under-the-radar segregation and violence against African Americans becoming more and more overt, to the floodgates of misogyny blowing open on the internet more and more, to the election of Donald Trump, who began his candidacy by calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, although a few might be good people, this country I call home has either descended further into madness at a more rapid pace, or I’m just paying attention more.

The more time goes by, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. The more I read of our history, the more I see and hear of the experiences of black people, Asian people, Latinxs, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, the more I understand how much I’ve been sheltered. How much I am truly protected, from history books to my own church.

This is not a blog of self-flagellation, by any means. This is simply a lament, as my anger at the injustice of the world boils at this moment, seeing in a boy protected from real persecution, real danger, real trouble, lord his privilege over a man who has fought his entire life for decency and equality.

I quoted the chapter from Isaiah earlier because I am in a mood to lament. Not enough is made of the art form of lament, and I can think of no time like the present to exercise it. We live in the decline of an empire, to be sure, and it is incumbent upon me, and all my religious brethren and sistren, to confess our own complicity, and lament the fact that we have contributed and allowed such pride that protects smug harassment, such avarice that permits the ongoing economic injustices that plague 99% of Americans for the benefit of less than 1%, and such apathy that fuels our complicity. Our world is both burning and drowning. Our children are starving. Our neighbors are in need. Where are the hands and feet of God? Too often, we find ourselves just wishing that it’d all go away, so we retreat into our churches, and pray for God to do something, when God is out there, calling us out to do something ourselves, to participate in the changes and the action that are being carried out by our African American sisters and brothers, our queer and marginalized family, our underrepresented neighbors.

So I lament the state of the world. I lament that we we stuck in a state of paralysis, where evil goes unpunished and good goes to an early grave. I lament how the church has stood back not wishing to get its hands dirty, to not take a side, or even to contribute to the injustice of the world against the marginalized, the poor, and the persecuted.

I also lament myself. I lament not taking sides before. I lament keeping silent and not defending others. I lament saying things to people in my youth that I regret, things that nobody should say. I lament my own participation in injustice. I lament not speaking up sooner. I have learned the hard way that playing along and keeping your head down only allows someone the opportunity to put a boot on your neck later on down the line.

I and so many others are caught between rage and nihilism. In this moment of anger and lament, I wanted to share these thoughts with you all. I’m unaccustomed to direct action or protest, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn, or participate. I’m working on my cowardice. But words… I can do words, at least.

So I lament, so that I can fight the good fight.

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A Resort at Dawn

newton-vineyardsAscribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

–Psalm 29, NRSV

In the wee hours of the night, the mind tends to wander.

I’m writing these blog posts mostly in the spare time I have as a night auditor at a resort in Napa, California. Rest assured, I get my work done efficiently and well, and one of the upsides is that this particular job affords me time to read, study, and most of all, write. I jokingly call myself a Vampire Hotelier on twitter because some days, it truly feels like I am a vampire. My nights and my days are interchangeable at times. It gets dizzying during the school year when I’m switching between day schedules and night schedules.

There’s a magical span of time, around 4-5am, when things get extremely calm. I frequently feel like time stops. I used to get sleepy then, but nowadays I’m well stocked with instant coffee and teabags to keep away the sleepiness. But still, the magic hours get rough, especially after a 5 day run at the hotel.

But then, around 6:45 these days, dawn breaks. The fog begins to separate. Fresh dew descends upon the fields, and shine as the first rays of sunlight shine upon the resort’s vineyards. And ringing in my ears come the words of this song of praise.

In the silence, the booming voice of creation can be heard. Life erupts as a whisper in the fields, the hills and the running waters of the bay. Before the rest of the world wakes up, before the hills are abuzz with the cars of the morning commute, I get to commune in the cold, glimmering dawn, and hear the voice of God.

Few jobs can offer you the chance to hear God each morning. Fewer still can do so in such beautiful environs. When DeSay and I started dating, we often talked of travel, and our future. We dreamed about where to take a honeymoon, and I sheepishly confessed that I’d dreamed of doing it in San Francisco. Of course, her being from Sonoma and the bay area of California, this led her to laugh–we wound up going there within our first six months together to celebrate her birthday. I still remember our drive from the airport to the Sonoma hills, in the darkling haze of midnight. My face was pressed against the car window, drinking in the vast, looming shapes of the hills and cliffs that surround San Francisco. Even in darkness, I’d never been someplace so beautiful, so obviously shaped by the hands of God.

Now, I enjoy it every morning.

God sent me out here to California for a reason, that much is obvious. Things would not have fallen together so neatly out here otherwise. I was accepted at an institution that welcomed by unique interests. We were surrounded by loving and supportive family, helping us get a new, fresh start. Within a few months, I was able to find this job that suited my unique situation. God ordained it that we be here.

And to remind me, each morning, I see the divinely shaped hills, and witness the glorious dawn.

I hear the silent roar of God’s voice.

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