Friday, September 27, 2019

Lying About Our Age

This Sunday, before I left my church office, I leafed through the always-useful Presbyterian planning calendar for the year. It reminds me what color stole I should wear, and keeps me apprised of key dates for the year. It's also filled with inspirational images that are meant to turn our hearts to doing mission, and I appreciate its intent.

But I couldn't help notice something this year: in the many images of earnest progressive Christians doing earnest Jesus-justice things, there was one...just one...person with white hair. And one older person, whose hair was in shadow. Its possible there were three. It's possible some of the folks were coloring their hair, and I just missed it. But the theme was significant and sustained. 

The images proclaimed a denomination bustin' out with young folk. If we look at the data, and then compare it with the story we are telling ourselves, it's, well, things are a little different. I am fifty years old, which...though my hair's mostly holding up so far...means I'm an older soul. I'm still on the younger side of the Presbyterian world. In that, there is dissonance.

I wonder at it because older folk were my mentors in service and mission. I learned the Way from amazingly active, caring, and dynamic human beings...who also had white hair and a lifetime of experience serving the needy, marching for justice, and showing the love of Jesus. "Mission" and "service" are things that older grownup Christians do, with passion and commitment and energy.

Beyond that, it goes deeper. When a church tells a story of itself that is fundamentally at odds with what it actually is, that says something about the state of its soul. A healthy church is open and straightforward about who it is. It feels it has nothing to hide, and is comfortable with itself. We are this way, and we love Jesus where we are, as we are.

Anxious communities, on the other hand, cast out a tale of themselves that misrepresents who they truly are. "We're welcoming," the website proclaims, only when you show up, there are furtive glances in worship and a circle of backs in the social hour. "We're active and connected," the Facebook page says, in the most recent post from four years ago. "We're growing," says the church that last added a member ten years before that Facebook page update.

In seminary, I was taught to watch for this in the communities I pastor. I inferred, from that teaching, that I was to be wary for it in my own soul, as my own ego and desire to tell a sweet lie about my own success or gloss over who I am.

Perhaps I am overthinking this. Perhaps it's nothing more than the tendency of older folks to prefer pictures of their grandkids and pictures of themselves when they were young. Maybe it's just random.

Then again, perhaps not.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

As You Wish

I asked
The Creator of the Universe
I said


Can I really
Anything I want?

And They just
Met My EYE
For an instant wide as the sky
Then with a smile
soft as newfallen Snow

Anything at all
Anything you like
However you can
Whatever you're able

Yes to it all.

And I laughed
Feeling my wild unfettered
And I turned
Ready to
Go and do

But then
A touch
Light as the Noonday desert Sun
Their hand on
My shoulder

They said
in a voice
Quiet and Dark as a
Distant Deepening Gathering
Storm at Sea

And when you're

They said

When you've done

They said

All that you wished
All that you want
All that you will

I will
Because I love you
Like Fire
Like Fire, do I love you
I will
Tell you in the Fires of 
My Love

What that Meant

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Trauma Machine

Forgiveness, healing, and forgetting are all woven up together as a single thing in our souls. 

When we have been wounded, that wound creates both physical trauma and soul trauma.  It's a part of how we are made, one of the ways human creatures learn to steer away from those things that harm and break us.  Moments of trauma form deep and powerful memory in us, memory that stirs in us fear and anger, anxiety and crushing depression.

Those memories, when stirred, return us to that place of harm.  Our traumatic memory, at best, is a prophylactic, as the reaction trauma stirs makes us rise up against similar potential harm.  But it takes a toll.  It rises, unbidden, in moments where there is no danger.  It stirs in us, warning that we must fight or flee, when something minor recalls that hurt.  A smell.  A particular sound.  A voice that reminds us of his voice.  A face that could be hers.  The sharp retort of a celebratory firework, harmless and far away.  The sound of sirens.

Those memories of trauma are fierce and bright and cut deep into us.  They can break us and keep us broken, always shattering and reshattering, never able to move on. 

Healing comes from a particular form of remembering, as our memories of trauma are overlaid with countervailing experience.  We learn that we can go out without fear.  We learn to trust others again.  We learn to overcome.  We change.  It's hard. It takes time.

It's not that we forget the harm that was done, but our remembering becomes different.  We allow it to be changed.  We human beings, whose memory is malleable and who can recall the same event differently as time and retelling blurs and shifts it in us?  That  is how we heal from trauma.  That's how we are restored.

But now?  Now we never need forget, not for an instant, not a moment.  This strange overlaying synthetic meta-mind of images and sounds that we have created?  This "internet?" 

It allows us to return to our traumatic moments, to re-see and to re-experience them just as they were.  It allows us to never, ever, ever forget, not one bit of it, not one detail.  No part of our lives.  No part of our history.  None of it needs heal, ever.

We return to those moments of collective trauma through glass lenses, in hi def and surround sound, ruminating over them, refreshing them in ourselves, returning to moments of pain and horror just as clearly as when we first experienced them.  Ten years can pass.  Twenty.  Hundreds.  Traumatic moments never need pass, never can be changed by reflection, will never be dulled, because these aren't human memories.  They are the memories of steel, machine memories, sharp as blades, cutting deep into us over and over and over again.

Pain and fear and rage, none of which we can ever escape.

What a strange thing we have done to ourselves.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Crucifier's Prayer

For the past week, the reports and images have come through, day after day.  It made a peculiarly appropriate backdrop to my writing lately, as I work my way through a manuscript exploring the Christian response to climate change.

What was initially forecast to be a minor tropical system, one that would dissipate after crossing the mountains of Hispaniola?  It blossomed into a monster, a beast of a storm, one bearing winds and surge that meant that once again we would be hearing the words "historic" and "catastrophic."

The forecast, twitchy and uncertain, seemed for a while to plant the storm squarely across the peninsula of Florida, as our machine-minds projected out likely scenarios, calculating and recalculating the probabilities using wildly complicated mathematical modeling.

But for all of our models, the storm did what it did, growing fiercer than we'd predicted, and lingering over a Bahamanian paradise for over a day, meting out destruction layered on top of destruction.  We who are now used to watching storm chasers stream video and locals putting up videos were left momentarily blinded, unable to peer into winds that were more than twice the power of that derecho that tore through our area a few years back.

When it finally passed, at its own monstrous leisure, it left a paradise as a ruin.

Why?  It is our human nature to wonder at the reason for things, particularly events that make us recoil in horror.  In our desire for control we want to assign blame to the suffering, or to celebrate the deliverance of the righteous, particularly if we happen to have escaped this time out.  But storms do what they do, on their scale and not ours.  God makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, as Jesus reminded us in the Sermon on the Mount.  Tragedy befalls both the kind and the cruel.

Against this, we wish to have power.  We want our selves, our communities, our nation, to have power.  To prosper.  So we pray from our ego.  We pray from our desire for the integrity of our material selves.

But what are my prayers, against the storm?  What is the purpose of such a prayer?  Unlike a prayer for healing, or a prayer for a change of heart, a prayer that calls for a storm to turn from us has implications beyond ourselves.

Am I to proclaim with joy that I am certain my prayers stalled a storm elsewhere, so that I and my property might be spared while others know terror and ruin instead?  Am I to declare that the Creator of the Universe favors my safety over the life of a terrified child, torn from the arms of their father, water filling their lungs as they are swept into oblivion?

Let them suffer, that I may not, we cry to the heavens.  Take them instead, we cry. 

This is the prayer of the crucifier.  I may ask for deliverance, being a human and finite creature.  I will certainly give thanks for life and being when it comes.  But I am not the center of things.  There are times, my Master taught, when the cross will come to me, and I must take it up and bear it.  It can mean loss of everything this world offers, life included.

It seems like a thing that any disciple of Jesus would know.

What Jesus calls us to is not to live ever removed from tragedy.  What matters is how we respond to those events that shake our lives, or leave the lives of others in ruin.  For our own moments of brokenness and mortality, we're reminded to remain resilient, to place our hope and trust in a God who transcends us infinitely.  Where we see our neighbor struggling, we're called to stand fast in compassion, helping as we can, seeing their suffering as our own, remaining all the while strong in our sympathy.

No matter how often these storms rise or how they affect us, our ethical ground remains the same.

And as our world grows harsher and harder, that's a ground that will be tested.