Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Things Come to an End

We are increasingly close to this all being over.

It's a little hard to imagine that coming to pass.  After most of year struggling to adapt, adapt, and adapt again to this pandemic, the idea that we might finally have entered an endgame seems almost unimaginable.  

A vaccine, now tested and approved for distribution.  Production is amping up, and distribution to front line medical workers and the most vulnerable among us now appears to be starting within the month.  This is all really good news.

But we're not there yet.  It is hard, after all of the sacrifice and adapting of the last year, to look at a finish line that is four to six months away.  We're tired and ready to be done, impatient for that day when we can walk into a crowded theater and just watch a dang movie already.  We're ready for the kids to go off to school again.  We're ready to go and sit with folks we know again, and seeing that end goal so tangibly near at hand can feel too much.

It's not, any more than Advent is too much.  As children, we remember that wait as the Season progressed, as we somehow managed to hold on to our sanity as the season stretched on.  Days just trudged on by, slow as sludge, as Christmas morning dangled like Tantalus sugarplums, seemingly forever out of reach.  We gritted our teeth, and endured, and the day arrived on its own time and in its own way.

For we Jesus folk, the wait for that day when Christ's kingdom is fulfilled can seem equally far away.  We yearn for that day of rejoicing and peace, when the lion and lamb lie down together.  We've obviously been waiting for a while now, while the lion and the lamb get into an angry pointless rantfest in the comments section.  Still, we trust in that promise, and from that trust comes a deep reservoir of the Spirit's patience.

Christmas morning will come.  And this pandemic will end.  The day will come when we leave the house, realize we've forgotten our mask, and then realize that we have forgotten that we no longer need it.

What a lovely, lovely day that will be.

Friday, December 11, 2020

An Open Letter to the Galactic Federation on behalf of Sci Fi Writers

To whom it may concern:

As a homo sapiens sapiens, and inhabitant of the planet Earth (Sol 3/ Terra), let me be the first to thank the representatives of the Galactic Federation for your choice to hold off making formal contact with my species.  We were all delighted but not surprised to discover that you've been in regular contact with us.  While there's the possibility that the Israeli scientist who announced your existence to the world this week is simply insane, I'm choosing to take him at his word.  What with the revelation this year that UFOs are real, the flyby by the GFSC Omuamua, and your recent test signal from Proxima Centauri, it seems as likely as anything lately.

There are some folks who question your choice not to simply make your presence known, but I am not one of them.  Although we human beings would like to believe that we're ready to take our place among the other sentient species in the Laniakea Supercluster, we're obviously not there yet.  As a species, we're truculent, delusional, and prone to making impossibly stupid choices, as our decisionmaking around both the climate crisis and the recent global pandemic has made clear.  Not to mention the choices a significant minority in my nation make around leadership, which...um...well.  I can, again, understand your desire not to engage with such an immature and erratic race of beings.

At some point, though, you'll change your mind.  The time will come to make contact.  While I'm as eager as many of my fellow humans to see that happen, I'd like to humbly make a request on behalf of my profession.

I am what is known as a "writer."  I mostly write something we humans call "science fiction," which involves creating fictional narratives about our possible futures.  They're not true, not technically, but they're amusing.  They're something else, too, something deeper.  Those stories shape how we humans understand things.  They teach through narrative.  They lead us to more openness, and more willingness to constructively encounter both difference and new realities.  The best fantasy and science fiction...Welles and Bradbury, Leguin and Butler, Atwood and Jemisin...is part of how humankind is preparing itself to welcome you.

All around the planet, we sci fi writers are working on stories that will make humankind far better partners in your efforts.

Like, we've finalized manuscripts.  We've edited, and re-edited, and are really maybe actually finally going to get published.  I mean, we can taste it.  We've worked hard on our latest manuscript, I mean, seriously hard.  It's been rough, and ego crushing, but that's just what we writers have to live through.  It's part of the work of preparing our species for your arrival.  

So we sci fi authors and writers, your very best friends among all of humankind?  Here's what we humbly request:

We'd like you to continue to not contact us.  Please.

Y'all waiting just a little bit longer would be seriously, seriously appreciated.  I mean, what's the rush?  If you folks from the Galactic Federation decided to contact us right now, who's going to read my surely-soon-to-find-a-publisher manuscript?  Who's going to want to read about robot uprisings or imaginary aliens when freaking shiploads of actual aliens have arrived?  Who's going to read any of our lovingly crafted sci fi at all?

It's not just we writers, either. What's going to happen to the sci fi publishers and agents and editors whose livelihoods depend on folks reading these amazing stories of the future, if suddenly reality is far more interesting?  What's going to happen to all the filmmakers?  I mean, honestly.  Here we storytellers are, and we've been carrying water for y'all for the last hundred and fifty years, and this is how you repay us?  

C'mon.  Be fair. Cut us a break.

So...can you put off making contact for another decade or so?  Twenty thirty five seems like a nice time to show up.  And I'm sure, after all of the manuscripts we're currently working on have been published to great critical and popular acclaim, human beings will be more ready than ever to become constructive members of the federation.

So.  Just a little longer.  2035.  We'll be ready. Please?  

On behalf of all science fiction writers, I am,

Sincerely yours,

David

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Fool's New Clothes

He's clothed!

Such clothes!

You shout and cry

As wind's cold chills your

Unclothed thigh

For as you roar

And boast 

And sing

You are as naked

As your king.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

When Alternate Realities Collide

I am an expert when it comes to alternate realities.  Well, sort of.  To clarify:  With two published books on the subject, I am arguably one of the world's top ten experts on the intersection between Christian theology and the multiverse.

Arguably.  But I'm going with it.

It is and will continue to be my assumption that God's creation is more than our spacetime.  Instead, I view God's creative work as an infinite panoply of all potential reality, in which everything that can possibly exist does exist.  It's very much a minority position, and the sort of thing that would have meant all sorts of serious unpleasantness for me if I'd lived in an era where heresy wasn't the norm.  Yay separation of church and state!

That perspective has been strangely tested of late, as America is increasingly rent apart by competing narratives about what is real and what is good.  There are two diametrically opposed visions of reality at play, each of which stands in radical opposition to the other.

On the one hand, there is the narrative of a President who is a charismatic, straight-talking, no-nonsense businessman.  He tells it like it is, seeks to restore a nation to true faith and its rightful greatness, and "has a heart" for the common man.  He stands against a corrupt, sinister, and decadent cabal of secretive elites, who are doing everything they can to strip him of his rightful leadership.

On the other hand, there is the narrative of a President who is a charismatic huckster and charlatan.  He lies as easily as he breathes, and has dog whistled, worm-tongued, or bought his way into the confidence of millions.  Seeking attention, power and his own enrichment, he is now attempting to overthrow the results of an election, while those who are not bamboozled resist his despotic designs.

Both of these narratives cannot describe a single person, or a single reality.   They can be independently true, in separate universes.  If a theistic multiverse is your cosmology, as it is mine, they do.  In the infinite glory of God's manifold providence, a being named "Donald J. Trump" is both of those things.  Many other things too, like an animated meat toaster and a seven winged seraph, but let's stick with those two realities for now.  They are both "real," in that they may well exist in their respective corners of the multiverse.

But those realities cannot coexist in one time and space as descriptors of a particular entity.  Truth and reality are complicated, sure, and we human beings are none of us perfect.  But there is a difference between personal complexity and antithesis, between accurate description and fundamental error.  

If I step outside and say "It is raining right now," I am making a specific statement about reality.  It is either true or it is not.

Now, one might try to obfuscate or qualify that statement.  "Well, what if it's drizzling?"  "What do you mean by 'right now'" "Does a sun shower count?"  "Did you know that the Xuatatla people have forty seven words for rain?"  But then you are being willfully stupid, the sort of stupid that comes when we use reason to overthrow common sense.

Either there is a massive conspiracy to commit fraud, or a pathological narcissist and those in his thrall are lying.  It is either part of our reality or not.  There is no Hegelian synthesis between the two.  And unlike statements about higher order realities like Love, Purpose, and God, a statement about material reality is provable.  There must be evidence that affirms or denies the truth we claim.

Were I to contact you via email and let you know that I currently have 125,327 Bitcoin in my accidentally frozen Coinbase account, and ask to use that as collateral for a personal loan from you, you'd need some evidence of that assertion.  If I couldn't give you that affirmation, you could still take me at my word.  But that'd be foolish.

The assertions of election fraud are precisely the same thing.  There is no evidence to verify them. They simply did not happen.  They are not part of our reality.  Nor are the assertions that the vaccine is a tool of a demonic elite cabal.  Nor are any of the fevered fabulisms of QAnon.  None of these things are real.  Not one has a place in our corner of creation.  They have no foundation at all.

When we make statements about our reality that have no basis in that reality, then we are mistaken, delusional, or lying.  Mistakes?  We all make them.  They can be corrected.  It's part of growing and learning.

Delusions and lies are more dangerous than mistakes, because they are fiercely resilient.  They do not yield to correction.  Nor do they yield to evidence, because they never relied on evidence in the first place. They represent the semiotic incursion into our reality of something fundamentally alien to it, as if another realm of being was trying to press into our own to define it.

For the soul in thrall of a delusion, their delusion must be defended at all costs.  There is no evidence because that evidence IS BEING HIDDEN.  IT GOES DEEPER THAN WE EVER THOUGHT!  

Or, if you know you're lying, this is where one lie leads to another deeper lie, which will lead to another and another.  

That's what has made the "reality" pitched out by conspiracy theorists, radical ideologues, and propagandists so damaging to the arc of our history.  Those false narratives, those "alternative facts?"  They make a truth claim that isn't simply unfalsifiable, but is actually the antithesis of the sliver of creation that we inhabit.  It does not belong here.

There's an archaic word, one used by more primal peoples.  It describes what happens when something alien to our reality tries to take control of it...and of us.  It's a word that's a bit awkward on the tongues of the overeducated, and has what could at best be considered a checkered history.

That word is "demonic."

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Never Preaching about Politics

Let it be clear: I never preach politics. Ever. Nor will I ever allow myself to endorse a political candidate or party from the pulpit.

I preach only from the witness of bible and from stories of history, which inoculate our souls against the demons that afflict humankind. Just as there are dark yearnings at play in our own souls, so too are there Powers that tear at the souls of cultures and nations. A pastor who ignores those things is doing a disservice to their community.

So in the past several years I have preached on many things. Challenging our sinful love of violence, I've used sermon illustrations from the civil war in Spain. I described the rise of Europe's most successful fascist experiment. I've talked what that looked like under Franco, who co-opted Christians into his bloody rise.

I've called to mind the self-destructive propaganda of the old Soviet Union, where basic principles of agriculture were set aside in favor of ideologically acceptable "alternative agriculture." Starvation ensued.

As a warning against charismatic charlatans, I've sounded scripture off of the story of Jim Jones and the People's Temple, and what it looks like when people fall under the thrall of a demonic narcissist.

I've preached and taught from the Proverbs, which teach the difference between biblical wisdom and foolishness. The wise are measured, moderate, circumspect, and humble. They speak carefully. They understand the impact of their words. They do not stir passions. They are constant, diligent, and thrifty. They seek peace. They are faithful to their commitments and their mates. Fools are none of those things. They shoot off their mouths, fail to restrain their anger, and always blame everyone but themselves. They are flighty, shortsighted, and wanton. They foment discord. They base their choices on the lies they tell themselves, and not the truths of God's Word and the reality of God's creation.

I preached against the deadly sin of pride, using as my illustration the tale of William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States, who passed away in office because he was too stubborn to wear a jacket in the rain. Or so the legend goes...the truth, as always, is a little more complicated.

On another recent Sunday, I preached about what we owe the emperor and what we owe God, referencing recent studies on the human tendency towards authoritarianism, and how...even though Jesus shows us what servant leadership looks like...there's still a part of many of us that yearns for a despot.

I have done all of those things. I will continue to do so. All are utterly biblical, and speak to the Principalities that seek to drive grace from our culture. Is that politics? No. Partisan politics has no place in the pulpit.

But a faith that does not speak to our life together and to our identity as a people is meaningless.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Why I voted FOR Biden.

I recognize that this election season is all about opposing your opponent.  It's about coalescing around hatred for ones enemy, about tapping into that group energy that comes from having a person you can focus your anger on.

It's classical Alinskian politics, after all.  Nothing motivates human beings more than having a villain to fight, a face to put on your hate, a heel to boo and hiss and attack.  And Lord have mercy, do we have that energy going on right now.

But though I feel that spirit out there mightily, and it rises up on the wings of my anger about clear threats to the integrity of the republic, I also don't really trust that energy.  It's evil, after all.  And my Teacher doesn't fight evil with evil, no matter what Palpatine might be hissing at me on Twitter.

I take a deep breath, center away from that form of power, and try to think positively.  Where is the good in my choosing?  How does seeking the good...not just my own, but of the republic I love...drive how I will act as a citizen?  I have already voted, going early because, well...it seems necessary this year.

So let me say this:  I voted for Joe Biden because he's a decent person who will be a decent, competent president.  When I voted, I did not do so grudgingly, or with reservations.  I am not simply voting *against* someone.  I want Joe Biden to be president.  Frankly, I wanted him to run in 2016, and was disappointed when he made the choice to step aside.  My decision to cast my vote for Biden is affirmative, not a "best of two bad choices" or a poke in the eye to those who see the world so very differently than I.  There are reasons for this.  Let me lay 'em out for ya.

1) Biden is a moderate.  I am also a moderate.  Well, moderate in some things.  I am moderate in my moderation.  But generally, I don't believe in abrupt change, or in moving suddenly unless there's a truck coming at you.  Evolution is life's path through the order of creation, and it is also the best way to accomplish necessary adaptation.  Abrupt changes to living systems are likely to fail.  Moderates consider the possible good on either side of a contentious issue, and find the path that makes the most sense given the reality we inhabit.  Not the pipe dream of a perfect future, or the lie of a perfect past, but the reality of where we are, who we are right now, and how we might take that step to become better.

I see that logic in most of what Biden does.  Take, for instance, Biden's  stance on busing, for which he was attacked during the primary season.  Busing was, quite frankly, a shortsighted solution to a real problem.  Decoupling students and parents from local schools is an ideologues idea of an answer to systemic failures in our school systems.  I would vote against any candidate who proposed it, because there's value in community, and in not having to drive halfway across the damn county to bring my kid something they forgot, or to pick 'em up when the nurse calls.  It's not racist to oppose it, because race isn't the only thing at play when it comes to busing. 

Moderates think about such things, and I am voting for Biden because he is a moderate.

2) Biden knows how to work with others.  Again, this is because Biden isn't a radical or an egotist.  He doesn't see politics as a zero sum game, but understands that you're better off at least trying to connect with those who aren't your base.  He's representative of a better time in American politics, when folks were willing to reach across party lines to get things done.  A better time, frankly, than the one we inhabit.  He's got a track record of this, a lifetime of evidence that he is willing to find common ground and treat those who disagree with him honorably.  

He is a liberal, in the classical sense of the term.  Liberality is the enemy of radicalism, and has always been.  It is neither leftist nor right-wing.  In the Soviet Union, it was the liberals who were harassed and imprisoned.  In Nazi Germany, liberality was equally attacked.  Why? Because liberals are a threat to every form of authoritarianism.  They insist on listening to and considering the potential merits of other positions.  Liberality also assumes that the person you are talking to is not a caricature, but an actual human being.  Kindness, grace, mercy, and understanding are liberal virtues.  Biden is a liberal in the most traditional sense of the word.

In part, that comes from his persona.  Let's talk about that. 

3) Biden is a centering presence.  Tone matters in leadership, as it does in all relationships.  Try saying something to your wife in a gentle tone.  Now say it in a snarky, bullying tone.  Which one is more likely to have you sleeping on the sofa?

Biden listens.  He is genuinely the kind of person who cares.  It's why he's been around as long as he has, because it's not just a facade or a schtick.  It's his identity.

If you want to unify a nation, there are different approaches to doing that.  The best approach is to appeal to the center, to reach out to the best shared spirit of a people.  That calls a nation together.  It unites from common purpose, and from a position of shared hope and determination.  It is the path of nations that are growing and moving forward.

You can also use darker energies to force unity.  Fear and hatred are excellent tools for pulling a people...or a subset of people...towards a given end.  They can be powerful.  These work well when coupled with brute force.  If a people aren't united by common purpose, you can motivate a subset of them with fear of an enemy, then use the coercive power of a police state to subdue and subjugate the rest of them.

A leader must express that, particularly if they want to lead more than a subset of partisans.  If you want a nation to cohere, and if you dislike divisiveness, you need to choose leaders who refuse to use the energy of division and disruption.  Seek the measured, the thoughtful, and the leader who will acknowledge and respect a worthy perspective, even if it is offered by a political adversary.

That said, there's always the concern that a moderate leader won't be able to push back when pressed, that they'll not have the necessary spine to resist when the integrity of the nation is attacked or pressed by a hostile aggressor.

After the first debate, we know what he looks like responding to blind aggression now, so, yeah.  That one's fine.

4) Biden is old. 

He is not young. For many folks, this is spun as a negative.  Joe Biden is 77.  He isn't hip and edgy and now.  Farthest thing from it.  But with age can come wisdom.  A lifetime of experience is not irrelevant, nor is it irrelevant that he understands the ebb and flow of political fads.  I don't buy into the idea that age is only a negative.  Jesus Mary and Joseph, it's not like we're living in the world of Logan's Run.  Well, not quite yet, anyway. 

I value the vision and depth of those who have lived more years than I, seen more things than I, and know more than I.  I understand things in middle age that I did not in my youth.  Every year, my well of experience deepens. 

There are two concerns, of course.    First, that age can come with significant diminishment of cognitive function.  Which is why I've made a point of listening to Biden speak off the cuff, and listening to him answering questions.  Not for just a soundbite, but for a whole hour of speaking, unfiltered by any spin.  He's not the best at it, not as good as Obama or even as Reagan.  But neither is he incompetent.  

Second, that age can calcify a person's perspective, and make them less likely to respond effectively to a new and unanticipated challenge.  Old dogs often go back to the same bag of tricks, over and over and over again.  It's a human tendency, and one I feel in myself as I get more curmudgeonly with age.  To counterbalance this, you need liberality, a willingness to see the good in the new, and one other thing.  You also have to have people who you respect to teach you things you don't already know.  Which gets me to the next point.

5) Biden is more than Biden.  

He isn't perfect, and he doesn't pretend to be.  But Biden is the sort of leader who knows to listen to wise counsel.  He does not assume he knows everything, or that his opinions are the only ones that matter.  A Biden presidency would engage the minds of other human beings, tapping into deeper expertise and acknowledging that one single person cannot know all things.

If your understanding of leadership is that good leaders are strong and in complete control of everything, that might not work for you.  Some folks assume that a leader who doesn't just give orders and demand loyalty is somehow "inauthentic."  As a pastor who cares for my community and from my doctoral work in leadership dynamics, I know that churches...and by extension, any human group...that are run by one person with ultimate power?  They fail. 

The strong church...or organization, or nation...is the one where the gifts and wisdom of the whole group are utilized.  Expertise is not smothered by ideology or ego.  The power of the team, and the strengths we all bring?  They all need to be brought forward.  In a time when we are tested by a hornet's nest of crises, we need that kind of leadership.

6) Biden personally manifests the Christian virtues. 

This isn't going to work for everyone, as not everyone is Christian.  But I am.  The teachings of Jesus define my path, and while I'm the farthest thing from perfect, I measure my success as a soul by how I do what Jesus asks me to do.  What that looks like as we live day to day is defined well by the classical Christian virtues.  There are many different ways to present that set of morals, but one of the clearest is found in ancient Christian teachings about vice, sin, and the virtues that counterbalance them.

The Seven Deadly sins, we know.  Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Sloth. Wrath. Envy. Pride.  Give power to a person ruled by those sins, and they will cause harm.  Against them...not in parallel but on their own terms... we find arrayed the angels of the Seven Virtues.  Chastity.  Temperance. Charity. Diligence. Patience. Kindness. Humility.  Give authority to a soul that has tapped into the power of these graces, and they will be a blessing.

Let's break those virtues down.  Chastity means containing carnal desire through fidelity in relationships.    Temperance expresses itself through moderation of impulses, by refusing to allow the momentary impulse to drive your choosing.   Charity means benevolence, a willingness to sacrifice self for the greater good, and a turning away from the hunger to maximize personal benefit at the expense of other.  Diligence means putting in the hard work necessary to do a thing.  Good things take time, dedication, and focus.  Patience means playing the long game, ignoring the provocation of the moment and keeping your heart turned towards your purpose always.  Kindness requires a concern for others and their wellbeing, and for that concern to govern your behavior towards all.  Kindness rejoices in and magnifies the successes of others.  Humility creates in us a willingness to learn, an openness to be changed when we are wrong, and a servants heart.

I see all of these spirits working in Joe Biden, and not just now, but over the many years we've been able to watch him in public service.  Is he perfect?  No.  None of us are.  But you can tell from his life where his priorities lie, and how his deeply held lifelong faith forms and shapes who he is.  You shall know them by their fruits, as my Teacher said.

7)  Joe Biden Loves to Drive.  

This isn't going to work for everyone, because not everyone loves cars the way that I have since I was a little boy.  But Joe Biden's a car guy.  I love cars.  Sweet baby Jesus, do I love cars.  Biden still owns the same Corvette he bought back when he was a young man, and clearly takes pleasure in it.  The thing he hated most about being VP was not being able to get out and drive.  He likes the feel of a fast car, the elemental pleasure of being behind the wheel.  

As it so happens, the first truly fast car I ever drove was my uncle's '65 Stingray.  Fuel injected 327, sky blue, gorgeous.  Dang, was that fun.

This is, I'll admit, a silly thing, but I know that were I to ever meet Biden, I'd have trouble ending the conversation.  Because God help me, I can blabber on about cars all day long.  Just ask my congregants.  So while I feel some lament about depriving Joe of that for the next four years, well...I can appreciate him.


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Transfer of Power

The reason I sigh

Heartbeats arise

Throat like a vise

Is not the fly

Or the blood in his eye

But that being wise

To softly spoken unctuous

Lies

I'm watching my America reprise

The tale

Of how

A democracy

dies


Friday, September 18, 2020

Jesus Experts

There are many rules in this internet era.  Don't read the comments.  Don't ever search for anything without Safesearch on.  Do not click on a link in an email that claims to be from your credit card company.

To those, as we all know, is added this: do not ever use the internet to diagnose yourself.  Oh, it can be great for troubleshooting an issue around the house, or for figuring out how to fix something.  But when it comes to your own body, nevereverever go online to figure out what that ache, twinge, or throb might be.

Because even if the information is there, if you're not an expert, you can go way off the reservation.  You don't know how to interpret what you're seeing, don't know how to bring in other relevant information, and don't know how to assess the likelihood of a particular outcome.  Whenever I've attempted to diagnose myself, I have a nearly 100% track record of being wrong.

I mean, yes, we all do want to be good at everything, but we aren't.  There are certain things other human beings know that we do not.  I may regularly garden, for example, but a master gardener I am not.  I am constantly learning from and being informed by folks who know seed and soil better than I.  I can do the most basic motorcycle maintenance, but when things get more technical I know...from experience...that I'm better off trusting the heavily tatted mechanics who are less likely to render my bike unrideable.  I can do some basic home rewiring, but when things get complicated, I'd rather call an electrician than burn my house down.

Similarly, I'm more likely to trust a doctor who's been to medical school, or a nurse who's gotten similar training.  They know what they're looking at, in ways that I really don't. I've learned to give my trust only to folks who genuinely have a clue.  

Is this true for our journey with Jesus?  Are there folks who are experts, in ways that we are not?  That's a little tougher to say, because the metric is a little different.  How do you know when someone's take on the faith is Spirit-filled, and when it's just them lining their pockets, padding their egos, or serving the purposes of power?

I look to the saints, honestly.  Meaning, not necessarily the saints of the ancient faith, although they're worth knowing.  I look to the saints around us, the folks who show the fruits of a deeply authentic walk with Jesus.  They're the ones showing grace, offering up forbearance, giving comfort.  They show hospitality to the stranger, and serve those in need.

They don't tend to be the loudest or most aggressive folks.  They don't seem to need you to agree with them, or pressure you to parrot everything they say.  They make no claim to perfection.  They aren't trying to sell you something.  They just do the Jesus thing, day after day.  

You might have to slow down a bit, and listen for them.  

It's worth doing, as we seek to build up our souls.




Thursday, September 10, 2020

Telling it Like it Is

It wasn't the conversation I particularly wanted to be having, but I knew it was coming.

Just the year before, my little congregation...generous to a fault...had given me a modest bump in salary, along with agreeing to pick up the hefty costs of health insurance for my family.  My concern, expressed to leadership at the time, was that this would not be sustainable.  Unlike most small congregations, we have no debt and have slowly amassed an emergency reserve fund over the last nine years.  But even with that, I could see the writing on the wall.

We're a little church in a time when little churches are struggling to maintain the old model of congregational life, and as several long standing church families moved away or prepared to move for retirement, there was only a marginal possibility we'd make up the difference in giving.  Much as I love the small church, folks just don't come through the doors like they used to, and gentle-hearted, unassuming, and intimate servant communities aren't where the cultural energy lies of late.

So last year, I had to be sure we all were clear: the church was going to be facing a financial crisis.  We were burning through reserves, and unless something radical was done, we'd find ourselves with our backs against the wall within a year.  It wasn't what anyone wanted to hear, and it wasn't what I wanted to tell folks, but it was the truth.  Leadership had those hard conversations.  We made sure we told the rest of the church, because hiding or ignoring problems only makes them worse.

We'd have to make some major cuts, and those cuts would have to involve my salary.  Again, this was just the reality.  In small churches like ours with total budgets that barely reach six figures, pastoral salaries are the farthest thing from Osteen levels, but they're still the largest chunk of expenditure.

The financial bleeding stopped.  We stabilized, and made the difficult but necessary adjustments.  Which meant, as it so happened, that when the pandemic hit, we still had emergency reserves to carry us through this new time of crisis.

If you're in a position of leadership, you have to be honest with your community.  This isn't the easy thing.  It's hard, particularly if you don't like conflict.  And Lord knows, I'm as conflict averse as anyone.  But I've had to learn to overcome that, because leveling with folks is absolutely essential for the survival of a community.  If there's a crisis, there is always the temptation to sweep it under the rug, or to minimize it, or to come up with rosy fantasy scenarios that keep folks from getting all upset.  "Oh, it'll be fine."  "It's not a big deal."  "I'm sure God will send us a miracle!"

There is also the temptation to cast blame, to find someone else who's fault it is.  Anything to avoid having to say the hard thing, and to make the hard choice, and to take the harder path.  Those things set heavy on the ego.  We'd rather dwell in the reality in which nothing is demanded of us, and where everything always goes our way, where we are bright and shiny and always, always right.

Telling people what they want to hear is the realm of the pitchman and the promoter, not the leader.  To lead wisely and well, you need to tell it like it is, to be a straight shooter, to speak even those truths that don't benefit you personally.  You have to trust your people and your community.

Leaders who can't present their people with the truth, who choose the comfortable fantasy over speaking the hard challenge?  They have no business leading.  They are why churches...and nations...fail.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Wasps

In the room of my childhood

A dream of wasps growing

Thick as my thumb

Tight wet in their cells

Fat and glistening

Pressing outwards

Row upon row

Tens and hundreds

More upon more

To burst and rise and take angry wing


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Froth

In the morning light
Of a dream before waking
I stood on a hill
Overlooking the sea

In leaves of low branches
Daybreak was caught
Dancing like stars
In facets of diamond

I knelt to the earth
Lethe's dirt, Lethe's sand
And dreaming
Looked close

Caught in the leaves
Windblown spheres
Of ocean froth
Gleamed living jewels

In the bright of sunrise
Effervescent and fleeting
In a dream on a hill
Overlooking the sea

On Planting a Poison Seed


Mainstream American Christianity is an odd thing these days.

It's changed over the course of my lifetime, as the dominant theology of our culture has transitioned.  The argument between the modernists and the fundamentalists has  been settled, with the winner being...neither of them.   American theology is now prosperity theology, the name-it-and-claim-it faith of tee vee Jesus preachers.  It's our semi-official state religion, as this administration has surrounded itself with the priesthood of Mammon, who know a good grift when they see one.

The heart of the prosperity gospel is remarkably simple:  Do what God asks, and you will be rewarded.  Plant a seed, and God will meet your need.  This means, in practice, that you're giving money to the aforementioned tee vee preachers, whose wealth and success clearly indicates the correctness of this theology.  How could my pastor possibly have a jet, if God did not favor my pastor?  Why would pastor have a 25,000 square foot mansion with its own international airport, if God did not favor pastor?  

Yeah.  I know.  But that's the schtick.

I've never bought in to that transactional approach to faith, not at all.  God's grace is poured out to us whether we merit it or not.  It's completely unrelated to how much treasure we dump into our particular franchise of AmeriChrist, Inc.  I also don't for a moment buy that wealth, material success and righteousness are linked.  The wicked can do quite well for themselves financially, and as a follower of Jesus, I know that suffering can come to the righteous.  It's that whole "cross" thing.  

Still, I can't ignore that there is a consistency and mechanistic predictability to prosperity preaching that appeals to millions.  We want to know that our actions and intentions create blessings in our lives.  We want to know that we can do things that will influence how God treats with us, and that we'll be rewarded for doing what is expected of us.  You always know where you stand with that God.

But there's a thing that I can't quite fathom, and it has to do with the logical extension of Prosperity theology.  If doing right by God with our lives and our treasure guarantees blessings and wealth and well-being, then the inverse should also be true.  If we are doing wrong by God, then we will be materially cursed.  If we are pouring our treasure and our energies into things that are an offense to our Maker, then...if the idea of prosperity preaching is true...we should expect to receive the dark reward of our blighted choices.

People or nations that plant poisonous seeds should expect a harvest of poison fruit.

Which gets us to the strange paradox of America right now.  Prosperity preachers are all in with our current national direction.  Their theology defines our national life.  Donald J. Trump is the Prosperity Gospel President.  

But...are we prospering?  Is everything going swimmingly?  

If you believe the theological reasoning of the preachers who now flutter around Trump's baleful light, there's a direct correlation between our choices and God's favor.  And Sweet Lord Jesus, unless you're dumber than a bag of particularly dumb rocks, you can't miss where we are right now in terms of God's favor.  No sane human being would say that we're in a time of God's blessing.

Things have gone to hell in a handbasket.  We're in the thick of a pandemic that seems to have no end, and in which more Americans have died than in the First World War.  We're economically crippled, with debt running wildly out of control.  The rifts of division in our culture are widening, and old wounds are re-opening.  The streets are filled with discord and tear gas.  Armed militias prowl our streets and threaten other citizens.  We've never been less respected by other nations, and never been more an object of pity to other nations. On top of that, there've been four years of freakishly intense weather.  Historic floods.  Wildfires obliterating entire communities.  Devastating storms have left coastal communities staggered, and left entire cities in ruins in the heartland.

If you believe that God favors the righteous nation with blessings, then open your eyes and look.

God. Is. Not. Favoring. Trump's. America.  

We're gettin' a taste of God's abundance right now, but what we Americans are getting is our butts abundantly kicked.  Not by the "subversives" and "leftists" who have always been the straw men of right wing despots, but by reality itself.  

By the standards of America's warped version of Christian faith, we have clearly offended God, and are reaping the whirlwind we have sown.

Is this my theology?  No.  It is not.

But it is the theology of a people who have confused lies, discord and failure with truth, harmony, and prosperity.
  

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Cross and the Punisher


He lives just a couple of houses up the street from us.  

He's genial enough as neighbors go, happy to offer a pleasant word in passing, or a comment about the weather.  Don't know his name, and he doesn't know mine, but we do exchange a nod or a word of greetings.  What I know about his is what I can infer from his household.  It's the house with the most flags, meaning that not only is there a flag pole with an American flag and a yellow Don't Tread on Me flag, but a good solid dozen little flags set out in front of the shrubbery.   

He's a Ford guy, meaning every vehicle at the house is a Ford.  An Edge, an Explorer, an F-150, and...for a long time...a raised old F250 from the 1990s.  This summer, he replaced that F-250 with a brand spankin' new F-250, a big black beast of a truck.  Honestly, it's a pretty nice vehicle.  Not really the best for inside the Beltway commuting, but he's a hunter and a sportsman, so I get the appeal.

He'd had it for a couple of months when the stickers went up on the cab window.

On the left side, there was a cross emblazoned with the stars and stripes.  Not really my cup of tea theologically, but very in keeping with the rest of his home decorating scheme.

On the right, there was a Trump 2020 sticker.  This didn't surprise me, given the NRA stickers on the old truck and the aforementioned Don't Tread on Me flag.  But this was not just any Trump 2020 sticker.  It was a Punisher Skull Trump 2020 Sticker, also emblazoned with the stars and stripes.

It's a peculiar juxtaposition.  The Punisher, in the event you're not familiar with him, is a Marvel Universe anti-hero.  He's a cynical, gun-wielding vigilante who sees it as his calling to set things right by killing people.  If you've ever seen the Clint Eastwood film Magnum Force?  The Punisher isn't Clint Eastwood.  The Punisher is closer to one of the cops who murder the people they've determined are scum or enemies of law and order. A good analogue to the Punisher, from elsewhere in the comic book world: Judge Dredd, who enforces the law without mercy in a fascistic fantasy dystopia. Not a villain, exactly, but definitely on the darker side of things.

The Punisher has a skull on his outfit, and that skull has become an icon of the Trumpist right wing. For them, it parses as powerful, as kick-butt.  You can't mess with me, it says, or some dyin's comin' your way.  I get that, generally.  It's like kids liking the skull and crossbones pirate flag, as they play around with the liberating power of doing whatever one pleases.  Or the skulls preferred as biker flair.  As a political symbol, though?  

It's odd, given that the Punisher's skull is rather obviously meant to be a symbol of brutal, cold-hearted violence.  It is not a symbol of good.  It was never intended to be.  It reads as evil, turned against evil.

I mean, does it look good?  Clear your mind, and imagine showing this to an average American in 1976.  "Here's a campaign sticker from the year 2020," you'd say.  "What do you think it says about the state of the country and the spirit of this candidate?"

I think you'd be met with a horrified shudder.

And there's something else.  It is exactly the opposite of a cross.  The Punisher, in point of fact, is exactly the kind of person who might consider crucifixion as a viable option for someone who he considers an enemy.  

Those two stickers on my neighbor's truck speak to the fundamental tension between Trumpism and Christian faith.  One embraces the ideal of violence and fetishizes retribution and a sense of aggrievement.  The other defies violence and embraces self-sacrifice and forgiveness as the highest virtues.

Together, the two are irreconcilably dissonant.  That kind of dissonance tears a person apart.  Or a country.

Yesterday, I saw my neighbor drive by on his way to work.  The Trump Punisher Skull was gone, but the cross remained.

A good thing, I suppose.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Being Groomed for Despotism

Among the many things I was taught in seminary, one was particularly useful:

How to identify the techniques that pedophiles and sexual predators use to groom their victims.   Because trust is necessary for healthy community, and there are those who use the trust they've been given to prey on others.  There were a range of things we were told to watch for in our congregations, and misconceptions we'd need to keep at bay if we were to maintain the integrity of our flocks.  

Pedophiles are often charming, outgoing people with natural charisma.  You enjoy them.  You like talking with them.  They don't always manifest as "creepy."  They're just endearing characters.

They seem have an affinity for kids.  They spend time around them.  Show interest, again, in a genuinely charming way.  They seem to have a childlike spirit.  They ingratiate themselves with parents.  All, perfectly normal.  They're part of "us."

Then other things are added in, as trust is gained.  Picture taking.  Offers to help with child care.  

And touch.  First a little.  Then more.  Hands on shoulders.  On sides.  On thighs.  Physical closeness, sometimes in public, as a way of saying, hey, this is all fine.  All perfectly normal, but starting to stretch the sense of what is and is not acceptable.

So that when the boundary is finally crossed, and sexual violation occurs, it feels like less of a violation.  Feels natural.  Expected.  

I'm attuned to that, was taught to watch for that, so that...when I saw all of that happening at my first congregation...I knew not to dismiss it.  I knew I needed to say something.  There were multiple confrontations.  Revelations of past issues.  Of lies and deceptions.  I am not a man who lets his anger out, but I did then.  Ultimately, a long standing member of that little church was told that if he could not change his behavior, he would not be welcome.  He chose to leave.  It was hard as all hell, but calling it out was my duty as a pastor.

I look at the life of our fragile young republic, and I wonder if we are in the same hard place.  

Over the last six years, I've watched as boundaries have been stretched and broken by our current president.  It's fine if candidate Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns to prove he's not financially compromised, it's not illegal.  He's just showing he's strong.  It's fine if he has a long checkered history of cheating and sexual misconduct, because nobody's perfect.  It's fine if he winks at violence, because he's just kidding around.  It's fine if foreign despots hack his political opponents and fill social media with deceptions that support him, because we all know that's how it's always worked. Politics are just corrupt anyway.

It's all about normalizing, about making things seem like they're fine.

Millions of Americans are OK with Trump now lying every day, about things both serious and banal.  Millions are fine with 150,000 dead from a pandemic that Trump chose to ignore, diminish, and politicize. With Trump overtly funneling millions of tax dollars into his hotel businesses.  With Trump calling into question the basic processes of functioning government.  With Trump refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas, and state subpoenas, and now openly defying rulings of the Supreme Court.

And, of course, Trump challenging as "fake" and "unfair" anything that doesn't go his way, up to and including the results of elections.  Even elections he won, he's willing to dispute if they didn't make him look good.  

Donald J. Trump is, right now, suggesting that he has the right to ignore an election result that does not go his way.  He is, right now, trying to normalize the idea that if he loses, it will be illegitimate.  He's floated the trial balloon, today, that maybe elections should be postponed. 

A substantial percentage of America has been groomed by Donald J. Trump for despotism, in precisely the way a sexual predator grooms his victims for abuse.  Faced with near certain defeat, he wants those he has seduced into following him to believe they should abandon the most fundamental boundary that separates our republic from dictatorships.

Because the integrity of this republic means nothing to him.  It has never meant anything to him.

That is how predators are.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Of Whiteness and Integrated Identity

I've never really thought of myself as white.

Not that my culture doesn't consider me white, with all of the rights and privileges thereunto. 

But as a category of self-understanding, white never served any integrative purpose.  Meaning, to unpack that rather awkward psychobabbly way of putting it, I've never seen it as a defining part of my identity.  There are other aspects of my identity that are defining.

I am male, and good with that.  I am straight, and comfortable with what that entails. 

I have a mongrel heritage, drawn from a diverse array of related but distinct cultures.

I am American, and personally vested in the well being of my constitutional republic.  I vote.  I stay informed.  I keep alert for threats to freedom, both to myself and to others.

I am a husband, and a father, and a son, and see in each of these certain defining purposes for my life.

Overarching all of these, I am a Christian.  In the teachings of Jesus and the witness of millennia of the Beloved Community, I find the ethos that gives cohesion to my identity. 

These ways of organizing and prioritizing my responses to life are both my foundation and my purpose.  In so far as I act to honor their best intent, my actions reflect a particular chosen identity. 

I cannot, with any honesty, say that whiteness does the same.  Again, I was taught to understand my heritage as complex and multifaceted, drawing from multiple regions, cultures and ethnic lineages.  That understanding shaped my liberality towards other cultures, peoples, and forms of human self expression.  If I was made up of various different things, then encountering difference was no threat.

Whiteness wasn't ever part of that.  In fact, whiteness, as a way of understanding oneself, seems to stand in distinct tension with my more complex ground of self.   This awareness has nothing to do with our current spasm of race-anxiety.  I have always chafed at whiteness.  Back in high school when I was filling out the obligatory forms, marking myself as "white" felt like an imposition.  An erasure of reality.  

What I struggle with mightily in this moment of racial anxiety is this:  I'm not sure whiteness can constructively shape identity.  I hear earnest folks addressing "white people" as a unit, or saying "as a white person I..." or suggesting that "white people" need to do this or that.  I don't think "white" can deal constructively with racism, because "white" was at the heart of the problem of modern era racism. 

I just can't see any way that claiming white identity gets us beyond our mess.

I look to the idea of being white, and I do see how it influences culture and how it shapes self understanding.  I see in it nothing that I want to orient myself towards.  It feels unhealthy, destructive, and inherently false.

As a *resisted* identity, sure.  That I get.  Writers like Ibram X. Kendi have suggested being "white" may inhabit the same sort of identity category as saying you're an alcoholic or an addict.  Meaning, yeah, it does form identity, but only in negative ways.  That, in fact, there may be something inherently blighted about it.

If that's the case, it's not a constructive identity, either to self or to community.  It is, instead, a disintegrative form of self understanding, one that drives us further away from both societal justice and spiritual grace.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Sound of Rain

As she's gotten older, our pup Ellie has gotten more and more twitchy.  She was always a bit of a cat-like dog, prone to staring out the window looking wan and somehow forgetting to come when called.  She's the kind of dog who you have to search the house for when you get home.

She's sweet with kids, and great with guests, and tends to show up when you're feeling upset with a strangely intent look on her face.  "You doing ok," she emotes.  Of course, once she's determined that you're fine, she wanders off again, but still.

The last few years, though, she's started having real trouble with unsettling noises.  Fireworks, sure, most dogs have problems with that.  Thunder?  That's pretty common.  But she's now consistently unsettled by the sound of our icemaker dropping a load of ice into the freezer bin.  She's most disturbed, it seems, by the sound of rain.  Not thunder.  Just plain ol' rain, falling on our roof.  It makes a noise.  Noise means danger.  

She gets panicky, wandering around in circles, staring at walls, panting and so overwhelmed by the rain that she's utterly unresponsive.  In a particularly heavy downpour, she'll get as low in the house as she can, and then she'll start trying to dig her way further down, through carpet and the padded flooring in our workout room. 

Thundershirts and doggo CBD do nothing.  There's a doggy anxiety med that sometimes works, but not always.  Mostly, she just can't deal.  She just has no idea what's going on, and her pupper brain can't process the input.

It'd be nice to say that humans are different, but we're often not.  If we have no frame of reference from which to understand and cope with uncertainty, we come apart.  Similarly, if our frame of reference isn't sufficient to take into account a new reality, we'll struggle to respond in any constructive way.

We become paralyzed by our fears, staring without comprehension at the world around us.  We become reactive in ways that are destructive to self, relationships, and community.

As we struggle with the unfamiliar din of our times, hearing the rattling of discord and the uncertain future of our failed pandemic response, it's entirely understandable that we might have a similar anxiety reaction.  Lord, is it ever.  But as hard as it might be metaphorically raining out, having a solid ethical and spiritual foundation helps us find our way, and to respond in ways that are constructive and hopeful, wise and gracious.

Faith, which orients us to that which is both a present comfort and an endless unveiling, lets us engage with the unexpected and the traumatic, and to overcome and not be ruled by our fears.  

Our faith is living and adaptive, as our foundation in Christ and the living witness of the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the best possible paths forward.  

That's the foundation of our hope as we press forward into this stormy time.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The One I'm Talking About

He goes for what he wants, and he is a creature of very definite appetites.  

He doesn't care at all for conventional wisdom, and doesn't give a damn about what is "correct."  He uses chaos to control, makes sure people don't know exactly what he's doing, shrouds his actions in layer after layer of deception and misdirection.  He's lawyered up, rich beyond the dreams of avarice, surrounded by people who help him do whatever he likes and have whatever he likes.  Or whoever he likes.

What he wants from others is to own them.  Their submission to him gives him pleasure.  He thinks of people as objects you possess, as something you can control through force of will, deception, or fear.  

He oozes that sense of power that comes from wealth, and that's a seductive draw for many, what loops them in to his circle of influence.  There's that sense that, if you just let him have what he wants, he'll do things for you.  Get you what you want in exchange.

That's his appeal.  His draw.  His power.

You know, him.  The one I'm talking about.




Monday, June 29, 2020

The Little Red Hen Fights COVID





Once upon a time, there was a little red hen  who lived on a farm . She was friends with a lazy dog , a sleepy cat , and a noisy yellow duck .



One day the little red hen  was told that all the farms in the land were on the verge of a pandemic, and her farm was forced to shut down.  The little red hen  had an idea. She would follow the advice of experts and institute testing protocols to help keep the farm open.
The little red hen  asked her friends, "Who will help me do the testing?"
"I can't be bothered," barked the lazy dog .
"You're not the boss of me," purred the sleepy cat .
"MAGA!" quacked the noisy yellow duck .
"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen   tested herself.  But none of her friends did.



When the testing showed things weren't going well, the little red hen asked her friends, "Who will help institute contact tracing?"

"I can't be bothered," barked the lazy dog .
"You're not the boss of me," purred the sleepy cat .
"MAGA!" quacked the noisy yellow duck .
"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  tried contact tracing all by herself, but it was too much without help.


When the testing then showed the pandemic was starting to spread out of control, the little red hen asked her friends, "Who will wear a mask to reduce the spread of this thing?"
"I can't be bothered," barked the lazy dog .
"You're not the boss of me," purred the sleepy cat .
"MAGA!" quacked the noisy yellow duck .
"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  wore her mask everywhere she went, even though others didn't.



The tired little red hen asked her friends, "Who will be really careful about where they go, self-quarantine, and generally try not to unnecessarily infect the other animals?"
"I can't be bothered," barked the lazy dog .
"You're not the boss of me," purred the sleepy cat .
"MAGA!" quacked the noisy yellow duck .
"Then I will," said the little red hen . So the little red hen  stayed home, limited her outings, and tried really hard to socially distance by staying in her coop.



When it came time to reopen, and all the other farms in the land were getting back to life as usual, the tired little red hen asked her friends, "Who will reopen with me?"
"I can't taste anything," whimpered the lazy dog .
"I feel like crap," meowed the sleepy cat .
"COUGH COUGH COUGH," quacked the noisy yellow duck .
"Yeah" said the little red hen .  "That's what I figured."  And she tromped back to her coop, muttering.

"Fools."

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Quotes

It is better to wear a mask and not need it than to need a mask and not wear it.

A masked society is a polite society.

A person without a mask can only flee from COVID, and COVID is not overcome by fleeing from it.

Masks should have a place of honor in every home, as they provide the protection that the current government will not give.

It is up to the private citizen to protect himself and his family, and this is not only acceptable, but necessary.  Wear a mask, citizen.

The fight will not be the way you want it to be.  The fight will be the way it is.  It's up to you to adapt.  Wear a mask, citizen.

It's time to restore the American precept that each individual is responsible for their actions.  Wear a mask, citizen.

I wear a mask to protect my family.

Wearing a mask is an act of love.  It says I love my life, my friends, and my family, and I will do what I must to keep them safe.






Saturday, June 20, 2020

Light Shepherd

Shall I curse Your leprous white Sin Name your Evil My words all a bitter shepherd's goad Driving you down to the bleating pen of my hate Or Listen Or Watch Eyes scrying for embers of light Speak Words turning the rich dark soil Of your most Gracious living possible Soul

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Of Masks and Moral Responsibility

A week ago, I attended a march in my small town.  Four to five hundred souls marched peaceably to recognize the human value and integrity of black folk, and I was honored to be a part of it.

 

Though there were hundreds there, there were also notable precautions against this cursed pandemic.  It was outdoors, in the bright hot sun.  People were visibly trying to make space between groups.  And functionally everyone was wearing a mask.  Ninety five percent, at a minimum, with the handful of outliers mostly being adolescent boys who are dumb in the way I was when I was their age.  Folks were taking it seriously.

 

Last week, I also came across this strange, harsh cartoon about masks, one produced by a far-right political activist.  Some over on #twitter were making light of it, but there were plenty of folks and/or bots of uncertain origin spreading it unironically. 

 

What struck me was not just its bullying, Nelson Muntz mockery of perceived ideological weakness.  The cartoon expresses a warped morality that has abandoned traditional virtues.  Wearing a mask isn't a bolshy Jacobin thing to do.


Wearing a mask is conservative.  It's about personal responsibility, seeing freedom as a call to duty and care for your neighbor.  It requires discipline and a desire to protect both the vulnerable and the integrity of your community.  It recognizes legitimate authority. It rises from a spirit of decency, charity, and integrity. 

 

There was something else. Something darker.  Starting this weekend and continuing for the next few months, there will be political rallies on the American right.  Americans who increasingly embrace the ideology of this cartoon will gather by the tens of thousands.  They will shout and cheer.  They'll be packed in tight.  They'll be older.  And goaded on by this kind of propaganda and the ego-hunger of a demagogue, they'll view masks as a sign of weakness, as a leftist snowflake thing.  "Yeah, you can wear one, but you're just a coward and a weakling if you do."  "Don't drink the Kool Aid," they'll smile, the oversweet blood red stain on their lips.

 

Then they'll go back to their homes, their communities, and their churches.

 

It's a recipe for death.  Not just one person, shot dead on Fifth Avenue, but hundreds of deaths.  Horrible, prolonged, suffocating deaths in the overburdened ICUs of mid-sized Southern towns, as exhausted nurses helplessly watch yet another human being die alone.

 

Were I a cruelly Darwinian soul, I might sneer at those folks, and say they're getting what they deserve.  "You cannot separate a fool from their folly," I could say.  "A rod for the back of fools," I could say.  But Jesus being my Lord and Savior and all, I try to avoid that way of being.  I desire no-one's suffering.  Instead, I do what one does when you realize you're helpless to stop a horror.  Or when you watch a person caught in the thrall of their personal demons, their ears closed to your voice, their eyes turned away from your help.  I raise my voice, even though it might not be heard. I pray. 

 

And I wear my mask, which says: I am willing to do my part.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

LIttle Churches and Regathering

I enjoy having a plan.  There's a concreteness to it, especially if that plan is simple, straightforward, and familiar. 

You do a familiar thing, and it's comfortable and things run smoothly.  But life rarely offers up neat, easy, and familiar paths.

As we roll into summer, things are still up in the air.  There are hopeful signs here and there that we may be able to reopen.  After months of social distancing, closures, and mask wearing, all of our national efforts seems to have stalled out that virus. 

But we're not sure, not enough, not yet.  As the Session of my church met this last month to talk about potentially regathering, no-one felt it was time to go back to that normal that we all do miss.  Our sweet little sanctuary is too small, that comfy soft space too limiting to do the singing and greeting and being together that we so love.  And sure, we could gather without raising our voices in song or in prayer, with no bulletins and no communion, no time in fellowship, and no classes in which to study together.

That just wouldn't be worth doing.  I mean, sure, we'd "be together."  "Hey, come to church!  We don't sing.  We stay away from each other.  We don't pray out loud.  We can't see one another's faces."

I wish I could say that sounded appealing, but Lord have mercy, it does not.

Instead, we're waiting to see whether there's a second wave, which we should know definitively in two weeks.  At that point, we'll put our heads together and determine, based on the best available information, what is the best way forward.

In choosing any path, it's best to be neither panicky nor headstrong.  Anxiously fretting over every possible negative outcome and stubbornly blundering ahead no matter what are equally unwise.  And while wisdom these days may seem in short supply, it's right there in scripture for any who seek it. 

For the next five weeks, our adult ed class will be looking at the marks of wisdom for a Christian soul, because it seems kinda like a useful thing to keep in front of our souls in this time.  We'll get those from the Epistle of James, one of the most practical, direct moral teachings in the Bible.

Lord willing, we'll be in a place to gather again when we're done.  I am very much looking forward to that.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Young Crow

I walked this morning, in the burgeoning steam and moist of a Virginia summer day. From up the street there came a peculiar ruckus, one that caught my attention. A voice, yelling out. "Awk AAAA Ewwww. Ak. Awk AAAA aaa ew Awk AAA."
I scanned the tree line for the source of the sound. There it was. A crow, alone on the branch of a dead tree. It preened, and then called out. Preened, and then called out. "Ah Waaak A Ock. Ock Aaa. Ock AAAA! Wak Ock Aaaaa."
Not short calls, but long perorations, whole sentences filled with a medley of gargling, subtly changing tones. It felt less like a cry, and more complex, more like something we mostly hairless bipeds would consider language.
Which told me, because I feel an affinity to crows and ravens and have studied their ways, that it was likely a juvenile. Where adult crows settle in to simpler, familiar, useful calls, crow adolescents experiment. They play with sounds. They sing out intricate patterns to the world, testing their voices. For a while, those songs are as subtle as those of their wise-eyed raven cousins. But then, slowly, young crows settle down into the simple caw of adult crow life.
Being the sort of silly person who says things like "I feel an affinity to crows and ravens and have studied their ways," I called back, mimicking phrasing. But, as expected, I got no reply. It simply sang on, exploring the voice of youth and neatening its feathers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

My Story Mine


Once My story
Mine Leaves parted lips Sings the air And alights Purring Tickling Whispering In your Waiting Ear It is no longer My story Mine but Yours.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Lafayette Square Park, Faith, and Freedom

I grew up in and around DC. My whole young life, church happened downtown, at New York Avenue Presbyterian, just a short walk from the White House. She's a storied old girl. John Quincy Adams worshiped there. As did Eisenhower. So did Abraham Lincoln, which is why one of the rooms I'd play hide and seek in with friends after Sunday School had the original handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a teen, I still went to church, but I was...well. I didn't like Sunday School. I was gloweringly sixteen, into Camus and Sartre, and even though I loved the church in the way that a teen loves their parents, it just felt too...something. Too soft, perhaps. Too formal. It lacked that dark edge that appealed to my adolescent eyes, so newly opened to the mess of the adult world.

So I'd leave the church, grab a free City Paper, and wander over to Lafayette Square Park. It was my quiet place. My sanctuary. I'd settle in, read snarky, informed reviews of film and culture, and watch the world go by. The park was quieter on a Sunday morning, but as the day wore on, there was plenty to watch. Tourists from all over America, here to see the sights. Clusters of visitors from other countries, wandering behind tour guides. Near the bench where I'd sit and read, a little yellow church sat, a trickle of Episcopalians coming and going for their bells and smells and Jesus..

In Lafayette Square Park, there'd be occasional demonstrations and protesters. People with signs. Folks trying to get you to sign petitions. At least one older peace activist basically just lived there.

I'd watch the tour guides do their schtick, leading school groups and church groups. "Look," they'd say, pointing to the resident activist with her signs. "Right here in front of the White House, people are free to speak their minds. That's the difference," they'd say, "Between America and the Soviet Union. This is a free country." And the school groups would chat with the protesters, and move on.

Despite my newly found teen cynicism, it was undeniably real. For all of her flaws, I couldn't deny my own eyes and experience. America was genuinely free.

That park is not accessible now. It's cordoned off from the American people. The peaceable voice of the people's grievance, driven from that space by clubs and tear gas and flashbangs. Even that modest yellow church on the park is now forcibly closed, as yesterday church members and leaders were denied access to their own property.

"Law and order," those in power say, "makes this necessary." "Safety and security," they say, "requires it." These are lies unworthy of our republic. At the height of the Cold War, toe to toe with Soviet authoritarianism, nuclear holocaust just one misunderstanding and a twenty minute missile flight away? In those hard times, Lafayette Park was open, as both a symbol and as living proof that Americans are a free people, whose leader does not hide behind high walls and cold eyed men with guns.

Those freedoms have been taken to serve the ego of a petty despot, a dissembling huckster and bully who has desecrated the freedoms that made America a beacon to the world. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the people to seek redress.

I remember what it was like to sit as a free American in that park on a cool Sunday morning. I remember what it meant, even at the height of my adolescent awakening, to know what it meant to be free.

I refuse to forget that freedom.