Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sometimes the day at hand gets lost or ignored or is left for dead

At times, life can appear to be quite like Holy Saturday - waiting - not much going on.

It can be a day in which we think of yesterday or look forward to tomorrow.

It seems as though this is the way many folks go through life - looking back and looking forward.

On Holy Saturday, we are faced with the day at hand - that's about it baby.

I would like to suggest that it is not the worst place to be. Time in the tomb is time to rest. It is time to give up all of our grand plans as to how our lives should go or how we should change the world. Holy Saturday reminds me that creation continues - wonder still abides - grace transforms - hope tickles - peace prevails - and imagination abounds. Even when things are dead and gone.

Even within the silence of Holy Saturday I am reminded of this insight by Alan E. Lewis. He writes. No gap divides what God says from what God does and the stories of the coming kingdom do not offer dreams and possibilities of what the Lord might or could do, but speak indicatively, and in the present tense, of what is happening, and of what the future is becoming. The kingdom need not and cannot - be worked for; it may only be accepted and awaited. There is no silence - there is no inactivity - there is no darkness - there is no fruitlessness - there is no vengeance - there is no threat - there is no lying. There is only that step that is about to take place - that hand that is about to be offered - that gift that is about to be given - that act of mercy that is about to be extended - that forgiveness that heals the separated - that peace that passes all understanding. Though the day can seem hopeless - the day is full of hope. It is already full in that no day is outside the bounds of the power of God to bring about the fullness of our humanity even as it seems to be on a journey down the drain.

This is no day of victory. It is a day resting in truthfulness. As we are shut off from the powers that claim to bring life and breath to the world, we begin to notice that their breath really smells like death -it has a prevailing odor. It is one of those odors that once you smell it - you will be able to recognize it every day of your life. Death reeks even as it promises life or greatness or success or victory. Holy Saturday puts us right in the mix of death - face to face with death. From here, we learn that we are able to face death's power in all the days of our lives because we know that the peaceable Reign of God abounds in the present tense - even as it appears to be a tomb. Even though death uses slogans, propaganda, lies, and pompous wealth to sell its cheap wears, we are invited to take note of death's lack of truthfulness and face the dis-eases of death that tries to claim us and sicken us.

So as we wait in the tomb - as we quietly look around at death's claim to power - as we own the stillness around us, the power of death already begins to look less frightening for we know that this day - this fucking day of death and coldness and lies and deception - is really the day the Lord has made. Ha - you know, the day in which we are invited to rejoice and be glad in it - because that is how creation works - that is the power of God alive within this day. It is the power that keeps creating new life even when death is sowing its lies.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Holy Weeks - Wholly engaged - A Wonder-filled Hallelujah

Entering Holy Week this year I'm finding myself entering into an ongoing reformation of how I look at the palms - the supper with friends - the betrayal - the condemnation - the execution/lynching - and yes, even the resurrection. I previously have written about my adventures in coming to grip with a spirituality as a life-practice/adventure.  Therefore, I wrote about this event.
The foundational story of this new understanding of my spirituality came in a news story in the New York Times that made its way across the country. It has become the way I now define urban spirituality and the spiritual journey that awaits all of us - just as we are and just where we are. Here‟s the story that has deepened my sense of God available within a life that is so ordinary and present I often forget to pause and be a part of its fullness. 
A fifty year old construction worker, Wesley Autrey, was standing on the platform of one of New York City’s subway stations. He had his four and six year old daughters with him. And then - in the twinkling of a moment - a young man, Cameron Hollopeter, fell to the subway platform during a seizure. Autrey and another woman went to his aid. Once Hollopeter seemed to be stabilized, he stood up but stumbled and fell off the platform and down onto the tracks. As the lights of an approaching train entered the far end of the station, Autrey jumped from the platform, pulled Hollipeter between the train tracks, and laid his body on top of Hollopeter’s. The train was not able to stop before it reached the two men. Several cars passed over them before the train finally did come to a stop. Those two men were in such tight quarters beneath the train that Autrey later showed people his wool hat that was stained with grease from the bottom side of the train. 
This in itself is an amazing story – it was news. And yet, the stream of life that was moving through that subway station in those intense moments was much deeper and overflowing than Autrey’s leap onto the tracks. The joy of God’s Reign was brilliantly shining through those moments of intense action and profound silence amid the cacophony of urban subway sounds. 
You see, in the moments of Hollopeter’s seizure and then the men wrestling down on the tracks and being pinned beneath the moving train, his two young girls were left up on the subway platform in the care of others - strangers. When the train finally came to a stop, Autrey yelled, “We’re okay. I’ve got two daughters up there. Let them know their father’s okay.” Not only did Autrey leap into the moment at hand in order to uphold and honor the life of another person, he expected that others would honor his children and would keep them safe. For that moment, the universe and all that is and will be - was blessed with the presence of the image of God alive in the flesh. The Reign of God breaks in and becomes incarnate among us no matter where we might be. Those who enter into the life of the Reign of God enter with the expectation that there will be others leaping into its life – the city of God was present in all its promise and saving power. 

Holy Week is now a reminder that we are invited to leap into the life in which we are already present. It is not waiting for a designated time or going to another place. Yes, it is  good to make plans as to when we will dive in and be with others to serve and to be served. We must also beware that between the times and places we plan to take part in the healing of humanity and the care of all we are walking and living and standing within the potential life of the Reign of God just by being human in the places at hand. Holy Week is full of Jesus' adventures of life in and around Jerusalem and the Temple and the Place of the Skull and the Empty Tomb - but that was his life all along the way. Life happened all around him. There were no agendas as to how he would engage the day. There was only the notion that he was a Child of God walking in the midst of life as it is everyday - but, within that notion, there emerged a life into which he willingly entered. Therefore, the moments of the Gospel stories are not fantastic, they are simply the ordinary made brilliant by his way of being engaged without hesitation - like Wesley Autrey leaping onto the track and expecting others to leap into the story at hand as people with a vision for the welfare of others. 
When I am not sure of what to do in the midst of the ordinary time of the Reign of God that is all around me, I hold three words very close to my heart. They were offered to me by a teacher and neighbor: Leland Elhard. Those words are: vulnerability - availability - mastery
The moment at hand longs for us to be vulnerable. It is the movement from being self-consumed and turned-in-on-self into a moment in which we drop our armor, let go of who we want to be or what others expect from us, and letting loose of everything - for the well-being of the other. That is for me a frightening move - even if all I do is merely consider the move and do no move. 
The moment at hand longs for us to be available. Take the steps - make the moves that are necessary for us to engage others. Availability can be celebration - it can be service - it can be that presence that is enough to heal - it can be the risky step, especially if it is into the life of a stranger.
Those moments in which we are able to be vulnerable and available we are in the midst of the Holy Weeks of our lives. In those moments, the way-things-are-supposed-to-go are not blindly followed. My new way of saying that to myself is I'll have none of that anymore. That is, the structures of the day that keep us from being fully alive within God's Reign must be ignored and I need to jump onto the track and lay my life on the line. Before you think that I do that or have ever done that (as I am still alive -and I am usually a coward), I want to refer back to Jesus' actions along the way - the hearings - the cast out of demons - the resistance to the reigning religious structures. Each small step - each action and word that disrupted the world as he was moving along the way - was one in which he was inspired to bow and bend in order to be wholly present to reshape the life in which he entered. 
Those moments in which vulnerability and availability come together in the times and places of ordinary life will at times reveal the mastery of life within the Reign of God. That mastery may look like a complete failure - a complete blunder - a complete misstep and miscalculation. It is usually called death on the cross. This mastery is not permanent - it is not lasting - it is easily turned into something else - usually a success story the promises that we never need to be vulnerable or available - or a story that promises personal security forevermore.
Too often, Holy Week and the Resurrection that follows, leads to no mastery at all. We embrace the story but never take it on as our own - in, with, and under this day at hand. Yet, when we see it breaking into the day, we are amazed -caught up in a moment of awe - drawn to tears. To see and hear and touch moments in which the Reign of God is demonstrated through lives vulnerably available for and with others - reveals the wonder of our humanity. Like Autrey leaping to be with Hollopeter, there was no calculation - no risk assessment. There is simply the life of God's Reign that pulls back the curtain of empty religious games and hands us another place and time to enter that which is often called eternal life. Hallelujah.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

#March for Our Lives - unmasking fearful powers - with determined fragility

This weekend, that which is considered the center of our order - our culture - our power, will find itself occupied by the least among us - the children. Let the powers play their games and attempt to hold onto the nothingness that they assume is greatness, but in the meantime - in that time that is not yet fully available and the time that is at hand - the least will teach us - or maybe, they will simply be the artisan tools that begin to design another way. As we will see, these young ones are not there to take control - they cannot - they will never be given that power. In fact, I already can hear the voices of the skeptics - the takedowns of the critics - the violent words of those who fear visions and prophecy. For too long we have lived with the lie that parents and culture teach our children well. Well, unfortunately and too often, we teach them merely to be as we have been - self-absorbed - self-concerned - longing, like John and James, to be at the right and left of power. In the meantime, the least are left to be gunned down and prophets are eliminated for the sake of profits lustfully sought. 

I am not so naive to think our country will change after this weekend of marches and speeches and masses of people calling for another way for us to be who we say we are. There has been no time in history in which the pyramid of power (that reserves room at the top for the powerful few and presses the masses to the bottom of society) has been toppled. Yes, revolts and revolutions attempt such a move - but their history becomes the history of a new order - culture - power - that simply switches the seating on the pyramid. And yet, order does not need to mean the order of that which has been - that which controls - that which uses violence to fool everyone that things will be fine. Order can take on another character. I'm living in hope here - so hang with me.

‘Let the children come to me’ is a line of thought that can lead to mere sentimentality. Sentimentality - for as much as it may offer us a warm feeling for the moment at hand - is often nothing more than the the drink we are offered to keep us unaware of the violence in which we all participate to keep things just as they are. I do not want this weekend to be filled with words and images that offer nothing more than a sentimental journey into a few moments of reflection that never leads to that which is needed to change the order of the day. That kind of change - will take repentance. I don’t mean the ‘Forgive me, O Lordy, Lord, so I can continue on my way.’ Here I am wondering more about the reversal that is to happen as forgiveness reigns. A repentance that leads away from ‘but it’s my right, we have to protect ourselves and stay in control’ to ‘how do we embrace the creative, peaceable power of an ongoing creation.’ I find having the children placed at the center is an image of that which one writer noted as being  - ‘eccentric and thus nonviolent.’ They have no power - they are out of their minds - they are standing out in the open like lambs about to be slaughter by the slings and arrows of the orders of the day. Yet, they do not move.

So If we have time this weekend, don’t send out thoughts and prayers to those who are gathered across the country. Rather, go stand in the middle of the circle with our children. I do not want us to go to stand with them to defend them - but, to be with them - to be fools - to be the subject of the scorn thrown out by cowards whose trust lies only in the power of a culture we hold sacred even as it offers its children to the vendors of death. Then, when this weekend is over - continue to be a bit eccentric and wander into the rest of our days acting out - yes, acting out.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dedicated to a Friend who embodies the good news within a church that has lost touch with the expansiveness of the Reign of God

For years, Pastor David Meredith was a trusted colleague in Columbus. David was - and still is - a joy-filled person who knows the expansiveness of humanity - all of its glory. Across a crowded room he is a island of hopefulness into which one could go to find solace and support and a loving presence. He is a pastor of depth whose joy - fullness of life - incorporates without restrictions or qualifications. And yet, that is not good enough - that is what we are being told by the religious leaders of the UMC temple of holiness. We must be clear that David is not the problem. In fact, only the religious systems of our culture create problems and hangs on words of death and expulsion -  they make problems - they may well be the problem. And yes, they know not the fullness of the gospel - they hang onto the laws and rules and and limited vision of something labeled sacred - yet, it is not holy at all. It sacrifices others rather than willingly become self-sacrificial - as the Christ.

I do not mean to rag on the UMC. I'm Lutheran and believe me, we know how to exclude and demean and hang out holy banners in order to cover up our corporate violence and contempt for any group who is not as we like or as we have decided to define holy - even when it it an unholy reality. I know church leaders - yes, elected and then blessed - whose notion of holy was nothing more than a will to power - mostly their own. It is a power veiled in theological language but absent of the way of the cross. That - is the protective rule of the institution. It is an institution that insists that we must never embrace the victim but must always act as though we keep victims close - but never within the fold - keep them over there or out there - like thoughts and prayers. It gives the institutions  a sense of power - the power of this world - a power that seeks to overwhelm and outcast others.

But let me get back to David.
That he is on trial (a church trial - ha) is the first absurdity.
That his life is an offense to how some perceive a godly life - is another absurdity.
That a church body still needs to offer up human sacrifices in order to maintain the control they have created for themselves and long to keep in place - is an absurdity.
That his loving-kindness - his humor - his resurrection hope - his joyfulness - his willingness to enter into the life of any and all - is a threat to a church body - is an absurdity.
But then,
when control and order is a higher good than life that is alive along the way of the cross - a way that knows how to give away life and power - we can expect nothing more than an absurdity. It is - quite bluntly - an offense to the Reign of God that we are all invited to share - now.

Now it would be easy to say that David needs to judge those who judge him. But as I know him, he forgives - he dwells within graciousness - his arms are wide open even when those who claim to be the leaders of the faith live with arms folded shut - to some.

We must remember here that the church has thrived on exclusion - even when we are ones who are to live together without partiality - therefore we may not always be the ones of the Way. Our history is a way soiled by the lives of those we have rejected. Thus we must ask - are we the followers of Jesus or do we follow the violence of a world - the way of power - those who seek to be one step higher than others. We must insist on a faithfulness - not the rule books of a broken system desperately grasping onto a power they really never had.

To Pastor David Meredith I lift a glass of wine and a promise of ongoing support.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Is it wise to let a fool whip out his insecurities

When the Emperor walked in the fairytale parade, he was convinced that he was wearing the best wardrobe ever made. Yet, he was naked and exposed - everyone saw him as he really was - a fool who was able to be made into a more complete fool by those who tried to dress him up. His handlers failed to tell him he was nothing more than a person who so needed to be considered grand and majestic - the best - the greatest, that he was exposes as the town idiot. Even the children could see it!

So now, we have a president who needs and wants a military parade. The fools around him will not tell him that the idea will expose his inadequacies and fears and his appetite for self-adoration. He claims to want to honor our brave armed forces. No, and let's be clear here, he wants to honor the weapons of war not the brave men and women who stand in harms way as they step up to serve. He thinks he is a big gun who will be presiding over the display of the biggest guns in town that he claims he now controls. His aides do not know how to be truth tellers. So this derringer of a man - this ankle pistol guy - this bb gun of a man - will waste funds that could be used to take care of the soldiers who go off to and return from war. What he doesn't realize is that the feeling of fullness he is feeling in his pants is not caused by what he had hoped. Rather it is caused by the crappy ideas of a narcissist whose desire for fame and power is uncontrollable and unable to be  contained.

The notion of a parade of weapons is shameful. It is a action of unbounded anxiety. It smells of fearfulness masked with an unnecessary dose of perfume. It takes what we have always said about ourselves - the land of the free and the home of the brave - and shows that we are so afraid that we cannot free ourselves from the mannerisms of the regimes of totalitarian acts of control. Have we not learned that when a person whips out a weapon - or other beloved wares - it is an act of insecurity and self-adoration. It is not an act of truthfulness. It is not something to be put on parade as though it is what will save or secure us. But, telling the truth and being able to be self-reflective and cultivating the care of others are not parts of the agenda of emperors or rulers whose vision is contained to that which they see in a mirror and the ways they need to dress up to be more. Therefore, those who seek power will continue to put on parades that serve no one - parades that create more and more of a climate of fear that the cycle of having to dress up our weaponry and put it on parade becomes the way we think we are being strong.

I would suggest we let the President play in the war room at the White House (with everything unplugged of course) so that his fears and insecurities need not be inflicted on the nation - which really is, in spite of his delusions of grandeur, the land of the free and the home of the brave. We must never let him lead us in another direction and under any other banner.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Yes, we can be cowards who let fear rule us - let's not be

When we are cowards we turn to find those against whom we may rise and we call them out and attempt to throw upon them the blame for all that is able to frighten us. In light of yet another shooting spree at a high school this week, have you noticed how some have raised up - once again - those who suffer from mental illness? If we do not lean in and listen closely, it almost sounds as though - people in positions of power - legislative positions -positions from which a more peaceable and nonviolent society is to be constructed - might be advocating for those who have mental illness. Be not fooled.

The ones in power need to stay in power. They need to be able to make the world go as the powers around them want the world to go. Therefore, there will be no talk that will put the powers-that-be in a light that might be negative - that might cause the crowds to turn against the powers. Instead, those in power point to ones on whom it is easy to draw a target. That is how those filled with power work - all of us. We have seen and heard people of color blamed and targeted. We have seen people of certain ethnic backgrounds (changing from generation to generation) blamed and targeted. We have seen religious folks blamed and targeted. As is usually the case, the targeting comes as a mere suggestion like: some say  or I've been told. From a simple suggestion comes a message that begins to sound convincing to some and then to more and more.  The fragile state of the majority must work endlessly to keep the world as they want it - even when it demands that there must be some sort of sacrifice for the existing powers to continue their influence and rule. The sacrifice is always those considered easy targets. Targets are easy to draw - it takes little energy - but the results are well known. The powerful begin to shoot them down - sacrifice them - single them out - push them to the edge - mark them. Oh my, how power convinces us how important it is to mark those people.

It is so damn easy to mark and shoot and then whip up the crowd. Under the guise of a concern for those who suffer from mental illness are we really turning to reach out and stand with and alongside them? I think not - though - through proper branding and good packaging, it may look like that. I would propose that the powers-that-be (Rep and Dem and President) are afraid to do anything but point fingers at those who suffer from mental illness. And yes, many shooters are sufferers of such a wide spread diagnosis - but most, by far, most of those who suffer from mental illness are as close as family, neighbors, loved ones of all types.

My mother often talked to me about her depression. It wasn't situational. It was systemic. It was a part of her - a part as real as her wrinkles and her hugs and her kisses. Medication helped to bring lows up to a smooth surface. Her lows - her depression was like mine - a rolling melancholy. We could laugh and cry at the similarity. I often say my depression comes on quickly and turns me into an overripe tomato - a mere touch, of any kind, would unleash tears or anger or deep silence. Most everyone doesn't know this about me.  I also had a sister-in-law who suffered from mental illness. I did not have the opportunity to know her outside of the grasp of that disease - but I was able to see times of beauty and gentleness and kindness and love for others. And yet, without medication, the disease took her away from all who loved her for who she was - a wounded and beloved woman.

Folks will argue that we do not have a problem with guns - our problem is with people - people who suffer from mental illness and have guns. So, those who already live with the stigma of mental illness are now cast down into a more public and a much deeper hole. Why? Well, we need to make a target of that which is not really the problem among us. Even if we now begin to spend money to help those who suffer from mental illness (which is unlikely because it involves health and not weapons), I would suggest it is one nice way to divert attention from the violence among us that is ruled by our fear and our cowardice to face our fears. Instead of a vicious lynch mob, calling for the death of those people - we have become quite proficient at shaping a mob that wears the mask of benevolence and care.

We need not turn more and more people into victims by our branding. We need to turn and look at ourselves - our fears - our weaknesses - our frailties - our vulnerabilities - our ease to hate and harm and harbor violence within us. That may lead us to another pathway - one in which my life is worth no more than your life and together we can move closer to others around us and discover their worth. Then, we may work together to take away the rule of violence that we too often use to govern us and discover how we begin to take care of the other - no matter what the expense. We know how to spend money to put an end to others. It would be an amazing move to discover how to use our wealth to build a national character that offers a beginning to others. But, I know that frightens us when we think we will not be able to be the gods of our own lives. Fear not - love one another.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What marks your life - What is the Way that marks you

Well it is Ash Wednesday. So I was wondering how many ash-wearing Christians will walk around town still set on trashing and ridiculing and persecuting hijab-wearing, praying-five-times-a-day Muslims - for displaying their faithfulness. Or do we Christians remember that the cross - yes, the one smudged on foreheads this day - reminds us of the life we are called to live - a life that has a history of being contrary to the rule of law and the rule of the land. The empire still rules and the way of the cross still is meant to lead us to another way of being humanity - together as one - one no matter how we differ.

 I must say that the above bit of an introduction is really meant to move me on to other images of Ash Wednesday. It is new among some Christian communities that a person can simply drive-by or drive-through an Ash dispensing station at a local congregation - for we are so busy to hear the story and gather with others and take part in the meal that defines for us the life that is possible as we face the ashes of lives every day. We are the ones who are also the people who wear the cross as jewelry or a tattoo or trace it on our body before stepping up to bat or after we have had a hell of a good run or tossed and inspired touchdown pass. Could we be taking another step toward a more consumer-friendly portrayal of a life that - in its attempts to be made acceptable - has lost its Way? Have you noticed that there is more interest among Christians in making sure we say God blessing America or put prayer in schools or keeping fear-based additions in the Pledge of Allegiance than having us take sides with the victims of the systems that are all around us. The machinery of the culture makes fools of all of us. I find that painful and also the inspiration to remember throughout the day these piercing words: Get behind me satan.

What were the ashes of Jesus' day? Hmmm.
The burning of animals in the Temple? The trashing of the ones upon whom the religious ones of the day determined were dirty - sinners - ones to be left out and reduced to nothing. I suppose we could say that - to a point. The religious system was as much a power of constructing a biased culture as was the empire. The culture had ways of trashing and torching anything that was not in line with the contrived peace of the day. Both - religion and culture - we might be able to say, build themselves up on the ashes they produce.
BUT, I would suggest that the ashes of Jesus' day was the movement - the actions - the unbounded compassion - the self-sacrifice that did not go along with how power is so willing to dispose of people. Ashes have a walk - a talk - a touch - a song - a dance - that brings  liberation to those bound up and hope to those who are about to put an end to their day and food to those whose hunger devastates generations and justice to those who are trampled by the fears of the powerful and privileged.

When one lives within the breath of such a life - the Spirit of such a life - the Reign of God at hand kind of life, there will be ashes. The followers of Jesus may get burned - by the religious and imperial powers of today. The followers of Jesus may also find that as we face the ashes of our lives, we may become for others - the inspiration for the Way of life we say we follow. This is not a convenient life. Although, I suppose, it is utterly convenient because each moment becomes an opportunity to act in the name of the Christ. Though I would post a warning that this kind of moment to moment convenience to enter into and walk within the Reign of God is full of moment to moment consequences. If you want to see an example of this, read the opening chapters of Marks gospel. Notice how things are done immediately - one right after the other - every day - every movement that is conveniently in front of Jesus is taken up and he has to deal with the crap that is thrown at him by all the good folks - even to the point that they determine they must stop him - make ashes of him.

To conclude, you must know that this rant comes from someone who has always seen himself as a coward - on so many levels. That is because it is real. And yet, the fire that threatens to burn us will not consume us - be not afraid. I have to wrestle with ashes and dust and the reality that it doesn't matter if my life gets blown away like ashes and dust - yet, fear still abounds. Therefore, I need you to live out in front of me showing me how to be truly human - in the image of God - that no fire can destroy. When we think we can drive by or drive through the way ashes mark our lives, we fool ourselves again. That seems to be part of our history. If you 'do ashes' this year, go and hear the story - eat the Meal - sit and sing with the other pile of ashes around you. If you cannot, mark your life with ashes.