Eucharistic Theology #5

Like a trembling
jack sprat
who eats no fat
no bread, not even
the barbecue brought special
up the mountain
she has lost her taste for it all.

But you will lean over
her anyway
lean in
and tell her you have
homemade peach ice cream
made by your wife

Her bed, shaded by leaves and leaves
of books on shelves that hold up
the walls of this cabin,
shaded, in turn, by the mountain trees,

will shake for a tiny second
when she leaps up.

She will eat sweets.

You will spoonfeed her tiny bites.
she will eat it greedily
and tell you

“That is how peach ice cream
is supposed to taste. You tell your wife that.”

You did not go to fancy schools
to learn how to feed someone with a
damn spoon.

But you did learn the
value of a broken body made whole
in the words shared over a meal.
You did learn the power of sharing that
meal in silence and mystery.

Sometimes it causes you to tremble.
.

Prayer 7.2.2017

So many questions

O God

Whys and Hows

Curious questions,

questions filled with wonderment

Questions,

Lamentful

and

Often furious

We set them at your feet

It is you with whom we seek wisdom

and understanding

It is you to whom we look for mercy

and hope

It is you with whom we know

we are safe to struggle

and doubt

and wrestle

So much,

loving God,

comes into our lives

we host angels unaware

Cradling them even as they hold us up.

You are with us.

No matter the depths in which we seek you

No matter the constant barrage of everything

that comes our way

So, Living spirit,

we ask that you fill us

with the things we seek

Make us into the healing church we hope to be

Make us the wise Disciples you called us to be

Show us how to struggle faithfully

And be a welcoming people;

To point toward life

and practice resurrection–

For the sake of those we love

the strangers we encounter in the world

and for the world itself.

Watching U2 in the Giant Pizza Oven

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My wife, as an accomplished researcher and entrepreneur, is perhaps the best planner I know.  Events?  Give her a date, an idea of what you want to have happen, and she’ll scour online merchants and Pinterest boards to make it happen, below budget and beyond your expectations.  Mention a vacation, and she’ll find the perfect place, the best route, and the Groupon that will make you feel like you’re on vacation with the Kennedys.  When U2 announced that they were adding additional dates to their Joshua Tree Anniversary tour, I was excited.  The originally announced tour dates didn’t work with our life events, and I had been disappointed, as U2 has long been one of my favorite bands, and I’d never gotten to see them live (though I did see Bono play with the Corrs at Live8 in Edinburgh 2006…an obnoxious bragging point of mine).  Reviews of the tour had been stellar, and we decided that an early fall trip to Indianapolis would be fun.  It’d be drivable, we have friends there we could spend time with, and we like downtown Indianapolis. So, when the Monday ticket sale began, I sat at my laptop to score some seats, and Lisa went into research mode.

But then I noticed that there were tickets still available–as Ticketmaster-sanctioned resale tickets–for the Louisville show.  June 16th.  In 4 days.  It was actually a good weekend to be away.  We like Louisville a lot, too.  So we checked in via Cell and decided, why not?  We scored tickets.  Lisa, who isn’t a huge concert-goer but loves me, someone who is, went into hyperdrive planning mode (btw, if you know Lisa, ask her sometime about what it’s like to plan a spontaneous trip vs. a long range one. Spontaneity ain’t necessarily cheap, light, and breezy). She scored us an AirBnB downtown and making other arrangements, and I checked in with my colleagues and volunteers, who assured me that they had everything under control for Sunday worship, and we, whose lives don’t really allow us much room for spontaneity, were off to the concert!

It was a real gift. I’m really glad we went.  This was a huge event by Louisville standards, so there were some logistical quirks we couldn’t control (Interstate traffic heading to the concert was backed up for miles, and the venue, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, proved to be as hot as its corporate sponsor’s pizza ovens until the Sun went down, and its vendors were as overwhelmed as the highway) and some we didn’t anticipate (Uber Surge Pricing, but our a driver, who maneuvered us through neighborhoods leading to the stadium so we weren’t stuck on the highway, lessened the sting of the pricing a little.), but it was a concert worth waiting all of these years to see.  There was so much going on–artistically, production-wise, socio-politically, and theologically–that I couldn’t turn my brain off, so I’ve organized a few of my chaotic thoughts into a few categories:

The Concert Itself

Because this tour celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the release of The Joshua Tree, the album that really marked the transformation of U2 from beloved band to superstars, I was aware that the game plan for the concert was a track-by-track performance of the songs on that album. IMG_0236
That is a rare event for any concert, whether it’s a relatively new act, who might want to profile a few new songs they’re hoping to promote, or a beloved rock and roll legend who inevitably has a few misses bogging down each album’s hits.  The Joshua Tree is an incredible piece of art, so to hear it played from start to finish live was powerful (Bono even quipped before “Red Hill Mining Town” that it was time to “play the B-side”.) and there were plenty of visuals that accented the songs, whether in their beauty (a rolling film of desert highway and sojourners looped during “Where the Streets Have No Name”) or in their razor sharp commentary (The raging guitar of “Bullet The Blue Sky,” which was originally written as a critique of the United States’ military in Nicaragua and El Salvador, was accompanied by pictures of “Everypeople” donning combat gear, bringing the complications and problems of a globally militerized culture in the age of terrorism into focus).

I was pleasantly surprised, however, that the track-by-track journey through the album was framed by two other “acts,”–beforehand, a quick highlight of pre-Joshua Tree songs that began with War’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and included “New Year’s Day,” as well as The Unforgettable Fire’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Bad” (one of my very favorites), and then, after, a performance of two deep tracks:  “Miss Sarajevo,” written for a documentary about a beauty pageant held during the Bosnian War, and “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” from Achtung Baby.  Both tunes were re-contextualized for this tour, with “Miss Sarajevo” sung against a backdrop of video highlighting the Syrian refugee crisis, and “Ultraviolet” dedicated to women as a global force for transformative justice, with a montage of suffragists, activists, artists, and icons flashing behind the band.  They then launched into some of the most recognizable post-Joshua Tree tunes, including “One,” “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation,” and “Vertigo”–Rocking harder with each tune.

(I did silently note that there was nothing from the oft-maligned Pop and Zooropa albums and certainly nothing from the marketing disaster that was Songs of Innocence.   Though I personally like No Line on the Horizon, it isn’t as widely beloved as other albums, and certainly doesn’t include the same number of memorable singles as the albums from which they hand-selected the set. ) It made for a mesmerizing performance–and it included something for every fan.  I couldn’t have asked for a better show.

A Liturgy of Justice

My friend and colleague Jonathan saw U2 play a week before I did.  In conversation earlier this week, he noted that Bono “took [the audience] to church” with the depth of performance and his always-ready commentary.  The sheer theatricality of the concert, its well-finessed segues and perfectly coordinated visual imagary, and even the three “acts” showcasing the phases of the band’s career did offer the sort of storytelling structure that religious liturgy offers, and like liturgy done well, casts a powerful, persuasive vision of the world and what the world could be.

It was striking that the set would begin with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a song written about the 20th Century violence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at a time of deep political division and conflict in the United States.  Bono, ever the improviser, even played around with the final verse, switching two key words to drive home a critique of American Culture, our cult of celebrity, and the blurring of lines that has created our hunger for infotainment (his revision is marked in red below):

And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and reality TV
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

The final haunting line of the song, meant to call out the painful absurdity of a conflict divided along Protestant and Catholic lines, also rang in my ears, reminding me of the liminal, transitional time in the role of the Church and American culture, be it from the perspective of the troubled Mainline or the troubling Religious Right:

And the battle has just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won

As Bono’s commentary between songs emphasized these Irish rocker’s love for the United States, he doubled down on Bloody Sunday’s clarion call, imploring the audience to not look to the political right or left, but to work and look toward something higher.

The run through The Joshua Tree, which I’ve always heard as a critical love letter through America like a mashup of Kerouac’s On the Road and The New Testament dropped in Reagan’s White House Inbox, proved as relevent a confession and sermon as ever. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” served as a skeptical pilgrim’s gospel song, “Red Hill Mining Town,” and “Running to Stand Still” echoed the same stories of lives lived in quiet desperation that they did 30 years ago, and “Bullet The Blue Sky” and “Mothers of The Disappeared” served as powerful altar calls to an American Superpower longing to re-make its image of greatness in an isolationist model.  Though the days of the Domino Effect and funding the Contras may be long over, the voices of migrants and disappeared dissidents are not.  What, the album still asks, are we prepared to do?  Who are we prepared to be and become?

Emotive but never cloying, passionate and yes, preachy, but not without the authority of having been invested in the work, Bono framed the band’s body of work around the critical issues that still make their voice relevant, never losing the trajectory of their catalog brought to life for a night. From the opioid crisis that has rocked Kentucky to gun violence (Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly were there as guests) to HIV/AIDS and the work of the ONE foundation, I was reminded that I wouldn’t do the work that I do now in the way I do it now had I not picked up The Joshua Tree and War in middle school, flipped through the liner notes, learning for the first time about Amnesty International, the Disappeared in Argentina, or South African Apartheid. U2 was a critical part of my moral education.

Hearing the Prophetic Voice

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                                                                     –Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

I’m hardly the first person to think about U2 through a theological lens. Most recently, however, I’ve found the work of Walter Brueggemann and U2 to be perfect conversation partners, and my post-seminary readings of Brueggemann have been as instructive to me as U2 was to my impressionable middle school heart and mind.  U2’s vision and Brueggemann’s work point to the intertwining of two impulses: to create something beautiful and transformative and to work for a more just world.  Both require imagination that envision a world–an “Other Place”–that turns a world ruled by powers and principalities on its head:

It’s a beautiful day

Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case

Like Brueggemann’s prophet, U2 casts the transformative vision with familiar metaphors, shifting a bird’s eye view of the planet earth to an even wider view that catches glimpses of hope, transformation, and the reconciliation of all things:

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth

After the flood all the colors came out

What makes a socially-conscious set of artists like U2 so engaging and inspiring is that their work is precisely what Brueggemann describes as the vocation of ministry to which I am called: a call to co-imagine with their fans this better world and then work with the very powerful people they challenge for policies that bring this hope-filled glimpse to life.  It’s critique with compassion, always driven by a hope that what while we’re looking for is yet to be found, it will be–and it will mean that there is enough–food, health, and justice–for all.  And on Friday night, I was reminded that this is a call that I will hear long after the echo of the concert stops ringing in my ears.

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all photos and videos by Lisa Hale

 

Nightdrive: a New Basement Page

It’s been a while since I’ve added an entry like this–it’s a short story I wrote in college (21 years ago now, SHEESH!). I’ve reworked it a little today. It was always a piece that I was really proud of, but reading it today reminded me that what we think is great when we’re twenty doesn’t always have staying power. There are still some cringe-worthy uses of language, but I think it reflects a more seasoned critical eye now. Enjoy, and be gentle as you laugh at my angst-ridden youth. Also, though it was written before I ever read Gurney Norman, I’ve come to think of it as an homage to one of his stories, Night Ride.

And I’m driving. It’s one of those night when the blood seems to slowly flow through the veins. Where the streets look too familiar, but I’m still lost. Tonight, it’s not just 9.8 meters per second per second that’s pulling down on me because even dreaming of touching the sky is impossible tonight. I am pulled spiraling back to the farm on rural route three, Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, USA. The earth. This is back home. Here I feel every bump in the road as it turns from gravel to old blacktop to highway and back again. It makes my blood real tonight.

I am home.

Down Bunker Hill Road, hidden beneath the autumn foliage and asking to be briefly noticed by passersby, stands a brick chimney, long abandoned by its home. Dad always pointed it out.

“It hardly reaches above the trees anymore, but I remember going down there to see Uncle Joe when we was kids,” Dad would tell me at times like this, when he and I were the only ones at home–kings castled by the night.

And home is where the heart is. Tonight my heart burns. The car stops, but the burn reaches my head. I open the gate at the cattleguard and stand, looking at the sky, wishing I could reach it. I’m standing on gravel, feeling the rocks sting me through the worn down cork soles of my sandals. In my head, I’m raging against the sky, silently shouting.

As if the sky were keeping me down. It’s just gravity.

But it’s like the sky shoves me out, presses down on my heart, makes it want to explode. As if the touch of the earth is the touch of death. Tonight, only driving comes close to escaping the pull. I take my place behind the wheel.

Dad got up for a moment, went to his room, and returned with an old, hand-carved wooden toy. I immediately recognized it from the mantle. The mantle in my mom and dad’s room served as a sort of mishmash monument to two bloodlines. A still life family reunion: cousins, aunts and uncles, my dad’s favorite dog Babe all gathered above the abandoned fireplace. Upon the iron door covering the fireplace is an engraving of Artemis, goddess of the moon, her arrow drawn, head turned upward, facing the night sky. Right beside my baby picture, a place was reserved for the to I now held–a little boat with a little stick man holding two little stick paddles. On the bottom was carved:

Old Man of Sea. For Billy Wayne
Love, Uncle Joe

“What kind of wood is this?” my dad asked. A test.
“I dunno.”
“Smell it, then.”
It only smelled like burning.

And my thoughts go a million miles an hour now, perhaps because I still only trust myself to take these roads at about 45. The curves come up quickly in the dark, and now I see the old stone fences built by settlers and slaves as they came through this old hunting ground. Fencing in the pure blood, pushing out what doesn’t quite make the grade. Thoroughbreds or Gentry, it’s all the same talk of blood.

I remember the preacher at the old Baptist church screaming for us to be “Washed in the blood! Washed in the blood!” and my eyes grow heavier, so I take each curve more deliberately. Don’t want to leave the pull of gravity and end up crushed against the jags of the old stone fences, washing some softhearted passerby in my blood.

“Your Uncle Joe was a carpenter,” Dad said. “He had this carpentry shop right beside his house. Real little place. He built chairs and tables, cabinets and things like that. He was real good. He built stuff real good.”

I turned the Old Man of Sea in my hands, examining the smooth whittling done by Uncle Joe. The slight details of the stickman’s face had faded after years of handling. I looked into wooden face and saw only the enigma that was Uncle Joe. That’s how stories go in my family. Not always complete, like fragments. Apocrypha.

My eyes burned.

But driving is good for the soul, right? When my body is tired but not my mind, I can move while sitting still, watching the stone turn to wood, the small town become country, the light become stars.
I can move. Back in time, almost. Looking for something.

“There was this one time when your Uncle Joe, your granddaddy, and some other men were working in Uncle Joe’s shop. This little boy was fooling around with stuff and cut himself real bad. He was starting to bleed and he ws real scared. So uncle Joe come up to him and lay his hands on the boy.”

The bleeding stopped.

“Now, I don’t know,”Dad continued. “He probably just knew which vein to push where, but I wasn’t there. All I know is your granddaddy swears by it. He says it was a miracle.”

And it’s a miracle I made it out here. The road is so narrow, so dark. It feels almost futureless–you figure you’ll make it to the end and find yourself staring at nothing but your soul. But it never seems to end, only bleed into darkness. As you move straight on, the now begins to come into better view with each step, even in the dark. I pull over. I’ve arrived. I take my first step so the now comes faster and faster. I lose sight of my little car as I walk up the hill. New now after new now. The mind and body are at last moving together. The blood is flowing.

“I don’t know if anybody ever told you this, you were probably too young . . . but Uncle Joe had this son who moved down to Florida and headed up shooting a priest.”

Dad paused, expecting me to be shocked. I wasn’t.

“I don’t know. You hear things about priests. . .It could’ve been about anything. He was in jail there in Florida and nobody hard from him, not even Uncle Joe. Then one day, we heard he escaped and that he might be on his way back up here.”

The chimney is gone. A Pile of a few bricks remains. Strange how the one monument that I remember from my childhood could disappear in a matter of months. Eighteen years at home and three semesters away, it remains the same. But then after the fourth, when I want to find my way there, only fragments. Gravity had at last overcome the axis mundi. Revolutions of my universe killed at the rate of 9.8 meters per second per second. Blood on the ground.

Is it mine? I wonder. Is Uncle Joe’s blood mine, too?

“Anyway, about the same time Uncle Joe’s son come back, there was this couple renting a trailer we had on the back of the farm. The man got drunk one night and drove the car through the fence out back. I fixed it up alright, but I sent them a bill for the barbed wire. The wife came up here cussin’ and complainin’.”

Dad grinned. There was more.

“They had been running stories in the paper about Uncle Joe’s boy coming back here, to watch out for him and all. Course, his name was Murphy, like ours. So I looked at this woman and told her I was one of them bad Murphys you read about in the paper.

“I got my money.”

We laughed a little. Dad got serious again.

“His boy did show up and wanted Uncle Joe to hide him, or give him money or something. The county sheriff had already been out there to check out the place. they were watching Uncle Joe pretty close. He was his daddy, after all. So Uncle Joe told him no, and wouldn’t give him nothing. He might have told him to turn himself in, that would be like Uncle Joe to do something like that. His son got mad. That night, somebody burned the house down. Uncle Joe died in the fire, and they found his boy not too far away. He shot himself.”

So there’s blood on this ground. That’s what my grandfather would say about this place. The carpenter who worked and healed on this hill died here, too. Just three generations ago, we knew how to stop the bleeding, to defy gravity. Now I can’t even see past the new now.

It’s so dark. Dark enough the bricks have disappeared.


Dad and I sat in the sunroom. Nodding off occasionally, he watched T.V. I watched the moon rise through the trees outside. He didn’t tell me that he missed my being around. I didn’t tell him that I was glad to be home. He only asked me if I knew what time my mother would be home. But of course, I didn’t.

I thought about telling him that I knew what it meant to burn and bleed and catch sight of the new now. What it meant to change so much that twenty felt old. How we only have five billion or so years left. How God is as dead as Uncle Joe, and I helped do the killing. How Hart Crane couldn’t see the stars anymore so he threw himself off the side of a boat.

Most of all, I wanted to the him how the acceleration of gravity was too strong, that no one could jump at a rate higher than 9.8 meters per second per second for long enough. It keeps us down. But I couldn’t.

He would’ve done the calculation in his head and said, “Of course it does.”

I would’ve loved him for saying that. He could always do the math in his head, even if he didn’t know how to lay hands on a man to heal a bleeding wound. No words passed, but I sat, loving my father regardless.

When I looked to see if he had more to say, he was asleep–nighttime cup of coffee growing cold beside him. Even caffeine can’t stop gravity, I snorted to myself. It’s that strong.

I stood up. I needed to go for a drive.

I felt the need to be alone more when I came home. When I left for school, every missed birthday, missed milestone, every “What? When did that happen?” became more like folklore than fact. Bloodline without blood. More mere apocrypha. An Axis Mundi shattered and scattered into pieces so fine, it was like sand spilt upon the floor. Nine-point-eight.

I could only go backward, so I drove beyond the back of my memory, chasing the story of my Uncle Joe. Maybe I could find that place at the beginning of the world, a place where we once stood, touching the base of the axis, touching the sky, forgetting gravity. A place for healing wounds, for stopping the bleeding.

There’s nothing for me here. White care on the side of the road, broken chimney on the ground, my face cold in the night air. It’s time to begin again. I climb into my car and feel a chill in my blood. I am tired. I lock the doors of the car, lean my seat back, and I am still.

I am still here.

The sun wakes me. Another car is driving a cautious 35 around the curves and crosses the median to avoid the left side of my car, which is jutting out onto the pike.

Still here, I think. Still here.

I check for traffic and get out, turn my face toward the sun, let it paint everything. Alone, I am not afraid of being seen stretching my body awake, pushing against the sun’s pull. Here I am still, and still touching the earth, though I feel the gravity of the sun provide tension as I stretch outward and back. Awake and asleep. Near and afar.

Uncle Joe is gone, the axis is gone, the past is gone, but I am still here. Uncle Joe’s touch moves the blood through this small plot of land, through my imagination, through my own veins. And the past still reaches for me, pulling me back to where I can trace the map of my own bloodline in a handful of relics and photographs, dreaming of restoring something, the sky, maybe–with my hand on the axis. But for once, I am still. And the bleeding seems to have stopped.

Buttrick

David Buttrick had the sort of rich, not-of-this-Earth voice that you expect from a professor of preaching. It was deep but it rang out, in the chapel, in the classroom, from whatever place he transformed into a pulpit.

cropped-img_8414.jpgHe was nearing the end of his career when I had him for class–“Theology of Proclamation and Word,” or something along those lines.  It wasn’t my favorite class, and he did yell at me once when I challenged him on something he said that I thought minimized religious pluralism:

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do here! I’m on to you.”

But with a boom of a voice like his, he may not have actually been yelling.  It was hard to tell.

I did read much of his seminal text on preaching, Homiletic, in another class.  Though there was much that I didn’t really like about the method (something I also let the professor know), there are a couple of tricks that I still rely upon, even though my style–writing and delivery–is primarily influenced by other preachers, speakers, and writers. The method is a really helpful tool–tired of terrible preaching, Buttrick worked for years to come up with a method that had theological integrity and was rooted in communication theory.  And it works. if you learn the method, you will–at worst–have a stylistically humdrum homily with theological integrity.   While I’ve preferred to play with style and push the envelope theologically, when I’m vexed about how to structure a homily, I’ll flip over to his discussion on moves and start scribbling notes in pencil, mindful of their importance–and their impermanence.

But the memory of David Buttrick that I continue to come back to is a moment when he was silent.

I took his Proclamation class in the Spring of 1999, and as we were nearing the end of the semester, on Tuesday, April 20th, the Divinity School joined the entire country in mourning as word of the Columbine High School made its way through the hallways and classrooms.  That evening, some classmates and I went to a memorial at Centennial Park to puzzle over the violence and to mourn the dead, so many states away.

A local pastor had been invited to share words of healing and hope with the gathered crowd of what looked to be thousands of people.  He seemed like a nice enough guy, but I have had a hard time forgiving, even all these years later, what he said to the crowd.

People have been asking me all day “Where was God in all of this?”  “Why didn’t God prevent this?”

“Well, friends,” he said with a sort of nice-guy authoritativeness, “Well, God had a plan. And I think part of God’s plan was to send angels down to stop any more people from being killed.  We can thank God that he saved who he did save.”

I have long been troubled by such a notion of a God whose intervention in the world is based on some sort of plan that lets some people suffer and lets others thrive–the kind of God who performs “miracles” when some people pray before plane crashes, but lets the ones die who were asleep during the flight, so to speak.  And in my first year of Div School, to my mind, such talk of a callous, abusive God reflected the language of a cruel, abusive church.  There was nothing pastoral about telling people that teenagers are allowed to die because it’s what’s laid out in God’s day planner.

And so….I was angry.

I took that anger into Buttrick’s Proclamation class the next morning.  We had discussion groups, and Buttrick sat in on my group.  We talked a bit about effective use of language in liturgical settings, and I let loose my anger about the previous evening’s event with a string of curse words, even calling the nice-guy preacher’s attempt to explain evil “Bullshit.”

This time, Buttrick didn’t yell at me.

He just looked really sad. He leaned on his cane. He wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, grimaced, shook his head.

David Buttrick was a man of deep integrity.  On that day, he taught me that part of a minister’s calling is to know that when words are not enough, when their inadequacy turns them into something cruel, that when you are so angry at the injustice of it all, sometimes your silence is worth more than anything.  Sometimes, you are simply called to weep with those who mourn.

I thank God for that lesson.

IN PACE REQUIESCAT 

The Poetry of the Gospels or “The Art of the Deal”?: Moral Leadership in an Uncertain Time

I was honored to be invited to deliver this year’s Turner Warren Lecture at First Christian Church, Lynchburg, VA.  The lecture series has a long history, and has included such notable lecturers as Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Fred Craddock, Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, and Dr. Martin Marty.  It was also a treat to see other familiar names, such as Dr. Ben Bohren an Rev. Sotello Long, as previous lecturers.  My Manuscript is below (If you read this blog, you’ll notice some threads that make their way into the lecture):

The 2017 Turner-Warren Lecture on Life and Faith

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Lynchburg, Virginia, April 2, 2017

I am so honored to have been invited to First Christian Church for the Turner-Warren Lecture. I must admit, I am also a bit intimidated. So for the opportunity to feel both of these things, I am thankful to the planning committee. I am not, by temperament or by training, a scholar, but have long entertained my call to ministry as one where the work of interpretation and practice intersect. Writing has always been for me, not only about ideas, not only about texts—but about people. Reason and Rationality, yes, but also the Realism that grits its teeth when theories and formulas stop making sense. Stories matter to me. Words matter to me. And the hope that is beyond words—the hope expressed in the Christian faith—matters to me. I am grateful for an invitation to spend some times exploring not only ideas, not only texts, but perhaps the real life that we all share, for but a few minutes with you this afternoon.

It also does not escape me that Lynchburg, VA, is itself an interesting place for us to have this conversation. This congregation has long shared a progressive vision and ministry in a place where the Ghost of Jerry Falwell, Sr. looms large (and loomed large even before he was a Ghost), and of course, this is also a community where both poetry and biblical studies were smashed with the introduction of the phrase “TWO CORINTHIANS” just a few months ago. Christian Fundamentalism has long woven itself into the landscape here. But as faithful, progressive congregations like FCC and institutions of higher learning committed to the educating a diverse student body like Lynchburg College prove—the landscape can look different from a different perspective, and there is not simply one way to understand the world, there is not simply one way to understand the Christian—or any other religious tradition, and there is not simply one way to understand the Holy One we call God.

But in an attempt to understand the current climate in which we find ourselves, as people of many and no faiths, as political people, and as people who are concerned about the world in which we live, I want to begin from a number of vantage points—some clearly my own, and a couple, because they are wrapped up in the practice of poetic language and fiction making, are perhaps my own, but perhaps something entirely different.

And so I begin with a different voice before I use my own. The voice I seek to bring to life now I hope is a fitting one, given the love of literature and theology that embodies the legacies of John Turner and Pete Warren.

—-
Introduction to Theodicy

She believed that evil
was, ultimately, something
banal.
She liked to tell her students
that she learned about original sin
sharing a refrigerator with two roommates.
The darkest cruelty she ever experienced
was brushed off by a high school principal
who would drink himself to death years later.
“Boys will be boys,” he shrugged. “You’ll survive.”
Boys will be boys. Dogs will eat their own shit.
It’s how things are. People who would never in
their life put a child in an oven or sic a dog
on one or drop the bomb will, at the same time,
never lift a finger until it affects their property’s value.
There’s nothing supernatural about evil. It is what we do.

“It’s like trying to wrestle a Rubik’s Cube,”
she liked to tell her students. “Don’t try so hard.
All this talk of God and ‘Why?’ We love to say that
we are the builders and the discoverers and
the makers. We forget that we are also the
ones who pluck, the ones who break, and the ones
who cover it all up.”

Still, there were nights, when the old puzzle
with which she always opened her first 8:50 AM
lecture of the Spring Semester:
“If God is Good, God is not God; If God is God,
God is not Good” kept her up till all hours.
She turned it on all of its sides, tried to make
the pieces fit, the colors match. They never did.
Perhaps it is not what they do, she’d muse, twisting
her wrist one more time, on a hunch and something
like a prayer.

II: When we call Good Evil, and Good Evil: the New Nationalism

Just a few weeks ago, in an essay entitled “Breaking Faith,” a contributing editor at The Atlantic magazine, Peter Beinart, named an assumption that I have been struggling with for the last several years.

As you might well know, research on American Christianity has pointed to the growing percentage of “the nones:” people who claim no religious tradition, and see American culture, civil society, and life in purely secular terms. 22 Percent of Americans claimed no religious tradition in 2014, up from 6 percent in 1992. In the essay, Beinart considered how:

Some observers predicted that this new secularism would ease cultural conflict, as the country settled into a near-consensus on issues such as gay marriage. After Barack Obama took office, a Center for American Progress report declared that “demographic change,” led by secular, tolerant young people, was “undermining the culture wars.” In 2015, the conservative writer David Brooks, noting Americans’ growing detachment from religious institutions, urged social conservatives to “put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations.”

As a Generation X Christian Minister, someone whose faith is shared by many friends, and who also counts friends who see my faith as a bit of foreign curiosity, I have to say that I shared the assumption Beinart described. A more secular America sounded to me like a more religiously neutral America where there was more room for religious diversity. To my ear, this all sounded like a more tolerant America.

In the wake of the 2016 Election, a political drama that was marked by accusations of serious journalism being “fake news”, of incredibly violent rhetoric, and of the re-mainstreaming of xenophobia, This idea of a more tolerant America, Beinart argues, was naive.

Instead, what Beinart describes is a political discourse that is not rooted in a tolerant neutrality or the long-gone shared assumption of Culturally Christian values, but instead reflects an increasingly brutal partisanship. The boundaries between the “Us”s and the “Them”s are not only firm—They are spiked, sharp enough to draw blood.

And while Beinart notes that these divisions have emerged across the political spectrum, what concerns me most are two emerging elements of what I would call the New Nationalism: Secular Evangelicals and the Alt-Right.

Of the many surprises of the 2016 election, one that was most puzzling to many observers was the support for Trump, the thrice-married playboy known for gambling, swindling, and womanizing among Evangelicals. The reason, as Beinart cites Notre Dame Political Scientist Geoffrey Layman:

“Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.”

While there were plenty of committed Church going Evangelicals who voted for Trump out of resignation, seeing him as the lesser of two evils because they objected to Hilary Clinton’s support of abortion rights or saw her as having integrity issues around scandals connected to her name, but in a close election that played the razor thin margins of electoral politics, Trump was able to capture the political support of people who identified as evangelicals but do not attend churches, perhaps, Beinart argues, because he was able to name their despair, rooted in a nostalgic desire for identity and economic security, and their resentments, which are rooted in economic concerns, fear, and historic divides.

If Layman’s number crunching is correct, What seems to be emerging is a Christian identity that is not shaped by the lived-out experience of Christian community—community that—though sometimes exclusively, sometimes superficially—emphasizes forgiveness and love of neighbor. This Christian identity, presented almost as a closely-guarded, always threatened possession, easily cross-pollinates with xenophobia and uncritical patriotism to the degree that these elements become indistinguishable from one another. It’s a frightening prospect, different from the Religious Right of Falwell Sr’s generation, which looks almost genteel in comparison. It is no longer about national morality or doctrinal correctness, but about possession of the power that comes with being tribally right, and thus endowed with the freedom to set the boundaries and make the rules. It’s the way, the truth, and the life—but without the baggage or commitment of “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Beinart also describes the white-supremacist movement known as the At-Right as a closely related, though even more secular phenomenon.

Though the Alt-Right seems to be a gathering of ideological strands that are not easily articulated in a coherent philosophy, it does seem be emerging as secular, ideologically weaponized white nationalist successor of the religious right that uses racialized, nostalgic language as a touchstone and rallying cry. Though still a fringe movement, the rising prominence of Breitbart media (which has served as a self-proclaimed platform for the Alt-Right) and other media outlets has allowed for Alt-Right activists to gather a bit of credibility among disaffected whites. As is the case in a number of Nationalist movements across Europe, the Alt-Right movement has leveraged resentment and identity into the work of bringing a fantasy to life: There is the West, which represents enlightened culture, and there are the Barbarians. Our Liberalism and Latitudinarianism have made us weak. We need to reclaim our identity, and guard it mightily.

As Beinart sums up the Alt-Right:

Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil.

These two phenomenon share an uncertainty and need for identity that folks seem to be yearning for, and it’s easy to see that in a multicultural, more secular, more consumer-minded America, to which you’re marketed based on aesthetic, political, and other preferences, that it might be easy to get lost.

The former Editor of Breitbart News, now serving as a chief strategist to President Trump, Steve Bannon, is often mentioned in the same breath as the term “Alt-right,” though he doesn’t necessarily describe his own political views in such a way. In a televideo presentation at a 2014 conference on poverty hosted at the Vatican by the Human Dignity Institute, a conservative group founded by Benjamin Harnwell, a longtime aide to Conservative member of the European Parliament Nirj Deva, to promote a “Christian voice” in European politics, Bannon did offer a very clear, tribalist vision of a “Western, Enlightened Capitalist Judeo-Christian Identity” at war (ideologically) with the forces of secularism and crony capitalists and readying for a war with the Islamic world. While I think it’s harder to nail down Bannon on white supremacy, what emerges here is a very clear mythic (though not uncommon) fusion of the West and Christianity, and a clear sense of Christian Supremacy:

…We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.

Bannon seems to pick up on Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” Thesis—that humanity can be classified by a small handful of civilizations: Western and Islamic, for example, and that these would be the prime reason for conflict in the post-Cold War era, but more than that. Though Huntington’s thesis has come under fire from folks who say that he painted with too broad a brush or trafficked in stereotypes—for Huntington, the “Clash of Civilizations” was Analysis. For Bannon, it’s a rallying cry. His response—in a conference on Global Poverty, no less—is to call for a Church Militant, a phrase that is both Nostalgic and reflective of the brutality of political discourse that Beinart described. Christian faith in the service of nationalist—or “civilizationist”—hegemony.

The fact that these points of views are finding wider acceptability should give us pause. But when we consider what this means, we should realize that this is not about one person, one election. As Beinart reminds us, this about all of us—and the type of discourse, politics, and culture we are creating. Our self-definitions—our boundaries—are now weapons.

Though I’ve described the phenomenon of the New Nationalism and Secular Evangelical “piety” in stark, dramatic—and perhaps hyperbolic—terms, it is ultimately not to hold up a straw man, but a mirror. After all, Are we—in our needs to be correct, our desires to be the ones who name and control orthodoxies, and our tribal need for a community—are we that different? Is it a difference of kind, of type, or simply of degree?

I return to the fictional theologian whose questions about God and evil keep her from sleeping:

There’s nothing supernatural about evil. It is what we do.
“It’s like trying to wrestle a Rubik’s Cube,”
she liked to tell her students. “Don’t try so hard.
All this talk of God and ‘Why?’ We love to say that
we are the builders and the discoverers and
the makers. We forget that we are also the
ones who pluck, the ones who break, and the ones
who cover it all up.”

Evil is not so much supernatural as it is natural. We like to hold up the Bonhoeffers, the Martin Luther Kings, the Dorothy Days—the Anti-war, Justice seeking saints, as “who we are “but as this nameless theologian reminds us, as the Christian tradition reminds us, we’re also the ones enforcing the laws (just or unjust), ignoring the report of drone warfare, raising the rents in our neighborhood, and asking if we get to throw the first stone.

And as we lionize these role models, we claim that it is through memory—through remembering the mistakes, the resistance, and the lessons of the past, that we will never again make the same mistakes. We will remember how to do things better.

But perhaps it is actually the smoke and mirrors of memory that keeps us in destructive patterns.


The Old Pastor Remembers

He remembers the day when
his daily two mile run
suddenly became more
difficult
but he does not
remember how it became
customary to come together
every week to bury so many dead;

shoulder a harsh winter: that is
something he can still do.

Though he can no longer shovel the snow
at the same pace; though his hearing
has begun to fail him, faster than
his memory, thanks be to the one
who gives the gift in the first
place.

But there are days, he
declares in the dark to the
silent congregation he still sees
before he falls into an unsteady
sleep,

when he takes out his
hearing aid and shouts when
he only means to whisper, there
are days when he would rather
lose his memory, or at least
put notice and cognition to bed.

He remembers the day the copy
of The Atlantic Monthly
with “The Negro is Your Brother”
arrived in his mailbox.

He had
grown tired of the sleepy work
of his tiny town’s parish but
had felt his heart skip and

a buzz behind his brain when
he read “I am in Birmingham
because injustice is here.”
and it carried him for the
next thirty years as he sipped
tea, baptized, broke bread and
sat beside so many deathbeds.

Surely we will see the day
was the hope that sustained him.

But he feels the buzz ring differently
today when his granddaughter
the one with the purple hair,
the one loud enough for him to
hear always, tells him something
about hashtags and dash cams, and
a woman named Sandra.

She tells him about dead bodies and wounds
self inflicted.

Surely, Surely,
She was yelling, and not for
his benefit, there is justice.

Surely, surely, the truth will
set us all free. Surely it will.

In the night, he remembers the day
he first noticed his hearing lose
a step.

How he misunderstood names
and repeated them wrong. No one
corrected him. No one wanted to
embarrass him. It was at a funeral
for a stranger, and he named the
wrong dead soul.

He remembers aloud
That night, soldiers and sailors
and travelers and young women locked away
on their last nights.

Men gunned down with babies on the way.
Men gunned down lest they kill some more.
He remembers the dead, mourns them as his
own, is sure to say their names, prays that his sobs
might at last be loud enough to wake them.
II: Nostalgia and Idolatry

This past week, President Trump signed an executive order that launched the beginning of the end of the 2015 Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy which aimed to cut emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired power plants. In doing so, he said the following:

Perhaps no single regulation threatens our miners, energy workers and companies more than this crushing attack on American industry.

While it is true that coal mining jobs are in decline, the majority of fact-checkers, industry and energy analysts, and other informed observers will point to the rise of other cleaner energy sources, technological advances that increase efficiency while utilizing fewer workers, and associated market forces like an oil boom as having more impact than emission standards. Nonetheless, the rhetoric has remained part of our news cycle and our national dialogue.

Anti-regulation politics are nothing new. I grew up in Kentucky, though I grew up in the tobacco-producing part of the state, not the part where coal was King. Nonetheless, the rhetoric always evokes something quite close to home for me: In the 1980s and 1990s, as public health advocates clashed with Big Tobacco around smoking-related health concerns, the protest of farmers, buyers, and community leaders with economic and other interests in the tobacco industry gave birth to a defiant fusion of anti-regulation politics and and the smoke and mirrors of nostalgia.

For my part today, I am not as interested in the questions of economics as I am with the question of Nostalgia, as it has been an overriding theme in both the electoral politics of the last presidential election cycle, the “post-game” analysis of that election, and the ongoing conversation about the state of our nation.

Nostalgia is never far from the work of Nation-building. We rely on foundational myths—of cherry trees, of shots heard around the world, of “a more perfect union” to articulate and continue to shape who we say we are, and it is easy to let those foundational myths transform into an idealized past that we long for.

Since November 2016, we’ve known that Nostalgia can become a winning strategy in electoral politics, especially when it’s presented as an easily digestible slogan slapped on a red hat.

We’ve seen those idealized pasts pop up in the Monday Morning Quarterbacking that has followed the election.

A number of these interpretations have put Nostalgia front and center:
One, I’ll cal the Hillbilly Elegy Hypothesis: From the Coal Mines to the Rust Belt, blue collar voters heard the clarion call that their way of life would return, their economic interests would be addressed, their communities would thrive, and their way of life would return, global economic policy and market forces be damned.

A second, I’ll call the Christendom Hypothesis: Tired of the supposed Atheist/Socialist/Liberal/Secret Muslim agenda (another myth!) that occupied the White House for 8 years, evangelicals organized to reclaim it—with the hope of ending Roe v. Wade, enacting so-called Religious Freedom Acts, and welcoming God back into the Whitehouse.

The “Political Correctness” Hypothesis: As “Everyone” knows, Men are men, women are women, Islam is violent, undocumented immigrants are dangerous—what should be self-evident has been refuted and repressed by “Political Correctness.” Once upon a time, the notion goes, Common Sense was common. Making America great again requires the rejection of Political correctness so that common sense can be restored, and we’ll get the world we used to have.
Our Way of life will return. God will be welcomed back. Common Sense will be restored.

Nostalgia brings with it the illusion of certainty. There was an idealized, simpler, better past that we remember. The flaws or simply the complexities of that past disappear in the fuzz of our memories. If we just replicate, reconstruct, bring back this idealized, sanitized version of our history, our desires will be satisfied—America will be great again.

I’m reminded of an online joke that began circulating not long after Donald Trump was directly questioned about his appeal to nostalgia, and asked for an example of when America was truly great: His answer was, of course, the 1950s. The Joke went like this:

“Why do so many people romanticize the 1950’s? Calm down!
We still have milkshakes and racism”

For every Happy Days-like fantasy that Nostalgia holds up as ideal, there is a Jim Crow reality that nostalgia represses, disguises, or lies about.

In American Christianity, Nostalgia makes for a particularly pernicious problem. By perpetuating idealized half-truths or outright lies as certainties for the sake of our own desires for what we long for, nostalgia is a type of idolatry. In fact, I would go as far to say that Nostalgia functions as the idolatrous inversion of resurrection.

What do I mean? While Clearly, as a Christian minister, when I use the word resurrection, I am noting Christ’s resurrection—The Good News of the empty tomb as told in the Christian Scriptures., but I tend to think of the Gospel and Pauline reports of resurrection not as a historical or supernatural event confined to the life of Christ, but as an invitation to Christian practice. In Christian practice, Resurrection is when life is victorious—unexpectedly—when we think death has the final word, whether through pastoral ministries of reconciliation, faithful witness in the streets and on capital steps, or the healing poetry of liturgy.

Nostalgia is the idolatrous hope that if we keep propping up, talking up, and beating on a dead horse, it will come back to life.

Resurrection is mystery and surprise. Like other forms of idolatry—Like the memory of 1950s Woolworths with a great milkshake that conveniently overlooks the segregated lunch counter where it was served—Nostalgia is forced. It isn’t real, and it doesn’t bring forth life.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t seductive. The certainty of nostalgia, and the facade of safety that nostalgia projects is what draws us in. We like safety, we like certainty, we like familiarity. Nostalgia shows us the apple we remember so fondly and tells us “You will not Die.”

Heard that one before?

Let us return to our Old Pastor. His hearing slipping, on the last act of his life, he’s beginning to confront the reality of death. He’s beginning to confront the past, too: his unrealized hopes, especially in the case of civil rights, and he’s mourning the violence, destruction, and loss of life that he sees around us. As Walter Brueggemann argues in The Prophetic Imagination, Our old pastor has penetrated a self-involved numbness that allows him to confront the mortality of the entire world, and is thus in the midst of lament—which is the root of empathy, which is, in turn, the root of love of neighbor, which is the root of justice.

Though it is painful, he rejects the apple, and he embraces an uncertain future.

But that’s the work of the church, right?

When we practice resurrection, we participate in a mystery that moves toward justice, confronts death, and opens the door to a possibility that looks nothing like the past.

But that is easier said than done.

III: Fake News and The Good News

Not long ago, I preached from Ephesians, one of those letters that scholars often classify as “Deutero-Pauline,” so not written by Paul (so….Fake News?), but written by a student of Paul, or in Paul’s name.

The passage, from the 5th Chapter, though in the middle of a cataloguing of practical teaching, is perhaps the most poetic section of the letter:

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

Try to find out what is pleasing to God.

The writer of this letter spends a considerable amount of time telling her readers that they have been transformed—they have been invited into the practice of resurrection—and then—in the midst of a list of practical instructions for living this transformation out as a Christian community—things that you assume would be Crystal clear—we encounter this nod to ambiguity, discernment, and a sort of freedom to experiment as to what being the light might be:
:
Try to find out what is pleasing to God.

Now, when we read the entire letter, we not only get that nod to ambiguity, but we get a nice little hint as to how such an instruction brings its own risks. After all, there’s this little nugget just a few verses later:

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

It is incredible how when we try to be the light, we often leave others in the dark.

In an age when we are so divided—politically, theologically, in our social commitments, even in our ways of understanding what it means to be a part of our religious traditions, or a part of the American fabric—the mistake the community that gave birth to Ephesians made—ignoring how the light we try to make becomes darkness for others—is the mistake that we who confuse nostalgia for a future and we who settle for a brutal partisanship because we believe it helps us become who we truly are, even if means setting boundaries sharp enough to wound or kill.

When we make this mistake, we turn the Good News of the Gospel into the Fake News of a Church that is one more institution that can’t be trusted.

But I am thankful for this letter to the Ephesians—in its entirety—because I think there is hope in discovering that our first and second century forbears understood the ways they tried to practice resurrection not as subscribing to calcified doctrine, but as the fluid, almost improvisational work of a community trying to get it right.

And in a time of the idolatry of nostalgia, I’m grateful to read about a first century church that didn’t get it right—the first time, or the second time, but encouraged its communities to keep on trying, even while they simultaneously messed up.

I have recently been rethinking one of the most beloved pieces of my tradition, the Disciples of Christ. The Open Table—both as practice, in terms of the practice of the Lord’s Supper—and as symbol of our commitment to Christian Unity—figures prominently in my theology. At the table, Disciples theology names a non-exclusionary divine welcome as a lived out reality: We welcome all as Christ welcomes us. The invitation to all is both comfort and inspiration to me.

But over the last several months, I have been considering the inadequacy of the invitation to the open table. When we tell the story of remembrance around the table, or when we tell the heroic stories of our tradition, how we’ve had an ecumenical commitment before that was a “thing,” do we find ourselves falling into the trap of nostalgia?

And doesn’t every church say “Everyone is Welcome?”

And how many people do we know who have heard this invitation, received it, but found that as women who seek ordination, queer folk who want to be married, people who want their struggle against institutional racism to simply be recognized—both “Everyone” and “Welcome” are accompanied by asterisks?

Or just as often, how many people have encountered our communities’ deeply woven familiarity with one another, the specifics of our “churchy” language, or the local quirks that we transform into orthodoxies, and wonder if they could ever fit in in such an internally-focused community.

Our light may leave others in the dark, after all.

For  the Disciples, the table has long been a contradictory thing—we set the boundary that defines our identity by setting no boundaries at all. However, in a time when boundaries are set with tribalist, idolatrous brutality, we can no longer assume a passive, open welcome is heard as something transformative.

And So we must TRY to make the table into something slightly different.
Not only do we welcome all because Christ welcomes us, but we resist everything—eventthose things that are deep within us—that blocks access to the table that God opens to all people.

The table becomes the center of a politics of resistance, but this Christian politic of resistance cannot become another crude partisan boundary.

We repeat the story of a broken body and spilled blood in order to proclaim our wholeness. Brokenness and Wholeness are clearly intertwined—and a non-nostalgic look at our embodied humanity means confronting this honestly: Our differences and our conflicts must be welcomed. The table is one that God opens to all—to women and men, to refugee and undocumented, to queer and straight, to black and brown, to the whole world. Only in making that welcome explicit, can we truly re-member a simultaneously broken and whole body out of people who are both.

Otherwise, we once again offer darkness when we claim to offer light.

If there is one thing about which I agree with Steve Bannon, it is that the 20th Century offered global, bloody conflict on a scale we never really saw before. But this supposed Christian Century brought with it a number of responses: a global system for the resettlement of refugees; the United Nations and other cross-national, or ecumencial, or interfaith attempts at peacebuilinding; a vast sustainable development, anti-poverty apparatus; and movements for anti-racist and gender-equality justice all over the world.

And at the risk of sounding nostalgic myself, we stand at the precipice of abandoning this, exchanging it for a much more brutal, isolationist world.

But rather than simply fall into a nostalgic illusion, whether of a remembered first century or twentieth century, we need to follow the example of that writer trying to shake things up in Ephesus, The church must extract itself from the brutality, teach its people how to set radically open tables with our public lives and try, try, try, until it becomes the sanctuary for all:

Welcome must become our doctrine, resistance our sacrament.

In a time when we fear that we are witnessing the long con disguised as populism undoing our democratic institutions, inn a time when our nostalgia makes us complicit

That must be the shape of Christian Moral Leadership in the days to come:

Welcome our doctrine, resistance our sacrament.

This will push us to become open in ways that stretch us all, and defiant in ways that scare the hell of us.

As I believe this openness will mean that we must listen to voices we will never expect to hear,
I offer you one more voice that is not exactly my own:

The Atheist Advises the Pastor

No one else will
ever see the stars you dream
so often.

so pencil-punch through
the black
cardboard;
lift it up

Make them see
when you
let your light shine through

Do not do more than this.

When you break bread,
Tell the tales you always tell
but if you tell the one about enough
for all, give it all away. Do not dare
waste a crumb.

You know what to do with the wine.

But should you speak of mountaintops
that you long to reach but
may never
Of temples that risk the sky
Or of a million souls rinsed clean
by your hand in a river you must reach,

remember just how long cardboard
really lasts, even covered in Hebrew
and Greek–
and put to bed
each one of those earthly ambitions

Choose to stay behind
and
bury the dead.

Prayer 3.26.17

It is the quick kick of anxiousness

that awakens us in 

the dark night.
The long, slow 

silence that lulls

nothing to sleep

Our ears perked

our heartbeat quickening
Holy One

This is what we have.

It is the grief we anticipate

and the grief that outlasts every year

The memory of missed chances

forks in the road not taken

Lives we never had
Holy One

This is what we bring to you.
It is the hurt we shoved back in the back of our mind

The way we have turned our neighbor’s light into darkness

The way we have sought our own wholeness on the back of another’s fragmentation.

The way we deny the things we know we need to others who need them, too.
Holy One, 

This is our offering.
It is confession that we offer

and a repentent hope
that we long for.
We seek to learn 

love for neighbor

stranger

enemy
and love for you.
We seek to be

navigators of ways

dreamers of dreams

prophets of justice

Makers of Peace
God beyond language

meet us in the places where our words

will never suffice
Give us new words

holy and true

enough to still

our anxious, quickening hearts
This we pray

as a prayer for ourselves

and for the world.