A Christmas Song for a world on fire…

I really enjoy Christmas music. Even though I get frustrated when I hear holiday melodies before Thanksgiving Halloween, the familiar songs fill me with warm nostalgia. My memories of Christmas and Advent are good memories. My house would be filled with the smell of tamales and baked goods. Lights and nativity scenes would appear. Records that laid dormant for a year would be pulled out and played after dinner. Church would echo with carols and hymns to the coming celebration of the Christ child.

I have my old favorites: The Little Drummer Boy (specifically the one with Bing Crosby and David Bowie), O Come All Ye Faithful, Carol of the Bells. And I have some new ones. But my most favorite Christmas song is Do You Hear What I Hear? It breaks me every time in all the ways I need to be broken for the Holiday season; toward hope, giving, forgiving. Most importantly toward peace in a time overcome with the threat of destruction.

The song’s creators, Gloria Baker and Noël Regney, wrote the song in 1962 while the world was reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis. And after it was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1963, it quickly spread across the world. Baker and Regney’s message was prophetically powerful in a time that needed a message of hope. Which is probably why I have always gravitated toward this simple Christmas classic. It reminds me to live in hopefulness.

The song, like the Nativity story, is subversive. It begins with a message whispered from creation to people on the margins: “Do you see what I see?” “Do you hear what I hear?” And then from the margins to the powers that be: “Do you know what I know?” How I long for those of the halls of power to suddenly realize that out in the freezing night, there are children who need silver and gold; who are homeless and hungry and in poverty. For the wealthy to realize that these children will bring goodness and light. For our leaders to announce peace; turning away from greed, racism, and bigotry.

55 years later, Do You Hear What I Hear? is in the background of a Holiday Season set amid chaos. I am clinging to it in desperation. I want some small whisper in the night wind. I want a voice bigger than all the hate in the world. I want an intervention, reminding the world: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth, and good will to all!

This last Sunday, one of the children at my church came up to me and asked, “Do you want to know something?” I nodded with a smile. He told me, “God is everything. In the wind. In the trees. In the world. In you. In me.” I asked him how that made him feel. He smiled at me and said, “It makes me very happy.”

Do you hear what I hear?

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Thinking about theodicy…

Being a spiritual humanist in a Christian seminary can be challenging. Thankfully Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry is committed to an interreligious experience of dialogue, deep listening, and free thought. And I was raised in a healthy Christian family who provided a framework of faith. These help me engage Christianity from the perspectives of believer and apostate. One topic that has always fascinated me from both views is theodicy: otherwise known as the problem of evil.

Evil is especially prevalent in my mind right now. It feels like darkness is winning; I see a world on fire. No matter how many marches I attend, letters I write, and representatives I call, evil outpaces the good. Legislation that will help the wealthy and hurt the poor is allowed to pass. Walls across borders are being built. Dreamers are deported. Police get away with murder. Rapists are held unaccountable. Fires. Hurricanes. Climate change.

If god existed, how can god sit idle? Especially if god is all knowing, powerful and loving?

There are numerous attempts at an answer. Some involve free-will. Others focus on god in the moment on the margins. There is always the answer in Job where god just says, “You don’t know me. I do what I want!” Perhaps suffering is god’s version of tough love? Jesus had to suffer, right? Evangelical capitalists always talk about boot straps and exceptionalism; of course their god would kill his own son via capital punishment. It’s so we can succeed. And if people don’t… well, that’s their own fault.

None of this is sufficient; and I will not accept it. The universe seems largely apathetic to the human cause. I hold ourselves, myself, to blame for the evil. Justice, much like good and evil, is a human invention. If I were to pull the universe apart, I wouldn’t find an atom of “good” or a particle of “evil.” So why would they matter? Because I want them to matter. if I am going to exist in this world, hell, if my son is going to exist in this world, I want qualities like “justice” and “good” and “mercy” to matter. Otherwise I am helping build a hell on earth and sacrificing my own son to its machinations.

Am I up for the challenge? Not alone. I have surrounded myself with my tribe; people who crave justice, mercy and goodness. People who hold powerful love as the ultimate human ideal. And they keep me going; and they keep me honest; and they keep me safe. Because if I have learned nothing in seminary, it is that the role of the prophet isn’t to predict the future. It is to learn from the past and let it serve as a warning to those in power.

Because while I would rather bend the arc of the universe peacefully, there are other options. To those in the halls of power; in the life or privilege; while you sleep may you imagine the gleam of the pitchfork and of the guillotine, and remember the history of the world. There is still time to change course. But perhaps not much time. May you have a reckoning with your god. An eschaton is nigh.

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My prayer for the world…

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“Tobias” by Christopher Matthias

My child is almost three years old. They are typical in their development. They are 38 inches tall and close to 40 lbs. They love trains and cars and really big machines that are “too loud.” (Their words, not mine) They love books and will ask for my partner and I to read the same stories over and over until they can finish sentences with us. They love TV and electronics. They love running in circles and jumping in puddles and giving hugs. They love the color purple. If I were asked to describe them in a phrase, I would say that “they love.”

They are concerned about children who are crying. They (sometimes) share their candy, even without being asked. They say “I’m sorry” when they accidentally do something wrong. They are getting better at saying “please” when they want something. They call people “friends.” They are beginning to describe their emotions; and they like to play with words, wrestle, and make silly games of hide and go seek. If I were to describe how they exist in the world, I would say, “They are compassionate.”

Which is why I am so afraid that I, and this world, will break them. Being human, I can be moody, frustrated and selfish. I have inherited systems of racism, misogyny and toxic masculinity. If therapy has taught me anything it is that the unexamined life is filled with a happy ignorance, but the price paid is usually in the pain and suffering of others. I have a choice, be aware of my brokenness so I can mitigate its transmission to my child, or leave him at the mercy of society and media.

When I see my news feed filled with people who hate; who are greedy; who assault; who are the worst parts of humanity, and then see them elected into positions of authority, my instincts tell me to shelter my child to the best of my ability. And my heart breaks knowing that there is nothing I can do to stop their being broken, little by little, as they get older. Which is why my partner and I have made the decision not hide things from our child; but to try and hold everything in their life in context. There is an art to being “age appropriate” and we want to err on the side of transparency. Topics like “sex” and “god” are not off limits (regardless of our own hangups on the subjects). Feelings are encouraged, not stuffed away. There are no off limits toys, colors, or clothing as long as they are enjoyed in playful and loving ways. The only things in our house that are not tolerated without being challenged are “hate” and “supremacy” and “ignorance.”

My example to my child will not be “how to be a strong man” but “how to be a better human.” That to have power and privilege means being a servant leader. That to live simply and with happiness means giving a damn about others and not just themselves. That what matters isn’t the color of skin but the content of character. That listening is better than talking. That the greatest rule is to treat others as they would like to be treated. That if they are not part of the solution they are part of the problem.

I refuse to let the systems that have come before me break my child. They will know the definitions of evil by example: prejudice and bigotry, selfishness and narcissism. And they will know the definitions of good; love and compassion, vulnerability and empathy. If parents cannot help but put our hopes and dreams into our children, at least I can hope for peace and dream of a better future. In this way, my child is my prayer for the world made incarnate. I hope it is a joy for them and not a burden.

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I will tear down your false god…

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn—and I would heal them. ~Matthew 13:15 (NRSV)

Safe PlaceWe could use some serious healing right now. It’s no longer months between mass shootings, but weeks. And before the blood of children and elders has dried on the church pews come the thoughts and prayers. All truly sorry for this tragedy. All shocked at the senseless violence. All empty; meaningless; worthless.

Because the only god listening is the god of the gun. The rest of the gods are silent because they have said their peace: Thou Shall Not Kill. Love thy enemy. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. What god would still listen to thoughts and prayers of the same people are unwilling to beat their guns into plowshares? The country has made up its mind and chosen the name of the destroyer. America would rather see its children slaughtered than give up its precious right to bear arms.

I have no more patience for your platitudes and empty arguments. If you have hardened your heart toward the reality that the only thing all these tragedies have in common are “men” and “guns” than the blood of innocents is on your hands too. And you will be judged by god or by history as being complicit in mass murder. I mark you all Cain; the blood in the Earth cries out!

I will not stand idly by as you perpetuate a country of death for my child to live in, lest he be your next human sacrifice. I will tear down your false idol. I will strip you of your weapons of death. I will make it so that children can once again be safe in their schools. Safe for people to gather in song and dance. Safe for people to congregate in prayer and worship.

I am convinced the only way to do this is by making it increasingly hard to own a gun. It will require registration. Background checks. Yearly mental health reviews. Limits on ammunition. Serial numbers. Litigation and liability for sellers of guns and for owners of guns. Buyback programs. Mass destruction of all unregistered and unaccounted weapons. So… much… more.

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It will take years. Perhaps decades. It is possible; so many other countries have done this. All of this and more is worth the life of one child. One mother. One father. One friend. One human being. I will not wait for gods or angels or answered prayers; I choose now. Those of you who read these words, you have a choice too. Continue to worship your god of death or open your heart and turn away from your guns. Your time is coming to an end.

There is no room anymore for those who serve two masters.

 

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There is a time for every season…

7-1266881542-07-pure-seattle-space-needle-and-rainI am weary.

As the grey of a Seattle winter approaches the winter solstice, I find myself feeling the weight of this time a little more keenly. Between fatherhood, work, graduate school, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter and post-election ministering, I haven’t had much of a chance to take a break. And the work is only getting harder.

My training teaches me that this is the time for self-care. Actually, the time for self-care should have been after going to Standing Rock. And then after the election. And then after the BLM march. Or after that presentation. Or after that mid-quarter paper. Really, after anything that required a lot of psycho-spiritual collateral. And I don’t have a good excuse for the not taking the time; I’m just horrible at saying “no” and there just never really seems to be enough time to do “everything.”

I’ve found myself responding to the election by not being able to look away from my news feed. I’ve been consuming every story that catches my eyes; about the escalation of hate crimes across the United States, the escalation of violence against DAPL protestors, more black men being killed by police and more police being acquitted, and Trump’s appointees and their slippery-slope repercussions. Every time I told myself to take a break, I would get sucked back in. Just one more story; one more article.

I realize that what I’ve been doing is arming myself. I’ve been taking an accounting of this early Trump era. I’ve been ticking off one offence after another and hoarding them. Because when my basket of brokenness is full, I’ll be laying it at the feet of every Trump supporter I come across. I so very much want to blame and shame them into submission; I want to beat them with the lash. I want them to pay in pain.

blm_black_friday_seattleAnd this is why I need to do some deep care. Because my psycho-spiritual reserves are depleted and I am tired, angry and weary. In this state, I am dangerous to myself and others. I cannot do the work I am called to do; to be a peace maker. I believe my call to ministry is to heal; through solidarity, listening, and forgiving. At my best I am available to people in vulnerability and love. I keenly see my shadow self right now, and as much as I want to embrace him, he is ultimately self-destructive.

And this era of Trump doesn’t need more self-destructive people. So I’m going to be taking some breaks leading up to the new year. I’ll be taking more walks through nature. I’ll re-discover non-digital reading. I’ll take advantage of more simple moments; good coffee and tea, fresh baked goods, and music that speaks to my soul.

So please check in with me. Ask me how I’m doing and really mean it. Make sure I’m doing my internal work so that my external work can flourish. Ask me to coffee. Come over for drinks. Take a silent walk with me. Let’s make sure we stay strong, because now is when we’re most needed.

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My friend, my family, do you still love me? Stop this…

pleading-hands-1050x700Over the last week, I’ve spent a lot of time being angry. Angry at myself for not listening to my friends of color who told me that white supremacy was alive and well and more wide spread than I was willing to believe. Angry at my fellow citizens for choosing to vote for hate. Angry at the electoral college. Angry at Trump and his campaign. And especially angry at my family and friends who I thought were better people. Over and over I asked “Do you love me?” and you finally answered “No.”

So I’m using that anger as fuel; for creativity, for energy, for resistance. Because I will not let this go. Consider me a little more “woke;” I see the writing on the wall. You, my friends and family who voted for Trump, revealed yourselves as the bigots I didn’t think you were. No, you are not the KKK kind of bigot. You probably wouldn’t burn crosses in front of a person’s home or hang somebody from a tree. But you are the kind of bigots who feel no remorse in choosing politics over human lives. You chose promises of money over the well-being of immigrant and minority families. You chose to protect your own privileged skin while throwing black and brown people under the bus.

You are probably thinking: “How dare you call me a bigot! I voted for the lesser of two evils! I was only voting for Trump to shake things up! I voted for his economic plan! I voted against the establishment! I voted against Clinton! I voted pro-life! I voted my conscience! I voted for America!” And sure, you voted for those things. But you also voted for hate and for that I am holding you accountable.

In my life, many of you have helped me remember who I was when I was on the wrong path. You loved me enough to tell me when I hurt you. You also loved me enough to hold me accountable for messing up; and forgave me as I made amends. And my friends and family who voted for Trump, I love you so very much and I love you enough to tell you, you are on the wrong path. And this is an intervention.

Whatever you may think of Clinton, she ran a campaign platform of “stronger together.” She did not run a presidential bid on hating people. She did not call for violence against anybody. But on election night I turned to my partner and told her, “I’m ashamed of it, but I’d never thought that I would be so very grateful our son has your skin.” Because you voted for the guy whose platform was based on the belief that all Muslims were terrorists, all Mexicans are rapists, all Black people are thugs and that he would deal with all of them through registration, deportation and “law and order” execution. And perhaps you never really listened in history class but there are striking similarities between this populist platform of hate and that small man in Germany who made the same promises, only to deliver them at the price of millions upon millions of human lives.

Because your vote, your choice, will cost real human lives. And it has already begun. Since last Tuesday, hate crimes have surged across the United States against the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans and women. Your choice made hatred legitimate. You gave people permission to assault already vulnerable populations with impunity. And since then, I have not heard a single one of you repudiate these hate crimes. You have stood by your president elect. You’ve said, “Give Trump a chance!” And he goes and selects as his closest adviser an unabashed white supremacist.

I refuse to accept this man and his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, hateful administration as the leaders of my great country. I will be on the front lines of the protests. I will march and vote with my fellow Americans in rejecting this surge of bigotry. I will preach from my pulpits against Trump, and against you and what his campaign and your votes represent. And I will be standing on the side of love because that is the only place to stand. To stand anywhere else is to stand on the side of death.

To my loved ones who voted for Trump, I now stand in prophetic judgement against you. I am asking you to turn away from your fear and your hate. I am begging you to remember what it means to be a Christian. And if you are not a Christian I am begging you to remember your humanity. I am begging you, as people who know me and know my heart, to choose love.

Because if you don’t, you are turning this country down a path which will end up in more bloodshed. And that blood; the blood of Black children gunned down for a traffic stop, the blood of the immigrant dying in a detention center, the blood of the Muslim beaten on a bus, the blood of a woman raped on her way home from work, will be on your hands. And may all that you hold holy and sacred have mercy on you then. Because you will be remembered as Cain to your families, your friends, and your fellow citizens.

I am here asking you, pleading with you, “Do you love me?” As a person of color. As a Mexican American. As a nephew. As a cousin. As a friend. As a fellow citizen. Because I love you; and I will not give up on you. Please reach out to me; talk to me. Help me understand. Prove to me that I am wrong about you, for the sake of love. For the sake of life. For the sake of our country. And for the sake of our children.

Amen.

 

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My friend, my family, I love you; please don’t do this…

13567_tallTo my friends and family who are supporting Donald Trump: I love you. Which is why I’m writing this open letter to you. If you continue supporting this man for president, you are putting a strain on our relationship. You are jeopardizing our connection to each other. And I want to tell you this before it is too late and our bonds are broken.

I believe we are in each other’s lives because, at some point, we connected deeply. Whether it was through genetics, things in common or a shared experience, you are more than just a random person on the bus or a person I’ve just met in a bar. I saw something amazing and awesome in you and you saw something similar in me. This spark has allowed us to share our lives in intimate ways and I know it’s still there. Which is why I feel it is crucial I tell you this now: you are supporting a very dangerous hatred and it is causing me to question our relationship and friendship.

This is more than just a political disagreement. Most likely we’ve disagreed with each other in the past over a lot of unimportant and very important issues. Whether it was about economic policy, taxation, or parenting styles, we’ve had our arguments and our connection has survived. We’ve shared food and drink and debated religion and are still able to hug each other. Our bonds of friendship make it possible that we survive deep divides. And I think it is healthy to disagree and still love each other. It shows that we can be vulnerable with each other; listen to and perhaps even understand each other a little more each time we’re together. Our disagreements have made our relationship stronger.

But this is more than just a disagreement in politics or religion. You have made this about us; or rather, what you think of me and people like me. By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist and a bigot who overtly supports racism and bigotry.

And your first reaction is probably, “Bullshit! How dare you call me a racist! I’m not racist! I have black friends! I treat everybody equally!” But you’re lying to me and to yourself. You see, I’m a racist too. I was socialized in a society that was built on slavery. I am aware that I have an inherent bias that equates white with goodness and black with evil. I have inherited racism from my family system and I have participated in it with thousands of macro and micro aggressions. It’s inside you and inside me because we were raised in the United States and in systems steeped in racism and bias.

The fact that racism is a part of me and most likely will never go away terrifies me. But I am committed to challenging it with every fiber of my being because I believe racism is wrong. I believe bigotry is wrong. And you, my beloved friend, are wrong. By supporting Donald Trump you are telling me that you believe every Muslim is an American hating terrorist, every Mexican is a rapist drug dealer, and that every African American is a lazy welfare criminal. That you agree Russia should have a role in our political system and that Hilary Clinton should be assassinated because she is a political opponent. These are the policies you want for our country. This is who and what you are willing to vote for. This is what you want for the United States of America.

By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist, a bigot and that on some level you hate me and people like me. You know that I am a person of color. You know that my grandmother was a Mexican immigrant. You know that I am not a Christian. You know that I support Black Lives Matter. You know that I am a feminist. You know who I am and for the life of our friendship you’ve been willing to accept me and love me even if these are all things you haven’t agreed with.

Yet when I see your support of deporting Hispanics and Muslims, I see your support of deporting me.

When I see your support of abuse against Black Lives Matter protesters, I see your support of abuse against me.

When I see your support of an America that would hate me, I see your hatred of me.

I see where this political narrative is going. I paid attention in history class. My friend, my loved one… you are beginning to sound like a Nazi. Which terrifies me. Not only because I know that this isn’t you, but I can envision a day when you would support my arrest, detention, and execution. Just for disagreeing; just for dissenting.

Perhaps you think this is a bit hyperbolic; perhaps you think this would never happen in the United States of America. But take a long, hard look at the candidate you are supporting. On what he has said. On what he wants to do. My beloved, this is not you. Please tell me this isn’t you.

I get it. You hate Hillary Clinton and what she represents. You hate the idea of another Democratic administration. You hate progressive politics. You hate marriage equality. You hate taxation. You hate Black equity. You hate gun control. These are all issues we’ve struggled with in the past. But it has become bigger than just the issues.

This now involves people; specifically people like me. This is a deep wound you’ve created and most likely will deny. And I don’t want to believe it either. But your actions and words are like cards on the table; I see your real hand and in this game, nobody wins. So please, try to understand what I am saying to you. I love you. I want you to be a part of my life. But you’ve proven to me that you hate me, you hate people who are like me, and that you want us beaten, arrested, deported and dead.

So I’m writing you this letter. Please don’t do this. We loved each other, or at least I thought we did. And I’m willing to keep trying. My hands and heart are open to you. Please turn away from your hate. Please, my friend, my family, my beloved: will you not stand on the side of love with me?

I pray we can learn how to love each other again. Amen.

First, they came for the immigrants,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigrant.
Then they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for people who were Queer,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Queer.
Then they came for the people of color,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a person of color.
Then they came for the protesters,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a protester.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me…
-inspired by the words of Martin Niemöller

 

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