It was Valentine’s Day. I was wearing ashes.

Parkland school shooting
Parents in Parkland, FL (Photo/Joel Auerbach/Associated Press)

Yesterday I went to church. It was Ash Wednesday. I didn’t go because it was an obligation. I certainly felt out of place. It’s been a while since I was in a Catholic church. But I needed a place to mourn. To grieve. To put on ashes and say to god or the universe or to whoever really is listening: I’m sorry. I repent. I am broken.

Yesterday I needed church, because another seventeen people were gunned down in a school. By an angry and broken young man with a Make America Great Again hat. I sit with a lot of young men like that. At our local juvenile detention center. Young men who are angry. And broken. Many who never knew their fathers. Many who have mental health issues. Many who have experienced death in their lives. Many who have found family and safety in groups dedicated to violence. Many who we have failed.

Yesterday, I needed church because it was Valentine’s Day. And instead of swapping candy hearts, the earth soaked up blood. Children’s hearts were broken; torn apart by unregulated bullets and unregulated weapons. Parent’s hearts were shattered with the news that their flesh and blood were trending on Twitter. I hope the victims were told “I love you” at least once before their lives were cut short. I want to believe that some of them received ashes before they were murdered. Just to remember: ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Yesterday, I needed to be marked. I needed a reminder. That there is good news; that people really do believe in a message of loving one’s neighbor. That people are willing to lay down their arms and turn their cheeks. Certainly, god weeps along with saints and sinners at such a notion as a “right to bear arms.” Ancestors, pray for us. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. You would think one child would be enough?

It was Valentine’s day. I was wearing ashes. Another day in America.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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

 

At the end, a moment of sacred…

aloneOn Thanksgiving I was approached by a friend with a particular question. She knows that I’ve been volunteering as a chaplain and that I’m in seminary. She asked if I would be willing to visit a friend of hers who was in hospice. He has stage four cancer and doesn’t have much time left. And while he was not a religious man, his mind had been turning toward both the past and the future. She felt that he would benefit from having someone to talk to; perhaps I could offer a presence that would help his transition between life and death.

I explained that I wasn’t an ordained minister. I’ve only been volunteering as a chaplain for a short time and that was with youth who are incarcerated. She said that was probably for the best; her friend was a devout agnostic with secular Buddhist leanings. He didn’t want credentials or conversion. She felt he just needed someone who knew how to talk about spirituality. So I said yes; that I’d be happy to sit with her friend.

Hombres de Negocios discutiendo sentados

So last night I sat.

For a little more than an hour I listened to his story. He didn’t have any questions and not many concerns. His story always hovered on the edge of faith but never crossed the threshold. For a man with perhaps only weeks to live he seemed accepting of his reality. And yet he acknowledged that he probably hadn’t really accepted that he was going to die soon. But until then he wanted to read St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton. He said that they seemed the most accessible for an agnostic who was looking for possibilities without being sold a bill of goods.

Our conversation wasn’t hard. But it was difficult to walk the tightrope between detachment and empathy that the active listening of a chaplain has to balance. I was reminded in many ways of my own grandfather at the end of his life, as well as the recent passing of my father-in-law. However, in order to be in his moment, I couldn’t be in mine. Also, in him I saw my own mortality; and it was uncomfortable and unsettling.

Footprints-In-The-Sand1Which is why I believe it was also holy and sacred. In this season of “thinness,” I was able to share a space and moment with another human being as he approached his own veil. In doing so, I was an intimate part of a Spirit of mystery and miracle. In the pauses between words, there was the weight of a life. A life in which I was able to share, if only for a moment. And I am grateful.

How heavy is this season…

winter (1)This Autumn has been tremendously heavy on my heart. I usually enjoy this time of year. I love how the days get shorter; darker; deeper. Spiritually, it’s a thin time for me. Like an event horizon, my soul cannot escape from being stretched by this time and space to consider its internal workings. However, this year there has been no time to be slow and gentle and contemplative. There has been nowhere to hide. There has been too much work to do.

When the terror attacks happened in Paris, all I could do was stay away from my newsfeed. It seemed like the tragedy in Paris wasn’t about lives lost but by how to use it to further a political agenda. It was hard to find people talking about how to further peace and justice in our world; more so was the reaction to “buy more guns” and “launch more missiles” and “mobilize more ground troops” and “blame the refugees” and “close our borders.” All I could do was just pray for peace and keep working for justice and remember to say hello to the people who attend the mosque down the street from my house. Did you know that when they greet each other, they say “peace be with you?” I wonder what it would be like to do that to everyone I meet, and mean it?

On Black Friday, I joined the #BlackLivesMatter movement in downtown Seattle. The theme: Black Lives Matter, Not Black Friday. This consumer high holy day is an orgy of capitalism. And yet, capitalism has not found a way to empower those people who live on the margins; the poor, the migrant, the homeless. Capitalists have told them all: “God helps those who help themselves.” And many of them have worked their souls raw with this promise. Yet the only pockets lined were the shareholders and CEOs saying “It will trickle down. Trust us.” And God seemingly remains silent, no matter how hard a black mother works; no matter how many job applications a homeless man puts in; no matter how many cherries a migrant worker picks.

usa-raceI came out because to me, black lives are more important than Black Friday. Period.

So I joined people at Westlake Center to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with the people of my community. The scene was decorated as a Christmas wonderland village. They had a merry-go-round and a performance stage and Christmas decorations. And as protestors gathered, organizers began the hymns: “Who’s lives matter? Black lives matter!” “Black lives matter, not Black Friday!” “We want our liberation! Fuck your assimilation!” “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

Then the organizers began a litany of names. Every name of a black life taken since Trayvon Martin. Then the music from the stage began to get louder. Westlake Center was trying to drown out the voices of the organizers; the voices of people calling out for justice; for peace. And I will probably never forget the joyful carol of Frosty the Snowman as it was used as a weapon to protect the status quo. I turned to my friend Patrick and said, “This is the most surreal thing I’ve ever witnessed.” And I marched.

151203-ny-daily-news-cover-jpo-440a_6fe5537b92e70148a37fd6e6e94afcd3.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Then there was the mass shooting in San Bernardino. Once information was released about what happened the pundits began to use Islam and Muslims and terrorism to try and distract me from the issue of our culture of violence. And then a few days later as I attended a meeting at my church, gunshots rang out just outside of our windows. It was the first day of Hanukkah; there was a white supremacist rally scheduled in the city; we have a Jewish temple next door to our church; we had children in our building.

And my coworkers and I locked down our church. It breaks my heart even more not just because we, a church community, have a plan to respond to gun violence but that we had to use it. And for what seemed like forever we didn’t know what was going on, until we were told by police that it was a high speed car chase coming to a violent conclusion outside of our church doors. We told ourselves “it could have been so much worse” and yet everything up to that point had us believing that it was. Still, we all were able to go home safe; yet I cannot shake the feeling that so many people do not have that privilege. And why is that a privilege?

This Autumn has been too heavy; some of its issues too close. I cannot take refuge in the carols of my childhood. There have been gunshots in the spaces I call sacred. I have been in the streets with people crying out, “no more killing!” And I remember that of all times in the year, that this is one that has proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14) It makes me wonder then, is God pleased with me? I look around and think that, with so many choices toward violence and anger and war and hatred, that if I were this God I would not be pleased either. And like this God, I look at my own son and wonder, “can he make this world a better place? Will this world let him?” And I hold out a ridiculous hope that it will, even knowing how powers and principalities have answered in the past.

My heart and spirit are so heavy right now. All I want is to just relax into this season and enjoy it like I used to. But there is too much work to do. God helps those who help themselves, right? I’m helping God; I really am. So where are you?

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