Resiliency in the End Times…

Siblings in faith, I deliver these words in the spirit in which they were written; in the spirit of life and love. There is an ancient curse that is translated as: “May you live in interesting times.” And while every generation has its share of turbulence, certainly our generation feels urgent; terrifying; and overwhelming. It seems that everywhere we turn, conversations and media are focused on the suffering of the world. Environmental collapse. Racism. Sexism. Economic inequity. Gun violence. Extremism. Fascism. Conflict. War. The world is so big. We are so small. Certainly there is a temptation to say, “The end is near!”

Humanity has a long history, and tradition, of proclaiming the end of the world. When asking my parents about the cold war, they recall the fear of nuclear Armageddon, hiding under school desks in fallout drills. For my grandfather who fought in World War II, there was the fear that the whole world was going to descend into fighting and chaos. For my great-grandparents, they saw crops fail in the dust bowl and markets crash in the great depression. For my great-great-grandparents, they saw their country fall into civil war and the social upheaval of reconstruction. Each of their generations had to overcome adversity. And there is one thing all predictions of the end have in common: they were all wrong.

This isn’t to say that our problems aren’t ridiculously critical; with human suffering in our face every day. But what each generation also had were everyday people who held onto hope. Who held onto faith. Who believed in love, whether it was rooted in a transcendent humanity or in a benevolent God. People who showed up, responding to adversity with audacity. And who kept making the choice to not give into despair.

And I will be honest, I have deeply felt despair at my doorstep. I’ve helped prepared the bodies of my grandfather, my father in law and my own father; I’ve sat with dying children in hospital rooms and frightened teens in detention center cells. But more powerful than despair is my commitment to hold sacred space for hope, faith, and love. I believe we are all called to create this sacred space for each other and our world. Our spiritual and religious communities hold a powerful possibility to be bastions of resilience against a universe of trauma.

Because the Buddhists are right; life is suffering. There will always be trauma and all I can do is choose how to respond to it. Yes, we are working toward the kingdom of god; that beloved community where we all share in a universal respect of the worth and dignity of each person and the interdependent web of life in which we are all a part. I truly believe in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s pragmatism that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” And I also know that our vision will always be a ‘becoming’; forever responding to the trauma of creation.

Because I understand that the universe was created in trauma, regardless if it was a good word or an accident of fate. It was an explosion that ripped possibility into space and time. As beautiful as it was, my son was born in the trauma of blood, sweat and tears from his mother. We all entered this world crying. Even keeping my physical body healthy required some trauma; because no pain, no gain. In many ways trauma is positive and beneficial. Without some adversity, I wonder if we would have the arts, or music, or even religion? Philosopher Albert Camus writes: “This is what in the end had kept me from despairing. […] In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” It took adversity to actualize resiliency.

But however beneficial trauma can be, that makes no concession for causing pain and suffering in the world. I am negligent if I sit with a patient who has just lost a loved one to gun violence and say, “Don’t worry, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” As if the Spirit of life and love would break our hearts in order to test us. No, this trauma rooted in pain, fear and hate; the human made atrocities that we face every day. They are the evils we dedicate our lives to addressing. Because we refuse to accept a world where they must exist.

As much as I refuse to believe in hell or the concept of original sin, there is ample evidence of the depths of trauma human beings are capable of inflicting on each other and on the Earth. It is this trauma that forms the core of our wrestling with the balance of hope and despair; a struggle with theodicy; why do bad things happen to good people? Where is god? Why must I suffer? How do I make sense of a traumatic universe? These questions are common, and they are normal.

Which is why I believe religion and spirituality will never become obsolete; and why I believe our spiritual leadership is so necessary. Not to answer the questions of theodicy. Not to take suffering away. Or even somehow magically remove all trauma from existence. But to respond to theodicy with another question: “What will we do now?”

Our call is a wakeup call that we are not alone; that we are not powerless; that we have choices; and that we will show up. We show up to remind our culture what it means to be a human; and to demand justice and love be made manifest in a universe of trauma. Theologian and civil right icon the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman writes: “It is the insistence of religion that the God of life and the God of religion are one and the same. Implicit in the struggle which is a part of life is the vitality that life itself supplies. To affirm this with all of one’s passionate endeavor is to draw deeply upon the resource available to anyone who dares draw upon it. The aliveness of life and the power of God move through the same channel at the point of greatest need and awareness.”

What will we do now? Do we dare draw upon the Spirit of Life and Love? Because surely with the eschaton approaching, we are coming upon our greatest need and are painfully aware. Siblings in faith, we have a choice. Do we dare? And yes, this is frightening. Author and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote about what we face: “Is God safe? Certainly not! But God is good.”

And this is the truth; we are not called to be safe. We are called to be good. And perhaps this is what that looks like. There is a story in the Christian scriptures: “A person came to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to achieve eternal life?’ And the answer was, ‘Keep all the commandments.’ But Jesus, I pay my taxes. I’m kind to people. I don’t cheat or steal. I volunteer. I recycle. ‘What am I still missing?’ Jesus answers, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and come follow me.’”

Truly there is freedom from suffering, and it is letting go of attachments. That is the 8-fold path. To have the right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right spiritual practice. And the only way to achieve these things is to drink from the font of life and love. It is a daunting challenge.

And a real one. Because for the challenges and trauma of our ‘interesting time,’ perhaps the answer is found in exactly that radical call to dare to be transformed. Because what does real economic equity demand? What does real sustainable care of all of creation demand? What does dismantling systems of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy demand? What does access to food, water, shelter, health care and education for all people demand? Perhaps giving up my known ways of being, and daring to choose something radical, vulnerable and audacious.

And I can no longer depend on my siblings at the margins to agitate me into change; for centuries black and brown bodies have been bending that arc of justice. No, the work is mine. And it is ours. To survive our times, we need daring communities and congregations. No more playing it safe. We do not have the luxury of time to continue to ignore the big questions and big issues. Thankfully there is hope.

Children’s educator Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” And trauma is always healed in community.

Beloved, we are trusted with the important talk. We are asked to hold the space of trauma. We are called to be daring and to create the spaces of faith, hope and love that keep the despair at bay. In our interesting time; in our challenging time; we are presented with the font of the Spirit of life and love. It is always there; beckoning; inviting; challenging us. Do we dare? Amen.

Closing time…

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Last call aside, 2019 will be a year of transitions. My last year of classes. My last year working at the church. A year of challenge and growth; receptive to newness. A chance to really love into my vocation as minister and chaplain.

My 2018 word for the year was “enough.” It was appropriate. I struggled to be enough: of a father, a friend, a partner, a student, a human being. Most of those received passing grades. It has been a journey coming to terms with realistic agency. Prayers helped.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. ~Reinhold Niebuhr

I also had enough of 2018. I resisted as my country plunged deeper into fascism. I chose to be the person who answers the call of the dead and dying. My father was taken from me without warning. I have been stretched thin. My heart broken six ways for Sunday.

My word for 2019 is “release.” Because enough is enough.

If we’re going to be friends, your vote really does matter…

45485641_1746095872183715_6350298731287412736_oNow that we’re in an election cycle, there’s an image floating around the interwebs advocating for friendship across politics. On the surface, this is a great idea when candidates relatively agree on similar end goals: like freedom or upward mobility, but perhaps not in the means – progressive vs regressive taxes. I may not like the other candidate, or their political party. But we’re all trying to build a better society for ourselves and our children. We’re both adults. We can agree to disagree and still be friends, because our friendship is more important than politics.

Except when your candidate wants to, say, remove my citizenship because my grandmother was from Mexico. Or wants to deport my uncle because he’s Muslim. Or wants to take away my sister’s right of choice. Or wants to erase my partner because they’re transgender. Or wants to disenfranchise my brother because he’s Native American. Or wants to segregate my father because he’s African American. Or wants to kill my cousin because they’re Jewish.

When your vote comes at the cost of significant human life, we’re not friends anymore.

“But I don’t believe in any of that! I’m not racist! We’ve been friends for years and you’re brown!” you say. “I just voted for the guy because I agree with his economic policy. You’re being really petty and judgmental.”

Sure friend. I hear what you’re saying. We can totally agree to disagree on economic policy. But you also voted for a racist/fearmonger/bigot/misogynist/homophobe. Which is a deal breaker. What you just demonstrated was that you put politics ahead of our friendship, and that while you may not be any of those hateful qualities, you’re willing to let them slide because they benefit you. If we’re going to be friends, and adults, then we are supposed to have a relationship that supports one another. That cares for one another. That will show up for one another when we really need help. And you voted for the guy who wants to kill people like me, all because you wanted lower taxes. Which tells me that we were never friends in the first place.

You see, friend, how you vote doesn’t just tell me about your politics. It tells me about what kind of person you are. What the foundation of your ethics and morals looks like. And when you vote “pro-life” and at the same time ignore the racism, the hate, the bigotry, the violence, and the death, you tell me all I need to know. That we were never friends. Because politics and party really were more important to you than my wellbeing; and my actual life.

Being an adult means having healthy boundaries which sometimes requires removing people from my life who are toxic and destructive. It means having firm ethics and morality rooted in empathy and compassion. It means choosing to hold people’s worth and dignity above petty politics and disagreements; in seeing your humanity and loving you and showing up for you when things get hard. Being an adult is having the courage to say: “No more!” to evil, even at great cost. Being an adult means making hard choices, like say, voting against your party when their candidate supports putting immigrant children in cages at internment camps.

But I don’t hate you. I’ll still show up for you if you need help. I’ll say hello at work and if we run into each other during the holidays. I’ll still uphold your dignity and worth, even when you don’t uphold mine. Because that is what myself, as an adult, am called to do; be kind to the people who hate me. And to know when to walk away.

I believe you, Dr. Ford

42611806_10155713091546179_3403158727585431552_oI believe you, Dr. Ford.

I believe my friends on my Facebook feed who have broken their silence, relived their trauma and shared their pain.

I believe you and every other woman who comes forward that says #metoo.

Because in Alaska, a man named Justin Schneider was given no prison sentence for kidnapping, strangling and sexually assaulting an indigenous woman.

Because in California, a man named Brock Turner only spent three months in jail for raping an unconscious woman.

Because in Massachusetts, a man named David Becker sexually assaulted two girls at a party while they were unconscious and received probation.

Because in Colorado, a man named Austin Wilkerson raped a woman and got probation.

Because in Illinois, a man named John Enochs raped two women, but got probation for “battery”.

Because Harvey Weinstein got away with over three decades of sexual abuse.

Because Donald Trump, despite his saying on record “Grab ‘em by the pussy” and being accused of sexual assault by numerous women, was elected president of the United States.

For too long the price of toxic masculinity, with its power and privilege and violence, has been paid for with the blood of women, girls, boys, queer siblings, and siblings of color. And as the Arc of history bends towards justice, its shadow is finally beginning to fall on the powerful white man. The man who would rape. The man who would molest. The man who would enslave. The man who would abuse. The man who would murder.

It is up to me, as the brown father of a boy who will grow up to be a white man, to make a difference for his sake and for the sake of the other human beings in his life. It is my responsibility to teach him the morals and ethics of consent and respect. He will learn from me how to recognize his own privilege and to check his own bias. He will look to me as a model; how to be angry, how to be mindful, how to be just, how to love, how to forgive, how to listen. I must commit to the hard work of helping my son be a better man than I will ever be.

Because toxic masculinity demands a human sacrifice. And there are no angels that will wrest the stone knife from my hand. It’s up to me to stop the cycle; to tear down the altar, to deny the beast its blood. My son is not your Isaac. Men, we have a choice.

There are voices in the shadow of the Arc, and they are getting louder. I hear you. I believe you.

****CORRECTION**** Originally, I wrote: “Because in Iowa, a man named Nicholas Fifield raped a woman with mental illness and received no jail time.” In an article dated March 9, 2017, charges were dismissed against Nicholas Fifield. Nicholas Fifield’s father reached out to me to list this correction to my blog post. I take full responsibility, and apologize, for not adequately investigating Nicholas Fifield’s case further and for disseminating dated and imperfect information. I am committed to doing better. Please see Mr. Fifield’s medium page for more information.

For me, this only shows how important the issue of active, repeated consent and respect is; and how it impacts not only survivors, but the families and communities of all involved. In our United States “justice system” some people are falsely accused (a majority of them people of color). And we also live in a world where my son has more of a chance of being raped than he does of being falsely accused of rape.

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.

 

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.