Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on nonviolence

I'm in a class on Gandhi and Martin Luther King this semester, so my classmates and I have been talking a lot about nonviolence. This has me thinking. I talked a lot about nonviolence in college, and talked about it more and in a different context while I lived in Palestine. I think I've gotten a bit jaded. It's a bit harder for me to talk about now.

So this semester has been a good exercise for me. Today, the topic of Gandhi's response to WWII came up.  And the question of whether nonviolence could have been effective against the Nazis. And I brought up Denmark.

It's remarkable what human resistance to evil acts can look like.

This Lent, despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm not giving up on nonviolence.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on solidarity (pt. II)

Sometimes, the only thing to do is to sit.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on solidarity.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on singing

I don't have much of a voice.

My voice has been described as "Dylanesque," which is a nice way of saying "you should stick to writing lyrics." In my senior year of high school I played Applegate in Damn Yankees. My vocal coach, who knew me quite well, sat me down and said, "David, you don't have the prettiest voice. But you have a loud voice, and we're going to use that." I took it as a compliment.

This lack of a beautiful voice has never stopped me from singing. I love it. I love people who sing. I don't care if they "can" or not.

Today a student asked me to bring my guitar to office hours, so I did, and I sang a few songs. My voice was sort of worn and raspy--I've been losing my voice lately--so I didn't sing that much.

But there was a quiet joy to it. A joy worth repeating.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on singing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on Andy and Rachel

I told Andy and Rachel that I was going to give up on them for Lent because they kept me up until 3am talking about whether or not we have enemies.

Tonight, though, I changed my mind, and we talked about whether the church is like a crack house or a singer songwriter.

So I suppose that this Lent, I won't give up on them after all.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on complexity

Today I had lunch with my good friend Eric. Eric and Judy are friends who I met in Jerusalem. They've saved my butt on any number of occasions. Eric and I have been trying to get together all week so it was good to get caught up.

Eric is really interested in studying complexity. He tells me that understanding complexity affects all sorts of different research arenas, from biology to international development. He says that in his field--international public health--people are always trying to quantify predictions of the results of various projects. It doesn't work, he says. The systems involved are too complex.

(As a disclaimer, this is my own interpretation of what Eric told me. See Facebook for his corrections).

He pointed out that one can see an understanding of complexity playing out in current approaches to anthropology, in which the researcher starts--not by being "objective"--but by naming where they are coming from, the lens they are seeing through. Moving away from a view of "soft science" that tries to make it as much like "hard science" as possible. Recognizing the complexity of systems.

Anyway. I like this idea. Because it gets us away from a view of the world where everything is deterministic and mechanistic. Because it leaves room for freedom, even in creation. That evil in the world isn't part of some inexplicable plan, that it's just evil, and needs to be confronted, freely, as such.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on complexity.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on moving karma

I hate moving.

I have moved 4 times in the last 4 years.

And oddly enough, each time has been an experience of grace.

I don't actually believe in karma, but I do believe in moving karma. Every time I've moved, I've just had such incredible help from so many people. The intertwining, overlapping communities that I'm so blessed to be a part of show up again and again. There was the time, for example, that I had to move in between trips to the hospital, when an eclectic group of Wesley folks showed up to help me move and my new housemates had painted my room for me before I arrived.

Because of this kind of experience, I try to help out whenever I hear anyone needs help moving. I've helped a lot of people move in my four years in DC. It's always been worth it.

Today was the last push to get all of the stuff out of the 906 before the power gets shut off and the doors get  locked. I rented a Zipvan and we loaded stuff into it to take to Goodwill and Heather and Jeff helped me get there and John Forrest and Ben, having already gone through the effort of Craig's Listing just about everything in the house, cleaned up. And then Andy helped me get a mountain of garbage out of the van and into the Wesley dumpster.

Not sure we were supposed to do that, but anyway. It worked.

So today was another stressful moving day and another experience of grace. Another experience of community coming together. Sometimes it's the little things that matter, but it sure is nice when the big things come together too.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on moving karma.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on books

I just got back from a fantastic dinner. Mary Kay, my wonderful pastor at Dumbarton, is on a mission to learn how to make fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and gravy, like her mom does. By "learn how to" I mean she's figured out how to make it pretty damn well, and so my friends Heather and Jeff and I got to be her guinea pigs.

It was frikin' delicious.

So I was thinking of not giving up on fried chicken, which I'm not, but what I really want to talk about is how we had a great conversation after Mary Kay asked, "So, what are your favorite books?"

We talked about classics, and fantasy novels, and Heather read us beautiful Victor Hugo quotes.

I know books are sort of passe these days, and most of what I read on a given day (if it's not theology) is between the length of a tweet and a blog. But I just love books.

This is not where I go on a rant about e-readers. I don't mind them at all. But you can't loan them out, really. And there just something about being down in the basement of the library and being overwhelmed by that old book smell. And there's something home-like about the piles of books in my room, that I have to move back and forth to travel between desk and bed.

I can look up Bible passages at any time on my computer. But when I gave my Bible away, I wanted to get another one that I could carry around, that I could read on the bus and mark up and throw in my backpack and bend the cover of accidentally. I want to feast on the thing. You can look up pictures of food on your computer, but you can't feast.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on books.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on Paul

So Paul--the epistle writer that is, not just some guy I know--thinks that the only reason you should get married is if you can't possibly restrain yourself from having wild rabbit sex any longer.

At least that's how I translated 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 when talking about the letter with a few college students tonight. I don't think it's that far off.

We spent a whole hour tonight talking about Paul and sex. Paul's views of sexuality are wildly unconventional when read from a modern--dare we stumble into post-modern--perspective. At times Paul comes off as a strict fundamentalist. At other times he's startlingly subversive. And other times you might accuse him of just being pathological.

It would be easy to give up on Paul. Too many of his writings have been used as battering rams against women, LGBTQ folk, African Americans under slavery, and any one else who could be painted with the brush of "outsider" from the standpoint of the privileged ones.

But I'm not going to give up on Paul. Because he's so damn human. He gets angry. He gets confused. In 1 Corinthians he goes off on long rants that even he admits are just his opinion. But he aches for his communities, aches for them like a parent aches for a hurting child. And out of this ache and this humanness he tries to interpret and understand what could possibly be good news about a homeless rabbi being killed--what could possibly be sensible about the claim that this same homeless rabbi was raised from the dead.

And if that last sentence could ever be said about me, I would be quite happy.

So this Lent, I'm not giving up on Paul.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on the psalms

Today I gave one of my favorite professors a gift. It was a framed piece of art that I made in the hospital, an abstract, multi-colored, vaguely wing shaped pastel piece with the words "She will cover me with her pinions, and under Her wings I will take refuge" framed by two black swoops.

It was a midrash of sorts, a playful sort of interaction with the text of Psalm 91.

I gave it to her because I read the psalms a lot in the hospital, because in the psalms you can find the whole range of human emotion, because in the psalms you can hear the voices of people communicating with God out of rage, despair, hopelessness, because the psalms are broken and beautiful and made things make some sense to me.

And the reason I knew to turn to the psalms was because of this professor's class. Hence the gift.

Psalm 91, coincidentally, was in the lectionary on Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, because it's a psalm that Satan quotes in the desert while tempting Jesus. Funny to have something in the lectionary because it's Satan's favorite.

And coincidentally enough, in the morning Sunday, sitting at the kitchen table at the student's house where we all crashed during our service trip to New Jersey before everyone woke up, I flipped my Bible open to Psalm 91 and started reading. And I remembered gripping on to this psalm like a talisman in the hospital, reading it out of this place of brokenness and fear, and hearing: "You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday."

"The destruction that wastes at noonday," by the way, is a phrase that the Vulgate Bible translated as "the noonday demon," which then went on to become the title of a book about depression by Andrew Solomon. Solomon writes that it was Cassian who interpreted "noonday demon" as melancholia, depression, and adds:

"I have taken the phrase as the title of this book because it describes so exactly what one experiences in depression. The image serves to conjure the terrible feeling of invasion that attends the depressive's plight. There is something brazen about depression. Most demons--most forms of anguish--rely on the cover of the night; to see them clearly is to defeat them. Depression stands in the full glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition. You can know all the why and the wherefore and suffer just as much as if you were shrouded by ignorance. There is almost no mental state of which the same can be said."

Leave it to the psalms to carry such meaning.

The psalms keep me connected to God. Even when I'm down. Even when I'm hurting. Frankly, even when I feel like screaming at people, like losing it. And even, even, even when I am experiencing joy. As one of my students once said--a member, obviously, of the iPhone generation--"There's a psalm for that."

This Lent, I'm not giving up on the psalms.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on sharing

I was walking back to the Dupont bus stop from a counseling session at Foundry UMC (which, I'm happy to report, made me feel less like shit than the last time I was there) when I heard Ricky's familiar voice. Ricky hangs out on a milk crate outside of the CVS at the corner of 17th and P. He has a deep voice that calls out in a slow, steady rhythm: "Oooonly if you can. If you can help. Oooonly if you can." He keeps the beat with a pouch seeded with change that he shakes, shakes, shakes.

I've talked to Ricky a couple of times before. Sometimes I'll get him food and something to drink from CVS. Sometimes I'll give him some change, or just say hello. Most of the time I rush by, head down, possessed with that demon Hurry and surrounded, as most of us are in DC, by my own portable isolation booth.

Tonight I said hello, asked him how he was doing, dropped a dollar in his pouch. He shook my hand and asked me how I was doing. And then:

"Is that a Bible?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said. I had my little NRSV with the faux gold leaf and the blue page marker that matches the blue spine.

"Can I see that?" Of course he could.

"This is a nice Bible. I bet this got passed down to you from your parents, didn't it?"

"No, it's new. It's just beat up because I carry it around everywhere."

"This is a nice Bible."

::Awkward pause::

I break it.

"I mean, do you need a Bible?"

"Yeah, I could use a Bible."

"Ok. Well take that one then."




"Yeah! I mean, the word of God is meant to be spread, right?"

This is a hopelessly evangelical thing for a wild-eyed liberal like me to say, although it will confirm my roommate's suspicion that I am in fact hopelessly orthodox.

So I gave Ricky my Bible. I told him it had all my notes in it, but he didn't mind. He told me it looked like a minister's Bible. I told him I was training to be a minister. He told me his brother is a minister and sometimes comes up to feed folks in Dupont.

The point of this story isn't that I successfully evangelized a homeless guy. I didn't tell him to read the Bible, he asked to see mine.

The point is just that a little act of sharing turned into a conversation. An exchange. Perhaps the seeds of a relationship.

And that's certainly worth giving my Bible away for.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on sharing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on late night study sessions with friends

There are four of us in my poor friend Rachel's room doing our best to distract her from schoolwork. So far we've solved all of my roommate's problems and have played "guess the middle name." Also we ate Chinese food. Including Rachel. She's supposed to be juice fasting.

And it's wonderful.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on late night study sessions with friends.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on 'home'

So first of all I had an amazing weekend and I'm just so darn impressed with the students I work with at American University and also with the amazing people of the Jersey Shore who continue to struggle with the impact of Hurricane Sandy. And also I got us and our 15 passenger van home safe despite wind, snow, traffic, and crazy drivers (and a brief trip the wrong way on the beltway. Oops).

So there's plenty to write about and be grateful for. But right now I don't really want to write much. I just am glad to be home.

And that alone is something to write about, because I suppose this--my shared dorm room at Wesley--is home now. It feels like home to come back to. And that is saying a lot. There is a lot of transition in my life right now--transitioning out of a house into a dorm, transitioning from being a commuter to an on-campus student, transitioning from part-time student status to full-time, transitioning out of a relationship and into...well, I'm not sure into what, yet. And in all of that, it would be easy to get lost on questions of what home is. Is home my room at the 906 that I've moved out of? My room at the 914 that I still miss? Is home where I grew up? Or my parents house in Greensboro, which I've only been in a few times?

But for now this--typing away at my computer while my roommate taps away at his, chatting about school and church and random bits of metaphysics--this feels like home. I'll take that.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on home.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on solidarity

Today I drove 7 AU students to the Jersey Shore to do relief work with Habitat for Humanity. These students are amazing, as I said yesterday, and I can't say enough good things about their energy and creativity and commitment to serving others.

We had a somewhat frustrating morning, through nobody's fault. There was a miscommunication about the first site where we were supposed to work. Another group was showing up to work there and there was no way they could use that many volunteers. So we headed to another site, which then had too much structural damage for us to work on--a timely reminder of just how seriously these communities were affected by the climate-change-fueled Hurricane Sandy.

So we ended up at a third site, sanding and ripping up flooring. But it was obvious right away that there was more of us than there was work to do.

But even as we were getting all this sorted out, the homeowner, Esther, showed up. And she was so just so happy to see us, and so grateful we were there, even though--as one of the students pointed out--we were strangers in her home, even though it would be possible to feel not grateful but violated or humiliated.

Esther had her son with her, and she said she hadn't brought him by to see the house before but wanted him to see it now that it had walls. And it was heartbreaking.

But you could tell that she was glad that there were people there. That it mattered that she, and the community of Union Beach--a sign in a window read "UBStrong"--were being remembered. She and her son had just come from a march aimed at raising awareness of the ongoing hurt of Union Beach and surrounding towns.

A smaller group of us moved to the house of a woman named Margarita, where we painted a basement. And she, too, was incredibly grateful, in seeming disproportion to the work that we were actually able to do. She told one of the students that she had given money to one of her sons, whose home had been destroyed, and you could tell she was hurting but glad to be able to help. According to this student, Margarita said, "These are what keep me going," gesturing to the pictures of her family.

We did some good work today. Some necessary work. We made the job of other volunteers and families easier. And I do not underestimate the importance of that. But more importantly, I think that we showed a few people that they are remembered. That they are re-membered, part of a wider community that hurts when they hurt, struggles when they struggle.

We were only on the Shore one day, but for that day we did something important. We stood with people who remember.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on solidarity.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on students

In an hour I'm going to load up a 15 passenger church van and drive a group of American University students to the Jersey Shore to do some Habitat for Humanity work.

This idea was entirely conceived of and organized by the students. I'm just along for the...well, along for the drive I guess would be the way to put it.

The students I work with at AU organize service trips. They volunteer at homeless shelters. They start campaigns to divest their school from fossil fuels in order to do their part to respond to our ecological crisis. And they get together to pray, to hold each other's hands, to sing, to share life together.

They are leaders, and I respect them immensely.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on students.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on music

Tonight I'm going to a wake.

This is the last night ever for bluegrass at Sova, my favorite grungy little place in DC. I'm going with some good people to drink good beer and listen to good music. To let the shared auditory experience bring us all into a form of community that only music can provide.

Today was an awful day. Not for a particular reason. I suppose Valentine's Day might have had something to do with it, but honestly some days are just harder than others and this was a hard day.

So tonight I'm going to a wake. And we're going to tell stories about Sova, and raise our glasses or our bottles, and most importantly we are going to let music fill us up until we overflow.

I plan to be transported to a place that is not here, that is not this broken day. And at the same time is a place accepting of me, as I am, accepting of this broken day. Opposites, held in tension.

Music can do that. It's magic.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on music.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on doubt

Tonight was Ash Wednesday, and my roommate Andy offered a sermon at our seminary chapel about the necessity of doubt, of confronting God, when we are in the hurt places of our lives. He drew our attention to the tendency among Christians to want a God who "makes everything ok," who rescues us out of our darkness without our ever having to dwell there. And he highlighted places in scripture where the speakers call God out for the suffering of the world and for individual suffering. The willingness of the scripture writers to doubt, to speak out of experiences of alienation and brokenness.

In particular, Andy drew on Psalm 88, in which the psalmist accuses God of causing despair and loneliness. Unlike many lament psalms, Psalm 88 does not have a redemptive ending. It ends in darkness.

And yet this psalmist, feeling alone, feeling abandoned by God--this psalmist still adresses God. Still argues with God, even if it feels like a one-sided argument.

The very doubt and despair of the passage continues to serve as a connection to God.

So this Lent, I am not giving up on doubt--and the connection that it gives me to God, even and perhaps especially in the midst of doubt.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I'm (not) giving up for Lent

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season in the church. It's a time of fasting, prayer, repentance, and introspection. It echoes Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness (which in turn echoes the motif of 40 years in the wilderness in the Hebrew Bible, and 40 days of the great flood, and...). It also traces the steps of Jesus as he nears Jerusalem--as he nears a fatal encounter with that city of fatal encounters.

It's a practice of many people to "give up" something for Lent. This is something I've done in the past. I've given up beer and other carbonated beverages, for example. I think once I tried to give up cursing.

I've also tried the practice of "taking something on" for Lent, like trying to pray every day or blog every day. I'm going to try to blog every day this Lent, too. But with a specific twist.

I was thinking about "giving something up" this year, and it struck me that giving up is exactly what I've been trying to avoid ever since I got out of Silver Hill more than a year ago now. So I think I'm going to blog for Lent about what I'm not giving up on, what I'm holding on to, what's keeping me going.

I'm not sure exactly how this is going to work, but here's my Lenten discipline: I'm going to blog about what I'm not giving up on.

We'll see where that goes.