Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday: Not giving up on hope

The Easter Vigil (both of them, in my case) has ended, the alleluias have come out of the cave with Christ, and so I get to say:

Almasih qam! Haqan qam! 
Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!

When I say, Christ is risen, I mean to say:

Violence doesn't win. Oppression doesn't win. Despair doesn't win. Death doesn't win.

Love wins. Justice wins. Life wins. Hope wins.

And I mean to say that this is true, in spite of all the evidence you can bring me to the contrary.

Of course, there are millions of people in this world for whom the counsel of hope seems trite at worst and dangerous at best. Who am I--white, male, straight, physically able, with access to economic resources and a U.S. passport--to lecture people on hope? Who am I to say to those suffering in the shadow of empire, in crushing poverty, in the midst of violence and war, that they should have hope? Am I simply a purveyor of opiate? Or worse, am I only building people up so that they can once again be crushed by oppressive circumstances?

My Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers taught me an important lesson. They taught me that optimism and hope are two different things. That optimism thinks, simply, that everything will turn out alright, that things just get better, that this time, this photo-shoot-posing-as-peace-process will work.

But hope is something different altogether. Hope is persistence. Hope stands firm in the face of darkness and dares, against all reason, to take one more step. Hope keeps walking with children to school, through the checkpoints, through the invasive searches, because hope believes that by walking you are creating a world in which children's education matters. A world without the sin of military occupation. A world worthy of being hoped in.

Hope does not ignore trauma. Jesus does not appear to the disciples scar-free. I'm reminded of a song that my roommate has gotten me hooked on, called "Fergus Falls" by Field Report:

"This is the one in which I miraculously pulled out/Of a free-fall dive over Fergus Falls, Minnesota
And this is the one like 10 years ago/That I told you about
Where my wings iced up in the fall/as it gets colder"

Hope doesn't just leave the past behind. It lives through it, into a new future.

So today is a day that we proclaim hope. We point to an empty tomb. And we sing songs, and we pray prayers, and we ready ourselves to step--all of us, together, with all that we are--into a new future together.

Alleluia. Amen.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday: Not giving up on silence.

"There was silence in heaven for about half an hour."

Sometimes, there is no right thing to say.

This Holy Saturday, I'm not giving up on silence.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: Not giving up on the cross

The title of my own post makes me cringe a little bit.

I've thought too much about this not to. The words pop into my head while I sing the Good Friday hymns and look at the black-shroud draped cross: "Substitutionary atonement. Wrath of God. Divine child abuse."

I've heard too many stories. Pastors counseling women being abused by their husbands that the Christ-like thing is just to accept that this is their lot in life, that this is their "cross to bear." People with power insisting that it is people without power who must take up the cross, who must suffer. People for whom just being in a sanctuary with a cross makes them uncomfortable; churches choosing not to have a cross up front because it scares people away.

There are all sorts of problems with the cross. But I'm not giving up on it. 

Because I believe in a God who steps into situations of suffering, of violence, and of pain. Who takes a stance of nonviolence in the face even of devastating violence. Whose human experience includes abandonment and despair. A vulnerable God. A God who unmasks unjust systems and structures. 

I believe in a God who loves you so much, so much, that not even death--the death of God!--can scare God off. So if death can't scare God off, how can mistakes? How can failures? How can depression? How can hopelessness? How can doubt?

At one of today's Good Friday services (I have 3, so the cross is on my mind), I got to read a passage from Romans 8, and it flowed out of me like a sermon. Sometimes Paul knows just what to say: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything else in all , will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

I am not giving up on the cross because, without understanding it, I don't think the following story makes any sense:

In 1996, in civil war ridden Algeria, 7 Trappist monks were kidnapped from their monastery by members of the Armed Islamic Group and were killed. One of the monks, knowing that violence was growing inevitable, wrote a letter to be discovered after his death. It read, in part:

 "I have lived long enough to know that I, too, am an accomplice of the evil that seems to prevail in the world around, even that which might lash out blindly at me. If the moment comes, I would hope to have the presence of mind, and the time, to ask for God’s pardon and for that of my fellowman, and, at the same time, to pardon in all sincerity him who would attack me....And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father."

They stayed, knowing this would come to pass, simply because the Algerian community in which they had lived and worked could not pack up and leave. They stayed. And they prepared to forgive.

There are all sorts of problems with cross theology. But I need it to challenge me into further vulnerability, into places of pain. Into community with the rest of the happy thieves.

This Good Friday, I'm not giving up on the cross.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: Not giving up on footwashing

I posted this over at the On Fire blog, so it was written with an eye to young people working for justice in the UMC, but I think it applies. Today, Maundy Thursday, Christians remember what's often called the Last Supper, which, in John's gospel, which is saturated in eucharistic imagery, is the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. (John 13:1-20)

Today, we remember events that it seems impossible for us to remember, events that happened centuries ago. We reenact. We inhabit stories, live into texts. We repeat the words: "Do this and remember me." "If I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."

We are supposed to wash each other's feet.

Here is what I think that means, for young people seeking God and seeking justice in the world today.

It means taking care of each other at our most vulnerable places, the places that we want to hide away.

It means that, while we're rallying at the Supreme Court or celebrating divestment victories (and asking "what's next?") or organizing for worker justice or calling our members of Congress, we don't forget to take care of each other. We don't forget that we are all soft and hurting, that we each come with our own stories, our own wrinkles, our own mess.

It means that we never forget that we work for justice because people, real people, are being hurt. That those people have names. That they have stories. That this is not ultimately about particular policies or parties or pieces of legislation--those things are all of vital importance, don't get me wrong--but about people. People we need to listen to. And that often is going to mean, inasmuch as this is at all possible, divesting ourselves of power. Or at the very least being critical of the sort of power that keeps us from caring for each other as equals.

We have a lot to do. A lot of work to take on. A lot of tasks to accomplish. But we have to remember that we will not always be tireless in our work for justice. That we, and the people we work with, will stumble. Will struggle. Will burn out.

We have to be willing to bend down into those places, and to love, to love, to love.

Friends, one thing we have to remember. We gotta wash each other's feet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Wednesday: Not giving up on solidarity (pt. III)

My best friend's dad died two nights ago, after a long struggle with cancer.

I have some choice words about cancer. I won't post them publicly. Let me just say that if I met cancer in a dark alley, I'd probably leave behind my pacifist principles and kick some ass.

Anyway, I went to MD today to spend time with my friend and his mom. We just talked, and told some stories. Talked a bit about what we were grateful for. Like I said yesterday, there's nothing magical to say.

Just sit. And share. And be present.

I have found that, while not for everyone, beer is remarkably helpful in this endeavor as well.

During Holy Week, we take on roles. We journey through the week together, inhabiting the texts that guide us. And we learn of a God in solidarity with us, in spite of--in the midst of--all of our mess.

This Holy Wednesday, I am once again not giving up on solidarity.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Tuesday: Not giving up on life

Death sucks.

I should probably have some better pastoral response to the one stable reality of life--that it ends--but I don't. It sucks. There. Screw eloquence.

When someone you know and love dies, there is nothing that anybody can say that magically makes it better.

All you can really do is gather around. Huddle. Share good stories. And agree with each other: "This sucks."

Of course, where we are going with this week, in the church anyway, is the victory of life. But we first live in the reality and the shadow of death. And, if we are honestly engaging in the process of this week, we have nothing to do but to stare that reality in the face.

Still. I'm not giving up on life. On life lived in the face of death. On life lived well, life lived so that there are stories to tell.

Clarence Jordan once said that the Christian life is "a call of life, to life, for life." He also said that faith is not a  stubborn belief in spite of evidence but a life lived in scorn of the consequences. That meant a lot to me when I was considering a call to ordained ministry. Which I still am. Because it's a decision that I make, a particular claim that I make, when I say that I am called to life. As Andrew Solomon, who suffers from severe depression, says "Every day, I choose, sometimes gamely and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to be alive. Is that not a rare joy?”

Of course, in our society, there are all sorts of ways that we end up serving death. I'd say more about that, but the poem "Conscientious Objector" by Edna St. Vincent Millay says it better than I do:

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me
Shall you be overcome.

Poets, as it turns out, have this crazy idea that death doesn't get the last word. Take that John Dunne character, for instance:

Death, be not proud, though some have call├Ęd thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so:
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.
From Rest and Sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go--
Rest of their bones and souls' delivery!
Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!

Death, thou shalt die. Or as Paul says:

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?’

That's where we're heading, this week. But in the meantime, death sucks, and we have to make a decision. To live.

Let's do it.

This Holy Tuesday, I'm not giving up on life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Confrontation Monday: Not giving up on laughter

Systematic Theology can be a pretty grueling class.

This is the class that is supposed to explain it all, or equip you to explain it all, or something. Our professor has this habit of lecturing for awhile and then taking a long pause and saying something along the lines of "Know what I mean?" I hardly ever do.

He actually left the following comment on one of my midterms: "I would replace 'precedes' with 'supercedes' to make the point that filiation carries more ontic weight than spiration. Know what I mean?"

Nope. I don't.

Anyway. Today's class was full of hilarity. Take, for example, our professor trying to explain the inexplicable nature of grace. "The person I'm closest to in the world is my wife. Do I understand her? NO! Does she understand me? She THINKS she does!"

Or the following exchange:

Prof: "Barth thinks every knee will bow. Wesley says if you don't walk with God, you burn in hell. ::long pause:: Am I wrong?"

::I raise my hand to ask a question::

Prof: "Dave thinks I'm wrong."

Me: "No no, you're not wrong. I mean, you could be. I don't know."

Prof:: ::cracks up for like 5 minutes::

Anyway. We all laughed and got through it.

Laughter is such a marvelous thing. I think it was C.S. Lewis who once said that the one thing the devil can't stand is people laughing at him. Humor can be subversive. It can unmask powers. It can save a day.

Don't get me wrong. Laughter can also be mean, sometimes. But even that meanness loses its power as we gain an ability to laugh at ourselves.

We don't picture Jesus laughing too much. But the Bible is just full of jokes (the Hebrew scriptures are in love with puns). I think Jesus laughed. I think when he caught Peter as Peter failed spectacularly at walking on water (but dude! He frikin' tried it! What a badass!), that he wasn't angry or disappointed. I think he and Peter shared a (slightly terrified) chuckle as Jesus said, "O you of little faith."

Today in Holy Week is called "Confrontation Monday." It's the day that we celebrate Jesus clearing out the temple. So laughter might seem a bit out of place, might seem a bit out of place in the theme of the week. But if you want to confront power, I'd highly recommend that you start by laughing at it.

There are points in this week that are no laughing matter. But the new week begins with life having the last laugh.

Today, on Confrontation Monday, I'm not giving up on laughter.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm/Passion Sunday: Not giving up on humility

Today is Palm Sunday. That's the one where Jesus rides the donkey and everyone is excited and waves branches and sings songs.

It's also Passion Sunday. That's the one where Jesus dies.

It's like rapid cycling bipolar gets its own liturgical feast.

Anyway. That's not exactly what this post is about.

This post is about humility.

It's about how the lectionary readings for today, both Isaiah and Paul, stressed giving of oneself, emptying oneself. Divesting oneself of power and of violence.

It's about how, 33 years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down while celebrating the Eucharist. After pleading with his fellow countrymen, including the government, to stop the killing. After writing to the U.S. pleading the government to stop sending weapons to El Salvador.

This is Romero who was selected as Archbishop as a conservative voice, a counter to the liberation theology that argued that the gospel meant siding with the subversives. But Romero humbled himself. Listened to the voices of the poor. And knew that he had to stand for justice.

This post is about how a man named Gordon Cosby, who could have been the head of a huge national church if he wanted, but instead planted small churches called to social justice and mission in their particular places in Washington, DC. It's about how this man, who died this week at the age of 95, eschewed the national spotlight to instead focus on the hurting and the suffering that he saw right at his feet. This is a man whose model of doing church continues to be cutting edge to this day and, as far as I can tell, he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. (The Church of the Savior wiki doesn't mention his name). I first heard about Cosby when I was taking a nonviolence training at the Servant Leadership School, a ministry of Cosby's Church of the Savior. A ministry of self-giving. Of self-sacrifice. Of love.

This post is about how it's time for me to make some decisions about my life. And about how my head is clouded with questions and with doubts and with mixed motives. And about how the question I am finding myself asking is, "What is the humble choice?"

Today, on Palm Sunday, on Passion Sunday, I am not giving up on humility.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on call

I've been trying to get myself going again on the whole ordination process thing. One thing I've had to do for a long time now, which I've been procrastinating on, is come up with a call statement. Part of the reason that I've been putting this off is that it brings me face to face with a tough question, which is: am I really pursuing this vocation because I am called to it? Is this a nudging, a pulling, from God, or is it just that I like standing in front of people and talking? Because if it's the latter, then this is all a bad idea.

So I wrote a call statement. Or story. Or something. And I think it's genuine. Why don't you tell me what you think?

While studying abroad in Morocco in the spring of 2005, I asked the campus chaplain of the small Christian community at Al Akhawayn University what she did for a living. The only rule for answering was that she wasn’t allowed to use any “church language.” She thought about it for a second and told me, “I try to model vulnerability.” 

The phrase has stuck with me because I believe I am called to places of vulnerability, places where hurt and brokenness meet a God of love. 

 I grew up in the church, specifically at Baldwin Memorial United Methodist Church in Millersville, MD. If I close my eyes I can still see the light filtering through the stained glass windows onto the maroon pew cushions, and take a deep breath of that old church smell. I have always been encouraged and supported to take leadership roles in the church, and from a relatively early age some people at Baldwin had suggested I might make a good pastor someday. But by the time I was in high school I was having a hard time, in life and in church. A beloved mentor had died by suicide, and I was having my own struggle with depression. My church wasn’t sure how to help me, but they did know to stand by me and love me, even when I was angry or when I pushed away help. 

As high school ended and I began college, I began feeling the tug of God to reengage with the church. God’s gentle nudging, and encouragement of people in my faith community, not only brought me back to a connection with my faith but also led me to think about how I might serve God and my community in the future. 

 And so it was that I found myself sitting and talking with a campus minister about being a pastor. “I try to model vulnerability,” she said, and thus presented me with a way of approaching Christian ministry that I—broken, hurting, questioning me—could embrace. I didn’t have to have it all together. I didn’t have to have the answers to all the questions that had been plaguing me since high school. I simply had to be ready to serve at places of vulnerability. To listen. To sit with or stand with. To open up space for honesty. And thus to open up space for a vulnerable God, a vulnerable Christ, to enter in. 

 This model of ministry has followed me—through exploring my faith in college, through my 3 years as a Mission Intern with GBGM in Palestine/Israel and Washington, DC, through my time in seminary, and through my experiences with my own mental health struggles. In these places I have met a vulnerable God, a God who exposes Gods’s self to risk and to harm, even to death, in order to show God’s love and acceptance of us. It is this God who, I feel, is calling me into further ministry and service. 

A vulnerable God is not at work simply behind edifices but at intersections, and in many ways I think that I am called to intersections and to voices that are not being heard within the walls of the church. For me, that has meant listening to the voices of Palestinians and Israelis striving for justice and peace. It has meant sitting with people in psych wards, hearing their stories. And it has meant working alongside college students, young adult leaders who often feel unheard by the church. 

I feel called to a vulnerable church. To a church that reaches outside of its own walls to hear the voices that are not being heard. I feel called to help co-create this kind of church with the Spirit of God who is not done with us yet. Together, we can find ourselves, like Peter in Cornelius’ house (Act 10:34-48), amazed at who the Spirit is falling on and what new ways God is working in the world around us.

Well, what do you know. Maybe I am called after all. What do you think?

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on dancing

So if you think that "seminary dance" sounds awkward, you're not the only one.

But Wesley's student council pulled it off, DJ and all, and despite our weird tendency to form one really big circle it was a good time. I had a date because, you know, when you're going to an awkward dance it's good to have solidarity.

And we danced. To ridiculous music, mainly. And all of us, all of our bodies moved, sometimes in rhythm, and sometimes just how they needed to move.

We talk a lot in seminary. It was good to find ourselves in movement. In rhythm. In dance.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on atonement

I just had a long conversation about the atonement. 

Atonement literally means at-one-ment, the remaking at-one of God and the world.

There are all sorts of problems with atonement theology as it has generally been constructed in Christianity. Like the myth of redemptive violence. Like the divine child abuse model. Like its entirely individualistic nature. 

But we talked about broken systems and broken people, and a world in need of liberation, and a God who enters into places of violence and refuses to be complacent, who instead provokes a response. 

We talked about unmasking violence and injustice.

And it seems to me that there is something worthwhile here.

We listened to a podcast of This American Life from a couple of years ago, at my roommate's urging. And in the podcast a man talked about telling his 4 year old daughter about Jesus when she asked him what Christmas was about. And then later she saw a big crucifix and asked, "What's that?" And so he told her, "That's Jesus too."

Then they went out for lunch on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. And she saw a picture of Dr. King. And she said, "Who's that?" And he told her. And she said, "So he said what Jesus said?" And he said, "Yeah, I guess that's true." And she said, "Did they kill him, too?"

We are so broken. We are so in need of healing. And God will do anything--God will die if need be--to bring it about.

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on Mr. Rogers

March 20 is Mr. Rogers' birthday.

I remember watching Mr. Rogers growing up. I didn't watch a whole lot of TV growing up, my parents were pretty careful with what they let us watch. But we watched Mr. Rogers. And we learned. We learned about the world. And imagination. And creativity. And being a decent human being. And respecting differences. And kindness.

I loved Mr. Rogers. Everybody loves Mr. Rogers. Even the ever-snarky loves Mr. Rogers.

So here's to Mr. Rogers, and all the things he taught us, and a vision of a world where imagination breaks down barriers and everybody is a neighbor.

Let's listen to what that wonderful Presbyterian minister (I wonder how Reformed his theology was?) had to tell us. Let's grow some new things in the gardens of our minds:

This Lent, I'm not giving up on Mr. Rogers.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on peace

10 years ago, we attacked Iraq.

I remember going to marches in the cold of winter to oppose the invasion, and how fruitless it all felt when the bombs started to fall. I remember kids in my high school classroom cheering when the invasion was announced.

And I remember the predictions of all those wild-eyed leftists, that this would be a quagmire, a bloodbath, that it would just cause more violence and more hatred.

10 years later, and Iraq is torn apart by violence, thousands upon thousands of Iraqis are dead and thousands of U.S. troops, and the U.S. is billions of dollars deeper in debt, and dammit we were right.

I'm not giving up on peace because when we do, when we give up on creative possibilities outside of the march of war, then Iraq happens.

I'm not giving up on peace because there are so many wonderful and creative people working for it, like the members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams and more importantly the courageous people and organizations that they partner with.

I'm not giving up on peace because war shatters lives, including the lives of the young people we send off to fight it.

I'm not giving up on peace because of the voices of those like my father and other veterans for peace who have been there and have fought and have returned to say that war must end.

It's easy to give up on peace. It seems so soft. So unrealistic. So silly.

But this Lent, I'm not giving up on peace.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on naps

Seriously, they are glorious. Sometimes, a little reboot is just what you need before you finally finish your stupid paper.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on baptism

28 years ago today, I was baptized. My godfather, Patrick, held me and promised to do his best to be a spiritual mentor for me.

He has done a great job.

I remember when I was in high school, having a really rough time, and Pat driving me around my neighborhood while I talked to him. "Are you praying about this?" he asked me. It hadn't even occurred to me. I figured I had to do this thing alone.

Baptism is not a lonely act. It is a sign, not only of our own calling and adoption, but of our calling and adoption into a community. A body. In baptism, says Paul, we die to ourselves, and are raised in Christ--and Christ, as understood by Paul, is represented on this planet not by an individual but by a community. We die to individualism and alienation, and we are raised for communion. In baptism, we are marked as God's, but we come to understand ourselves as loved by God in the context of people who love us.

Pat is someone who reminds me that I am part of a community, that I am not doing this alone. I wonder who does that for you?

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

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on justice

Today--March 16--marked the 10 year anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, the USAmerican peace activist who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip.

There are a lot of things to say. I won't say most of them. I've met Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy. They are incredibly passionate and dedicated people, who have seen justice denied again and again in the case of their daughter. They are also deeply compassionate. Here are some words that they have to say:

There are a lot of things to say. Rachel was killed by a Caterpillar bulldozer, a D-9 militarized monstrosity, that was sold to Israel through a U.S. military aid package. Rachel was killed by US-made hardware provided by U.S. aid.

There are a lot of things to say. We noticed Rachel's death, in 2003. We can name her. Can we name the thousands of Palestinians killed since Oslo? Do we notice her death because she is American and blond and pretty and well-spoken? I say this with only the deepest respect for her and her family. I think she--and I know her family--would ask the same questions.

There are a lot of things to say. But one thing to say is this: we can't give up on justice. Despite the deaths, the seemingly insurmountable legislative challenges, the growing settlements, the Wall, and on and on and on,
we can't give up. Even though I want to. I so badly want to. And there are days and days and days that I do. Give up, that is.

But there are so many people like Rachel and, even more importantly, the Palestinians and Israelis that she worked with. Patient widows, wearing down injustice.

So we can't give up. We need to hold Caterpillar accountable for their weaponized bulldozer sales. We need to end U.S. military aid to Israel. We need to boycott, divest, and sanction.

So the other day, I sent an email to figure out who to talk to about how Wesley invests our money. It's a tiny little step. Insignificant. But it's not giving up.

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on tomorrow

Today sucked.

I won't really go into details. And the current guitar playing and wine setup is going pretty well.

But I really need a restart.

Mary Anne Radmacher famously wrote: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.”

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

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on weeping

I had trouble posting yesterday because I was struggling to come up with words for what I was feeling. Let me explain.

We had group presentations in our Jeremiah class yesterday. Groups were presenting on various motifs in the book of Jeremiah, and one group had the motif of sounds. Jeremiah is an incredibly graphic book. If you read it right, you can hear the thundering of horses hooves, the sound of the trumpets, the wild pounding of Jeremiah's (or is it God's?) heart. So this group presented on various sounds in Jeremiah--sounds of war, sounds of desolation, sounds of restoration.

It was an effective presentation. It was probably too effective.

For the last piece of their presentation, the group played a sound clip that a Gazan woman had recorded in her house. It was the thundering crunch--distant but not distant enough--of the shelling, or the bombing, of the Gaza Strip.

I got up and left the room. Others in the room had incredibly strong, in some cases traumatized, reactions.

It's important for me to say that I was never in Gaza, was never under bombardment. I only have the second- and third-hand accounts. My friend Eric telling me that his friend Basem split up his family so that they wouldn't all be killed in one blast, back in November during the euphemistically named Operation Pillar of Defense. The U.S.-made F-16s flying their test patterns over Bethlehem before Operation Cast Lead in 2008, breaking the sound barrier over crowded civilian areas. Amr Shurrab, talking about his family being gunned down by the Israeli military during a ceasefire. And, as I have done so often, I run out of words.

So I ran out of words, yesterday, and couldn't blog. But later on that night, I met with my partner to talk about our own presentation on Jeremiah, in which we will talk about the motif of weeping in Jeremiah.

And we wondered together what it would be like to provide a space for mourning.

And sometimes, I think that's what's called for. Not reasoning. Not speaking. Just weeping.

I have a dear friend who told me once that tears are a spiritual gift, a gift from God. And I think that's true. So often the tears cannot seem to come, and we are desolate. Unable even to mourn.

That's why, according to theologian Pete Rollins, we need a church that's like a singer-songwriter. Or a poet. Or a professional mourner. Able through its own public struggle with pain to put us in touch with our emotions and our pain, and thus to give us tools to overcome:

Professional mourners, by the way, show up in Jeremiah, too, as does weeping. Even God weeps in Jeremiah. It's a book edited in exile by a community trying desperately to figure out how to overcome trauma.

A community holding open the possibility of mourning.

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on therapy...

...even though I really, really, really want to.

Here's the thing. Counseling sucks. You pay a stranger to listen to you ramble. Or, in my case, you pay a stranger on a sliding scale so that you can spend a lot of time staring off into nothing trying to think of something to say. Counseling for me ranges from slightly annoying to really, really, really frustrating. 

I'm going to keep going, though. And after some consideration, I've decided that the reason I'm going to keep going isn't just that at some point I'm going to have to tell my District Committee on Ministry that I'm crazy sauce and at that time I should also probably be able to tell them that I'm in counseling. 

I'm going to keep going because it's a discipline, and like most disciplines one engages in it faithfully not because of some immediate payoff but rather because one trusts that it has a long term formative effect. 

The discipline of therapy, for me, is that it makes me be honest about my feelings, at least once a week. It's not that I'm always dishonest about my feelings. It's that I often try to ignore them, to pretend that they don't control me, when in fact they are the raging currents that drive most of my life. So counseling makes me face that, makes me talk about it, and--the hope is--brings me to some level of acceptance about what it is that I'm feeling.

And then, of course, it leaves me with that frustrating "so what" question that I can only try to answer with the rest of my week.

It is frustrating. But it's a checking-in point in my week, a guidepost that I desperately need.

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

Even though, seriously, I want to. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on humans

My roommate and I tend to get into long theological conversations, and drag anyone around us into them as well. Luckily for us we often find willing participants.

Tonight, after some guitar playing and wine drinking, we got to talking about total depravity and sin and all that good stuff.

I won't go into the details other than to tell you that I can come across as pretty pessimistic about human nature.

But I'm not a pessimist, really. I have hope.

This Lent, despite all the reasons to, I'm not giving up on humans.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on worship

So I'm probably going to endanger my ordination process by saying this, but worship is kind of awkward.

I mean honestly. Non-Christian folks who read this. Don't you think what Christians do on Sunday morning is kind of weird?

It's like, a bunch of people who might not even like each other gathered in a room, singing songs that aren't on the radio (or are only on an awfully cheesy radio station) and saying words--let's be honest, often mumbling words--together. And there's a lot of standing up and sitting down.

And then sometimes we eat a chunk of bread that we dipped in grape juice. When else do you dip bread in grape juice?

(It should be noted that in all the Christian communities I'm in love with, people gather together afterwards to eat the rest of the bread. Delicious. When one of the pastors I work with brought me communion in the hospital, we shared it with one of my fellow patients who spread butter on the Body of Christ. Awesome.)

One thing that you learn in seminary is that there is a lot of bad worship out there. You learn how you are supposed to preach and how you are supposed to plan a service and what sort of theology lays behind worship. And we all--at least all those of us who are still bothering with this church thing--have sat through a really snoozer sermon or cringed at the off key singing over the organ or the cheesy lyrics of the latest worship song.

And yet. Every Sunday we give it a try, all over again.

I don't want to get too much into my theology of worship here. To talk about God gathering us together to be formed and re-formed and sent out into God's world to serve.

What I want to say here is that each Sunday, or at least most Sundays, I try again, and each Sunday, or at least most Sundays, I find something surprising happening.

Sometimes it's the lyric to a song, or a bit of a prayer. Sometimes it's shaking the hand of someone who smiles when they say, "Peace be with you." Often, it is simply the ritual of returning, again and again, looking for God. Looking to be changed. Looking for those places in my life that need transformation.

Today, it was singing in worship next to my mom at Metropolitan. My mom is...well...she's not the best singer ever. But she means it when she sings.

And this evening it was singing, with the band at Crossroads, "I won't be silent anymore," and praying, praying, praying not to be silent, and smiling uncontrollably after communion.

I don't always notice it when God shows up in worship. But, believe it or not, God shows up.

If my roommate Andy was writing this, he'd tell you that worship is more than just getting together on Sunday morning (or at any other time for that matter). That it's also the acts that we do to be Christ's body in the world. Like serving sandwiches to unhoused folks after church.

So maybe, writing about how awkward worship is, is an act of worship, too.

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on remembering

Today, my parents picked me up from school and we headed to the Eastern Shore of Maryland (and still to this day crossing the Bay Bridge with the sunlight sparkling on the water feels like coming home) to celebrate the life of my grandfather, Ed "Pop Pop" Hosey.

I wrote about Pop Pop headin' on out of this world back in December. He wanted his body to go to a useful purpose--Pop Pop was an eminently useful dude--so he is now helping a med student somewhere learn, which is very much in keeping with the character of someone who loved giving of himself and loved learning and loved being helpful. Our family doesn't exactly do things the way most people do, so it took us a little while to get around to this whole memorial service thing. It took us all awhile to gather all of our memories, I suppose. Pop Pop had 103 years of them built up, after all.

Pop Pop's children--my dad and uncle and aunts--shared stories connected with scripture verses, and then we just left the mic open for people to talk. I read a letter from my sister, about animal shaped pancakes and cinnamon rolls and a doll house handmade just for her. I talked about Pop Pop, at age 98, sinking a monster putt on the golf course, and how he did it with such ease. There was a lot of struggle in his life, but there was an ease to him that I so admire.

The overwhelming theme of all these memories was that Pop Pop would help just about anyone, at just about anytime. Like I said, he was an eminently useful dude. He could fix refrigerators, and cars, and could carve dollhouses and toys, and could hold babies, and could paint and dig ditches and rake leaves at the age of...well, at the age of pretty damn old. And he danced. He danced with my mom and my aunt Linda on his 103rd birthday, just a week before he died. He danced and he whistled and he smiled. He is a person worth remembering.

So we sat around, and we told stories, and we laughed a lot, and we remembered.

As we remember, we re-create reality. We breathe in the past and we breathe out life and truth. As we remember, as we rejoin the past with the present, we remind ourselves not only of what has happened but about who we are and who we want to be.

So this Lent, in memory of Pop Pop, I am not giving up on remembering.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on friendship

There have been some jagged edges involving romantic relationships among my circle of friends this semester. I don't want to overdramatize things. But sometimes, relationships suck.

And when they end, or seem to come to a jagged end, they suck really bad.

But then friends are there. To sit next to you. To shake their heads at what's going on. To get angry or to get sad or to laugh. To hug and to hold hands and to tell you that you are a wonderful person. To stammer and stumble along with you on the healing path.

I am not ready to say that I won't give up on romantic relationships, really.

But this Lent, I'm not giving up on friendship.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on school...

...even though I sort of want to. And even though I've been telling my roommate that I'm going to fail out of seminary ever since I found out today that my Systematic Theology midterm is due Monday, and not the next Monday like I thought it was.

But seriously. How lucky and privileged am I. I get to sit around and read theology and write papers about Jeremiah and about what reading Genesis 15 is like for someone with mental illness and experience in Palestine. Every time I complain about school someone should remind me of how lucky I am.

Today I received feedback on a paper to the extent that I should do PhD work. And although I have at least one former Teacher's Assistant who has threatened to come back to Washington, DC, just to punch me in the face if I consider doing a PhD, it's a helluva compliment. It sure is nice to be told that your writing means something.

Just a few minutes ago, my roommate and I were sitting in the lounge in our dorm, talking about the emergent church and whether those words mean anything and whether they mean anything to little ol' orthodox, traditional, Mainline me.

What a privilege, to have the time to do something like that.

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

(Although, if you want to give up on school and, for example, live in the wilderness of Colorado and teach teenagers how to light fires and wrestle bears, then I probably will think you are a complete badass and like the coolest sister ever. Hypothetically.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on soup

Sometimes, it's the simple things.

Today was a wet, gross day. Snowy but not in a pretty way, at least not in DC. My roommate and I and two of our friends got soup at Panera for lunch, and then we gathered at a friend's house for dinner--more delicious soup, this time homemade.

There are days that just require soup, and this was one of them. We just needed something warm. And delicious.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on simple pleasures. I'm not giving up on soup.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on disorganized group guitar playing

I've been really falling down on the job with the blog thing here. Yesterday I was going to blog that I wasn't giving up on days in which I do absolutely nothing productive, but then writing a blog would have ruined that, so I didn't post.

Tonight, I'm hanging out with friends playing guitar and waiting for snow to fall. All four of us have a guitar and we're just seeing what we can figure out how to play together. It's not the prettiest, but as my friends have pointed out everybody has a place and nobody is paying attention to how well anyone else is playing. It's just the fun of making music together. 

And that, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing.

This Lent, I'm not giving up on disorganized group guitar playing. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on joy

I missed a post, mainly because this weekend has been packed. I've visited folks in the hospital and in a retirement community, played a gig, lead worship, and preached. It's been busy and a bit stressful. But it has been full of meaning, and full of joy. The following is the sermon I preached at the Crossroads worship service at St. Luke's Mission Center this evening. The texts were Psalm 30 and Philippians 3:7-14. This Lent, I'm not giving up on joy:

In order for what I’m going to say about joy and happiness to make much sense, I think I’m going to need to tell you some of my story. This is a story that many of you know a part of. Some of you might even know all of it. I don’t relish telling this story again, really, but I feel safe doing so, and here’s why: once, during the ordeal that I’m going to describe, I had the chance to visit Crossroads and look at your prayer wall. My name was on the wall, and had been circled multiple times. This community—whether you as an individual realized it or not—was praying for me, week after week. I can never express my appreciation for that enough.
On with the story. It begins about a year and a half ago. I had just finished my first year of seminary, a highly successful year marked by good grades and new relationships. I was beginning a rather intensive summer class schedule, and I thought I was doing quite well. Reflecting back on things, however, I realize that I should have recognized the signs that everything was not alright. I had recently ended a relationship in a messy and ungraceful manner. My beloved roommates of two years were planning on leaving DC and I was having absolutely no luck at finding new living arrangements. I was in two intensive summer courses. Looking back, I realize that something had to give.
It was a Sunday night, and some friends had come to look at my house and see if they wanted to live there. It hadn’t gone well. I had a few drinks and then, without thinking, did something I hadn’t done since high school. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen, went downstairs to my room, locked myself in, and started cutting my arm.
If you’re not already familiar with self-harm, it’s a remarkably common phenomenon. People hurt themselves for a variety of reasons. For some people it’s a form of self-punishment; it certainly has that effect for me. It’s also a means of communication. It says something like, “This is how broken and hurting I am on the inside. I don’t know how to communicate this to you. So I’m going to write it out on my skin.” So for me, I was hurting myself because I wasn’t sure how to tell people how badly I was hurting. But I was also ashamed that I was doing it. So I went through a whole week, in the middle of summer, covering my arms up for fear that someone would see the cuts but on the same time hoping, hoping that someone would see and know that I was in pain.
Here is how my week went: I didn’t sleep, much. I woke up early, feeling awful. I went running in the midsummer heat. I played guitar, loudly, sang hoarsely. I went to my Hebrew class. Did well in class. I went home with two classmates to study. I came home. I drank. I cut myself. I tried to go to sleep.
This went on, like I said, for a week. And finally it was Friday night, and I was staring at a bottle of pills on my bedside table, daring myself to take them. Some months ago I had saved in my phone the number of a suicide hotline, on some understanding of past experience and some premonition of future need. So I called the number, and they talked to me for awhile, and then they asked me if I had a friend who I could call, and it just so happened that my friend Lindsey had called me earlier and I had ignored her, so I called her. She talked me through the night. When I was tired enough to go to sleep she told me to call her in the morning. I called her when I woke up, told her that bottle of pills was still looking tempting. So she got me to call Mark Schaefer, the United Methodist chaplain at American University. And Mark took me to Sibley Hospital. I joked with him the whole time he drove me there. And that was the beginning of a six month journey, in and out of three hospitals, on the way to a new understanding of myself and my mental health.
Any description of that week, and of the six months that followed, is necessarily going to come across as much more neat and meaningful than the experience actually was. In actuality it was a broken, fragmented, mess. But I do have to say that I was so incredibly blessed and lucky, because I didn’t do it on my own. I had so much support and so much love during those six months, including from members of this community, even when I tried to push that support away. Not everyone who goes through mental health challenges has such support. Once, in the hospital at Sibley, the social workers asked us to do an activity in which we named 5 people who supported us. Out of the group of 5 of us, I was the only one who could name 5 people. One person couldn’t name any. There is such loneliness in this world. We have to remember that.
I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar is also called manic-depressive. It can mean a lot of different things but for me it means that my moods can fluctuate really wildly, from very high to extremely low. For me bipolar also means that I struggle with suicidal thoughts and tendencies. I would venture to say that a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about killing myself. And there’s that constant temptation to hurt myself, something I haven’t done now in more than 200 days. Thanks be to God.
I’m hardly alone in all of this. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, or one in four adults, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”[i] That includes 14.8 million American adults living with major depressive disorder, 5.7 million with bipolar disorder, and 2.4 million with some form of schizophrenia. Every 17 minutes in the U.S., somebody kills themselves. Suicide is the number 3 cause of death for Americans under the age of twenty-one, and it is number two for college students.[ii]
I am telling you all of this just to say this: I struggle with the concept of happiness. It’s not that I don’t experience happiness. I do, and I’m so grateful for that. But I know that the illness of my mind and my emotions can whisk away that experience of happiness in a heartbeat. And I was in the hospital with too many people for whom happiness is a foreign experience. So for the gospel to make any sense to me, it has to be able to speak into situations where happiness is a stranger.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians, part of which we heard read earlier, fascinates me for this reason. Many people consider this to be the most joyful of Paul’s letters. And yet the letter is written while Paul is in prison. His mission is in real danger. And while celebrating the ministry of the church in Philippi, Paul goes out of his way to describe the suffering that he has undergone to carry the gospel message. “Whatever gains I had,” he says, “I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things.” It doesn’t appear as if the gospel message has brought much happiness into Paul’s life. And yet this is the same Paul who, a few verses later, will say to his Philippian sisters and brothers, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.”
How is this possible? How is it that for Paul, joy and suffering, struggle and meaning are all wrapped up in each other? And what does this mean for those of us for whom happiness is a struggle?
The pesky thing about the gospel message is that it doesn’t offer us easy answers. We worship a God who suffers and dies on a Roman cross. We worship a resurrected Messiah who still has scars on his hands. For Paul there’s no separating the two: “I want to know Christ,” he says, “and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.” For Paul, following Christ does not necessarily remove a person from suffering. In fact, it might do the exact opposite.
This is a rather shocking message to those of us who have been raised on a diet of feel-good Christianity. “Follow Christ and suffer” doesn’t seem like very good news. But what I want to argue tonight is that, for people suffering, for people struggling to feel happy, the fact that the gospel emerges from places of suffering is good news indeed.
See, when I'm suffering, when I'm struggling to feel happy, it’s easy to feel like there is something deficient about me. That I am lacking. “Why can’t I be happy like everyone else?” I ask. “Why can’t I be normal?”
And from there, it’s just a short step to believing that since I am not happy and normal, I am not really experiencing God. That I am somehow outside of the boundless love of God. Because surely God wants me to be happy, right? And if God wants me to be happy, and I’m not, then I must be doing something wrong, right? And now not only am I unhappy, but I feel guilty for it to boot. And the long spiral downwards continues.
But then there’s Paul. Sitting, chained, alone, in a Roman prison. Writing about suffering. And holding open the possibility of joy.
Because for Paul, joy is a possibility even when happiness seems like a distant dream. Because, I would argue, joy is a possibility even when we don’t feel particularly joyful. Don’t get me wrong. Our feelings, our emotions, are important. But for folks who are suffering from mental illness, feelings can be enemies, out to trip you up. Even out to kill you.
So I think joy is something that has to transcend feeling. Joy draws you out of yourself, out of the habitual cycles that trip you up, that entangle you. Joy calls you into relationship with others, relationship that holds up and holds together. Joy provides meaning. For Paul, joy comes through offering the gospel to people, the good news of a God who loves us so much that God is willing to put God’s whole self on the line for us.
Joy has to do with calling. We are all called. We are called into community. We are called to be ministers, to each other and to a broken world. And we are called to be ministers, not because we are happy and not in order to be happy, but exactly because in our places of hurt we can recognize and stand in solidarity with all that is hurting in the world.
In the psalm that we read together, Psalm 30, joy is something that comes in the morning after a night of weeping. It is something we are clothed in to replace our clothes of mourning. But a different psalmist—or is it the same one—says in Psalm 31, “my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing.” For the psalmists, for Paul, and I would argue for God, joy and sorrow are not at a far remove from each other. There is joy in a life lived with God, yes. But it might often be joy in the midst of suffering.
Joy dances furiously, even if off beat. Joy sings even when her voice is breaking. Joy isn’t afraid to shed tears.
The author Andrew Solomon, in his book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, writes about the difference between joy and happiness. Himself suffering from clinical depression, he has this to say: “The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality, and my life, as I write this, is vital, even when sad. I may wake up sometime next year without my mind again; it is not likely to stick around all the time. Meanwhile, however, I have discovered what I would have to call a soul, a part of myself I could never have imagined until one day, seven years ago, when hell came to pay me a surprise visit. It’s a precious discovery. Almost every day I feel momentary flashes of hopelessness and wonder every time whether I am slipping. For a petrifying instant here and there, a lightning-quick flash, I want a car to run me over and I have to grit my teeth to stay on the sidewalk until the light turns green; or I imagine how easily I might cut my wrists; or I taste hungrily the metal tip of a gun in my mouth; or I picture going to sleep and never waking up again. I hate those feelings, but I know that they have driven me to look deeper at life, to find and cling to reason for living. I cannot find it in me to regret entirely the course my life has taken. Every day, I choose, sometimes gamely and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to be alive. Is that not a rare joy?”
Sisters and brothers. Friends. I began by telling you some, just some, of my story. I want to tell you that I am in recovery now. I am healing. And I do experience happiness, and am so grateful for that. I am certainly not trying to tell you that happiness is a bad thing or that it is not possible. But for me, and I imagine for all of us, there are some days that seem like a mortal struggle. In this Christian life, we will not always be happy. But we will always be called into something beyond ourselves, something good, something vital. In those moments when we struggle with happiness, we are not far removed from God. In those moments, there can still be meaning, still be calling, still be life. In those moments, we are invited to stand next to each other, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of unhappiness, and to proclaim, loudly, fiercely, boldly: “Yes. Yes. God is here.” Is that not a rare joy?

[ii] Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (New York: Touchstone, 2001), 248.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lent: Not giving up on stories

Mental illness sucks

Talking about it means that, sometimes, people who are going through hell are willing to talk about it with me.

And the shared stories make everything a bit less lonely for everyone.

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