Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day and my father

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.

A few years ago, on Veterans' Day, I went and heard by dad speak at a panel sponsored by Veterans for Peace. He said some pretty powerful stuff. I'm paraphrasing a bit here. One thing he said is that he feels really uncomfortable when people thank him for his military service--he served for two tours in Vietnam--because what he did in Vietnam was to aid and enable an effort to kill a lot of people. Another thing he said is that Veterans' Day is a happy day for him, a day that he celebrates the successes of veterans who have survived against all odds, not only combat but PTSD, trauma, alcoholism, crime, drugs, domestic violence, depression, psychosis, homelessness--so many wolves prowling for the lives of veterans.

But he said something about Memorial Day, too. He said that Memorial Day is a sad say for him, because it's a day that he remembers all his friends and classmates (he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1963) who have died, many of them not in battle but after returning home, driving drunk or committing suicide.

So that is more or less what my dad, who is a veteran, said about Memorial Day. That for him, it is a sad day.

This is not a self-righteous post. Tomorrow, I will eat grill food with some friends, and go hiking with some of  the same friends. I will not spend the day in sackcloth and ashes.

But I will think about those mourning losses, those who are torn apart inside, and those who are still alive but have never recovered and perhaps will never recover from their traumatic experiences.

And I will also stop, if sinfully briefly, to remember those victims of war who have died. Those hundreds of thousands of civilians--and yes, even those who took up arms or who bombed or who destroyed--in Vietnam and in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in other places around the world that most of us couldn't find on an unlabeled map.

And I will say a prayer for peace.

And I will ask myself what I have done to honor veterans of war and victims of war, and to work for a more peaceful world, a world in which we do not have to add to the list of people who my dad remembers on Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


In August I wasn't sure I could do this.

And in January I moved up to full time and I wasn't sure I could do this all over again.

But I did it friends. I've finished my first year in seminary post-hospital.

I am feeling very grateful to God, and for friends and family and faith communities.

A lot of really, really good people who have lent me a lot of support and love are about to graduate. And I am going to miss all of them very, very much.

But I am so grateful. For them. For new friends. For supportive professors and for jokes and for rain and for  I don't know what else.

Sometimes feelings just come on you like waves. Sometimes, with depression, they don't come at all, as pointed out by the amazing Hyperbole and a Half.

So hell, I'm grateful for being grateful.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Thank you for being blessings. Thank you all. From the bottom of my heart.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A thought about food and paying attention

I was walking out of a restaurant in Chinatown with a friend when a man walking past us caught my eye.

Now, here is the deal, and this is a confession. When people stop me in the streets of DC, I usually assume one of two things. One, they are college students getting paid crap money to try to get my name on their clipboard for UNICEF/Planned Parenthood/HRC. Or two, they are asking for money.

This is not something I am happy with about myself. There are all sorts of other reasons for someone to stop me. To ask for directions, maybe. Or maybe they're a friend I don't recognize saying hi. One time a guy stopped me because I was carrying my guitar and he wanted to tell me about a gig I should try to get. Or maybe someone just wants me to pay attention to what a beautiful day it is.

But I always assume it's about money. So when this man started talking to me outside of the Eat First Chinese Restaurant, I gave my standard response: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't have any cash."

"No, no," he said, and then made a sort of universally recognized gesture to his mouth, "I'm wondering if you have anything to eat?"

He had spotted that I was carrying a bag with leftovers from the restaurant.

"Oh! Yeah. Sure," I said, and handed him the bag. "'s General Tso's chicken." I shrugged as if to say, 'Not sure you like that.'

"Great, thanks," he said. We parted ways.

So here's the thing. When he stopped me, I wasn't mindful of the fact that I was carrying food. It wasn't until he pointed it out that I thought, "Oh. Right. I have extra food and can easily give it away." Because I'm used to having extra food. It's a normal occurrence in my life. A background noise. To have not only enough, but more than enough.

And there are plenty of people--way, way too many people in this city that it is cliched for me to point out is the capital city of the richest most powerful country on this planet--who not only don't have more than enough, they don't have enough. Food insecurity is rampant in DC.

So I'm grateful for my friends who remind me to be mindful of this. Like Andy and Erica and David and Veronica, who cook food for folks who don't have it down at the St. Luke's Mission Center. Or Rachel, who refuses to let us throw away extra food. Or the AU students who take a Saturday a month to help out at a food bank in Maryland when they could be studying or partying or sleeping in. Or all of my friends who stop and pray before we eat--I'm so bad at that!--so that we can take a few seconds to be grateful and mindful and to remind ourselves that the hands that brought us this food might be numbered with those who don't have enough.

It starts with an awareness. With a prayer.

With paying attention.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Instead of a systematic theology, I have a-systematic theology

So I sat down to write my credo for my systematic theology class and I've ended up with a 15 page christology. My roommate informs me that this is because I have too much Christ in my theology. I informed him that he's a rotten dirty heretic and that he deserves a big slap in the face from St. Nicholas. He also informs me that I superimpose my Christian beliefs on Jewish texts. I threw a shoe at him and insulted his heritage and his physical appearance. It was a good talk.

Ok, only half of that really happened. And my roommate totally gets a point in his column when, toward the end of my christology, I shrug and say something like, "Well, we can't really understand this without understanding the Holy Spirit, and I don't have time for that 'cuz it's finals week and I've frittered away all my writing time playing guitar in a fountain with said roommate."

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I wanted to share with you how I'm ending my credo, because I think it's fun and I think it helps blow overly-systematized theologies up from the inside out, which is a worthy cause in my opinion. Like Donald Miller says, this isn't math. It's relationship.

Check it out:

"The band mewithoutYou has a song entitled “Four Word Letter, Pt. 2” which ends emphatically with the following lines: “We hunger; though all that we eat brings us no relief, we don’t know quite what else to do. We have all of our beliefs, but we don’t want our beliefs. O God of peace, we want you.” Ultimately, it is not Christology that we crave. It is Christ. It is not theology that we yearn for. It is an encounter with the living God. It is not eschatology that we hope for. It is eschaton.

I once composed a song in critique of rapture theology that contains the line “I don’t know what’s waiting for us when we close our eyes, but I’d bet my life that it’s something that sings.” We do not know what the inbreaking kingdom of Christ will ultimately look like, but we see glimpses, hints of the glory to come.
Whatever it looks like, I will take the risk to claim that there will be singing.
And there will be dancing.
And we will feast together at the heavenly banquet."