Monday, May 26, 2014

Some things I remember

It is Memorial Day; a day for remembering. And it is good and right to remember.

Here are some things I remember.

I remember my dad, a two tour Vietnam vet, though you wouldn't know that from his license plate or his hat, speaking to a group of people in a university classroom. "Memorial Day is a sad day for me," he said. "It's a day I remember friends I've lost--not just in combat but here at home, from suicide or drugs or alcohol or homelessness." It was the first time I'd heard him say it so directly, in more than two decades.

I remember him, during the lead-up to the first Gulf War. How worried he was. I was young, then, and didn't have these words, but...there was a deep wound, there.

I remember being a kid, and playing war. Thinking it was a glorious thing, the guns and the planes, the heroes and the excitement. Watching war movies with my dad.

I remember the day the planes struck the towers. How clear and blue the sky was, with not a plane in sight. I remember how surreal it was. How I thought, "This is madness." And somehow knowing that this was the beginning of more madness.

I remember marching in DC with tens of thousands of others. I was with my dad and we walked down to the Vietnam War Memorial, and he found a name here and a name there. And I had the sense that this was going to happen, again.

I remember kids in my high school cheering when the principal announced that we were going to invade Iraq, and this deep sense of anger welling up in me that we would cheer death.

I remember going with a friend to a Quaker meeting in college, and feeling like perhaps peace was a possible thing, a palpable thing. Praying for it. Longing for it.

I remember hearing of the death by suicide of a young man from my high school who was in Iraq. A man--a boy--I didn't know well. And hearing that, during many months, the suicide rate among soldiers was higher than combat losses.

I remember people cheering for soldiers in the airport. How some seemed so appreciative, while others had faces that were hard to read. I remember my dad saying, "When people thank me for my service, I tell them to call up a favorite teacher and thank them instead."

I remember being in Bethlehem, with the fighter planes thundering overhead, and a young Palestinian man saying, "They are practicing for something big." And they were. And Gaza burned.

I remember being at a funeral, and watching two young soldiers fold a flag with shaking hands, and how I had the deep sense that it was right for them to do so, that this was not about any policy or any critique but about honoring a man who had served.

I remember people who have died fighting their own private wars, with depression or isolation or the weight of life.

And I remember writing all of this before. Sharing all of this before.

And I suppose that I will keep doing that, as long as we insist on adding names to the list of people we need to remember on this day.

We remember that on the night before Jesus threw himself into the face of violence, he shared bread and wine with friends. And we make a claim in the face of all evidence to the contrary that love wins. That breaking bread and sharing wine somehow has some power in the face of death's steady march. That we will feast together at a heavenly banquet.

So, yes. Today, I will remember. I will honor. I will pray for God's loving and gracious arms to hold the dead, to hold the widows and the orphans of war, to hold the veterans and the victims of war.

I will remember. And also. I will not consent to add names to the list. I will not--and I will keep saying this until I'm out of breath to do it--I will not dance to the drums of war.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A few thoughts on Aldersgate Day and sharing stories

So, today is Aldersgate Day, that wonderful day each year when I get to see which of my Facebook friends are really, truly Methodist nerds.

For those of you who aren't in the know (or who have, you know, lives and stuff), Aldersgate Day is like a Methodist mini-holy day, also known as "Heart Strangely Warmed" Day. Here's Methodist founder John Wesley's journal entry from May 24, 1738:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a [Moravian] society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Huzzah! Heart strangely warmed! Conversion experience! Revival! Methodism begins!

Here is what I love about Aldersgate Day.

While the experience at Aldersgate Street more than 275 years ago is often referred to as a conversion experience for Wesley, at the time he was not only already a Christian, but already an ordained Anglican priest. He had already gone on mission to the colonies, had truly mucked things up, and had returned feeling despondent and doubtful. What happened at Aldersgate wasn't a conversion to a different religion, it was a re-conversion (a re-"turning"). A realization that all of the things that he had read and learned and preached about might actually apply to him. That God really, actually, loved him and wanted to get up to something rather revolutionary in his messy life of faith and doubt.

I love that. It's a bit of a counter-narrative. It's not a checked box. It's not a repudiation of everything that came before, nor does it turn everything after into just telling that one story over and over and trying to get other people to have exactly the same experience. It's just a moment in time when the whole story came into focus. John Wesley would not have appreciated the sort of obsessive focus on a singular, personal salvation experience that has become so emphasized in much of USAmerican Christianity. This is, after all, the man who wrote against the concept of "holy solitaries," saying: "The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness."

I guess what I'm saying is, I like Aldersgate Day not because of that one day, but because of what it says about every other day. Every other part of the story. And not just my story. But my part in the whole grand story of God's love. And of all the ways that we totally don't get it. And then those times when, suddenly, it comes into focus. And we realize that God is up to some amazing things. Bridging separation. Healing brokenness. Challenging alienation and shame. Getting all up in the face of oppressive power. Inspiring. Resurrecting.

And we're invited along for the ride.

So: next time some wandering proselytizer asks you, "Have you been saved?" Or, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" Maybe you should say:

"Got an hour or two? I've got a story to tell you."

I'd love to hear yours.

Whether today is an Aldersgate Day sort of day for you, or whether it's one of those "lost in the fog" sort of days, or whether it's one of those "I suck at talking to women [or whoever] and then I deny them communion which is sort of a no-no and then I leave the colonies in disgrace and almost die in a storm" sort of days, it's part of your story. And whether you realize it today or not, God loves you. Even you.

Even me.

Even us.
Painted wall in the common area of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Hawaii.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First thoughts on Hawaii

So. I'm in Honolulu. What to say, what to say?

It is humid here but nothing like the soul-crushing weight of humidity in DC.

This is a very diverse place. Different languages, different ethnicities, different backgrounds. I've met a few of the students I'll be working with. One is from Ithaca, NY. One is from Maui. One is from Beijing. One is from Atlanta. One is from Korea, by way of American Samoa.

Everyone has been very nice to me. The students have been giving me good tips on things I should check out.

The place where I am living is cool, but the bugs don't mess around (pictures pending--those suckers move fast).

Unlike DC, people drive pretty slow and also do not seem to be out to murder each other.

Also, when I walk my normal pace here, I feel like I'm sprinting.

Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959 after struggling to defend its sovereignty against...guess who:


So it's been a state for 55 years, and is the most recent U.S. state. DC, it's time.

According to one sign at the Waikiki beaches, surfing almost disappeared from Hawaii by 1900 because missionaries tried to ban it:

Way to go, us. Nothing makes Jesus look good like trying to eradicate fun.

I am not sure that I will learn how to surf:

But I definitely want to learn how to play the uke:

Spot and I can't wait for Leigh to get here so that we can check out some of these excursions (book courtesy of UMW Book Sale at Metropolitan):

And, finally, I am one lucky, lucky dude.