Thursday, July 28, 2016

Nobody killed Freddie Gray.

When I lived in Jerusalem, one of our Palestinian mission partners wrote an article for a United Methodist Publication.

The article was about Gaza.

The article mentioned that one of our church-funded projects had been damaged by "Israeli bombs."

The article got a lot of criticism. People were upset that they author had written "Israeli bombs." They said it sounded blaming. They said it sounded one-sided.

So. Nobody dropped the bombs. That clinic bombed itself.

Yesterday, in Baltimore, it was decided --
 -- Yes. Notice the passive voice. --
that nobody killed Freddie Gray.

I stood on the corner where he was arrested.
A mural on the wall, now.
A community garden across the street.

Nobody killed Freddie Gray.
His spine crushed itself.

And what if I told you
that it was U.S. bombs
just this week
that killed 50 civilians
in Syria?

Would you flinch at "U.S. bombs"?

Did those children bomb themselves?

And I think of Jesus, on the cross --
      saying, "Father, forgive them."

He prayed to God to forgive.

In that moment, he could not do it himself.

And I imagine the devil --
     having returned to Jesus at this, the next opportunity,

"There is no them, sir. There is only you. You did this to yourself."

Somebody pulls the trigger.
Somebody drops the bomb.
Somebody makes the call,
    drives the van,
            some human body
                 is responsible.

And so:
    if, like me, your hands are not so clean --
    if, like me, you can be hidden inside the passive voice --

The kingdom of heaven has come near.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stories and Self-Harm -- a few reflections from Wild Goose 2016

Leigh and I went to the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC again this year. I didn't think I'd get a chance to speak like I did last year, but at the last minute my friend Sarah got a mental health panel put together. The theme of this year's Wild Goose was 'Story,' and so I've been thinking a lot lately about telling stories of mental illness and mental health struggles. Last night I went to hear Monica Coleman speak at Busboys & Poets about her new book, Bipolar Faith -- which is fantastic, and I highly recommend -- and I was reminded again of just how powerful and courageous an act it is to share these stories, which are so often silenced, stigmatized, or shamed.

So I thought I would share some of what I shared at Wild Goose this year about stories as an act of resistance in the face of mental health struggles:

Mental illness is an experience of fragmentation and alienation. It shatters our narratives and forces us into the hardest task of our lives -- to somehow reintegrate all these broken bits into some kind of whole. To try to make some sense of it, out loud or on paper or on canvas, to try somehow to forge communication and connection out of silence stigma, is the sort of counter-hegemonic, counter-intuitive act that the word 'gospel' is meant to describe.

In particular, at Wild Goose this year, I reflected on the power that stories have in the face of one of the most stigmatized and difficult to explain aspects of my experience with mental illness: self-harm.

It's a very difficult experience to explain because it's exactly a sort of breakdown of any ability to communicate an internal reality. It's not just self-punishment, nor is it suicide-attempt lite. It's an act of communication, albeit a desperate one. An effort to express the inexpressible. It's what happened when I ran out of words, when there just seemed to be no way for me to make my outsides match my insides -- my insides that already felt cut up, fragmented, jagged.

The cuts and burns said -- when I didn't trust that words could -- "This is how it is for me. This is what I feel like. No matter what mask I put on, this is the real me."

And so to find words. To find words -- to choose the pen instead of the razor -- this is a victory. An act of resistance. Good news to be shouted from the mountaintop. An announcement to be carried by the swift feet of messengers.

One evening, five years ago, wracked with pain, I picked up a marker instead of a blade. And what I meant to write on my arm was the language of shame. Of self-accusation. I meant to write: "I thought you were over this."

And instead, by some grace beyond my ability, I wrote:

"My grace is sufficient for you."

Grace. Gospel. Victory.

And that is my prayer for all of us. That we find the grace -- not always amazing. Not always transformative. Not always abundant.

Sometimes just sufficient. Sometimes just enough.

So we can live. And find words. And tell our stories.


Appreciate this post? Want to support my writing? Check out my Patreon Page.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A personal update

(This is a long-ish personal update. TL;DR version: check out my new Patreon page and help support my creative projects!)

Hello readers! Thanks for being here.

I kept waiting for a more appropriate time to post a (somewhat self-indulgent) personal update, but the world keeps spinning, and bad news is abundant. I decided a long time ago not to force myself to blog about every thing that happens in a news cycle. There are plenty of insightful political, social, theological, and economic commentaries about current events, and I don't always have something better to say.

So, I'll go ahead and share this:

As many of you know, at the end of February I finished up my time in ministry at American University. I loved my work there, and am so grateful for all I learned from the AU students. There were so many God sightings during my time there.

Leigh and I are chaplains-in-residence at Georgetown, which means our neighbors are 100 or so college freshman. That's a fun gig, and gives us housing (plus we get to have a puppy!) -- but it's part time, and doesn't come with a paycheck.

So since February, I've been looking for other work, and coming up dry. I've had some part-time contract work here and there, but nothing long-term or even really part-time. Other than that, it's been rejection letter after rejection letter, and it's been wearing me down.

The odd thing about this is that I actually have all sorts of projects and opportunities I'm really excited about right now. To share a few examples:
  • I'm working on a book manuscript about my experiences with mental illness and faith, tentatively titled Christ on the Psych Ward.
  • Leigh and I went to Wild Goose again this year, and although I didn't think I'd get a chance to speak this year, at the last minute my friend Sarah put together a panel and asked me to be a part of it, which was great. 
  • I recently took on the role of board chair for Friends of Sabeel (the U.S. partner of the organization I worked for in Jerusalem), and am feeling energized and excited about their work amplifying the voice of Palestinian Christians for justice and peace. 
  • I've decided to start messing around with a podcast idea, which I'm going to call "Fooling with Scripture" -- I'll be posting those on this blog. Leigh and I are also talking about working on an audio project together, which could be really cool. 
  • I'm messing around with some new music and am hoping to record a few new songs in the next year.
  • And I'm going to be collaborating with some folks at the Convergence project to resource progressive campus ministries on campuses with little or no support network for that kind of thing.
So, lots of exciting, creative, cool things going on.

It's just...none of them help me eat. Or help Penny eat.

And just look at her. She needs food:

So I've decided to try an experiment. I've created a page over at Patreon, which is a website that lets people become patrons for artists, musicians, authors, and other creative-types.

Basically, if you enjoy reading my blog, and would like to see me post on here more often; if you want to hear more about the book and even get some sneak peaks as I'm writing; or if you just like my smiling face and want to share some love; then you can check out the page and become one of my first patrons!

There's different reward levels listed on the Patreon site, but even if you just have a buck or two to donate in a month, I will thank you sincerely and profusely (and give you a shout-out on the podcast when I start posting it)!

And if you can't or don't want to donate at Patreon, don't worry -- my posts on the blog are free, and always will be. Just the fact that people read my stuff is awesome, and I'm grateful that you're here!

Thank you for reading, and be kind out there.

Thanks and peace,

P.S. -- Also if you have any job leads, hit me up! Looking in the areas of church ministry, campus ministry, and higher ed/student affairs

P.P.S. -- Since I mentioned the Convergence folks, here's a cool summary of what they're about, featuring the face of yours truly with some super cool friends:

P.P.P.S. -- aaaaaand here's a puppy picture for good measure:

Friday, July 15, 2016

We know how.

"I don't know how."

Searching. Searching for words. I've been searching for words for weeks.

(What a privilege, to spend time searching for words, when people are falling, when words are being wrenched out of their mouths, when breath is being wrenched out of their lungs)

Searching for words, and the words that keep echoing in my head all start the same:

"I don't know how..."

But that is a lie. I know how. We know how.


I left Jerusalem in the night. Loaded into the taxi with one last sip of Taybeh still on my tongue. And sat, clenched fists, sweating, the whole way to the airport.

Clawed my way out of Tel Aviv, escaping. Some can't. Most don't want to. Not forever.

A tightly wound ball of anger and hurt, lurching left and right through life until --
   -- five years ago now, can you imagine --
I crashed.

I had seen, had witnessed, the constancy.

The patient widows.

The prayers of feet and hands.

And I did not know if I could do that.

And I turned the anger inward onto myself.

And my mind collapsed.

"I don't know how."


2003. Millions of us in the streets, shouting, saying:

"Bombs lead to more bombs. Bombs lead to more bombs. Bombs lead to more bombs. We've got to find another way. "

Do you believe us, now? Do you believe us?

And polite, nice, lovely people saying:

"We don't know how."

"We don't know how."

We know how.

Enough. Disarm your hearts. Unclench your fists from around the weapons that became invisible to us long ago -- we only see theirs, we only see theirs.

We know how.


I have seen them:

the widows

the sorrowful mothers

going back to the unjust judge time and time and time again:

"Grant us justice. Grant us justice. Grant us justice."

I know how.

We've seen how.

I've heard the steady whisper,

felt the light touch of the steadying hand,

met that voice down under everything.

I know how.

Silence. Enough. Peace. Be still. Know that God is God.

We know how.

It's just that it's hard.

And guns always seem easier
    than the type of prayer we need
          revealed to us by the presence
               of persistently patient widows.

Monday, July 11, 2016

After These Things

"After these things, God tested Abraham." -- Genesis 22:1

"But race is the child of racism, not the father." -- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me


"After these things"
    -- that's what the book says --

that it was "after these things"
    that Abraham
    thinking he heard a voice from God
    determined to kill his son.

And they went on,
    the two of them,

    inextricably bound,
    violently bound,

Bound together.

After these things.

And each time
    after these things happen

I think the same tired thoughts
    of grief
    and power
    and powerlessness
    and the end of useful words.

But words matter
    (or I do not)

Names matter:
    Philando Castile
    Alton Sterling

Naming matters:
    Black lives matter.

After these things
    after Orlando
    after Dallas
    when it is too late to matter 
    for the bodies sacrificed 
    to gods of hate and shame and fear

after these things
    I wonder
    if --
        without some sort of miraculous intervention
    Abraham can ever learn

to put down the knife.

To put down the gun.

And I imagine Abraham
    on his death bed
    no conversation with his son for years
    (bound, bound, inextricably and violently bound)

Praying one last time

For one last miracle

That future generations --
     inextricably bound
     rival offspring

would not wait for

    after these things.