Mourning with those who mourn…

I almost didn’t write this. I’m a straight, white male. Christian. Educated. I’ve had no crosses burned on my lawn, no hateful names yelled at me as a child by other children who didn’t understand what they were saying, or by adults who definitely did know what they were saying. I don’t feel the fear that many of my friends felt when they woke up this morning – the fear that maybe they are not as welcome in this country that is their home as they thought they were – as they deserve to be.

But tonight I have friends who are mourning – that the America they thought they lived in, that they thought would welcome them, that they thought they belonged to, does not exist in the way that they thought that it would, in the way that they hoped it would. Refugees. Undocumented children, women, and men. LGBTQ friends. Muslims. Latinos. Women and girls. Syrians. Women and men of color. Theirs are the voices you should be listening to tonight. Theirs are the words you should be reading. I merely want to stand by them.

All I can offer is my support. My presence. My love. My love to all of you who mourn. My love to all you who feel shell-shocked. I am with you, and for you… My life – our country – would be the poorer for your absence.

—–

But I can’t stay completely silent. To see friends, family, and strangers – many of whom are Christians – celebrating the election of the same man that is celebrated with such glee by David Duke, by the far-right neo-fascist nationalist parties in Europe, by neo-Nazis and white supremacists and white nationalists in the United States, by the KKK, by Putin, LePen, Farage – it is disturbing, and disheartening, and cause for grief.

—–

I grew up in a village in the Andes mountains with an outhouse. I played with my Quechuan neighbors in the dirt outside our home, speaking a mixture of Quechua and Spanish and the universal language of play: floating sticks down the irrigation ditch, chasing and being chased by the pigs and the sheep. But I had a US passport. I had opportunities that so many of my neighbors lacked. Not because I worked for it, or because I was better than them, or smarter than them. Completely unearned.

And when I graduated high school (I got to go to school, and didn’t have to stop studying in order to put food on the table for my family) I boarded an airplane and flew to another country – the country I was “from,” and had grown up hearing so many wonderful things about.

America. The land where all men and women are created equal. The land of opportunity. A country that was “blessed by God.” The land where freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were foundational. The country that said “I might disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it…” The country that stood for something – that welcomed immigrants and those who were willing to work hard – that lived up to the ideals of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”

But when I arrived, I slowly discovered what many who grew up here and experienced life from the margins already knew – that the ideals often failed to live up to the reality.

I still had hope.

(scratch that…)

I have hope.

(actually, scratch that…)

As Dr. West says, “I am a prisoner of hope.”

It’s hard to maintain hope though, when the children you work with every day – those who have fled violence, hunger, religious persecution, and have come through strong and brave and creative and resilient – when they are demonized and told to “go back to where you came from.” When they are told there isn’t enough for those of us already in the lifeboat, so please move along. “I’m sorry you were born in the wrong place, but that’s your fault. Next time, be born in a better country… or with a better skin color… or to a better religion…”

—–

Am I my brother’s keeper?

Who is my neighbor?

—–

If you accept me, but not the people I grew up with, my neighbors, my co-workers, my friends, the people I love, where does that leave us?

Is the only reason I’m accepted in this country the color of my skin, that I say the right things, that I fit in, that I am a member of the in-group, that I can pass?

Because I can. For a while.

(Until we start to talk about baseball, or any college sports, and then it becomes pretty clear that I am a fraud and an impostor who is not a “real American.” Or until I grow tired of stifling what I really think and feel because I am afraid it will alienate people that I love.)

Dishonesty is a small price to pay for the absence of conflict right?

But only out of honesty comes shalom – peace – wholeness – reconciliation. Only out of telling the truth – the whole, messy, honest truth, can we know each other and be known. Only then can we embrace freedom.

So I am going to try to be honest, and try to tell the truth. I don’t want to be silent.

—–

My love to all of you friends who mourn. My love to all you who feel shell-shocked. I am with you, and for you…

—–

For my friends and family who are Christians – it doesn’t matter who you voted for. But it does matter how you treat others. It does matter if you stand up for those who don’t have the privilege you wield without thinking. Your words matter. Your actions matter.

—–

I heard Trevor Noah last night. He was born in 1984 in South Africa. Mandela was still in prison, apartheid was the law of the land. It was illegal for his parents to be together.

He said:

“You can be dejected. You can be sad. But don’t let it turn in to fear.

Because that’s what Donald Trump used to get his side to do something that they never should have done.”

—–

Perfect love casts out fear.

We mourn.
We rest.
We will rise.
We will walk.

There is much to be done.

August

It’s funny – the month of August is usually my cue for reflection.  I find myself slowing down, trying to make space to look back into the past, remember where I’ve come from, the people who have touched my life, reevaluate where I’m headed, and generally try to take it easy and remember.  I love this habit, but the reason that it happens during August is because of the great (seismic?) shifts that have happened in this month over the course of my life.

Many years ago I stepped off a plane in Rio de Janeiro, a little confused, home-sick, lost, and overwhelmed, as well as excited, full of anticipation and eager expectation that good things would happen.  One of the things that I didn’t expect was Jeferson.  I’ve shared about him before – snippets of his life and death.  [I think it’s important to remember (and sometimes impossible to forget) that this story doesn’t have a happy ending.]  If he were alive today, we’d be celebrating his 29th birthday.  He’d probably have kids.  

(It’s the might-have-beens that will eat away at your soul…)

Some of you don’t know about Jeferson.  I’m sorry.  He was one of my first friends in Brazil.  A small word-picture of him:  picture a 14-year old kid from one of the rougher favelas with a smile and laugh that drew you in and made you feel as if you were sharing a joke that was on the whole world, a zest for life, a deep curiosity about other ways of life, a sense of humor that loved the absurd and was always looking for something to laugh about (or at), a softness and compassion that years on the street hadn’t managed to deaden, and so much potential for leadership that it made your teeth hurt.  He was by no means unreal – he had a bit of a temper, and made too many poor decisions, and would all too often be high out of his mind – whether out of boredom, or addiction, or just a way to deal with the immense amounts of pain and brokenness and heaviness that was his life day in and day out, or some combination of the three.  But he was deeply, authentically alive, and he was my friend, and he was someone whom God loved, and I loved, and who loved us in return.

There was his voice yelling across the praça when we would arrive, yelling out our names and running to meet us – echoes of the Father running to greet the prodigal son.  He would sing loud and hard, loved to eat spaghetti and pizza, and spent a couple of weeks living with us as we attempted to provide a safe place for him get his life together and off the streets.  He began to teach me what it meant to parent a child – the mix of love and anxiety, the desire to control and force them to make good decisions balancing out the necessity for freedom, autonomy, and the reality that those you love will make their own decisions for good or for ill, leavened with a healthy dollop of hope and apprehension.

That time didn’t stick – he left our home and was back on the streets shortly thereafter.  And the time after that when he went home to live with an older sister who was in over her head in the drug trade didn’t stick either.  And then he was in prison for theft, was gone for a few months, and came back a little wiser, a little more guarded, a little harder…  Yet in the midst of this, flashes of hope would glimmer.  A request for prayer – a tear and a whispered confession and a sincere effort to change and make good decisions – caring for younger kids on the cold wet sidewalks of Rio – a sense of hope – murmured prayers in the dark on the sidewalks and under streetlights.

This went on for two years – two years of shared meals, of spontaneous encounters on the streets and in the favelas, on the beaches and in the churches, sandwiches and hot chocolate while huddled under an overhang from the winter rains, singing songs of hope and life and joy and a reality that must have seemed unimaginable at times.  Two years of growth, of failure, of prayers, of heartache, of dancing and beauty and life, of pouring myself into him, and being poured into in return.  Two years of slow movement, of incremental changes, of three steps forward and two steps back.

Two years…

—–

I remember sitting in my apartment doing something stupid and pointless on the internet when I heard someone knocking on my door.  It was Rich, and he had bad news.  “Jeferson’s dead.”  And things came crumbling down…

Details were fuzzy, yet as they slowly crystallized became more and more horrific – betrayal, ambush, humiliation, torture, murder…  par for the course in our broken world, so full of death, yet real to me in a new and powerful way.  It’s a story that has taken place too many times.  It’s a story that happens daily, sometimes on a much bigger scale – Syria, Egypt, DRC, Colombia, Haiti, Brazil…  It happens here in the US – in Ferguson, in Cincinnati, in Baton Rouge, in Falcon Heights, in Englewood. It’s a story that continues to play itself out here in Chicago today in my very own backyard.  It’s a reality that I find all too easy to forget.

—–

I don’t want to forget.  I can’t really.  I can pretend, I can distract myself with shiny toys and fun games, but YouTube videos and books won’t bring resolution and a sense of closure.  There is work to be done.  Reconciliation.  Justice.  Forgiveness.  Hope.  Safety.  All things new…

I think of friends who are still involved – still kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight – in Kolkata, Katmandu, El Alto, Bangkok, LA, Jacksonville, Antakya, Port-au-Prince, Chicago – and I am thankful.  For their life.  For their example.  For their courage.

I think of all those who keep kicking at the darkness – in Aleppo, Athens, Ferguson, Baltimore, Brownsville, the deserts of the southwest, the container ships full of human lives, those who keep giving and serving and loving and healing, day in, and day out – and I am thankful.

—–

My only response that keeps me moving is hope. Not a hope that ignores the brokenness and ugliness in the world, but that moves forward in spite of it. Not a faith that pretends there is no doubt.  Trust in the midst of doubt.  Not a faith that is blind to uncertainty.  Faith working through uncertainty.  Asking questions, pushing, not settling for the status quo, but in the midst of that holding on to the vision of all things new that gives us hope.  I recognize that this is a choice, but it is a choice that I choose to make.  And maybe that’s where grace comes in – that I choose to hope, that I choose to look for the good, and look for God, that I choose to try and find beauty, that I choose to act and not despair, that I choose to love and not wall myself off from others, from life, from the pain and the joy.

—–

Keep kicking at the darkness friends…  until it bleeds daylight…

The high price of crossing

“Pati has never told her daughter what happened to her…”

‘-Which, you know, I get. I mean, that is a hell of a conversation to have with your 14-year-old daughter.’

“Yeah. It’s also a hell of a conversation not to have…”

One side of the coin

Some days I leave work, and my only response to humanity as a whole (or, more specifically, that subset who take advantage of their power and privilege to do violence with impunity) is in line with what Roy here says below:

As I was driving home tonight, I remembered the corollary to the above statement made by the southern theologian Will Campbell when he was asked to define what Christianity meant to him, and he responded, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway…”

It doesn’t make the anger go away, or make everything all better…  The problem is still there.  But I’m no longer alone in it.  And neither are the girls…

People are bastards.  Men are bastards.  But God loves us anyway

Lightning flashes

Tonight I was driving on the highway into storms and lightening and thunder, talking to a friend on the phone.  The rain poured in sheets, and as the lightning crashed and we talked, epiphanies crashed with similar force in my head…  Yet truth known is no better than truth unknown if it is not lived out.  So now, in light of said epiphany, the challenge is to live in the light of that knowledge. 

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free…”

Thankful for this reminder tonight…

 

Only Love

The last time I was at the Music Box theater was over a year ago, with Ryan.  It’s a fun theater which shows quirky fare.  Tonight they were screening several of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentaries.  The second one we watched was titled “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.”

Over the forty-minute long film, we come to know Jack Hall, an 83-year-old World War 2 veteran who is serving a life sentence for murder. He has congestive heart failure, has been in the hospital wing for the past 10 years after multiple heart attacks, and is not doing well. We follow him around as he is wheeled out into the yard to visit with his friends, we follow him to worship services and doctor’s visits and eventually follow him into one of the two hospice rooms of the Iowa State Penitentiary.

It is a startling, intimate, humanizing look into the lives of several men who are incarcerated – and what it means to die with dignity in prison.

The most arresting moments we were invited into were the moments that Jack shared with his hospice care-givers – volunteers who spent 10-12 hours a day with him 5 days a week, in shifts so that he was never alone: bathing him, holding his hand, praying with him and for him, rubbing his back, shaving him, laughing and joking and simply being with him so that he would not die alone.

One of the volunteers was named Love – serving a life sentence for kidnapping. Love was with Jack as he faded into a coma, and became unresponsive. Love was with Jack as he stopped breathing.

And for someone who all too often tears up while listening to “This American Life,” I was gone.

Such a beautiful picture of what reconciliation can look like – life transformed and made new…  Even the murderers and kidnappers and the embezzlers and the gossips and the liars and the racists and the selfish and the greedy and the prideful – Jack, and Love, and you, and me…

—–

(for more on “Prison Terminal,” check out this piece on “Fresh Air.”)

The little things are the big things…

I hunger for big things: the grand romantic gesture, the one time blazing act of martyrdom, the finished marathon, the diploma in hand, the wedding vows stated in front of all.  I wanted to save the world.  (And if I’m being honest, I still do.)

I read of the violence in the Central African Republic, the discplaced in refugee camps all around Syria, the trafficked, the poor, the outcast, the vulnerable.  I hear the stories of the immigrants who have come to this country in search of a better life, and the children of those immigrants who have braved deserts and rivers and violence and death in search of their families.

I see the brokenness, and I want to fix it – to be the hero – to solve the problem – to make it better, in one grand gesture – in one quick fix.

But I know my smallness – and also have come to know that, if I’m honest, I’m not that special.  I’m not the smartest, or the hardest working, or the most creative.  I’m not the most loving, or the most disciplined, or the most faithful.  I’m above average in some ways, below average in others – mediocre in more ways than I care to admit.

And that is OK.  (At least they say it is…  sometimes I believe it.  But more often than not, I don’t.)

—–

I’ve heard this before.  I’ve known this at times.  But I forget.  I learn, and forget.  I remember, then forget.  I see the stories, feel the need, taste the darkness, and all too easily become overwhelmed.  It hurts too much to care about this beautiful, broken, frozen frozen world.  It disappoints you.  People let you down.  They are broken, but it can feel like a betrayal.  I let myself down.  I am broken too, but it can feel like a betrayal.

To open ones heart to the world is to let it thaw – to open oneself to pain.  And all too often this past semester I have chosen the easy way – the lazy way – of sitting, of withdrawing, of sleeping.  Of shutting out, of building walls, of numbing.

I noticed, but waited for something to change – for some epiphany to strike, for something to happen that would result in change and redemption and newness and hope.

These last weeks, I’ve been thinking though…

I’ve been thinking about decisions, and hope.

I’ve been thinking about faithfulness, and about small steps.

I’ve been pondering what it would look like to be living a life that is abundant.

I’ve been pondering what it looks like to live fully, richly, in ways that open myself up to the present – to possibility – to the risk of rejection – the risk of failure…

To remind myself that living courageously is sometimes not a matter of standing in front of the tanks or lying to the SS, but sometimes it is to step into possibility knowing it may not work out.  Sometimes, it is to risk that rejection one again, even if you don’t think you could survive.  Sometimes, it is to risk failure, even if you have failed time and time again, and you think that one more failure will destroy you.

Sometimes, that is courage.  Sometimes, that is what living faithfully looks like.

And sometimes, it is putting on layers and going down to the lake and running through the ice and snow.  Sometimes, it is building a fire and connecting with your roommate and picking up the guitar that you haven’t touched in months and playing until your fingers ache.  Sometimes, it is making that phone call, writing that email, praying the examen and really listening to your heart.  Sometimes, it is a posture of gratitude, and doing what needs to be done today, even if you did it yesterday, and even if you’ll have to do it again tomorrow.

And sometimes, that one small act really is the grand gesture – the simple act of beauty that will save the world.

 

Gratitude

It’s time to watch this again:

It seemed appropriate – not just because it is Thanksgiving – but because the last few weeks of school, papers and projects are piling up for me, work and internship are reminding me both how broken people are and how broken this world is, and I find myself losing sight of the beauty and wonder around me as I am drowning in books and journal articles and case notes and reports. So much in this culture and society is pulling us towards wanting more – desire – consumption. “If you just had this, you’d be happy. If only you weren’t so ____, people would love you more. If you could just own that new toy, that new pretty thing… All you need is just a little bit more – more stuff, more status, more accomplishment, more happiness… And you deserve it.”  And on Black Friday, the high holy days of capitalism, we see this message over and over again.

This is the message we hear every day. And it is a lie. It will never be enough.

I know what is true. I see the things that push me towards life, towards abundance, towards joy: and among those things, three of the primary ones are contentment, gratitude, and wonder. So much in life is outside of our control. You can’t will yourself towards health when you’re sick. You can’t make someone love you. We all have limitations, barriers, and things that hinder us from accomplishing what we desire. And the tension that I wrestle with is how to balance that acceptance of my limitations and finiteness with the reality that there is much that I dream will come true – there are deep desires within me for beauty, for community, for redemption, for companionship, for love, for faithfulness, and those desires are there for a purpose. This battle between contentment and desire wages in my heart, but it is only be holding them in that tension that balance can be lived. Contentment reminds me that my desires are just that – desires. And while they point to something deeper, they should be held loosely. Yet those deep desires of my heart remind me that I was made for more, it keeps me moving God-ward, it guards me from complacency and passivity and laziness. Both are needed, in their appropriate place.

Gratitude and wonder work together to stop and remind me of how truly blessed I am – everything I have been given, and everything that gives color and laughter to my life. From the sun crawling up off the lake on my morning run, to the lights of the city as I drive home at night – the play of clouds, the sound of the breeze, the crisp cool air that burns and awakens and refreshes – these are gifts. The laughter of a friend’s daughter, the tears that spring from some unknown place when confronted by the beauty of friendship, of love, and of sacrifice – all are gifts. A glass of wine and a loaf of bread to welcome the Sabbath as an old friend, forgiveness growing slowly like a blade of grass in the sand, a heart that is melting, thawing, warming before the light of the son – this is gift and grace. When we truly stop and see, how can we not be grateful? When we truly stop and feel, how can our hearts not threaten to explode with wonder?

“Gratefulness can change our world in immensely important ways. If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful. If you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. The grateful act out of a sense of enough, not scarcity, so they are willing to share.  Being grateful does no less than change the power balance of life.  It’s a nonviolent revolution that even revolutionizes the concept of revolution.  Grateful people are joyful people; the more joyful people are, the more we’ll have a joyful world.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

And in the midst of the tragedy, the brokenness, the unmet desires and unfulfilled dreams, and all that we don’t understand, we see glimmers of hope – catch the faintest whiff of grace – hear the whisper of peace and presence: it’s enough to make anyone thankful, if just for a moment… And sometimes, that moment is all we need to keep on.

“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.  You pay your money and you take your choice.  Only never take your choice too easily, of course.  Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.  One choice is this.  It is to choose to believe that the truth of our story is contained in Jesus’s story, which is a love story.  Jesus’s story is the truth about who we are and who the God is who Jesus says loves us.  It is the truth about where we are going and how we are going to get there, if we get there at all, and what we are going to find if we finally do.  Only for once let us not betray the richness and depth and mystery of that truth by trying to explain it…” ~ Frederick Buechner

(Reposted, because I needed to be reminded of this today…)