Wailing is a start

Yesterday I was too tired and too viscerally scared to write. My fear relates to fascism, which frightened me a lot when I was growing up. People being mean really scares me and throws me back to feeling young and helpless. I had already imagined our neighbors down the street with seven Trump signs on their lawn banging loudly on my door, coming to get me.

I see a lot of fear from my friends on Facebook: pictures of a swastika already spotted. A lesbian friend insulted on the street by a stranger. African-American women feeling numb and bone-weary. The weary need to rest and take time to mourn. (I hope Hillary takes a little vacation, too.)

I took a long walk on an insistently sunny day and got some sleep after a stressfully long election night vigil. I also thought about biblical lamentation; never mind that my biblical studies teacher suggested that there is a difference between lament and complaint. Be that as it may, I stumbled on a strong lament/wail/complaint from the Psalms, a wonderful compendium of praise and curse, gratitude and despair:

…As for the gang leader of those who surround me,

Let their mischievous words cover them; smother them in trouble.

Let hot coals fall from heaven upon them

And cast them into the roaring fires.

May they sink into the muddy marsh from which there is no return.

Let no liar find a home anywhere in the land;

Let evil hunt down the violent man and do him in quickly. …     Ps. 140: 9-11

I understand my Bible better this morning: wailing can help. There is a time for that too.

wailingwallart

And then … I have also begun thinking about what I am called to do: what’s my task that uses my talents and not only takes energy but gives it back? I can stand with my journalist friends and advocate for a vigilant press because we’re really going to need eyes on someone who has a track record of dishonesty – he reminds me of Richard Nixon – and who has worked hard to vilify the press in order to undermine its credibility. I am also starting to see fake news stories, which really sows confusion. Lots of forces are at work here, actually, and this is a good analysis for those interested. I just signed up to be a supporter of the Guardian , which I had been reading for free. The press is important; freedom of the press ended up being a constitutional right for a reason.

That argument is a little more abstract than I wanted to make. A better question to pose and answer is how can I keep heart (especially since I had a really expensive cardiac repair job just this summer)? A lot of my progressive friends are angry and calling for organizing. I don’t think that is my call; anger tends to hinder me and make me inarticulate. It’s a tool I don’t use well. I think love and empathy are better tools. These things are lower on the list of progressives, derided as hippie-ish or kumbayah in our postmodern era. Yet one of the reasons many of us find Donald Trump objectionable is what appears to be his total lack of empathy  – the ability to imagine and respect what someone else experiences. As a new chaplain, I’ve had the opportunity to study empathy; it can be cultivated.

I was reminded about empathy when my friend Jana Riess posted Mr. Rogers’ advice about looking for the helpers in a column she wrote about post-election trauma. To that I would add as a Quaker: what is your gift? What is your call? What can you do that will sustain you, your neighbors, and the planet? There’s a lot that needs doing. Pick the need and sign up and in.

Lament

Both Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jon Stewart have spoken my mind on the murders in Charleston. I feel heavily the charge that white people need to speak more forcefully against racism. One thing I can do is use my particular gift of writing; I’m also privileged to be in seminary these days, wrestling with understanding the Bible. I know for sure: the Bible speaks about violence, understands violence, portrays it. Who needs Game of Thrones to understand exquisite cruelty, anger, revenge? The seeds of violence are in the human heart and it is a most persistent weed; it is evil in the garden.

The sin of racism has allowed this weed to flourish for centuries. When violence arms itself with guns, wraps itself with flags, seduces the cowardly or weak-minded, the result is lethal. There is lament in Charleston and throughout the land.

Do what you can. Those of us who are privileged cannot afford despair. Read, march, weep, pray. There are many prayers of anger and lament in the Bible:

Don’t kill them,

or my people might forget;

instead, by your power

shake them up and bring them down,

you who are our shield and my Lord.

For the sin of their mouths,

the words that they speak,

let them be captured in their pride.

For the curses and lies they repeat,

finish them off in anger;

finish them off until they are gone!

Then let it be known

to the ends of the earth

that God rules over Jacob.

Ps. 59: 11-1

The Still Days

After the service of Holy Thursday, lights dim to shadowMichelangelo_Merisi_da_Caravaggio_-_The_Entombment_-_WGA04148, and sound ceases: no organ, no bells, no singing. We mark the three-day passion, death, and entombment of Jesus in silence. In earlier times, these were known as the Still Days. No sound until Easter morning, when we, like Mary, will discover that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Yet until we learn that, time is interminable and still. The three days that mark the nadir of the liturgical year for all Christians are days of betrayal, agony, suffering, death. How could that be? Jesus’ followers must have wondered at the terrible turn of events: a close aide betrays him, his frightened friends scatter and hide. The man whose words drew crowds is tortured and crucified, bearing a painful and humiliating punishment that brazenly trumpets the mightiness of the Powers That Be over the lowly people to whom Jesus gave bread and hope.

We reflect on this on the still days, in the quiet. We are alone; where is the Lord? They have seized him, they have murdered him. Stillness is the frame for tears, anxiety, fears, despair. The minutes of the still days stretch on. The sun will not set; sleep will not come.

As a follower in mourning, what would I have done? Walked, I think, down dirt paths and byways, trying to hide, in order to be alone and weep, trying to somehow run fast enough to run back into the past, before the horror happened and the world was not rent, like the curtain in the temple. On the still days, sorrow muffles any feeble words that might offer consolation but utterly fail.

We wait in the still days for the time to pass, the air to move. We wait for nothing, hearts broken, numbed, dazed, cried out.

What next? No answer. Only stillness.

Resurrecting That Old House

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John 2:19

That old house has finally sold. It’s been empty for a while, and what used to be a grand old place on West Main Street now looks more ramshackle than rambling. It’s a big red brick place, a relic of Richmond, Indiana’s, 19th century economic glory and also a street side memento of the family that once lived there and likely hosted grand gatherings. The house looks like it’s easily suffered years of neglect. I’d like to interrogate it: why are you empty? What were you like before?

The whole place takes up an acre in the city, along a busy thoroughfare. Most of it is a yard so overgrown with woods and weeds it resembles the forbidden forests of fairy tales. One year I saw plenty of poison ivy. This year I have seen a collective of cats. I’m guessing the Enchanted Forest hosts a feral colony that can live there discreetly and safely. I’ve even heard the cats live in the house, which wouldn’t surprise me; it would certainly have enough bedrooms to accommodate an extended feline family. There are still curtains on the house’s front window, a leftover touch of elegance, an intimation that light and hospitality once were there and can come again.

It will take work for that old house to be resurrected. These past two weeks at seminary while studying the subjects of poverty and justice I’ve seen photos of Resurrection City , the tent city erected on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1968 by the Poor People’s Campaign begun by Martin Luther King Jr. It is both a good idea and a rough place there at the intersection of hope and faith, a fixer-upper in a less well-heeled neighborhood of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In the pictures I’ve seen, Resurrection City looked pretty depressing, a shanty town. If it had beauty, I guess you had to know where to look for it or know how, through a very active imagination. Dr. King certainly knew; his mind’s eye opened by God, he told us he had seen the Promised Land. In the speech he delivered in Memphis the night before he was assassinated and months before his campaign marched on Washington, he saw something very few others could see. ,Beyond the Memphis sanitation workers strike, beyond the snarling dogs and fire hoses and jail cells of the civil rights movement, he could see the kingdom, because, like Moses, he had been to the mountaintop. The rest of us lack imagination or are hustling along in our lives. Some are angry; others lack faith.

I wonder where the flowers were in Resurrection City. Cities need little details to make them livable and pleasing: cats padding around at twilight, flowers that bloom welcome, kids playing. Did those city planners want only to tell the truth? Truth is not always beautiful; sometimes it’s simply the medicine you need when you’re sick, bringing healing and tasting bitter. If Resurrection City was a failure, perhaps it was because they didn’t plant flowers. They certainly planted seeds. How long, oh Lord, till those seeds flower?

Thank You Note, late winter

Thank you for juicy bright oranges on winter-gray February mornings.

Thank you for the chimes ringing in the stiff wind that blows a little good.

Thank you for seed catalogs that burst with the promise of later bloom.

Thank you for stopping the snow before it got too heavy to shovel.

Thank you for cats that lounge in the afternoon sun, relaxed.

Thank you for the citrus-scented steam hovering over the teacup.

Thank you for the light in darkness, warmth in cold, simple in complicated, silence in tumult,

Every blessed day.

Amen.