Monday, October 27, 2008

reformation sunday

Let our bones be broken,
and re-knit anew.
Will you break our walls and teach us how to fight?
Will you break our genders and classes?

Our hates and habits are calcified:
Sedimented with the weight of race and nation.
Are you strong enough?
Are we strong enough for the breaking,
and for the reforming?

Make our pretty old churches new and ugly,
marked with the dirt of tragedy and fertility.
Mark us with ashes,
make us your own.

We are always in need of re-forming,
and we are always being re-formed.

(words are not enough... we must resort to bread...)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What I'm Up Thinking About

(I was up late thinking. And maybe it was the coffee I had too late in the evening, but maybe it wasn't, so I got up to write, and I wrote a letter to my pastor. And I edited it very slightly and posted it here.)

A few things, that feel really related, and might even sound related in the morning:

Today I drove with my friend to _______. She had to drive up to take her mother to the dmv, so her mother could get her license back, because her mother lost her license driving drunk. She said to me, "What's sad is that she was a really good mom, up until the drinking and the mental illness started." And I believe her. Because I could see little glimpses of it in the way they interacted, in the way her recently-drinking mom told her that she was a fine young woman. In the art in her mom's garage, and in the story about going to see her dad sing a concert seventeen years ago. But all of that changed when her mom started drinking, when ___ was in the fourth grade. What a tragedy. And now she contends with a legacy of family broken-ness, and she contends with her own self-doubt and commitment issues, and she contends in a very real way with her mom. And she plans out with her sister who will drive her mom to the dmv, and who will have a stern talk with her about drinking and driving. And the whole thing is so heart-breaking. Just so heart-breaking. This, E., my same friend whose life has had more than its share of curve balls and awful in the past year, where periodic abusive text messages from her mom are just part of the fabric, the background of it all. And I asked her on the way home if she feels like there's anything else she could try, and she listed all the things they have tried, and I have to agree that it seems like there's nothing else they can try. It just makes me shake my head. It just makes me snap at my girlfriend. It just makes me sad and angry.

Except that it doesn't just make me sad and angry. Because we ride together, the whole way to ________ and back. And we leave her mom's house, and I say to her, "We're getting ice cream, right?" and she says, "Oh, yeah." And we do. And our rides, both there and back, are full of life and integrity and deep heart sharing and laughing like crazy at the joy and awful in the world. And we stop at the library on the way back, and I pull five good comic books off the shelf for her, because she's been in such a superhero mood lately. That makes me shake my head now. The superheroes in my life don't wear capes one can see.

And then, I ride the train to where I'm meeting Rachael after her bookclub, and I find a lovely little coffee shop to hang out in, and I just take out my little paper sketchbook and draft the rest of my constructive theology paper. It's just little sketches, but it's pretty much all there, everything I think is important enough to write about Jesus, about sin and suffering, about ecclesiology, about ministry, about eschatology. I thought I would have to take long breaks in between drafting one section and drafting the next, but it just flows and flows like crazy. And now I figure that it's probably the whole weight of the day, just pressing me and pulling me, and the Spirit moving through that, and coming out in quotes and dotted lines and question marks, like fingerprints in clay.

And also, today, I talked to my other friend and colleague Nate, who's writing a sermon. And she's having a hard time of it. And somehow, the conversation came around, and we just ended up talking about how what you learn in seminary is to have two contradictory things, two things that are utterly opposed, and that are both utterly true, and to hold them together. I think I went so far as to say that such a thing basically describes what seminary is for: to learn how to hold two contradictory things, ideas, whatever, together. I might even stand by that statement in the morning. And it feels like such a thin place, now, thinking about how we spoke to one another, me on my cellphone on the el platform, she in her apartment with her books and her tv.

And I think about my own people. And I had a frustrating interaction with someone close to me a few months ago, where he came to the city briefly, and it was just exhausting in its falseness and its emptiness. And I went back to my house, and I complained about it to two of my housemates, because they were there, and they totally just held it all. And Corrigan, my housemate, said, after all of my complaining and lamenting, he said, "Well, what's the anarchist version of 'we'll keep him in our prayers?'" And he just meant it from his heart and it makes me cry to think about it now.

And I think about the orientation to American Baptist life that I just got back from. And hearing about missional churches, churches that are built first on mission and only later on the other parts of being church, and I found myself wondering: can I do that backwards? Instead of taking totally disengaged Christians or whoever and making them engaged in the struggle, can I take people who are already ferociously, life-and-death engaged in struggles for justice and give them a place to rest and pray and eat and take heart, and people to hold them and love them and challenge them and give them a little sabbath before they burn out five years into their careers? Well?

"What's the anarchist version of 'we'll keep him in our prayers?'" I think it's probably just that.

The only reason that I think I can do this, is that when I came from a day of walking through heartbreaking tragedy and beloved community, walking in between, the theology just flowed like water out of my pen. And tonight I feel heart-broken and spirit-woken, and I'm writing this.

Oh yeah: And this: Jesus is in a house, healing and teaching, and the man who is paralyzed, he can't get in to Jesus, so his friends, the ones who are carrying him, dig through the roof. Most days I feel like that man.

love from chicago.


Saturday, October 18, 2008


I just watched Strictly Ballroom, a movie I used to watch with my high school girlfriends. We even analyzed it once for an English project, comparing it to the hero's journey. Watching it today, I am situated in several contexts that are new since high school. It is now an important part of my belief system that Jesus does not coerce people, that he is a liberator. Montessori's philosophy of teaching also stresses the importance of following the child, letting the child have choices, giving the child freedom. I have dated David for over 5 years and he is all about liberating the people from the power structures that try to control them (a la Walter Wink). Finally, I have recently been so angry at the brokenness and injustice of the world (see my last blog post).

These new contexts practically make Strictly Ballroom a holy text for me. When a dozen minor characters, not necessarily sympathetic, band together at the end of the movie to support the subversion and defiance of the two protagonists, I cried. There's a line in David's novel about people doing the same thing, banding together against the forces of coercive power, and in his novel each individual acts on behalf of the hundred more who cannot. I cried reading that line, too.

I also love that the defiance takes the form of art, of dancing together. Art is powerful partly in its danger to systems of power. The moral of Strictly Ballroom is not to live in fear, another key tool of the powers that be to coerce the masses. I may add that this tool is especially relevant to the experience of our country today.

Apparently these days I am hungry for reminders that groups of people I don't even know are working alongside those I do know to bring more wholeness and justice to our world, more joy and defiance and beauty and risk and cooperative, mutual power. Hope is just as important as food for my survival. This movie was like eating.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Love and Anger

I just read the first draft of David's novel, which is about the struggle to bring the Kindom, and for book group I'm reading Persepolis, which is about the Iranian revolution. And so for the last week or so I've been very cranky and crabby and irritable and sensitive and wondering why... finally today I had a big wave of grief for all the hard-to-swallowness of this world and realized my irritability is probably just misdirected rage at injustice. I'm still haunted by the horrible parts of the life stories of the people I know in Nicaragua and so my grief today had some specific faces. At the wonderful school where I teach, each appreciation I have for a positive aspect of the education there is also like a knife of wonder: "why is every school not like this? nothing about these children makes them more deserving of a quality education, and in so, so, SO many schools equally deserving children receive fewer opportunities and resources in their education. If they go to school at all. And again, I am contrasting the two schools I taught in, last year and this year. Last year the children sometimes were sent home at lunch because there was no food to give them and hungry children can't concentrate in school. In my current school, one of our main concerns is how to more fully incorporate experiential learning programs into the curriculum. The contrast leaves me reeling, baffled, confused at this world I live in.

When I was done crying I looked for ways to respond to my grief symbolically as well as actively (actively is a whole nother blog post). David and I came up with these ideas: write un-naive wedding liturgy, read about the crucified Christ, go to Quaker meeting tomorrow morning, write in my journal, write a song, (pray). I also lit a candle, anointed my own forehead with oil, watered my plants, fed myself soup, read feminist folk tales AND......(and here's the inspiration for this post)

...listened to music compiled by the Iona Community from around the world: "Sent by the Lord" and "Love and Anger". I had gotten these CD's and songbooks for Christmas and what music could have been better today! They were so very appropriate and there is even a Nicaraguan song in there in two languages. It's so heartening to put faces to those building a better world. The notes about the songs, for example, are mindful of the ways wealthy worshippers can't completely authentically sing words written for poor Christians. In Spanish the words are: "We are a people who walks by the path of pain/ The invited humble and poor are of God" and in English "For the world and all its people we address our prayers to God/ All the powerless, all the hungry are most precious to their God" with the note "In the original Spanish, the text is very much the song of an impoverished people, and it would be impossible for most British worshipers to sing the words with full integrity. The English text attempts to keep some of the deep passion of the original but allow for wider use." There are some readings in between songs and one of them is a prayer that all peoples be fed, even if it means forgiving debt and seeing stocks lower, or if it means a reduction in dining choices for those who are not hungry. I turned toward the CD player in my kitchen and shouted "AMEN!"

I am even thinking of using some of these songs with my voice students (I have 2 now). I already gave "We Shall Overcome" to one student. :)

In a song I wrote recently, one lyric is "I hope they never leave off haunting me, the lives in other lands." I feel this grief will come and go in waves my whole life long, as someone who cares (as in David's song, every lament is a love song). But the encouragement will keep coming my whole life long, too. Here's to the Beloved Community, here's to calling in Paradise with song, and here's to imagining the better world we're longing for. Amen.

PS The title of the second album comes from a prayer wherin we ask God to use our love and anger to spur us to work for justice.