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My Repentance

It was not just any Sunday night. It was the Sunday after the verdict was read in the Philando Castile case, a case in which another black man was killed by a police officer with an itchy trigger finger.

Not Guilty. 

The facts were the facts, and who am I to recount them here. (Follow this link for proper reporting on the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Castile.) But facts being what they were, reporting being what it was, many were left asking these questions:

What is justice anymore?

What has it ever been?

It was that Sunday night, and my predominately white, middle-class church gathered under a roof that was not opulent but was (sure-as-shooting) adorned with middle-class comforts. There, we prayed the responsive Prayers of the People together, and after the rote prayers, the officiant held the floor open for extemporaneous petitions. Prayers may be offered silently, the bulletin read, but a woman on the front row chose an alternative path to heaven. In that space, she broke open, wept over the violence in our country, over the lack of justice for so many image-bearers of God. She broke wide for Philando Castile. She broke wide for the people in her life who’d never known justice, who never would, at least not the justice so many of us take for granted. She broke and broke and broke, sobbing at the altar. When she finished, there was a holy pause. A hush, even if just for a few moments. I listened to that hush, heard the sobs of Christ there, too.

It was one of those moments that punched me in my pearly whites. It reminded me that prayer is sometimes the ultimate expression of sorrow and that if my prayers do not express that kind of sorrow, perhaps I’ve bartered my humanity away. Maybe I’ve traded it for comfort. Perhaps I’ve become something less that the Christ of the scriptures.

It was one of those altar moments I’ll not soon forget. It was a call to personal repentance.

 

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June 14: The Day the Politicians Were Shot

The alt-right or vitriolic left.
The anger filling the spaces between.
“I’d like to punch him in the face,”
might be the most extreme iteration.
“You should be ashamed,”
might be the most docile.
Every thread of outrage pulled
with itching fingers leaves us
naked as cavemen and just as refined.
Look around.
Is anything any wonder?

“Once you see [anger and contempt] for what they are, the constant stream of human disasters that history and life bring before us can also be seen for what they are: the natural outcome of human choice, of people choosing to be angry and contemptuous. … We have to remember this when we read what Jesus and other biblical writers say about anger. To cut the root of anger is to wither the tree of human evil.” ~Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our  Hidden Life in God

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10 Ways to Make The Most of Time

1. In a podcast interview, I was asked what advice I might give the 25-year-old version of myself. “I guess I would have said, ‘self, take yourself less seriously.'” I suppose this is to say, I would have cautioned him (me?) to take himself (myself?) less seriously. (You follow?) Would that me have listened to the present me? Probably not. I already had the law and the prophets.

1a. This is a confession.

2. If the 15-year-older version of me comes riding into town on a horse-drawn time machine, if he comes to my house and rings my doorbell, if I answer and the fabric of all space and time does not unravel on the spot (as if a meeting of my minds might cause such an apocalyptic breach) what would he (the 15-year-older me) say to the me of today? (You follow?) Probably this: “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Would I listen? Probably not–the law and the prophets and all of that.

2a. This is confession#2.

3. Today I’m making an attempt to heed my own advice. My current me is writing to my current me. (You follow?) This is what I’m saying:

“Today, listen to the birds. Walk around the block. Spin an old record. Eat local bread, maybe a piece of chocolate. Read a frivilous chapter in a frivolous book. Burn incense. Pet a puppy. Say something unintelligible. Gibble-dee wok the corduroy. Have fun in the garden. Do these things because time is not something you own, it is something that sneaks up on you in the end.”

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Justice and Mercy in the Disposable Marriage Era

1. This is the scripture du jour: “what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It’s been the scripture of the decade, perhaps of the millennia, and it’s made its way into our collective consciousness. Thousands of bloggers cite it each week. Preachers spur you to action with it. I saw it on a tattoo a month ago, with a minor artistic variation on theme–act justli, love merci, and walk humbli. (It was, I think, the tattoed’s attempt to embody the text, to say “justice, mercy, and humility start with I,” a statement which my inner grammarian rejects.)

Justice and mercy–they’re the darlings of our moment. (Humility seems to get the short shrift.)

But consider this: there is justice; there is mercy; then there is only the mere idea of justice and mercy.

2. I’m on the precipice of my fortieth year (a vertigo-inducing precipice to be sure) and so, I’ve now lived through a trend or two. Among them are these: the plastic and pink 80s; the grunge era; the back to the Back To The Land Movement; the sustainable everything decade; the new social justice movement; and the era of gnarly, unkempt beards (there are, of course, hundreds more, and some of these certainly intersect). In this–the year I cross the threshold of middle age–I feel as though I’m living through a new trend: the Disposable Marriage Era (let’s call it the DME).

(2a. That is not to say that there aren’t some very good reasons for couples to call it quits (and I know, I know–this is such an un-Christian statement). I’ve seen marriages in which the men abused the women (run, run, run, I’ve said). I’ve seen marriages in which the women abused the men (run, run, run, I’ve said). Cheaters have done what cheaters do, and how can any man tolerate that sort of pain? You may have lived through this sort of situation, and of course, this is not what I’m invoking when I write of the DME. There are reasons to head for the hills, to leave a marriage behind. Even the scriptures seem to indicate as much.)

3. The confluence of the Justice movement and the DME are a curious thing. After all, what could be more just than honoring your spouse? What could be more merciful that practicing forgiveness and walking into the light of the vows you made all those years ago? (Walking into vows is a continual, sometimes harder-than-hell practice.) What could be more humble that being splayed at the feet of your bonded lover? And yet, why do the marriages of the modern faith-bearers (sometimes justice seekers) fall to the firing squad of the DME?

4. I’ve heard it over and over again–I deserve to be happy or We’re both such different people now or I just need to be who I am. I’ve heard it out of one side of folks’ mouths, while out of the other I’ve heard these things–Buy fair trade fabric or Engage racial reconciliation or Love the orphan.

Happiness–as if that’s the highest ideal.

Change–as if our vows don’t follow us.

Self-actualization–as if we don’t lay some of that aside at the marriage altar.

5. So many of us work, work, work to reconcile the land, the races, society to the orphan, and these are good, noble, virtuous things. These things embody acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly. But what could it look like if we treated marriage as a justice issue? How might we embody marital reconciliation even as we work to reconcile the land, the races, society to the orphan?

What if we asked the same questions of our marriages we ask in the pursuit of justice and mercy:

Am I (are we) versatile? 

Is our marital course sustainable?

Are we creating something lasting, something with longevity, perhaps something permanent and beautiful?

This, I think, might be the way to draw us from the DME and into something with sticking power. It might turn our mass-produced and plastic vows into something more elemental, more life-giving, more human.

 

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A Non-Anxious Presence

Here is the thought I can’t seem to shake: we are a people aflutter, flitting from hate to hate, from conflagration to conflagration, from anxiety to anxiety. We are a people on fire–skin, heart, solar plexus, brain, everything. Is it any wonder? The world is on fire, and we take that fire by contact.

Twitter, Facebook, the local coffee shop, every small group at church, the conversation on aisle 6 at Kroger–everywhere I go, the people carry political anxiety. Russia, Paris, North Korea, North Carolina, Covfefe (huh?). In the news, another black man’s house is defaced because he was a black man with an extravagant house (aren’t the small-minded prone to burn down every holy place?). Before I can process the politics, the house burning, CNN streams images of people attacking people–men attacking women, race attacking race, straight attacking gay–and now my head whispers to my inner ear.

“Humans are intent on burning each other down.”

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