I sat down with a friend, and he told me about his holiday. He was about 35 years older than I was and his Christmas had been punctuated by the deaths of classmates, men and women he had been close to since childhood.
In the past few weeks, we have faced brutal horrors, made even worse because they are the torments carried out by our own hands. The torture report was released, amidst fears and warnings that there would be international uprisings and retaliations. Republicans have accused Democrats of seizing a political moment, to make the Bush administration look bad to the detriment of national security. The talking points seem to echo through the red party, aside from John McCain, who has been a victim of torture himself and has a first-hand knowledge of the evil.
Christmas is more complicated now, with its layers of meaning. Joy can no longer be wrapped up with a tidy bow. But, for me, this year, since I cannot have the world as it ought to be, I’m determined to find beauty in the yearning.
Christ came to bring God’s kingdom to bear on earth. As people who follow the risen Christ, we cannot faithfully live into his kingdom when we are silent about those who are marginalized in our midst. Our leaders need to curate conversations about race and reconciliation. As people of God we must extend ourselves in risky ways to begin to break down the “other-ness” that exists between races in the larger body of Christ.
This week, I was speaking to a handful of strong, smart writers who were on their way to publishing major books, but they were nervous about entering the Wild West World of the Internet. How were they going to handle the criticism they would have to endure?
We have washed our hands as the war on drugs has overwhelmingly targeted black men. We have washed our hands as our justice system has given longer sentences to people of color. And then, when an innocent man dies, we keep scrubbing our fingers some more, as we blame the victim.
After years of wrestling, I settled in a predominately white church. My logic was this: if every white person concerned about racial justice leaves white churches, then there will be few women or men there to help. This Sunday, I worried that Ferguson or other police shootings of African Americans would once again go unmentioned in the sermon or a prayer.
My mind ventured off to the Contemporary Christian Music concerts I attended with my youth group. CCM was taking off, and evangelical teens had a mass of buying power. In my home, my mom would pay for any CCM that I wanted.So I listened to the music and even attended Disney’s Night of Joy. It was a magical evening in the kingdom. As Michael W. Smith sang in front of the Cinderella’s Castle, girls in the audience would raise their hands and scream, “WE LOVE YOU, MICHAEL!”
I often hear the term “cafeteria Christian.” It is a description of our current religious milieu. People pick and choose what’s important to them in their faith. It’s usually said with disdain—and a bit of eye-rolling.
Theologians, who construct systems of belief, want to think about theology as a whole. They are afraid that a generation is going to come along and jettison a couple thousand years of careful thought in lieu of what feels good to them.
In The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton entwines rich characters into the stunning landscape of historic New Zealand. Catton constructed a fascinating view of vocations, economy, and culture, while employing a unique structure that waxes and wanes with the moon.
Many times we are working with church structures of a different time. I have seen churches with 50 people attending on Sunday morning, and they maintain 12 committees. There may have been a lot of retirees in the church, so we have committees who meet in the day. Or there might have been a lot of people without children, so everyone meets at night—on a different night, to ensure that the pastor is at every meeting.
I had been a pastor long enough to know that outside work was done with stealth. I could serve at the soup kitchen, teach art at the women’s shelter, protest against violence, or hone my writing craft, but I when I did it, I acted like a lover with a jealous husband. I snuck around at odd hours and guiltily confessed to members when they asked me where I had been.
I stood in my bedroom, pacing. I was on the phone with my mom, scribbling notes on a sticky pad. I had tried to weave together the story of my life and found so many gaping holes that only she could fill.
The last time my family visited New York City, we stopped by a board game coffeehouse. We played Pandemic, which allowed the three of us to work together to stop widespread disease from taking over the planet. It took a bit of skill and a bit of luck, but we did it.
When I served a church with a columbarium, I imagined where I wanted my ashes. It’s morbid, I know. But it’s a professional hazard. It’s the sort of thought that we have when we bury people so often. I want to be spread in nature. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I want to become a part of the life and soil of the pulsing ground.