Sunday, August 13, 2017

From Virginia to Iowa: A Reflection on the Violence in Charlottesville

The images and news coming from Charlottesville Virginia is haunting. What can you say about a bunch of angry white men carrying torches to intimidate and incite violence? The ugly head of white supremacy moves along the streets and has even inflicted murder on counter-protestors. It is chilling.

But it's also really easy for me to see this as a problem way over there in Virginia, in a city that I had personally never heard the name of before, and had originally gotten confused with Charlotte, South Carolina. That whole swath of the country is someplace I've never been. I spent three years living in Atlanta, but other than spending a week once in Washington, D.C., everything on the east coast above Georgia is a mystery to me. I simply haven't been there.

The places I know the best are Iowa and Nebraska. I grew up in Iowa and have been a frequent traveler to Nebraska all my life, getting my undergraduate degree there as well. I moved back to this place after seminary in Atlanta because the rich black soil called to me. The Midwest is home. But here we also have a white problem. It's more subtle than states with greater racial diversity, but it's here. It runs in our state narratives. We tell ourselves that we are just super white places. But I am mad that I never heard of the rich African American history in the city of Omaha, even when I lived in the state. I'm mad that Iowa and its cities are on lists of the worst places for black people to live, citing income disparity, incarceration rates, and the quality of education available in predominately black neighborhoods. We don't talk about it much, but we are there and we have to face the truth.

When I was young, my father showed me a KKK relic. It was something he kept to remind others that the KKK was still active and still dangerous. He wanted us to know that they weren't just in our history books, they were living and breathing people who organized themselves to this day. We lived for two years in the same small town as the KKK Grand Dragon of Iowa. It's here and it's real. Now we have a variety of similar groups joining with them. They no longer  wear masks, but they still carry the fire of intimidation, used to threaten anyone who stands in their way.

More than anything, I think Charlottesville calls us to see what is around us. It calls us to see our disparities. It calls us to recognize the diversity we, especially those of us in predominately white states, often ignore. It calls us to recognize real threats, real hate groups, living among us. It calls us to be real.

It's hard to sit with this discomfort. We want to sugar-coat it or say that it's happening over there instead of right here as well. But I have learned that the only way to resurrection, to total transformation of the self, is to go through crucifixion moments. Right now, that's what I think we need  more than ever. We need to allow this to crucify our nation and our states. We need to lament what is happening, to mourn, to weep, to sit in the ash heaps. Only then do I believe that something amazing can happen. I believe that the Holy  Spirit can sweep through us and bring an utter transformation of heart, of soul, of community. I believe we can turn things around. I believe that the torches of intimidation can be vanquished and the fires of love can burn so deeply that we can transform unjust systems. And as someone who has pussy-footed around these issues, who has felt lost in trying to figure it all out, who and can't stand my own internal racism that pokes its head through my consciousness, I believe that even someone like me can help and make a difference for those around them. I believe that crucifixion can bring even me to resurrection, and if it can bring me there, I believe it can bring our communities, our states, and our nation there too.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Discipline of Poverty

I have been thinking a lot over the past two years about poverty. Now, I must say that we are not deeply impoverished. We have pets. We rent a house. We have two cars. We have enough money to get through the month. But as a whole, that's where our money ends. And for nine months after we first moved to Des Moines, it didn't even make it that far. I am lucky to have amazingly supportive parents who have the means to give to us financially. My middle class upbringing saved us from some hard times and hard decisions. I've been given space until I could become a big budget person, trying to eek out all the money we can and reduce wasteful spending. I've also become the guy who can't figure out what things we can do for fun because I simply don't want to spend the funds or the money doesn't exist. I'm learning balance. But I'm also learning about the discipline of poverty.

The discipline of poverty is simply this: learning to embrace yourself as a child of the divine even when there isn't much to your name. And that's hard. Even before the myth of the self-made man and the idea that everyone somehow has bootstraps to pull themselves up by, there has always been a fear of the impoverished. I think it's hard for us to face how fragile we are, how easily everything could be taken away. If we didn't have support, if we didn't have a community that gave to us, we would not be where we are today. And those without support, when hard times hit, they aren't able to stay where they are. We tend to try to analyze what made their times hard. We chide them for taking lower paying jobs, for not spending more time at work. We demonize mental health crises and substance abuse problems. We try to make them "not us". But the more I learn the discipline of poverty, the more I find the fabric of life weaving us all together, even when I'd much rather not be "like them". In those moments, I find Jesus the itinerant preacher, moving from place to place, picking heads of wheat from the fields with his disciples as they head along their journey, always finding a new home to eat meals in. I begin to see this discipline in practice. They lived into poverty, not because there is something ultimately holy about not having or barely having enough, but because they sought to rely on community. We as well need to ask what it looks like to rely on community, because it is only by the strength of love given by those around us that we are able to survive. There is no other way.

I'm still not good at this discipline. I'd much rather not live it. Often I find our world getting smaller as we simply choose to stay home instead of going out. There are a number of reasons besides our budget why you often won't see us away from home that much (Did I mention the pets?) but I've also found ways to share in community that are beautiful. I've seen people coming together to support one another, to do meaningful things together with very little money being exchanged at all. I've found flexible ways to do what I desire. I've found community lifting up one another.

And as I think about the future of the Church, the future of ministry and life together, I wonder if this discipline is what parishes are beginning to learn. There are always the big donors in the parish, but more and more, many in the community are being stretched. They are being drawn into lower classes and wondering if they are doing something wrong in their lives. It's hard to be cash poor and not feel guilty about it. I struggle with that. Communities struggle with that. Churches struggle with that. But what if we leaned into this discipline? What could we learn as we focus more on community than budget? It would completely break apart current models of full time ministers and staff, tearing apart church pension funds and the structures of denominations themselves. It's a really scary prospect and there's a lot to lose. We might start to feel really insular and stay home a lot. We may not know exactly how to find balance. We may decide not to do anything fun or exciting because we don't want to spend the money or there simply isn't money in the coffers. We may look at the homeless in our midst and wonder if we will soon be without homes too. But in the midst of the scary and threatening things, the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night and fuels anxiety, there is a man moving through the fields with his motley crew. Sometimes he calms storms, sometimes he makes an abundant feast with simple loaves and fishes. Always he relies on the gifts of the people around him, entrusting himself to community. He casts his gaze towards the poor, the outcast, those whom appear to be left behind by their communities, and he heals, he restores, he brings them into relationship with those around them. He shows us that community is ultimately what we need, not money in the bank. He loves us into better ways of being together.

“Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’  Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:25-34, CEB

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I Come For the Eucharist

This is a piece I wrote after my first meeting with a spiritual director, where he saw me light up about the Eucharist. It was something I promptly wrote, sent in for the church newsletter, and then set aside. It wasn't until this week, in conversation with people who have done and explored ministry development teams, that raise up local people for ordination into different roles in the community, and those who don't have weekly access to the sacrament, that I realized how vital it is to bring access to the Eucharist for everyone, regardless of their ability to hire clergy. It brought me back to this piece, which reappeared to me in the church newsletter that was delivered to my door today. This is the reason why I believe Eucharist matters. This is why I consider myself to be Anglo-Catholic, but also am comfortable doing Eucharist in what some may deem a "low church" way, in a bar, park or wherever. Because in the end, I love smells and bells, I love ritual, and order, but it all pales in comparison with the Eucharist. 

I grew up in a tradition where we had communion once a month. Some months it was powerful, some months it was perfunctory, but every month, I tried to make it. I noticed as I grew up, I felt when I had missed communion Sunday. It mattered.
As I considered ministry, I found myself going to multiple churches on the weekend. I was searching for something. I was connected to a community, but I also felt an absence. And as I entered seminary, I realized what it was. I was searching for Eucharist. I started having it multiple times a week, and as I became Episcopalian I found joy in having it as part of my Sunday morning worship. Some Sundays I’m tired, I’m not feeling particularly sociable, I’d really like one more jolt of caffeine, but I come. I come for this.
The Eucharist to me is more than a prayer, bread, and wine. In it, Jesus dwells among us. Jesus becomes incarnate, made flesh, in us. The bread and wine take on the Spirit, and the Spirit is ingested, moving throughout our bodies, bringing nourishment and life. Our cells are given a jolt of Spirit. We are literally taking on a new life. It doesn’t come all at once. It comes little by little, piece by piece. Week by week we get just a little bit more. We, the body of Christ, take sustenance from Jesus’ body, becoming like him.

I also find that as we, who are a diverse group of many people, take in the one body, we all become interconnected, into one body. I can no longer hold grudges and divisiveness in my heart against one of you. We all share in Christ. Similarly, I can’t hold hatred against any Christian. We are all connected. And as the circles of connectedness, of people who are all one in this body, are drawn wider, from the service, to the congregation, to the diocese, to the nation, to the world, I find that being part of this interconnected and living Christ, I cannot find hatred for people of other religions and no religion. I can’t find hatred at all. We all share in a big, beautiful, diverse body. Some do not believe in Christ, some don’t take the Eucharist, but we all eat. We all drink. We all require nourishment. While the Eucharist is particularly holy, blessed elements that bring the divine Christ, all food sustains life. All food allows individual spirits to be uplifted. All food connects us. And so, the simple table, the wafer, the wine, brings this cosmic interconnectedness in which I can only find love and care for those around me. And so I come. I take in the Spirit, and I find life anew with all of creation. I find myself drawn deeper into the love that is without boundaries.  Amen.