Flights of Fancy

The life of a writer generally means that we look lazy on the outside, but our minds are running a thousand miles a minute. I have great contempt for people who think writers aren’t doing anything when they’re staring into space. For bloggers, how do you think we dig deep enough to remember stories from our past? For fiction writers, how do you think those exotic worlds we create form themselves? For non-fiction writers, how do you think all that information synthesizes from something only a niche market would read into a consumable for the general public?

We just sit there.

Additionally, there are only certain personality types that think writing is a real job to begin with, because they don’t think about what it takes to write and market something that might be successful… especially the books they’ve already bought and loved. Books that are already on the bestseller list mean that the writer is respected. Writers who haven’t published anything there are dreamers with blind ambition, head in the clouds, with no respect for the real world.

When are you going to get a real job? and it must be nice to have a partner that supports you so that you can just do your little writing hobby are constant issues brought up in my writers’ group on Facebook. It makes me angry on their behalf, because as primarily a blogger, I have to have a real job, because it gets me out of the house enough to have experiences about which to write…. and I don’t mean writing about work (Dooced…. look into it). It’s just that once I leave the house, I am more likely to do outside activities after work than I am when I am homebound, stuck in my own head. It leads to being relegated to writing about the past, rather than the “character” changes that come over time as I do.

Sometimes, though…. just sometimes…. I stop thinking about the past and start imagining the future. Most often, it’s about actually following through on finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on for my M.Div. Thinking about my own dreams is infinitely more satisfying than the other fantasies that run through my head. My Bachelor’s is a political science major and a psychology minor, because even when I started college, I was thinking about what it would take to pastor a modern church. It is not up to me to encourage my congregation as to how to vote- that crosses all sorts of lines- but regardless of party affiliation, there is plenty of legislation that is right or wrong in a black and white sort of way… like minority treatment in America, immigration, the constant battle between giving the queer community rights and threatening to take them away, ridiculous ideas like killing gays or putting them in concentration camps that thankfully don’t come up that often and yet, are ideas in the current marketplace. There are all sorts of ideas that the legal definition of a reasonable person should not support, and I could care less whether any of them identify as Democrat or Republican. These are not party issues, they are human ones. I have said that my dream is to go to historically black Howard University. This is because I have gone to majority white schools my entire life, and if I am to understand anything at all about the minority experience, I have to observe it.

There is nothing within me that says I will ever fully understand, because I will never have black skin. I will never wear those problems. My aim is just to listen and soak up everything there is to learn.

But that’s not all there is to the dream. A lot of my career has been spent in academic technology, so I have applied to every college within a 50 mile radius in the hopes of working there, because generally a university staff position comes with tuition waivers. If I get a job at Howard, for which I have an application pending right now, that would be my ideal dream. But if American, Georgetown, or University of DC get back to me first, I’ll have to consider them.

But that is only where my mind goes when I’m thinking about myself. I also live in the clouds at times over where my life would have gone had I not reached a boiling point and exploded “crazy spatter” all over people I love dearly.

Argo

The most consistent message I get from my friends about this relationship is to just let it lie. Stop thinking about it, stop wishing it were different, just… stop. I followed through on stopping contact, but there is a part of me that cannot help going back over it in my mind, thinking about dialogues it would have been nice to have. Susan fills this hole in my heart quite nicely, but as I know for sure and have read from others, no one is her. It took me a long time to realize that the teenage blushing butterflies were love for an idea, not a person, and once that connection was made, it was over… meaning that for me, I could look at her as a ride-or-die without seeing stars, and for her, it was a little too little too late. I understand this more than she knows, so there is no residual anger. I behaved poorly; I do not deserve her. But we often go for coffee in my dreams. Those conversations are hilarious and heartwarming. It is and has to be enough.

Dana

God (literally), where do I begin? When I think of everything I’ve lost over the last three years, the only reason Argo comes up first is that our relationship was the shortest. She got under my skin in the only way someone else besides Dana could… her words. Therefore, I have never had a shortage of them regarding her, because the connection was so cerebral. It may not be fair to start a paragraph about Dana talking about Argo, but I do it to illustrate the inversely proportionate nature of the grief. Dana is not just under my skin, so close I can access those emotions at a moment’s notice. She is the river that runs through me, emotions so deep that they stay buried most of the time so I do not drown. Having been married to each other for so long is akin to having phantom limb pain. As time goes on, it gets less and less intense….. sometimes. But then I’ll remember something touching and time erases itself instantly. We just broke up yesterday. Additionally, there were so many years where we weren’t married, just very close friends, and that weighs on me, too. I initially thought that we’d be able to put our relationship back together to the point where it wouldn’t be weird to talk and laugh. I can say for sure that was the case when my mother died, and Dana kept me company as I was waiting for my flight out of BWI. But we hadn’t talked for months before, and I haven’t heard from her since…. and yet, that’s ok. Again, there is no anger. In a lot of ways, I got exactly what I deserved. Behavior always has consequences.

One of the behaviors I sincerely regret, even though there were a lot of reasons for it (context, never excuses) is that I stopped being a true partner. I was there, but I wasn’t present. I was in the midst of discovering just how bad emotional abuse as a teenager had rewired my actions/reactions as an adult, and all the unhealthy patterns played out with the people I love most. I couldn’t give much, because I was reduced to survival mode. I was trying to let her in, and at the same time, not realizing how repetitive it sounded, especially since it probably didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of room for me to listen to her (because I cannot and will not speak for her). The truth is that I did care, deeply, about her thoughts and feelings…. especially the ones I was engendering in her. I didn’t want to be a bad partner. I just was. When it got to the point where it was clear Dana didn’t want to listen to me regarding my constant rumination, I went looking for dopamine wherever I could find it…. yet another series of terrible decisions (see above).

In my dreams, she knows me now. She knows who I’ve become, and not who I was. Recovery takes time and backbreaking effort, and she has not been along for the ride unless I’ve been asleep. I often don’t want to live in a world where I cannot hear her laugh, so I close my eyes and it becomes clear as a bell. My regrets fall by the wayside because we have moved on. They cannot torture me because they cannot touch me. I am only getting the conversations I want when I am playing both sides.

When I am awake, the thing I think about the most is that in February, we’ll have been married ten years, virtually estranged for a little over two, but the paperwork is no less valid. It’s been a long time since Dana told me that she would take care of the dissolution, and I waffle every day between wanting her to come through on a promise and getting tired of waiting and taking care of it myself. The rumination is endless… does she just forget, or is getting divorced too painful and she’s waiting for something to happen for it to be less so? I know that feeling. Anxiety makes me wait for a day when I feel stronger on some things; it was not until I put it together that I had to change my own mood that I realized waiting until I felt stronger was pointless.

Another thing I know for sure is that if and when I have a partner again, they’re just going to have to accept that I have a past (like we all do), and I do not want them to be a jealous ball of spazzbasket if stories about her come up. I don’t want to tell the painful ones. I want it to be okay to laugh about the funny things that could only have happened to us. I want it to be okay that I will love her for the rest of my life without being in love with her, because there is too much shared friend history to just forget.

I refuse to be bitter. I refuse to think that there will never be another love for me. I refuse to think that the mistakes of the past will haunt my future unless I let them. To me, the whole point of life is that you cannot avoid making mistakes, but you can certainly avoid making old ones.

You just keep making new ones until eventually, you die…. which brings us forward….

My Mother (Carolyn)

I have five old voice mails saved from her that are so painful to listen to that I want to erase them, but I can’t, because then I’d never hear her voice again. The most recent was three or four days before she died, because I wanted her advice on whether I should drive to Houston to spend time with both her and my dad, because she had broken her foot and he was going through multiple facial reconstruction surgeries after a tumor the size of a quarter was found in his nose. I sent my mom a text message in the morning that said get back to me ASAP, because I wanted to know if I should get going soon. Well, she didn’t have her phone on her and didn’t return the call until about 2:00 PM, and in classic tiger mom fashion, the voice mail was full of anxiety saying that I had scared her, not my intent but her perception was that I was in danger…. and then, of course, I didn’t hear my phone go off so I couldn’t relieve that anxiety immediately.

The rest of them are pleas to call her, because my mental health was not good and I wasn’t in a place to talk to anyone. It was not personal in any way, shape, or form. It is the most guilt-inducing feeling I’ve ever had in my life…. how many more conversations we would have had if I’d just picked up the damn phone? Because here’s the thing. I couldn’t always take off the mask and just be small-l leslie with her. Picking up her phone calls, for me, required a certain amount of being “on.” It’s sad and terrible and no less true. At the time, it felt like altruism. I didn’t want her to feel my pain, because she had shown me over and over that she couldn’t take it. She would bleed out for me, and I was unable to take it in because I didn’t want someone who was only on my side. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right in knowing I was wrong. Her empathetic nature was to feel sorry for me, when I didn’t feel sorry for me at all. It was hard to listen to, hard to accept as valid when I’d made so many errors in judgment. Therefore, just about every conversation was between my mom and Leslie Lanagan.™ I suited up so I could act happier than I really was- the conversations were light and fun. But in my worst moments, I couldn’t even muster that.

I just have to remember that before she died, we had a two and a half hour conversation in which there was nothing left unsaid, no unfinished business. Those voicemails are just an echo of the past, and not representative of what really happened before she died. The conundrum is wanting to hear her voice in any way I can, and knowing that if I listen to it, all I will take away from it is what crappy moments I made in our timeline.

In my dreams, none of that ever happened. We’re at Starbucks, we’re in her classroom, we’re at the teacher’s center laminating ALL THE THINGS. I’m helping her with bulletin boards and fixing her computer and trying to teach her how to use Netflix on a smart TV. We’re waiting in line for the new iPhone. We’re literally next in the queue, and my alarm goes off…. and any flight of fancy in which I’ve been enmeshed touches down at DCA.

Free Beer!

Really?

No, not really. But I got you to click on the link, amiright?

In reality, today is just another day in the life of a writer. The sky is grey, the light is fading, and I need to go to the pharmacy and I just can’t bring myself to leave the house. Two reasons- the first is that everything takes longer when you’re sad. You move under the weight of the world. The second is that the weather does not lend itself to wanting to go anywhere.

I have an appointment for platelet donation tomorrow, so I figure I’ll just get to the Metro station early and walk across to the pharmacy and, of course, Starbucks. I took a Tylenol PM™ last night, which is code for “I slept longer than I wanted to today.” Therefore, I don’t actually need another Lexapro until about noon. I will arrive at the pharmacy no later than 9:30, because if I don’t take it before it’s due, bad things will happen.

It is a common experience with this medication that I watch for meticulously. Withdrawal makes my entire brain vibrate to a minor second, kind of like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. I also get chills & shake uncontrollably while sweating and crying. It is very attractive. I can fight it off with Klonopin, ibuprofen, and an amazing amount of coffee… but it is a stopgap measure and only helps so much. The bitch of it is that withdrawal is almost instantaneous. The clock starts ticking with every minute I don’t take it as soon as I need it.

The last time this happened, I was at work and had to fight through it until lunch, because thankfully, there was a CVS within two minutes of my office and I got my prescription transferred. I can honestly say that those four hours were among the worst of my life, because I had important projects in the air and all I wanted to do was crawl under my desk into the fetal position. I started carrying an entire day’s worth of medication on my key chain after that, but #dumbassattack, I left my keys in my car and they are lost to history. I should have bought a new pill carrier by now, but if you know me at all, I can procrastinate on just about anything if no one else is expecting it to be on deadline.

Additionally, you cannot take any NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium…. Non-steroidal anti-inflammation drugs) for two to three days depending on state law before you go for apheresis. [Editor’s Note: I prefer ibuprofen to naproxen sodium because you can take a fresh dose more often.] I also can’t drink too much coffee, either, because I don’t want to be dehydrated. It makes the process much slower.

So, basically, if I don’t get to the pharmacy tomorrow morning, I will be up shit creek without a paddle. #motivation

The crying comes because I’m in pain, and because withdrawal makes me incredibly weepy. Most of the time, if I can’t remember whether I’ve taken my psych meds that day, I’ll watch a sad/touching commercial and if I cannot hold it together, there’s my answer. For instance, the commercial in the link is basically everything I didn’t tell my mom enough.

Jesus’ message of walking in the light while you have it destroys me now. He’s basically telling the Disciples that they’re going to be on their own very soon, and they need to listen closely to his teachings because he’s not always going to be around to answer questions.

And, just like me, the Disciples took that message for granted and basically the Book of Acts is that end of the rope and it’s fraying and we’re barely holding it together prayer…. shit, God. They’re grieving and trying to remember every conversation, every parable, every direction.

They muddle through, walking with the weight of the world, for they were not the smartest guys in the room…. just the most dedicated.

I could say the same. Most days, my life is just one White Stripes’ song on repeat…. I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself. I didn’t walk with the light while I had it, and I greatly underestimated/took for granted the messages that were being imparted. Now I am just fumbling in the dark, big dreams- so big I can live in them, with no concrete staircase upward. I have always been a big picture person, able to synthesize ideas quickly and summarize. I am not so good in the weeds…. I have no idea how to get there from here, and the thought is overwhelming to an enormous degree. Other people have gone to college and grad school. It can’t be that hard. I mean, it is. I just mean the steps to get in before any course work has started.

I have run around in circles for almost 20 years. It started with promising my then-partner that I’d get her through her senior year of college, if, when we moved, she’d get me through mine. Two things happened after that. The first is that we could not afford to live on one income while I was a student. DC was just out of our price range for that. The second is that within a year and change of the move, she left me, and took her part of the bargain with her.

My parents paid for some of school, but once I was on my own, I was on my own. Therefore, it’s been a neverending tail-chase as I get a job to get money to pay for school and then either can’t save up enough to quit or can’t manage a full-time job and school. It seems lame to say that out loud, because people do it all the time. Being single, it might be more achievable because I have no family commitments and few social engagements/distractions. Being there for everyone else has cost me taking care of myself. But the last time I was in school and working, I was living in southwest Houston, working in Sugar Land, and going to school at the main campus at UH. School at UH only lasts until 9:00. There were two class times that “fit my schedule-” 5:30 to 7:00 and 7:30-9:00. My job ended at 5:00. With the commute, I rarely, if ever, made it to my 5:30 class- and not for lack of trying. I passed by the skin of my teeth by watching all the lectures online, but since I got a D, I don’t think those hours will transfer to another school. I could stay at UH via distance education, but there’s something about showing up to class. It may be a better option to stay at UH, anyway, because I might have to add extra classes to get the hours needed in residence to graduate. But all these thoughts are for naught right now, because I need a way to pay for tuition, first.

I really thought that my mother would leave Lindsay and me some money in her will, but she didn’t. This is not a slam against her in any way, because that’s how wills are  normally done- everything goes to the spouse. I thought the one good thing  that might come out of my mother dying was allowing myself to finish my education, but that is not to be. So it’s back to the drawing board, easy because I never counted on that money in the first place, because I never expected my mother to die so young. In short, I’ve got what I’ve always had- a conundrum.

The thing that’s different this time around is that I am a fiend about saving money. Even when I make a lot, I live on nothing. I saved up $4,000 in less than a year during 2016. I’ll do it again, so that worry is taken off my shoulders. It would be damned convenient to still have that money, but I was so destroyed by my mother’s death that I couldn’t think about going to work right away. My mind was never in the present, lost in the past. I would spend entire days doing tasks, seeing them done and having no memory of how they got that way.

My biggest mistake was underestimating how long it would take me to find a new job, because it takes longer to find those companies that will take 20 years of work experience over a newly minted degree. Plus, with no work experience and just a degree, employees are cheaper, and labor dollars matter.

I am also starting to believe that because my resume is full, employers have some idea of how old I am, and that isn’t attractive to them, either. I could be totally wrong about this, but 40 is just the age where not being 25 matters. What doesn’t is that I take care of myself, and in terms of energy, I still feel 25. When I dye my hair, I barely pass for 18/21, because I get carded ALL THE TIME, even when buying cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but my roommates used to, and when I was the one that would run into the convenience store to buy everything for everyone, I’d get so flattered. One clerk thought I had a fake ID. What doesn’t feel young about me are cultural references and my sometimes internal monologue of “they’re so young I’m not even sure how they manage to tie their shoes in the morning.” I also don’t want to do anything fun with young people after work, or at least, not often, because I can’t party like that anymore. Right now my average is two alcoholic drinks a month, which means my tolerance is through the floor. I can’t “hang” and make it to work in the morning.

It’s nice to have the built-in excuse of, “I’m sorry, I have to get to class,” or “I’m sorry, I have to go and write.” It seems that going for a run is also an acceptable excuse, but you wouldn’t catch me running unless there’s an ice cream truck involved…….

or free beer.

Shoes

I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me.

-Unknown

I am getting more and more angry that responding my thoughts & prayers are with you is becoming a sarcastic joke. I live by two axioms. The first is Anne Lamott’s saying that there are really only three prayers:

  • Help
  • Thanks
  • Wow

The second is what I call “the Donna Schuurman corollary.” Now, Donna is a personal friend and I doubt you’ll find this in any of her published books…. but she says that there is one perfect, end-of-the-rope and it’s fraying prayer…. Shit, God.

I suppose that it would fall under “help,” but just doesn’t have the same impact…. but it helps. It’s the prayer I prayed when Dana and I got a divorce. It’s the prayer I prayed when Argo said, no more. It’s the prayer I prayed minute by minute, hour by hour to get through those first few days of my mother’s death…. although I will say that I found “thanks” and “wow” when I bothered to look.

I will be the first to tell you that I have no idea what happens when I pray on the other end of that connection. In the words of C.S. “Jack” Lewis, I don’t pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me. You, and only you, have to decide if it really matters whether some celestial being is listening, or whether the function of prayer is to find your own still, small voice, uninterrupted by the noise of the world. In that space, something happens. Does it matter whether it comes from an internal or an external source? I believe it does, but not enough to be rigid about it.

My philosophy 101 class was very interesting. We spent the first half proving that God exists, and the second proving that God doesn’t. Of course, I use “proof” in the geometric sense, not that there is any real evidence one way or the other. Pete Rollins, in an interview with Rob Bell, said something that’s stuck with me for over a year. He said that atheists and theists are one of the great love stories, that each needs the other…. that there is God/Not God, and the truth is in the slash…. but before I ever heard of Pete Rollins, I discovered that religion was not unlike sexuality… a spectrum in which some people stay at the poles their entire lives, and some move freely back and forth.

This is because too much happens in the world for most people to eschew doubt…. and still others in their piety are too ashamed to admit that when the shit hits the fan, they wonder where in the hell God has been, is, will be………………..

I have said it before, and I will say it again. I choose to believe that God is not the Actor. God is the Responder. Where is God as people are being gunned down in the streets, at concert venues, movie theaters, schools… or worse, in a place that has long been identified as sanctuary…. literally and figuratively. When you claim sanctuary, that is the moment that violence is supposed to stop. Because it didn’t happen to me, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have that feeling ripped away. We of the Religious Left chose to move away from Jonathan Edwards’ now famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, long ago. We do not believe in the hand of God that would drop us, but catch. So if you ask where God is, know that God is weeping with the families of the dead, and supporting the injured in their hour of need. Not only that, if you need to feel angry with God and rail at all the injustices, go right ahead. God is big enough to handle it.

I am tired of seeing “thoughts and prayers” as some people’s choice shitty retort. This is because thoughts and prayers mean two things to me:

  1. We live in a dangerous world with many injustices that will not get fixed overnight without our help. I hold space not only for my own responses, but for the worry and care of first responders. I am not fire, police, military, or diplomat. Prayer is a way to get in touch with the part of me that bleeds for the people in front of and behind the news. As an empath, I feel pain all across the world, and it needs somewhere to go. Every single person I’ve known in those dangerous fields has said not to worry- if something terrible happens, we will have died doing something we trained for because we love what we do. I have found over time that those words bring me little comfort, but my worry is not their problem. Whether or not there is a God, it brings me peace to pray for the lives of the victims and the people in charge of rescuing them and getting them to safety, or getting their bodies back to their families so that they may say a proper goodbye.
  2. Prayer is not always solitary. Once you find the center of your being, your True North, it is time to act. One of the greatest prayers I’ve ever prayed was walking downtown with thousands and thousands of women as we fought for our rights whether anyone was listening or not. I was one of the first “crazy liberals” to march like hell against the Iraq war, before the rest of the country caught up to what we were screaming. I’ve talked to homeless people in my own city, asking them what they need, rather than trying to guess. Prayer is almost nothing without shoe leather, but one has to beget the other. It is the first line of defense against pouring from an empty cup.

Prayer is holding space for the safety and security of the people you love, as well as being able to go deep and figure out what you really think. Some people call that meditation. Some people enter that space while exercising. I am not worried about the semantics, only the function.

I will never be worried about the semantics, unless you (plural) are using it as a euphemism for lazy. Like Jesus, I go into my room to pray and close the door…. but I emerge with my shoes on.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

 

Sermon for Proper 11, Year A: Subtraction

It might help to read the scriptures before you read the sermon, although if I put them here, my word count is bigger. 😛


In researching for this sermon today, I accidentally came across something profound in a novel called Quantum Lens, by Douglas Richards. I have two free book aggregators that comes to me through e-mail every day, and though it is not on sale anymore, it is worth every penny ($6.99). As an aside, because I’ve gotten so many books for free, my Kindle is breaking under the “weight” of everything I haven’t read….. But the lines I came across that struck me so deeply are these, and I’ll have to paraphrase:

Character 1: How many colors are in the rainbow?
Character 2: Seven, but with combinations, infinite possibilities.
C1: What color do you get when you look at all of them together?
C2: White.
C1: Right. Water is blue not because of addition. Water is blue because of subtraction. The water is not blue because it was made that way, but because the water subtracts everything but blue. What if God is the same way? God is not God because of addition, but because of subtraction? That God is all infinite possibilities and creates by subtracting pieces of God’s self breaking open?

In another part of the book, my mind was absolutely blown. One of the characters says that on the first day of creation, Genesis says, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Ok, so we’re there. It’s one of the most famous passages in all of scripture… and here’s where it gets interesting.

The sun and the moon and the stars weren’t created until the fourth day.

What if, without knowing it, quantum physics is explained in Biblical terms by the 3rd verse of the first chapter of the first book in the Bible… God separating light matter from dark in a concept not truly understood even today… Again, God working through subtraction and not addition.

God dividing themself rather than multiplying.

When you think of scripture in this way, we are all subtractions of God… tiny pieces of divinity flung throughout the world, no matter what kind of deity to which you identify. Eastern, Western, it’s all the same. What changes is the way we subtract from God willingly. If God has many names, they also have none. There is no separation from God, because you are a piece of them, cut of the same cloth:

If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.

If I say, surely the darkness will cover me,
and the light around me turn to night,

Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day;
darkness and light to you are both alike.

Psalms 139: 7-11

What would Christianity look like if we all saw ourselves in this way? What if we threw out the idea of the grandfather in the sky and all realized that God themself is within us, and not without? How would that change theology as we know it? Not for the people that study it every day, but for the people who think they are worthless, or friendless, or needy, or insecure, or all of the things we tell ourselves in our moments of weakness

What would it look like to know for sure that you are not a multiplication of God, but a subtraction? That God themself is in the beating of your heart, divinity you do not have to seek anywhere but in your own heart? What would it look like if all of God’s subtractions stopped subtracting from each other, because as a human race, we are all the same pieces?

What if we were able to subtract negativity, toxicity, war-mongering, famine… all the horrible things that humans do to one another because we do not realize that we are literally hurting ourselves? If everyone on earth is a subtraction of God, we are all literally the same person, with enough difference to make things interesting. We lash out in fear, but what if we were all able to turn that fear on its ear and reach out in the knowledge that when we treat each other unfairly, or engender anger and fear in others, we are only using a knife to cut our own hearts?

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Letter in the Spirit of Paul to the Romans

Who hopes for what is seen?

If we are to believe in this letter, we have a lot of work to do. “Paul” is urging us to set our own creation free. Chapter 8, from which this excerpt is taken, deals with the problem of righteousness and entitlement… that being saved in hope does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want without consequences. His ambition in this letter is to show that the Jews of his time practiced their faith by strict adherence to the law, and to him, there was no way on earth this was possible, or even probable. What speaks to “Paul” is spiritual submission, the act of doing the right thing because the law did not always line up morally.

Jesus freed us from all Talmudic law, which is the basis for the new church that “Paul” is trying to create. In effect, he wants to subtract Christians from the legal bondage that the Jews have created, to be able to follow their own hearts and minds. Reading between the lines, “Paul” is calling out all the Jews who live to the letter of the law and yet, have no spirituality at all…. but he’s trying to fix it. He is trying to show the Romans that they are not a church of their own, but part of a larger body, all subtracted from the same being.

There is also self-motivation as well as mobilization. “Paul” was eager to preach in Spain as the West opened up, and he knew that establishing Rome as a base of operations was his best bet. He laid his heart bare, establishing his theology, because he knew that his “reviews” from Rome would be mixed based upon his reputation without even knowing him…. because who hopes for what is seen? He was trying to hope for something bigger than the churches he knew well (to paraphrase Wm. Barclay).

In order to do this, he establishes that we must be responsible for our own well-being and that of others. Not to be claimed, but to own the claim we already have. “Paul” calls us the first fruits of the spirit, just sitting there, waiting.

What are we waiting for if God has already subtracted a piece of themself into us, so that we may further the message of the Christ on our own? If “Paul” was reaching beyond the hope that was already established, what is stopping us? What is stopping us from reaching out to the poor, friendless, needy, insecure, or otherwise hurt in a world that sometimes knocks us flat? What is stopping us from subtracting pain? What is stopping us from subtracting fear? What is stopping us from subtracting unity?

Glory is not about to be revealed to us. It is already here. What are we waiting for?

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Your Right and Responsibility

I don’t know how I got so lucky that when session ended in Annapolis, Lindsay’s job moved her to working on federal legislation. She still comes to DC on a regular basis, though not quite as often when she was trying to get a bill passed in Maryland state congress. The bill made it through the House and on to the Senate, but was defeated. I don’t want to write about the bill itself, or the company where my sister works, but what I will say is that the legislation in question made perfect sense and there is no sane reason why it shouldn’t have passed, especially since in 49 other states, it’s already law. The only comfort in this is that perhaps the bill will come up next year, as some form of it has for the last nine years, and she’ll come back just as frequently as she did this year.

I know it’s hard for her being so far away from home all the time, but selfishly, it is exactly what I need. Watching her work activates my “go button,” the part of me that’s interested in government and how it works…. or not.

Voting in local and state elections is abysmally low, and turnout is key. I don’t understand why others don’t understand that local and state laws directly affect their lives so much more than the president ever will. My county (Montgomery) is important to me, as well as my state. There are lobbyists pushing legislation through that would raise ire if there wasn’t so much apathy toward it. Outrageous things get passed because no one notices… and on the flip side of the coin, really good legislation gets passed over because no one is calling their state representatives to tell them what they want, because they have no idea what the issues even are, much less care.

National laws are important, but not nearly as crucial as “small things,” like the school board, how/when the trash gets picked up, and the way the local police treat people. The local issue that really cramps my style (being the tender-heart bear that I am) is that in Montgomery County, homeless shelters are closed from April to November. Obviously, it’s sometimes very cold in October, but April is no picnic, either. Plus, it gets every bit as hot in Maryland as it is in Houston during the summer, and to me, being outside all the time is local legislators not caring whether people suffer horrendous sunburns with blisters.

Thanks to Maryland state-run health insurance, homeless people have access to free medical and psychological care, and medications that are only one dollar a bottle. But for homeless people who do not have jobs, one dollar can seem like a hundred. It’s a misconception that homeless people do not work. When you’re poor, the idea of first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit, especially in this area, is unobtainable. If people manage to only stay on the streets for a few months, it is less likely that they will suffer permanent mental health damage, but the longer people go without basic necessities, it is a chicken and egg situation. Did they become homeless because they were mentally ill and unable to hold down a job, or did being on the streets do them in?

I would say that it’s different in every case, but I can see how being reduced to absolute survival mode can do so much damage in so little time…. especially if said homeless person is arrested and thrown in jail. Jail is not a happy place, especially when you’re put there due to circumstances beyond your control. People get arrested for all kinds of inanity, such as loitering, because where are you supposed to go when you don’t have an address?

Add that to the inequality in both hiring and sentencing leads minorities down a pipeline of enormous proportions. The first is that a resumé with the name Michael Smith is so much more likely to get an interview than one with the name Tyrone Washington. The second is that minorities are more likely to get harsher sentences than whites, so something that should have been a misdemeanor is adjudicated as a felony, and that always looks good to hiring managers.

Nothing makes my blood boil faster, because even if the minority is guilty, that does not mean that he/she deserves to be treated more harshly than anyone else. It’s white privilege at its finest.

My pastor, Matt, said something interesting regarding this very thing. Minorities are allowed to be prejudiced against whites, but there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” That is because prejudice in minority communities is relatively harmless, a way of dealing with earned scorn toward whites for the systematic oppression of minorities that they’ve endured for centuries now. There is no comparison whatsoever, and to do so is to willfully ignore the difference. Prejudice is personal bias. Racism is institutionalized from the top down, with no end in sight. No matter how much we march and protest against it, President Trump isn’t going anywhere, and neither are his goons satisfied with the status quo.

That does not mean that protesting is useless, however. With enough people in the crowd, it’s hard to be ignored by Congress or the media. There is also the community that comes together with a common goal, the creation of safe space…. the seeking out of like-minded people that is a lifeline when there is such a feeling of hopelessness.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour in America. In a lot of ways, this has not changed, but it has changed for me. I am blessed to have a community in which whites and minorities worship together under both a #blacklivesmatter and a rainbow flag. I am blessed to have a community that shows up for marches demanding equality for all people, despite the violence that has occurred as a result. The scariest was when our #blacklivesmatter sign was vandalized and pictures of the reporters shot in Roanoke on live TV were taped to the side doors.

It led to one of the biggest turnouts on Sunday morning that I’ve ever seen in any church anywhere, because we were there to say we were not afraid. Looking for succor, yes, but there was power in showing up. Jeffrey Thames preached that day, a sermon I’ll never forget called The Certain Samaritan. It was built to comfort us in our distress and distress us out of our comfort.

We will not back down from attending church because of this threat. We will continue to do the work of peace and justice that we always have, because it defines who we are as a congregation………………….

We will continue to let people rest and recuperate as they need. We will continue to clothe the naked. We will continue to feed the hungry. We will continue to make people of all faiths and origins our friends. We will continue to fight without a fight. It doesn’t take violence to respond. It takes certainty.

It was a beautiful illustration regarding now that this has happened, what are we to do? Applause is for a performance, not a worship service, and yet he deserved a standing ovation. He pointed the way from pain to promise in a way that people will not soon forget.

Whenever you think local politics don’t matter, remember that law & order starts in your neighborhood and branches out. When the leaves are turning brown, remember that it is your right and responsibility to turn on the sprinklers.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

Sermon for Pentecost, Year B

It’s not often that a scripture hits me as hard as the Gospel did today. I actually shed a few tears as I was reading when I got to the part about “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Because he’s right. I cannot bear anything right now that means Jesus is further away. I do not want Jesus to preach from the cloud. I want him HERE. I am in the place in my life where the Mediator, Advocate and Paraclete means so much to me that there is nothing more I want to do than touch the hem of his robe and be healed. To have Jesus turn around and say, “who touched me?” To be delivered from my distress, and there is a lot of it. In the past few years, I have lost a lot of friends, most notably my precious Argo and my precious Dana. They both carried me, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a new reality, one that I knew I needed but was reticent to give hope. They are my Holy Spirit Incarnate, which is a big phrase, but apt in this case.

I don’t normally do confessional sermons; they seem self-serving instead of serving God. But at the same time, the story of this Gospel and the scriptures set forth by the Lectionary are too personal. They got under my skin, the words tattooing themselves in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. There are just so many.

Why in the world would I say that Dana and Argo are my Holy Spirit Incarnate? Hear the words of Luke in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

They were so disoriented that Peter had to stand up and tell everyone they weren’t drunk. It is in direct opposition to Jesus’ message, or at least, it is to me. Jesus is telling the Disciples that if they don’t let him go, they will never know the peace he has to offer. The peace? He is a member of the Trinity. Hearing about the Holy Spirit just does not compute.

Luke writes that the Holy Spirit is like the sound of “a violent wind.” Where could they possibly meet in th middle? They just don’t……….. unless?

Whoever said that the people didn’t NEED to be shaken out of their complacency? I once said of Jesus that he doesn’t so much comfort me in my distress, but distress me out of my comfort. Perhaps I was putting emphasis on the wrong entity? When Peter preaches, he quotes the prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I know this is old language, but there is just so much here that is relevent to progressive Christianity. The first thing is that Joel is all-inclusive. Sons, daughters, slaves. It doesn’t matter. We are all going to be taken forcibly out of our comfort zones because what is right side up will be upside down and vice versa.

In my own story, Dana and Argo were my violent wind, taking me forcibly out of my comfort zone and forcing me to accept my own upside down and right side up. Dana and I were married for seven years. We got comfortable. We created our own family dysfunction and because it seemed normal, we stayed there. Lost in our own little world. The sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood when our dysfunction showed even to us when Argo came into our lives. She became a catalyst for both of us to look at ourselves and see the patterns we’d developed over time, both positive and negative. As time progressed, Dana became a mighty wind herself, because she could see the catalyst happening within me and shook me up as well. Both of them were justified in their anger at me. I said and did things that haunt me to this day, because a month ago I took their anger and let it motivate me. I took their Holy Spirit warnings and realized that their work wasn’t done. I had to believe them, I had to submit to them, I had to internally accept what I had done, and the violent wind I’d become in my own right. I also shook them up, in a way for which they did not ask.

Whether I motivated positive change or negative, I do not know. I am not entitled to their opinion unless they want to give it. However, I can accept that getting me out of their lives might have been the best thing for them. I can accept that my blood and fire was unwelcome. It is a situation we all face at different times in our lives….. whether we can own it or not.

The question now is whether we can recover from it, and if so, how in the hell do we do it?

By reaching out. By reaching up. By accepting the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Most people think of that day as The Second Coming. I do not think that in the slightest. To me, the Lord’s great and glorious day is when we reach inside ourselves, own our sins unto other people, and ask the Paraclete to make us whole……

Do you see what I did there?
Do you see it?

There’s the meeting of one and another. The violence and the promise. The internal struggle and the need for comfort as we face it head on. Moses gave us the Caduceus, now used as the symbol for doctors the world over. It is no accident that hundreds of years later, Jesus was called The Great Physician. You go to a doctor when you need a cure. The Great Physician can heal your heart, but only if you make the commitment to ask. To keep asking. To see the violent, mighty wind coming and ask for help.

After the storm comes the rainbow. What does that rainbow look like to you? In my own life, it is prayer. It is the constant joy of speaking out loud and believing that someone is listening whether they are or not. Believing in God is not a requirement for prayer. Believing in prayer is a way to channel your own distress into prosperity. The longer you pray, the more you listen to your self, your inner being, your godspace.

When I realized that I was a person even I didn’t like, submitting to the power of Jesus’ messages of hope, redemption, relief, and comfort gave me strength inside myself to take the violent, ugly changes in my life and walk away from them so that I could forgive myself and be the person I wanted to be. I did not want to participate in violence. I did not want to add to the mess I’d already created. I wanted to be whole.

When I touched the hem of Jesus’ robe metaphysically, my mental health changed. I started to feel a peace I hadn’t felt since childhood. An ever-present rage went out of me and I started to send both Dana and Argo constant prayers of safety, comfort, relief, atonement for the things I felt they’d done and wishing for their peace as well. Wishes became reality when I realized that I did not need their forgiveness, because it had come from sending the prayers themselves.

Christ gave me an invitation to peace once the violent mighty wind had passed and the raging storm became the calm he said he would give.

I ask that wherever you are in your journey, that you are given peace as well. That you are able to reach out in distress and metaphysically touch Jesus’ hem as well. Because he preaches from the cloud, he won’t have to ask who touched him.

He’ll just know.

Amen.