Once the Facebook scanners find you, it’s all over but the crying. Like I said, there is no recourse because “there aren’t enough people to manage content.” So, an Evangelical Christian came at me like the brain dead idiot into which she has willingly transformed. It was epic in terms of how close she was to getting the point. It was smacking her in the face the whole time. It was like my hand was on her head and she was windmilling her arms. The entire thread has been taken down, but ended with “you go and learn everything by rote…. come back to me when you have an original thought.” She came back with “is that the best you’ve got?”
Oh dear God.
I thought I was safe because my words were originally a bumper sticker. I said, “No. Jesus loves you, but I think you’re a bitch.” #bumperstickerwisdom And that’s how I got banned for a month less than two days after I got banned for a week. Between this and trying to win a cooking contest, I really feel like I’m getting my full use of the words “inciting violence.” But maybe not as much as I want, because if I’d come back at her with an original thought, I would have been in hell, not Facebook Jail. I am so mad at being cut off from my family and friends for that long, but I have absolutely no choice in the matter.
Aaaaaaanyway, these people drive me insane. They think the Bible is all about learning facts. Facts and the Bible are not really compatible after 2,000 years. Not only is it leaving science and medicine to their own devices by taking it literally, they’re missing out on a wealth of information spiritually by not taking it seriously. No true Jesus scholar would agree that learning your faith by memorizing scripture is a good ideea. It’s better to learn concepts.
My analogy for this is cooking (again).
I am a professional cook, yet I have only one true recipe. Even that was a wild guess at how much spice to put in the dish as I worked backwards. That’s because I understood the concept, but didn’t write down the facts. I innately know that fat supports heat, acid cuts fat, sugar neutralizes acid, acid neutralizes salt. Witth those combinations, you can make damn near anything. It’s all about choices. Let’s take one. Acid. Are you going to use citrus or vinegar? Well, how much fat are you trying to balance?
It is directly akin to my reading of the Bible. It comes in bites, I chew on it until I can swallow, and then I pass on my understanding, just like I did with the whole “concepts” thing. I had to cook thousands of times until I rose above the facts… so as it goes with the meticulous study of a book…… and it’s amazing how much The Bible and Le Guide Culinaire (Escoffier) have in common. The take home message in a professional kitchen is Old Testament “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” RAGE. Way, way before that, in order to become the best of the best, you work your way through the Luncheon Lectionary (yes, I did just make that up). You don’t read Le Guide from cover to cover, although you can. You skip around depending on what you need.
There are two types of people in the world. Those that can extrapolate assumptions from incomplete data…. #bumperstickerwisdom
I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.
I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.
Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.
The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”
I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.
For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.
Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.
When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.
Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.
I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.
Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.
It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.
Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.
We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.
Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.
So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.
Or are they?
I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.
I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.
Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.
If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).
I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.
In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.
Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.
To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.
There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.
White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.
Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”
Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.
Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.
I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.
[Editor’s Note: People of color are encouraged to participate in discussion in this post, positively or negatively. I just wanted to say up front that I am a white person writing for a white audience whom I hope will listen.]
A phrase that endures in both liberal and conservative Christianity comes from an award-winning Christian author named Barbara Johnson. That attribution is difficult because great minds think alike, so theologians like Anne Lamott have also said it…. as has my father, which is where I heard it first in one of his sermons as a kid. It has stayed with me for almost thirty years:
We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.
Good Friday is all around us.
There is a global pandemic.
American cities large and small are burning in protest over decades of post-traumatic stress disorder while “Nero fiddles.”
The president, regardless of party, would usually have something to say to calm the nation after 100,000 deaths from COVID-19…………. perhaps an additional acknowledgement that these protests did not come à propos of nothing.
Whites have (of course) been affected, but the virus has disproportionately hit areas with high concentrations of people of color, magnifying inequities in the health care system that have existed since the United States won its freedom from the British Empire……. and still hasn’t moved for significant change.
It is akin to schools in minority neighborhoods not having the resources that white schools do. Though the country is becoming more integrated in some areas, there are others where black families move into those white neighborhoods to give their kids better education, and whites sell their houses. The inequality begins anew.
People of color have been crying for help; their sorrow has fallen on deaf ears… and then, a nine minute video of a policeman choking the life out of a black man surfaced on social media.
For people of color, it does not matter whether they personally knew the person killed by racially motivated violence. In fact, it was not even the murder by law enforcement of one Minneapolis man named George Floyd that threw the first match.
Racism is an institutionalized top-down system of oppression, carried out in education, health care, housing, workplaces, and many, many, many people of color killed by the police for no apparent reason other than they “looked suspicious.” Perception is in the eye of the beholder, and looking suspicious is relative given that white people wearing the exact same clothes as people of color are seemingly off their radar.
For instance, Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a Charleston church was taken quietly (meaning still alive) and given Burger King on the way to the police station. Eric Garner was harassed on suspicion of selling single cigarettes out of boxes without tax stamps. When he said that he was not selling cigarettes and tired of being harassed, the police choked him to death.
Good Friday is not only egregious inequality, it is the refusal to acknowledge it exists. Phrases by white people like “I don’t see color” and “we should all belong to one race… the human race” cease to acknowledge complete ignorance.
White people have never been segregated like people of color. White people have never lived through being stolen from their homeland and enslaved, being counted as 3/5ths of a person, Jim Crow laws, and now racism that is every bit as entrenched, just couched in more politeness (which never matters because people of color see it for what it is).
To be an Easter person during this particular Good Friday, you must challenge your own assumptions about race. You must ask yourself what you can do to promote equality in every aspect of your life, because it touches every aspect of theirs. An axiom in our society that needs addressing immediately is that it isn’t that white people’s lives aren’t hard- they’re just not hard because they’re white. The link I’ve included in terms of promoting equality is an article written by a white woman, because I think that our responsibilities are separate from minority communities.
We do not need to put people of color in the position of comforting us, making us feel better, telling us ways we can help when we are completely capable of doing our own research.
To add to her list, white people, get out of the protests. Stop. Just stop. Stand on the sidelines with cold water, masks, and/or bail money. Do not even think about moving from your station. When white people are involved in these protests, we are again off the radar. The police aren’t likely to grab us, but the nearest person of color instead. They will pay for what we have done.
On Good Friday, Jesus said, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” This makes our own Good Friday even more covered in ash, because we do not have that excuse.
Most, if not all white people see racism every day, but do not call it out.
Hiring managers do not even bother to wonder why they automatically put resumés with names like “Tyrone” or “LaToya” in the “I’ll pass” pile, even when Tyrone and LaToya have over and above the required qualifications and experience.
White “boys will be boys,” but boys of color are liable to be arrested by school security. The prison pipeline starts early, because once there is one arrest, it all too often snowballs.
These are concrete examples, but it’s more than that. White people fail to call out racism in simple conversations, particularly when all participants are white. In fact, the white people who heard the racist comment and didn’t call it out are likely to think that they aren’t racist, the person who said it was…. they were just standing there. It is not enough, and never has been, that white people remain quiet and let the moment pass.
Being an Easter person in a Good Friday world is not one decision. It is a lifestyle choice. It is a commitment to do everything you can to help the world progress.
My analogy for this is that I didn’t decide I loved women at 13, told one person, and that’s all I ever had to do. I come out to everyone who is new to me. It’s a choice to come out every single day, not that one time once. Advancing the nature of humanity is the same way. It begins with new behavior every day, not that one time once.
If you only have one story in which you stopped racism, I am giving you an invitation to create more- hopefully one for every day of your life from here on out.
We, as white people, do not have an ability to apologize for the past- at least, not in words. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything without changed behavior. We have shown to people of color over and over that words of contrition are just that.
A Good Friday white person is one that says “my ancestors didn’t own any slaves. Inequality doesn’t have anything to do with me.” An Easter white person recognizes that the way racism has been woven into the fabric of our flag, inextricably interrelated with our culture, means that they have benefited from a system built on the backs of the people living here when we arrived, and the people we stole to build our own infrastructure. An Easter person recognizes that we’ve made people of color participate in our own delusions of superiority…. our own ridiculous narrative that has lasted far too long.
The more we try to dismantle it, the closer we are to bringing Easter to the masses, rather than keeping it for ourselves. The enduring phrase becomes more meaningful, because we will have a concrete idea of what it means to be Easter people in a Good Friday world.
We don’t have to take it lying down, as if the world will always be Good Friday with a few people willing to make it Easter on their own.
Moreover, the world will always have Good Friday problems. There is no way to eradicate them. The difference made is the number of people willing to stand up and claim Easter as their own….. a groundswell of hope outweighing despair.
Changes by Easter people, from small to sweeping, will help in more ways than we should be able to count.
I have so much to do today that is banal, therefore I am sitting at my desk hoping to come up with something brilliant instead. Maybe if I have a creative flash, it will make taking care of the small stuff easier. I try to go from least desirable to most, because if I start with the thing I want to do most, the rest of my to-do list goes into “I can do it tomorrow” status, which generally runs ad infinitum amen.
I need to do some stuff around the house, and I also need to go to the pharmacy and grocery store. I should have thought ahead on this one and used the pharmacy at the grocery store from the beginning, but luckily, CVS and Giant are practically next door to each other. It takes about two minutes to walk between them if I’m feeling lazy, 45 seconds if I’m booking it…. usually dependent on how much I have to carry from one store to the other. I feel like taking this break to write is justified, because I don’t like to go anywhere without my phone, watch, and headphones completely charged. It helps me to be in crowds if everyone feels further away, so I’m usually listening to music or a podcast.
I never leave my watch at home because I have cerebral palsy and monocular vision. If my monocular vision is guilty, I have missed a step down (sometimes a step up) or a crack in the sidewalk. If it’s the CP, I have taken a spill a propos of nothing. My watch has fall detection, and if I don’t move in a certain amount of time, alerts 911. I’ve never needed it, but I am genuinely afraid of hitting my head, because in 90% of cases, the falls happen so fast I don’t have time to react. I’ve only had three falls in the last five years that have resulted in bruising or bleeding, but that’s enough, especially since I ripped my favorite pants at the knee…. khakis that would have looked horrible with patching even if I could have gotten all the blood out. No, wait. I have ripped two pairs of pants at $50 a pop. In one case, I thought I broke my hip. Luckily, I did not. The bone ached for days as I recovered, though.
While I was in more pain than worrying about my pants, I am reminded of an old Ryan Darlington story. He wrecked his bike and walked it back home because he was scraped up, road rash, bleeding, all the things. His dad took one look at him and, completely deadpan, said “geez…. is the bike okay? There’s nothing like the love of a parent for a child.
It helps to have a friend to help me watch out for that stuff, but mostly I just tumble ass over teakettle because I won’t say anything up front. I need to get to a place where it just is, and doesn’t make me feel embarrassed. It’s difficult, though, especially with new people in my life. If I fall once in front of them, it’s just an accident. Three or four times? Not so much.
What helped me the most was meeting Tracy Walder (link is to my question at her Q&A after her book talk- we had a conversation when she signed my book), and learning that even with all she’s accomplished professionally, she still has her own body issues and doesn’t talk about it, either. Her hypotonia didn’t develop into CP, so our cases are different, but our internal monologues are the same.
I didn’t mean to put her on the spot, but I’d read a few pages of the book while I was waiting for her, and she mentions it, so I thought it was fair game.
I kicked myself later that I didn’t take her aside privately, because I think talking about it to an audience might have made her uncomfortable. I hope I was able to diffuse it by saying I had it, too, so she wouldn’t feel alone…. or maybe it was that I didn’t want to feel alone. Either way, it worked out.
I’d never met anyone with hypotonia before, so one of the best moments of my life was learning that there’s another person in the world that has the same feelings I do. I am sure there are plenty more, but neither of us know them. In fact, she says that she doesn’t think she’s ever met anyone outside her family that has it.
She gave me such a gift by opening up, because it raised my self-esteem when I realized that it was okay to feel how I feel, and just to let them come and go. Perhaps in the future I will feel more comfortable getting out of the house because of it. I tend to hole up (quarantine or not), because the layout of the house is familiar and safe. I purposely put off going to the grocery store and pharmacy until social interaction is needed to maintain isolation, because I don’t have to guess whether I’ll trip. I don’t have to guess that I’ll run into something. I don’t have to guess whether or not my shoulder will bang on a door frame unless it’s doubly wide. I just know.
It makes meeting people doubly hard, but during the quarantine, I did have one woman reach out to me that I managed to piss off in one day flat. That’s a record. However, I wasn’t upset about it because it was a conversation I knew was going to be way more trouble than it was worth. She grew up non-denominational/Pentecostal and still trying to live out her faith in that vein, which made me cringe because that framework is designed to keep people inside the fear of going to hell when they die………. and she can try until Jesus comes to fit in as a queer fundamentalist, but people will still talk behind her back if not directly to her face.
She spoke fluent “Christianese,” which is a language that I hear so much that I can understand it, but I won’t engage. People who take the Bible literally and those of us who take the Bible seriously are so different that there’s really no mesh. You will never catch me using the phrases “looking for a Godly marriage” or “raising kids in His word.” What pissed her off was me saying “I hear those words a lot, but I have no idea what they actually mean.”
Having spent a lot of time in the Bible Belt, I know to keep my views to myself (she was originally from Beaumont, TX). For that crowd, the resurrection is more important than anything Jesus ever did while he was alive…. and I do not enjoy the “sticky, sticky blood” interpretation.
Also, nothing in the Bible to literalists is a story from an ancient civilization trying to understand the world around them, but absolute truth- as if God sat down and wrote it all in pen. Don’t even mention to them that stories of Jesus were oral traditions not written down until 90 years after his death. No one had an eyewitness account, but literalists skip over that, as well, and will fight you in a way that you’ll always lose, because they go pretty quickly into righteousness- they follow Jesus and they have no idea what the hell you’re doing. They’re Christians, and you’re faking it…. as if no time has passed and thousands of years of exegesis and criticism are fake as well. My alarm bell went off when she said she went to Bible College. Here’s what I mean by alarm bell, taken from Wikipedia:
Many were established as a reaction against established theological colleges and seminaries, which conservatives believed were becoming increasingly liberal and undermining traditional Christian teachings, such as Biblical inerrancy [emphasis mine].
There’s a big difference between Bible College and say, getting into the divinity schools at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Emory, etc…. this is because the error is that seminaries were getting too liberal. It’s that the more they pieced history together, they could no longer support the idea that every single sentence in the Bible is a hundred percent factually accurate and needs no translation from then to now.
I am sure that my treatise on “inerrancy” could have been an entry all on its own, but everything ties together in terms of getting over myself and meeting new people, and knowing within a conversation or two whether it’s a relationship I’d like to continue. I know I’ll keep tripping and falling, but I’d like to know whether I’m going to land in the right hands.
For me, that person could be a different (non-literalist) denomination, a different religion altogether, or agnostic/atheist as long as they respect that I’m not going to change.
My beliefs about the Bible can be summed up in one sentence. I believe that all 66 books are stories that are all true, and some of them actually happened.
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?
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?
My new alarm clock is the bomb diggity. I love how the sound fills the room, and the fact that I can use it as a speaker phone as long as I have my iPhone or iPad attached by Bluetooth. In fact, as long as my iPad is connected to Wi-Fi, everything that goes to my phone goes to it automatically. For some people, this would be a dealbreaker. For me, it makes it where if I leave one or the other upstairs, I do not have to make a mad dash from the porch to my room trying to catch the phone before it stops ringing. The only thing that I need to change about it is how it wakes me up. I have it set to FM radio, because I used to like to wake up to NPR. Now I realize that with the amount of sleeping medication I take, NPR doesn’t cut through my dreams easily enough to actually wake up when it goes off. Sometimes, I am alert enough to catch it on the first try. Some days, I’m just not. The soothing voices of the commentators are more likely to make me sleep deeper. 🙂
I should change my alarm clock to Bluetooth and set it to the same ring my phone makes. There is no snooze button on that. With my ringtone, I tend to shake awake immediately (another gift from my father passed on genetically) because I don’t know who’s on the other end of the line. It’s a gift because pastors often get very serious calls in the middle of the night, and the last thing my father wanted in a parishioner’s time of need was for people to think that they woke him up. They had enough to worry about, you know?
I feel the same way. I do not want any of my parishioners to apologize for waking me up as if it’s inconvenience to take their call in the middle of the night when their son has just died. I come from a long line of jobs where I’ve said, “this is Leslie Lanagan, how may I help you?” Being a pastor is not really that different, except the calls you take are rarely scheduling an appointment at 3:00 AM. If someone calls in the middle of the night, it’s never something good.
Someone has died, someone has been rushed to the emergency room, someone has been arrested, someone needs to go to the bedside and administer last prayers. In the Methodist church, there are no true “last rites,” but in the hours of someone passing away, they need their pastor more than ever…. or perhaps the family is Methodist now, but they come from a church where there *are* last rites and want them to be administered anyway. When that happens, you don’t want the chaplain on duty. You want the person that has been the everpresentlovingkindness that you’ve been every Sunday since they started attending.
The phrase “there’s no present like the time” comes from a jeweler’s commercial whose name I now forget, but it sticks with me all the time. There are other commercials that stick out almost as clearly, like when PBS came up with “the channel that changes you.” That first one, tho……
What better present could you give anyone but your time? I am at the space in my life where I do not need more material things. I have pared down to the basic essentials. If you want to give me a gift, the best thing you could offer is cooking for me or taking me out to dinner just to look at you, face to face… perhaps reaching across the table to touch my hand or afterward, giving me a sincere hug and kiss on the cheek. Pri-Diddy had to reschedule from Tuesday to Friday, so my anticipation of seeing her has had a chance to build. She is not giving me anything but her presence, but it is worth more than anything she could give. I hope she feels the same way about me, because Prianka is one of the people who has crossed over into that friend in which I can confide anything without judgment. Like Bryn and Argo, we’ve not been afraid to delve into the deepest parts of ourselves in order to move forward. Though Pri-Diddy is younger, she has this way about her that makes me think she was an Indigo child, wise beyond her years. My guru in a tiny body, born in the same hospital where Mother Theresa worked in Calcutta. She shows me YouTube videos of the gurus she likes, and is impressed that I worked at the Graduate School of Social Work at the same time Brene Brown attended. But, of course, then she was not Brene Brown, Trademark. She was just one of the students in which I had to help with her computer problems, just like everyone else running to complete a paper.
I take pride in her success, not because I was the one that got her through grad school, but because I take pride in all of “my students” that have gone on to do great things. Also, because I helped the administration as well, the director said that I had an open invitation to attend. WOW it was a big mistake to leave for Alexandria, but I learned lessons that couldn’t have been learned any other way. I was young and STUPID in love with my girlfriend, and there was no way I wanted her to move without me. Although looking back at my life, I should have let her. I got really sick with depression being A) far from home and missing school and 2) not having the right medicines so that I went from a little bit depressed to completely batshit crazy in no time at all. Although, truth be told, I did not miss class as much as I missed working at UH. My bosses were kind and supportive in a way that I haven’t had since… except for Randy, who tried to take me under his wing and I couldn’t lean into that pure, white, professional love because of the hurricane swirling at home.
I did find a church, though, and that helped mightily. Kathleen and I both loved it, and invested to the point that we helped install the tile labyrinth in the floor and Kathleen joined Brian’s “Make Your Own Stained Glass” class. It turned out beautifully, and it hung in our bathroom window so it could get the most sun.
In the end, though, it did not help my depression enough, and after 18 months in Alexandria, we’d both had enough of each other. We stopped giving each other the present of time. Kathleen joined a softball team and when I went to support her, she made a point of touching men intimately, like brushing their hair out of their faces a little too slowly right in front of me so she could make it clear that her intentions with me were over. We broke up in August or September, and by October she’d met the man she was going to marry.
It gutted me like a fish, and my dad came to our townhouse when Kathleen wasn’t home and just said, “leave all the furniture, get the small things you want to take, and let’s go home.” He did all the driving as we pushed through from DC to Houston, drinking coffee and listening to Tony Robbins, whom I’ve come to love.
I don’t care what you think of him. In my need, what he gave me was priceless, which is the ability to build myself up. The thing he said that gave me the most pause is that sometimes we are frozen with the paralysis of analysis, and that sums me up to a great degree. Although, there was another truly great line that I carry with me as well, which is that we learn more when we’re pondering rather than partying.
That has been true for me in the breakup with Dana as well. We did a lot of partying when we should have been pondering, and that was a theme we carried through our relationship a lot. It was so much easier to get along on a best friend/partying/sex level than it ever was to truly connect with each other down to our souls. When I started to peel back my own layers, and this is solely my opinion, she wasn’t ready to peel back hers. It may not be her story, but it is mine. The deeper I delved into myself, the more I wanted to know about her. We were handfasted in a truly shitty club in terms of our childhood, and I wanted to know every detail, some of which she could talk about, and some she couldn’t because she didn’t know the answers herself.
It was at that time we began to pull away from each other, because I didn’t act the same. In fact, she made the point of telling me that my eyes didn’t look like home anymore, and even though I excused myself to go to bed not to up the ante, it was a direct shot into my soul, an arrow I have not extracted and won’t for a long time. I didn’t want to know why she felt that way. I just went to bed and cried myself to sleep, trying to self-soothe and tell myself I was worthy of love, even if it wasn’t hers.
I gave thanks for our separate bedrooms, because even though we were still married and dedicated to each other, we had different processes in terms of trying to fall asleep. Many people thought that was the beginning of the end, and told me so. I told them to shut that down, because it actually made our relationship better. We liked having our own huge amounts of space in the house, and room for our electronics on the other side of the bed. It seems crazy, but it worked. Having the space to spread out made us sleep better and because of it, fights didn’t seem so important the next day. Besides, at the end of the day we were too tired for sex, anyway, so the naughty neighbor complex was probably the best thing ever, in my opinion, anyway. For us, there was something intimate about looking at each other, holding each other, falling in love and connecting in sunlight and energy rather than the part of the day where we just needed rest. We gave each other the present of our time when we were the most jazzed to see each other, and not when we were out of it with exhaustion.
One of the other reasons we liked separate bedrooms is that I tended to write to you at night, and I didn’t want to interrupt her sleep with the sound of my fingers clacking on the keys. At the time, I had a 17-inch Mac desktop in my room, and it was “my place” to wind down. On the other hand, it gave me too much privacy with Argo, where Dana wouldn’t read what I’d sent until the next day and couldn’t do anything about the fact that I was “over the line, Smokey. Mark it zero…….” I’d give anything to take that back, the ways in which I sent Argo things I shouldn’t, thinking I was brave and crazy and trying to push her away all in one breath. I loved her mind, AND I wanted to continue being married. Those two things battled in my brain to such an enormous degree that I told Argo it was getting harder and harder to look at myself in the mirror anymore. In love on the ground and “in love” in the cloud made it where I truly felt shame, deep and abiding. I could no longer give myself the gift of my own time, because if Dana didn’t want to be with me, it was nothing compared to how bad I didn’t want to be with me, either.
The difference is that Dana had a choice to leave me, and I didn’t. I had to sit with my pain and confusion and work it the fuck out. I had to dig myself out of the hole I’d dug, and it was deep enough to compare it to burying a body.
It was at about that time I saw a link to an article on Facebook that I read about a woman who saw an empty grave at a cemetery and jumped into it, laying down on the bare earth. She talked about feeling death, feeling where she would go when she died, and how it made her less afraid of dealing with her own problems because she dug herself out of the earth physically, which changed her mindset completely. She’d laid there long enough to really see what was important and what was not, and arose a different person than the one she was when she’d just lay there, alone in her own thoughts and shortcomings.
In that article, she gave me the present of her time, which allowed me to look at things much more deeply than I ever had before. I started to forgive myself. I started to feel my own worth. I started to realize what was important to me and what wasn’t.
The most important thing, to me, became mending my relationship with Argo because I’d intentionally caused her to run away, treated her like crap so she would. I made my narrative so angry, when in reality it would have meant more to me than anything in the world to have the present of her time, if only for a few minutes.
In her last missive, she used words like probably and maybe rather than always and never, tears running down my face in astonishment because Good Friday had become Easter once again. Even if nothing ever happens in the future, because we both want peace without and within, I stood speechless in front of her, laid bare by her grace. It took her time to write that e-mail, a present of time so great that it is the e-mail I keep in my Kindle case and lean on it when I feel unworthy and unloved.
I walk taller with our resolution and the future doesn’t matter. What matters is that in my need for peace, she gave it to me with her whole heart. In the moment, it felt like a sacrAMENt, a blessing to move forward with grace and mercy for others. There is nothing so sacred to me than passing those presents along.
My invitation to you is to think about this: there’s no time like the present to make the present your time. What are you going to do with it? What relationships are you going to heal? What present of time are you going to give yourself?