9/11/2020

“I’m sad,” several people have said to me today.

I understand.

And after sitting with that feeling myself a lot in recent weeks, I’ll share this much that I know:

I stared at the rich Birmingham cloudscape as I drove this afternoon, praying all the while for you, my West Coast friends and your kin and neighbors, spending this day under anxious, orange, ash-choked skies – those, that is, with enough space, at best, to look up from imperiled yet intact houses and unscorched streets.

Regardless of one’s politics, 9/11 is fraught with memory and some form of grief.

True also for the wrenching toll of COVID, from death to disruption, from hard choices to hidden realities of the entire scope of human suffering.

And then: there really is no circumstance that compels sympathy from me for our current president. Yet I acknowledge the ache to offer equilibrium in the midst of terrible tragedy, to conjure up steady presence even when the news is grim, to open your arms wide to hold the pain and uncertainty of those you’re tasked to lead. I’m not saying he feels that way. I myself feel that way and so do many of you – and I found that thought buried in his words about deception.

I put my faith in grace and some days that’s like breathing fumes.

Black Lives Matter. Period. I don’t know how to say that any more clearly.

In a season of quiet, complex pastoral care, there’s a constant tangle of “you’ve got to be kidding me – how much more can this good soul have to deal with?” and “okay, that’s a good step – at least for right now, I think” – all mixed in with the sorrow of not being able to do more and the humble peace of being trusted with intimate stories of joy and struggle.

Every one of us here – at one level or another – carries some version of this weight right now. The notion that we’re all in this together – which is the reality of interdependence – has grown, as it tends to do in the neoliberal age, into a competition for the moral or material high ground or at least the code to the bunker of some fictive, exclusive safety. That’s one of the deepest shames of this whole moment.

We are sad.

And rightly so.

Yet as long as we have breath in us, we are blessed with life. That is no small blessing.

May we breathe, grieve, hope, pray, learn, share, wherever this night finds us.

This is what I know.

Amen

Weather and Wonder

It’s a sorrow that we consider modern conversation about the weather ‘small talk.’

We live on land under the eternal sky. The weather frames the whole of our everyday experience. Our ancestors lived that way  – and others less insulated from the natural world know it intimately still. 

I wonder if the designation of ‘small’ might be more a reflection of our human hubris, we who are actually only small, wondrous bits within God’s vast creation. 

We find ease in culture’s urbane economic rush to recenter our own selves as the world’s obvious priority.

What might happen if we were to defy the shallow and instead hew more deeply to the experience of the weather? What if we were to allow it as fully into our consciousness in the quiet everyday moments as in the dramatic ones?  

Not only our judgment about its effect on us in any given moment (though “Dang, it’s hot”  is inevitable in some form in Alabama in July), but as a treasured part of being human and an honest transcendent reality. 

What if we were to notice and breathe and give thanks throughout the day? What if we were to study deeply the natural and human-shaped patterns? What if we held fast to reverence and awe and open-ness and the blessing of it all? 

Some ethical and spiritual traditions (religious or not) encourage such a practice, but mostly we are too busy. 

But I wonder who we might be as a people if we were to let wonder change us. 

Amen

Sleeping Gods, Sleeping Demons

I pledge allegiance
to the economy

to the Economy
that hides
behind the flag

of any given
nation

like the
stars and
bars

Oh. Wait.

like the
stars and
stripes

like somehow we
care for people
and rocks and
birds
and trees and
corn and
bread
instead of

for the Dow
for the dollar

for what does,
by chance,
that flag stand for?

I pledge allegiance
to the shred
of privilege

I might find here in
the land of
the free
market.

I pledge allegiance
to the proper
wealth of the
high and mighty
who bought low
and sold high

brought low,
sold high

and who sold
out

the rest
who live
and breathe
and matter.

Rep. Ilhan Omar and the Same Old Questions

I’ve been pondering what to say about the recent/ongoing controversies around the president and Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The problem is that there’s really nothing new to say. These are the same old questions of power and ethics.

However, the lessons remain important – and never more so than during Holy Week, so:

The critically important voices of women of color are massively underrepresented in public discourse in our culture. May we listen and learn from them, recognizing and respecting that those voices are particular rather than monolithic.

White imperial capitalist patriarchy perpetually reacts with violence to challenges to its ill-gotten hegemonic power. The intensity of reaction generally mirrors the intensity of the perceived threat. This power is unambiguously harmful to people and the planet.

Cultural pluralism is one of the greatest gifts of life in the contemporary United States. In that context, religious differences ought to be a site of blessing and respect. May we who are not Muslim hold Muslims in our hearts as our friends and neighbors.

Our lives are suffused with holiness — of time, place, and being. We must actively, daily choose to grasp that reality, to live that way rather than drowning in the transactionalism of contemporary society, that system of dominance that reduces all worth to that of economic production and consumption.

Let those of us who claim an ethical principle of living, rooted in religious faith or not, do our best to embody compassion, justice, respect, and love in ways that reject exploitation, dehumanization, and commodification of all living beings and the whole of Creation.

That is the work of living in this age.

We do this work and walk this path together.

Amen

Globalization and the Value of Life

I’ve been thinking about an interview I heard the other day on the radio with a union worker who, defying his union leadership, supports Donald Trump (note: this is NOT a post about a particular candidate – this is a systemic problem and that’s what I want to emphasize).

His rationale was that illegal immigration is the cause of the weak job market. He believes that Trump is the man to fix that and thus restore us to an economy filled with well-paying working class jobs.

That this gentleman blames immigrant workers rather than globalization for the gutting of the earned wage economy in this country points to a central problematic narrative – one which is expertly manipulated – in our national discourse.

If this gentleman’s analysis did extend to globalization, it’s not unlikely that he would blame fellow workers around the globe rather than the system that pits his labor against theirs to detriment of both (and the planet) and for the enrichment of the people who created the system.

Modern globalization of world capital really began with the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) in 1948. It was further fertilized by the Uruguay Round of negotiations that took place from 1986-1994, resulting in the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Look at those years – that’s Reagan, HW Bush, and Clinton. This is a BIPARTISAN doing. The Doha round of negotiations began under W Bush and continues to this day under Obama. NAFTA started under HW Bush and was signed by Clinton. CAFTA has been signed (and almost certainly the TPP will be) on Obama’s watch.

The result is the concentration of wealth through the accumulation of capital by the very few. In the process, many of the rest of us have been literally invested in the system enough (think 401Ks over pensions) to have a stake in its preservation, but we should be under no illusion that we are its real or intended beneficiaries.

And the rest of the people – the millions of people in this country who will never have a decent paying job and who have no accumulated wealth to fall back on and the billions of people around the world whose national economies have been violently stripped of any residual capacity they had to be self-sustaining in the wake of colonialism – those people are desperate and in the cold light of globalization, they are disposable.

The majority of the world’s population has value only to the extent that they are consumers (whether they earn, borrow, receive, or steal the funds to support their consumption habit). And our ecosystems have value only as economic commodities.

This represents the height of dehumanization and crushing mechanism of environmental destruction. It is a political problem, an economic problem, and an environmental problem. It is a moral, cultural, and theological problem.

We cannot address if we do not see it for what it is.

Asphalt Chronicles: An Afternoon at Wildwood Centre

I am learning to love parking lots
to see the beauty –
small scraps of hope
flashes of green holly and red berries
a hint of a crape myrtle in the
tortured trunk and tiny sprouts.
Squirrel, mourning dove, crow,
stranded oak.
Maples
root-bound yet
determined in their
circumscribed islands of soil.

I am learning to love parking lots, to
forgive the harsh word, the
rude gesture, the
impatient insistence of dominance, the
thwarted intention.
To watch the care as parent reaches for child’s hand,
not judge the car that straddles the line or the
rapid reach for the cell phone and the
peril averted just in time or the
cart full of Fruit Loops and Cheetos.
Or the memory of what grew here before.

This is what is.

The song says we paved paradise.
The deed done,
asphalt laid,
now cracked, faded stripes,
ghosts of a meadow and creek.

Parking – a
gift? right? privilege? requirement?

Multiculturalism in the
Honda
Dodge
Audi
Ford
Jaguar row.
Intersectionality at the intersection.
Saabs and Jeeps and Chevrolets.
We’ll take our diversity in the form of
paint colors,
model years,
features we want or
what we can afford.
Consumer choice.
Do our wheels speak to
one another in accents of the land in which
they were made?

I must learn to love this,
this world here.

Two yellow cars fringe a row of
more mundane shades.
For a moment the eye can dance.
Alice Walker guides us in this place:
live frugally on surprise.
What happens if
you start with expectations low,
eyes open?

Windows down, the
rain begins.

Fall colors
Taco Bell bags
chocolate bar wrappers
gnarled plastic straws.
Black pavement
beige buildings
white faces and brown faces.
Nary a pastel in sight.

Nuns at Wal-mart,
old people buying useful old people things and ice cream.

A man leans against his car, smoking, his
old brown hat angled,
knife case secure on his belt.
He waits,
not with patience.
Man and car both need a bath.

A woman hesitates.
To carry her coat or not –
what matters most?
Freezing for short minutes
between car and store?
Or the weight of the coat
as she shops?

Zoning, shopping, crime and naps.
It’s all here.
Of us and we of it.
Heat and cold alike radiate,
water washes
off in torrents
drains trash and streaks of oil.

This is what we wanted.

This is what we were told we asked for.

Why I Love Tenacious Urban Plants

IMGP5348 (1)

I would say that we have lost the capacity to see beauty in the world around us unless it serves
as a clear example of grandeur –

IMGP5394 (1)

– but then again, I’m not sure we ever truly grasped that art.

IMGP5361 (1)

The sacred is all around us.

IMGP5397 (1)

It’s all holy ground.

IMGP5410 (1)

Let’s hear it for life that survives in the cracks,

IMGP5378 (1)

that makes use of the margins,

 IMGP5438 (1)

that finds ways to survive regardless of the odds.

 

 

 

 

(necessary disclaimer: Invasive plants in native habitats are a huge problem. I am not suggesting otherwise. In our times, nearly all of our ecosystems have been disturbed by humans’ prioritizing their short term desires over holistic ecosystem dynamics. However, there are scraps of ground where life and beauty can be found in spite of great odds. These represent a vivid call to stop and pay attention – and to begin to treat the world (its people and its non-human species) with love and care because we recognize the inherent worth of all interconnected life.)

A Prayer for the World

On this beautiful and busy day
I pray for the Earth and
all that dwells within.

I pray for the rocks and mountains,
the foundation of life.
I pray for the soil,
the giver of all life.

I pray for the water which
roars and rolls,
sustains all life,
quenches all thirst.
I pray for the waves, the eddies, the currents,
the stream, the creek, the muddy puddle,
rivers and lakes and oceans,
gulfs and seas,
all the living water.

I pray for the sky above, for
the air,
the clouds,
the winds.

I pray for all living creatures –
the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air,
the animals of the field,
all creeping things that creep upon the ground,
all human beings that are on the face of the earth.

I pray for their toil, their peace, their place.
I pray for entire ecosystems
of which we are a part.
I pray for all of us, all things that breathe.

I confess to a gracious and loving God –
I have not loved the world enough.
Any part of it.
There is violence and exploitation
and it is my sin too.
I pray that the soul of the world that I
have wronged would forgive me.

I beg for an earth filled with wisdom, mercy, justice
an earth of enough.
Enough water and food and shelter
Enough care and learning
Enough bread and wine.
Enough love.

I pray for us all to know our place in the world
to find peace and
to share peace
among all.

Amen.