Rules of the Game

Political pundit on the
news says our wars
work best when we have
skin in the game

Skin in the game,
as if wars happen
any other
way

brown skin
black skin
white skin
bodies of
boys and girls
soldier bodies
breathing and
not

the tight animal
fear of bloody
sleepless nights and
days of
no bread
no school
no work
no sense of
safety
at
all.

Skin in the game.

Bright American lives
women and men
with mad skillz and
dedicated hearts.

Our skin in the game.

Until they return
home to our
indifference, our
distance from
their pain,
the pain they
caused, the pain
they know that
cuts through
every cord of
stable hope,
every shred of
soul’s gentle
desire.

Skin in the game.

Endangered bodies of
other lands trying to live
their daily lives.
Hoping for
clean sheets,
ample meals with a
bit of wine
music lessons
soul-settling worship
a good doctor for a
child ill with some
easy disease,
perhaps pinkeye,
as the worst thing
that happened today.

Their skin in our game.

In our games we play
Risk and Battleship
without popcorn and laughter,
writ large across the
map of black-ink
borders and language.
Minecraft with
real mines
that take off legs
at the knee
at best.

We play them like a game.

But there is – always –
skin in the
game.
That is how war is
played.

For some there can be
no forgetting.

A Short Sunday Meditation

We have conditioned ourselves to accept violence done to others. And in some ways we do so in order that we may live – so that the deaths of Turkish peace activists, the shooting of Tamir Rice, the campus killings in one state after another, the countless acts of brutality near and far do not jolt us from the necessary stuff of our daily lives.

But sometimes we need to let it touch us. We need to let it touch us not so that we get mired in despair but so that we let it change us. Not so that we are changed toward bitterness and fear, but so that we are changed toward love and compassion and a drive for justice. So that our hearts are more open and more determined to engage one with another in ways that interrupt bloodshed as the price of doing the business of life.

Why Gun Control Will Not Solve Our Problem

We are a violent people.

We built our nation on a foundation of the genocidal slaughter of one race of people and the brutal enslavement of another. The legacy lived on in generations of the lynch law, bullying, hazing, and ridicule, and a near-religious passion for objects that kill. We callously ravage the earth for its resources, which we treat like our own personal treasures.

We treat one another with profound disrespect. We fail to see the humanity of others. We close our eyes to the dynamics of power that suffuse our daily existence. And so we witness yet another wrenching tragedy.

And yet –

We are also people of profound courage. I read this morning of the stunning instinctive bravery of Chris Mintz, a military veteran who charged directly toward the shooter in Oregon yesterday in a tragically unsuccessful effort to subdue him and save others. Beyond physical courage, resilience and tenacity and strength of the soul are genuinely commonplace in our culture.

We are also a generous people. We want to care. We want to give. We want to help. We don’t always do so in the most skillful way – good intentions are not enough and something is not always better than nothing. But the heart is there. We may put boundaries around how far that can reach, but the heart is there. I believe we can open up those boundaries around it to embrace the full humanity of one another.

I believe in gun control and I share that belief with many of my friends. I also have friends who ardently oppose gun control. Every one of them is a decent and interesting human whom I am proud to call a friend.

In this situation, if we make this an argument about gun control – or only about gun control – we’re not going to get very far. Aside from the fact that there are enough weapons in circulation now to supply the apocalypse (seriously), this is an issue that deeply divides us. The very mention of it closes off space for conversation about the root causes of the problem. The root cause of the problem is the embedded violence of our culture.  We may even be able to dig deeper than that, but turning our gaze on the violence of our history and of our everyday existence is a good start.

Yes, guns are an efficient mechanism for destruction. If the shooter in Roseburg had been armed with a spoon, the day would have turned out differently. The precious lives of 10 (or more) people might not have been taken. But we must look deeper and we must do it together. If we want to avoid more mass killings – and I think we all do – we are going to have to look beyond the question of guns and into the very substance of our individual and collective souls.

We need repentance and we need reconciliation. We need to face up to the unbelievable violence we have wrought in the past, especially on Native peoples and black people, but also on other people of color, on women, on the disabled, on low-income people of all races, on LGBTQIA people, on people who live beyond our borders, and on the body of the earth. We must actively create better ways to avoid it in the future. This is the world we’ve created for ourselves. It has been done and it can be undone. The key is for us to face it and then to find ways to work together in the undoing of it. That does not mean that we have to agree. That does not mean that we all have to be the same. Our differences are the source of our richness. But we must be accountable and we must be willing to hear.

In that process, we have to be explicitly mindful of power relationships. We must also be mindful of the pain of others – especially when we have caused it and even if that wasn’t our intent. We must stare into the face of our deep cultural alienation and our rendering of so many people as disposable.

In many ways, we are a smart people. Our achievements are impressive. Yet our failure to heal – or even attend to – our deepest wounds points to a deep problem with priorities. We can fix that if we do so together.

I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know what sort of future I want to work toward – and to bring that world into being, we must focus on the deepest and most tender parts of our being. It is not safe work, but the world is not safe. We need each other.

May it be so.

A Meditation on the Occasion of the Killing of Kelley Gissendaner by the State of Georgia

I have the capacity and willingness to kill.

In spite of my deep ethical and religious commitment to the principles of nonviolence, I could and would seek to kill someone who hurt me or the people I love.

I would do it without hesitation or remorse.

And I would do it even though I firmly believe in the sanctity of all human life and the life of all creation. I would do it in spite of a belief that even the most evil among us can be redeemed, that even in our worst moments we have the Spirit of God living within us.

I aspire and work daily toward wisdom and love and truth and Spirit.

I could still kill somebody.

But here’s the thing – I count on people and societal institutions who are bigger than me to prevail as wisdom should such a horrible thing ever come to pass.

I believe in the capacity and the need for our culture to hold us to a higher standard than our own most dangerous inclinations.  I believe in the rule of law and in the Christian Gospel.

Our laws and our codes are supposed to call us to a standard of interpersonal engagement that precludes killing. Killing happens, but it happens as a violation of the law.

Tragically, sometimes it happens as a result of the law.

It happened tonight. Tonight the state of Georgia executed Kelley Gissendaner for the 1997 murder of her husband. The man who actually did the deed will be eligible for parole in 7 years. Kelley Gissendaner, a woman who repented, studied theology, and dedicated her life in prison to helping others, is dead.

She was guilty of crimes and deserved punishment. But we ought not to have killed her.

I believe it likely that at the time she died Kelley Gissendaner was a better human being than I. She had much to give and found a way to do so within the confines of her later life. We are all diminished by her death.

The power of life and death does not belong in human hands. We are all diminished by our willingness as a collective people to kill.

This means that even though I could genuinely identify with Kelly Gissendaner – as a white woman in her mid-40s who studied theology, practiced repentance, and tried to help people – the killing of anyone by the state on my behalf is also unacceptable. Black and brown men and women. Those who are mentally ill or permanently damaged by early childhood trauma. Poor and uneducated and sometimes flat out mean and unrepentant people. The God in whom I believe holds each of them in the palm of God’s hand. They are all precious children of God. They are accountable to society for their crimes, but we are accountable before God and one another for the violence that we do.

May we find ways in our own individual lives to honor the example of Gissendaner’s later years.

May we find ways to create a world of true justice and mercy.

May we learn not to kill.

 

A Morning (Mourning) Prayer for a Difficult Week

dear God, dear God,
we don’t know what to
make of this week.
Or last week.
Or next week.

So much sorrow surrounds us
even in the midst of the beauty of the day.
Grief
pain
broken windows, broken hearts, broken spines.
People held in place by a
heavy, brutal hand.
Bricks and mortar
bricks and stones
argued points
harsh words
history.
We think other people are ignorant and
they think we are,
a sharp crack in cultural understanding.
We lift up to you natural disasters and
human ones.

God, we witness destruction and
we know death,
distant and near.
Help us not to turn away.
Give us wisdom so that we might
speak well into sorrow,
that we might act with skill and compassion,
that we might mend old wounds
or at least stop wounding
or at least want to stop wounding.
We confess our sins,
for we have wounded.

Help us to turn our faces toward justice like we
lift them to sun on lovely spring day.
We cry out for a transcendent presence,
something greater than us,
something that asks us to be better
today than we were yesterday, to be better
tomorrow than we were today.

Jesus taught us to side with the oppressed.
May it be so
wherever we might find them.
May we find them.
May we seek them.
May we living according to your transcendent presence.
May we live into that world,
on earth as it is in heaven,
heaven on earth.
May we make it so.

Amen.

A Desperate Evening Prayer – April 27, 2015

Prayers for Baltimore
Prayers for Baltimore
Prayers for Baltimore

Prayers for Nepal
Prayers for Nepal
Prayers for Nepal

Prayers for all who suffer
all who know fear
all who are caught in the middle
who are caught out in the cold
who are left hungry
who are hungry for justice
who see no other way
who have no hope
who have no reason for hope
who have no home
Prayers for all who grieve.

Amen.

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.

Marathon Bombs

What sick soul builds bombs
aimed at the feet of those
who run?

How do we pray for
those whose
most evident gift is that of
destruction, who find
delight in carnage, who
crave blood and bone
belonging to another?

Thirteen-year old Isaiah
stood beside me that morning,
arms outstretched,
part way through a
psych stay.

I can control the wind
he said.
Like this.
He dropped his arms like wings,
pulled them to his sides,
turned them palm up.

Later,
driving past entire hedge rows of
blooming azaleas
I listened to stories of
police chasing bombers through Boston,
radio squawking with
cordoned streets and lockdown.
Twitter feeds full of
rumor, fear, the
restless exhilaration of
near proximity to
disaster.

They scoured the streets
searching
house to house.
Shot Tamerlan Tsarnaev while I
slept.
Shut down a city while I
showered, while I
stopped at the bank,
filled out raffle tickets for the school.

SWAT teams while I watered the plants.
House to house while I returned phone calls,
spoke to a board meeting
full of young blonde women and
one brunette
one man
one black woman.

I drove through a village
hatchback open
left safely untended then
filled with dozens of tulips.
A feast of cut flowers.

I wished them on a frightened city far away.
I wished them on a frightened murderous young man
days ago
before this happened.

Prayer for Wednesday, the Week After Holy Week

The day after
the day after
the day after Easter
is still
Easter.

We have seen the stone
moved away.
Fled in terror.
Fast forwarded to the
present moments’
pastel joys and
vivid sorrows.

Most merciful and loving God

We beg to remain joyful, to
stand still awed, to
stand still in our own fear and trembling.

We pray today for nuclear negotiations
feckless politicians
drought conditions.

We lift up educational testing and
students who dream of learning and
those who don’t know how.

We grieve those who pass from
our earthly world unto yours.
We grieve their absence and our longing.

We rejoice with music on the radio
strings and brass and pipes or
lyrics that we know.

We rejoice with baseball games, dear God, and
long glorious sunsets
ephemeral spring flowers
small green leaves on trees.

We rejoice with soft voices,
tucking our children tenderly
beneath light covers
in the deep quiet of darkness.

Near and distant God,

we pray today for the
students of Garissa, for
those who died and
those who live on.

We rejoice for Anthony Ray Hinton
as we face the shame of our efforts meant to kill him.
We are thankful
this man was spared.

In this Easter season,
we know that you, God, are everywhere among us,
we are reminded that we see you and must seek you especially
among the least of these.

We pray for the memory of Jesus Christ,
shot in the back.
Jesus Christ, also known as
Walter L. Scott
formerly of North Charleston, South Carolina.

We pray for the memory of Jesus Christ, also known as
Rodney Todd
and his 7 children aged 6-15
Cameron
ZhiHeem
Tyjuziana
Tykeria
TyNijuzia
TyNiah
TyBregia

In this Easter season, dear God,
we pray for the people of
Aleppo, Ayotzinapa, and Aden.
We pray for Muslims and Jews and Christians
in Israel and Palestine.
We pray for
peace
justice
mercy
food, shelter, safety
medical care
books
pencils
laughter.

God of love and light
God of mercy and justice
God of yesterday and tomorrow
God of this moment
this moment of Easter

We lift our hearts unto you and
raise a loud

Amen.