Burdened.

 

I’ve been pretty silent on this page in general lately, and especially silent about the state of the world we currently inhabit together.

There’s a reason for this.

My reaction to the current national, and international political landscape is one of tremendous grief. Heavy, thick, disorienting grief. According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. I spent less than 30 minutes mixed up in denial, and begin a kind of rapid cycling between bargaining and anger for many of the months between November and May.

Sometime towards the beginning of this summer, I found myself deep in the tepid waters of stage four: depression. And as it would turn out, one of my most pronounced depressive symptoms is lethargy, or inaction.

I see the globe heating up, the climate changing, and nearly all scientists on earth saying that parts of the planet will be uninhabitable within a century. Then I LOOK AT MY 2-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER, and my heart retreats in on itself.

I listen to interviews with the current President of the United States from the 90’s, and compare them to his interviews today, and too easily diagnose this man with the kind of dementia that co-occurs with paranoid features. Then I look upon the US Congress and see all these smart, capable men and women doing nothing to defend us from the mental illness that’s taken over the oval office, and my heart retreats in on itself.

Each morning, I wake up and learn about new human rights violations exercised or embraced by this administration, and openly applauded by the white nationalist machine that put this political dynasty together, and my heart retreats in on itself.

A Muslim ban.

A Transgender ban.

A NAACP warning that people of color should avoid traveling to Missouri (I can see Missouri from my house).

A Voter Suppression task force packaged as a Voter Fraud commission.

An onslaught of video footage of police brutality towards our black brothers and sisters, and a President who urges the police to be more violent.

A congress that simultaneously calls the current healthcare system broken while actively working to undermine it, so that they can keep calling it broken.

A media machine on cable news that is designed to prey on peoples’ fears, an activate the limbic system in their brains, so that they become addicted to the adrenal responses they feel while watching this hate-fueled, dishonest, toxic bile.

A daily report of deportations of non-criminal, tax paying immigrants.

A deadly KKK and Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA.

 

And my heart retreats in on itself.

For personal reasons, the sharpest pangs of grief occur for me whenever I look at the role the cultural church is playing in all of this abuse.

I know people – seemingly good people – who celebrated the rise of this white supremacist venom and vengeance, and simultaneously claimed Christ as the center of their lives. They made sure to explain to me that they were not racist themselves, and that they simply believed in the Pro-Life position Mr. Trump had adopted, and desired a conservative Supreme Court Justice at any cost.

To be clear, if the cost falls heavily on your brown and black brothers and sisters, you are participating in racism.

I also know of many leaders and icons of cultural Christianity, who put the full weight of their public pulpit behind their personal endorsements of a candidate who never tried to hide his contempt for non-white America. They, too, claimed this Pro-Life ethic as their policy priority.

Well, let me remind us all about the way this administration has exercised their Pro-Life position:

A Muslim ban.

A rejection of refuges.

A pledge to resume the Dakota Access Pipeline underneath the sacred native American reservation of Standing Rock.

A healthcare bill that would have rendered more than 20 million Americans without health insurance by 2020.

A Secretary of Education that would redraw districts to disadvantage non-white American children.

A deportation task force busy tearing families apart from one another.

A withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

A renewed “war on drugs”, which is code for reestablishing a school-to-prison pipeline in predominantly black and brown communities.

A promise to defund Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that it receives no federal funding for abortion services, and that abortion services make up less than 3% of their medical procedures annually. The other 97%? Cancer screenings, pap smears, STD testing and treatment, birth control prescriptions, HPV vaccines.

 

Pro-Life?

I search, and I search, and I search for evidence that any of these policies suggest a reverence for human life, and each time I come up empty-handed.

And, my heart retreats in on itself.

In many of our American cities and towns, the church is no longer a place of spiritual ritual, and community service, but a place for tribal complaints and opportunistic legalism. i.e. “I’m not gay, so let’s make homosexuality the big thing we shouldn’t do, while every sin we are guilty of – like greed and gluttony – will become perfectly acceptable aspects of enjoying the American Dream”.

This crisis of conscience in the American Church is one of our biggest sociological problems precisely because cultural Christianity is still one of the largest tribal identities in the United States. When it comes to tribalism, people are hard wired – on a neurological level – to link their personal survival with a sense of their tribe’s safety. If we feel that our tribe is being threatened in some way, we will abandon reason, logic, and human empathy to protect it.

Ideas about ‘tribe’ are flexible psychological constructs, however, and it’s important to understand how our social environments are often heavily responsible for teaching us about who belongs to our tribe.

It grieves me, consequently, to watch public figures of faith define their tribal affiliations so narrowly, precisely because this stands in direct opposition to what Jesus preached, as he insisted that every single person on earth belonged to God’s tribe. Anyone who claims to be a Christian proclaims to be a follower of Christ, and Christ taught us to love one another, as we would love ourselves – i.e. as if every human being is an intimate member of your personal tribe – without exception.

It was a powerful, subversive message in a time characterized by narrowly defined tribalism. The world during Jesus’s time was sharply divided along lines of race, religion, gender, wealth, health, vocation, sexuality, and family name in much the same way that it’s divided today. This kind of tribal divisiveness protected the privileged persons, and enslaved and abused non-privileged persons.

Jesus’s message and his methods for challenging the inequitable power systems of his time were so effective and compelling that the people benefiting from this power structure decided to silence him by murdering him.

And this is the man whom today’s Christians claim they are still following.

When I read the following tweet yesterday, the word ‘burden’ leapt into my recently retreating heart, and reminded me of something I had nearly forgotten.

 

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Jesus talks about burdens. He says his is light. (Matthew 11:30).

When I think about the weight of what Jesus carried in his lifetime, it seems clear to me he held the burden of an abiding, enduring, lasting, persisting, continuing, remaining, surviving, standing, durable, perpetual, eternal, unending, constant, permanent, unchanging, steadfast, immutable love for every single member of God’s tribe.

He didn’t accept the prejudices perpetuated within his own tribe, nor the abuses his society leveled on it’s marginalized members because these people belonged to him. And when someone belongs to you, you stand up for them.

No matter the cost.

 

So, I ask my Christian friends today, who exactly are we following?

The Jesus of the Bible? The guy putting his life on the line (literally) to defend the defenseless?

Or some tribal god we’ve created in our own image?

 

It’s a hard question.

Jesus’s burden might be light, but his questions were always the hardest.

 

The temple.

Tonight, I told my daughter that God is alive

In her body.

 

No one ever said that to me.

 

Instead, people told me all about the Commandments,

Ten of them.

Also, Seven –

deadly sins.

Some handful of Beatitudes

And what a fuck-up Eve could be.

 

God breathed God’s breath into the human body,

in order to make a living being.

Genesis says so.

 

It’s the first written words about human beings

in my own tradition.

This gorgeous scene.

 

A man and a woman, made from dust.

Through their nostrils, they are filled

With God’s breath.

 

And when the breath of God leaves

them,

and each of us,

we are returned again

to dust.

 

But what of the time between?

While God’s breath is breathing Itself in us,

how holy can we be?

 

You’ve heard it said, “mercies are new each morning”,

but I tell you,

New mercies ride in on each breath.

 

God’s breath,

In each of us.

 

No one knows what to do next.

 

Me neither.

But, I told my daughter what I wish

someone had told me.

 

Listen for God in your body, sighing softly.

Sometimes rattling.

Feel God, too.

That rhythm, the movement in and out,

filling up and letting go.

 

Rupture and repair.

Expansion and contraction.

Life, Death,

Re-birth.

 

Every cell and atom in the universe is dancing like this.

 

Later, I will tell her even more subversive things.

 

Heaven

My grandmother’s spirit left her body one year ago today.

I was there with her when it happened, and despite the steady stream of visitors she had most hours of most days during the final week of her life, it happened shortly after 2AM, and I was the only person in the room with her at the time.

Around 1AM, I fell asleep on a hospital cot that had been pulled up next to her hospice bed. Before lying down and closing my eyes, I said out loud, “wake me up if you need anything”.

She had been unconscious and unresponsive for a week.

Shortly after 2AM I had a dream of a glass cookie jar with nothing in it. When I reached my hand out towards it, it shattered into thousands of pieces. It hurt me to watch the jar shatter, but the glass shards themselves were beautiful and did not injure my skin as they passed through my hand.

Suddenly I was awake.

I looked over at my grandma, and listened for the sounds of her breathing. I didn’t hear anything for a long moment, and bolted right out of bed.

The moment I got my face near hers, she exhaled.

And then did not inhale ever again.

I walked into the hallway to tell the hospice nurse that my grandma was gone. She followed me back into the room and put her stethoscope on the soft, bare skin of my grandmother’s back.

“Her heart is still fluttering a little bit”, she said to me. “I’ll give you another minute alone together”.

And then she walked out of the room.

I held my grandmother’s hand, and looked at her for signs of life.

Her face was still so soft and sweet as if she were peacefully sleeping, but her hands felt a bit colder than they had a few hours before. I didn’t know what to say or do, or how to be with someone while their heart was still fluttering, but their breath had already left their body.

My grandma was one of the greatest loves of my life, and my own heart felt like it was breaking.

Just as I was about to let myself surrender into the mess of feelings I had been holding back since I first learned of her stroke 7 days before, I felt something I can only now describe as a shimmering, sparkling, tingling, pulsing wave of the most exquisite joy and tenderness move from her, and fill the whole room, including my own body.

I’ve never felt anything like this before or since.

It was like those luminous glass shards from my dream had turned into the finest dust, and I could feel both their luminosity and their former sharpness all at once. It hurt in the way it hurts to feel something so gorgeous that you can’t believe it’s true.

I would try to compare it to something like seeing the sunset over cliffs and water, or looking at your baby’s face for the first time, or falling in love, or reconciling with an estranged friend, as all of those things remind me of this feeling a little bit. But all of those experiences pale in comparison, truthfully.

This feeling was so stunning and impossible, that it was very hard for me to breathe while it was happening.

As the intensity of that tenderness began to subside a little, I told myself I should stay in the room and linger in it’s fading presence, but I couldn’t. I felt like I needed to step outside of the room in order to catch my breath and slow my heart down to a functional rhythm again.

I walked outside the room and told the nurse that she was indeed gone now.

The nurse came in, listened for my grandmother’s now silent heartbeat, looked at her watch, and then turned her attention on me.

“Are you alright?”, she asked.

“My chest hurts, and it’s very hard for me to take a full breath. I’m going to call my family, and then I think I need to be outdoors for a bit”.

“Do you need medical attention?”, she seemed really concerned for moment.

“No, no. It’s not like that. I don’t know. I’m okay”.

I called my family then, and when I did, I wanted to say, “I’m so sorry you weren’t here for this. I wish I had woken up 20 minutes before and called each of you then. Being here at the end, it was like receiving a holy blessing. I will never be the same”.

But I didn’t say that. Who can say that? I was so disoriented.

Then I stepped outside into the courtyard of the hospice center. There was a light breeze, and a hundred twinkling stars in the sky. The plants were swaying softly, and there was a sweet smell in the air. For a brief moment, I felt that luminous glass dust in everything all around me.

“I’m everywhere now”, she whispered. It was her voice, but it was coming from my own heart.

The Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst. (Luke 17:21).

For the first time in my whole life, I stopped worrying about what happens to us when we die.

I haven’t worried about it ever since.

Forgiveness.

I once heard Marie Howe say

that being present

hurts

a little bit.

 

Some people call her

a religious poet.

She says she isn’t sure

that fits.

 

I do think,

however,

Only a religious person could admit

any of this.

 

Religion,

That word.

It means to re-ligament.

Or, to reconnect

 

what was once adjoined.

Now separate.

 

It’s in the body,

That gap,

And also the way back

Together.

 

She’s right,

you know.

Being present hurts a little bit.

 

You have to say you’re sorry

every time.

For having ever left

 

And forgive,

and forgive,

and forgive

 

And come back.

 

Right here,

Right now,

Re-ligament.

 

I’m sorry,

you say.

And then you let go

 

Of

Getting caught up

in all your separateness.

 

Shame,

or blame

My excuses are limitless.

 

These human traps,

sticky,

and seductive, and so real

when we feel it.

 

But not true.

 

Have you ever seen a pebble shame itself?

Or a raindrop cast around blame?

 

The lilies of the field don’t worry about their clothes.

 

What did Rumi say?

“I’ve gotten free of that ignorant fist

that was pinching and twisting”

me into an illusion

of separateness.

 

So we forgive,

but we don’t forget

It’s very hard to stay.

 

Right here,

Right now.

I’m sorry, you say.

 

Followed by, “it’s okay”.

 

And then, come back, come back,

come back.

Re-ligament.

 

Of course, that hurts a little bit.

 

Nevertheless,

it’s all still here for each

and every one

of us

 

Right after forgiveness.

Virgin.

You, there.

Yes, you,

girl.

 

Mary.

 

Do not be afraid.

I have a message for you.

 

God is in your body

Growing,

gaining shape,

 

Fingers and toes soon now.

 

Oh,

pregnant woman,

now what kind of super food

diet

would you begin to make?

 

For God,

Is there.

Sharing in everything you take.

 

I once saw Jesus in the sky.

Not a wishful thought,

or a trick of a sleepy mind.

 

There, right there, taking shape.

Ten fingers, ten toes.

 

As above, so below.

 

My friend Jeff was there

with me.

The blades of grass were radiating

all this light,

we had never seen

Before.

 

Now I can’t unsee it.

 

This world is screaming,

Even the rocks cry out,

About your glory.

 

On that first day,

when I started to really see

God everywhere,

in everything.

 

I also finally saw Mary

In me.

 

Pregnant with the divine.

But she knew it.

Whereas I did not,

for nearly all my life.

 

I was taught to think this way,

You know.

 

Original sin.

Man’s fall from grace.

But really,

woman’s fall.

 

She just took man with her.

 

And so I was told

only the Virgin Queen,

Could house God

 

in her body

now.

 

Purity for women.

Bravery for men.

 

Even Joseph,

Magnanimous for not having stoned Mary outright.

A hero for marrying her.

 

Why is a woman unto herself

So threatening?

 

I have a hunch.

 

Virgin,

it’s original meaning

Suggests a woman

Who is not owned.

 

By any man,

or system.

 

Belonging to no one but herself.

 

Is this how we give birth

to God?

 

First, by claiming our Self?

 

 

 

 

Beatitudes

The beatitudes.

A phrase so often used, I stopped asking what it means.

Supreme blessedness.

 

Before you read it,

what would you have guessed?

 

It’s hard to hear something old as if it’s new,

 

But you have heard it

Said

Blessed are the poor, the mourners,

and the meek,

 

Poor in spirit, but how can this be?

Empty vessels.

Capable of receiving something.

A willingness not to know

Everything.

 

For those who mourn,

Somehow this is the holy fountain.

where

Jesus wept.

 

What’s on the other side of mourning?

For me, it’s always grace.

Just enough letting go to come away –

From that sticky, intractable place.

 

I know you’ve mourned more than people –

We can lose our grip

On all sorts of things,

Ideas, identities,

Comforting fantasies.

 

Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for what is right.

The right way, the right thing.

To hunger and thirst,

A human body

Never drinks enough to again never drink.

 

So goes the soul.

Never done with it’s searching.

Or it too will die.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for that comes back around.

You start right here at home.

On yourself,

Then your neighbor,

And that neighbor down the street.

 

It gets tricky eventually.

You can’t fake it.

So, you come back home, again.

The next day it’s easier.

You remember now how it feels.

 

And what of those with pure hearts?

I don’t hear this Jesus saying “good” hearts here,

Although, where I come from,

We have corrupted the word

Pure.

 

Like the surface of a lake, without a ripple.

The sky’s reflection undisturbed.

 

A heart without disturbance

Above or below,

Can gaze upon itself, and see

what’s there.

 

God.

 

What then is honest here in my heart?

A cascade, like water,

Over and over it turns.

Always hoping.

 

This world is hard, and nothing bright is seen

through the lens of more light.

We need shadow.

 

There’s shadow in my heart.

Living there alongside the light.

I know I can’t see God if I turn that into a fight.

 

But when the waters calm,

And everything undisturbed is seen,

Maybe that feeling –

Like coming home,

Is itself a way of seeing

 

God.

 

Blessed are the makers and maintainers of peace,

he says.

What did I do a moment ago inside my own heart?

 

Seven devils were cast out of Mary Magdalene.

A holy number of completion.

Meaning,

the accusations must have stopped.

 

“You should not feel this way,

don’t think any of those thoughts”.

No longer true for the woman called Magdalene,

now undisturbed

about what’s in her heart.

 

Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?

None.

 

The Kingdom of God is like this.

 

Blessed are those persecuted for doing what is right.

Every pure heart asks,

“But how will I know what is right?”

 

A second emphasis from the One

Who spoke the words first.

Supremely Blessed are you –

When people are cruel,

 

And unrelenting in their cruelty

On My account.

 

Don’t be cruel, I hear.

Not to yourself, not to others,

There’s always half of you that will never know

Another.

You answer to your own heart.

 

A third emphasis on this kind of blessedness

In case you didn’t hear.

If you are in Me,

and I am in you,

Your process will involve pruning,

but it’s easier than you think.

 

Remember those dirty, despised old prophets?

Not one of them beloved

In the way

Part of what exists in your heart

Wishes.

 

But beloved is not the same as Blessed.

Supremely blessed.

Do the prophets act like they have regrets?

Shining faces, sure footed.

 

How honest are their hearts?

Another word for honest is sincere.

Meaning,

without cracks.

 

Another part of you already knows this,

Of course.

 

When I sit and I listen

to Jesus words,

From this famous sermon on the mount,

 

Long after the sounds

Are finished,

And although he never said it

Out loud,

I hear the question,

Still.

 

Can we get all these parts of ourselves together,

Inside one human heart?

 

 

 

 

Job.

Job.

The one God loved the best,

The apple of His eye.

And yet, when prompted, God agrees

To take it all away.

 

Did Job roll over, kiss the floor, and say

“God is still on the throne”?

No.

 

He reached his fist to heaven, and nearly cursed

The Holy Name.

 

“How could you, how could you, how could you?

Are you even there?

Show your face.”

 

Job’s friends, those good church-going types,

All warned him.

“Don’t speak of God in this way”.

 

“He must have a plan,

It’s not yours to know.

You’re making us uncomfortable in your pain.”

 

Job, more intimate with God than these church goers

Could hope to know,

Still rages,

cries out,

Demands an explanation for his shame.

 

“But, how could you not trust in the will of the divine?”

These so-called friends chirp from the sidelines.

 

Get down on the dung pile with your suffering friend,

You jerks.

Still looking for a reason,

They appear so blind.

 

A peek behind the scenes, however,

And we the reader know –

There is no reason.

Just a test.

 

Of faith.

 

Faith in what?

Good behavior begets good reward?

Obviously not.

 

Job’s anger is so intimate,

As if he’s been betrayed.

 

And who is God pleased with at the end of the day?

Not Job’s friends.

 

But their words were nice.