What I would have preached this week: Burn it down!

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

It’s the first Sunday of Advent. I used to be baffled by this Sunday. The images that start off this season of hope and waiting are often dark and terrifying. I began to refer to this Sunday as apocalypse Sunday. Why on earth would anyone be waiting for this destruction and upheaval? For whom does this devastation bring hope?

But now I get it. I so get it. Apocalypse is only scary if the status quo is working out for you. If you’re dependant on the structure then the fall of the structure is terrifying. No one fears the fall of the empire more than those who serve at the pleasure of the emperor.

This past Monday night I sat on the couch and listened to the droning explanation of why Darren Wilson was not being indicted. I was surprised. I should not have been. My thoughts went as follows:

“What?!”

“Shit!”

“Not again!”

“Of course again.”

“The system was designed to work this way”

“The system was designed to break you”

“The system was designed to break your children”

It’s that last thought, the parental one, that sent me into a spiral of anger and frustration. A couple of days later I posted this on Facebook:

Having one of those nights. The kind every parent has where you feel guilty about the fact that the kids are on your last nerve. I feel doubly guilty because I don’t get to see them every night and I want to make our times together count. Still… on my last nerve…

And then I look at their beautiful faces. And my annoyance turns to sadness. They’ll grow up in a world where being half black is black enough for people inclined to hate. (See: Obama, Barack H). They deserve a better world than the one we’re giving them and for that I am sorry.

This is what I wrote for my Facebook public. What I actually thought was this: They’ll grow up in a world where being half a nigger is nigger enough for people who hate niggers. Even the president of the United States, the sworn defender of white supremacy,  doesn’t get a pass.

If that offends you, get over yourself. All the way over.

This country hates people like me unless we turn a profit for them. We’re fine if we fill a cotton field with free labor, or a McDonald’s with cheap labor. We’re fine if we fill a prison. You can make money off of those now. We’re fine if we can dance or sing as long as it’s the right kind of music. We’re fine if we can throw, catch, or dribble. We’re fine if we’re funny… but not too pointed in our comedy. We’re fine if we have assimilated into the norm as long as we’re not pointing out the history of the struggle required to get to normal. Ben Carson is fine. Barack Obama is not.

I was supposed to have assimilated by now. I went to a white high school, got a good education, chose a very white major, married a white woman, and chose to get ordained in an incredibly white denomination. By all outside observation, I’m not black enough to be as angry as I am.

Forgive me for crossing out of my lane.

I am angry. I understand the impulse to riot. I understand the impulse to loot from a system that seems to show that there is no level of achievement, not even president of the United States, that will make you fully human. I understand the impulse to burn a flag that has never fully represented you.

I don’t think Jesus would be among the preachers calling for peace. I think he would be overturning tables. I think he would be sharing parables that call for the humanization of Samaritans. I think he would be sharing stories that outline the cruelness of those who control our wages. And I think he would be calling for radical, courageous living in these times.

Riots can’t be a way of life, but you have to clear the way for what will be next. Riots are a declaration that the system has failed and that something has to change. Riots are a rejection of what is.

I think we read these apocalypse passages and we are terrified by them because we’re not ready to fully reject what is. We don’t want to reject racism if we benefit from it. We don’t want to reject sexism if we’re a man. We don’t want to reject homophobia if we’re straight. We don’t want to reject ableism, or ageism, or capitalism if we benefit from them. But all of these things have proven themselves to be morally bankrupt and must be overturned.

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49) Jesus said this in the gospel of Luke after a long litany of stories and parables exhorting his disciples to give up their possessions and reject the way of life to which they were supposed to be aspiring. We want the peace, the hope, the joy, and the love without the rejection of the system that makes those things impossible. We have to tear it down in order to see a new, better world take it’s place.

The coming of the reign of God is a direct challenge to all powers that are currently in place. We can’t be subject to those powers while declaring Jesus as Lord.

So I say let
Continue reading “What I would have preached this week: Burn it down!”

Someday, You’ll be grateful for this time…

This post is part of the UNCO synchro blog. You can read other posts from the series here.

“You’re learning a lot about yourself”

“Enjoy this time away from ministry”

“this is going to make you a better pastor”

“You’re going to have such good preaching material”

“One day you’ll be grateful for the lessons learned in this season”

One day…

All of the above things have been said to me this year. All by people I absolutely adore. None of them are wrong.

But seriously, fuck this!

I am not grateful that my marriage is over. I am not grateful to have lost the job of my dreams. I am not grateful to have been cut off from friends and community. I am not grateful that I am missing so much of my kids’ lives. I am not grateful to not have a place of my own. I am not grateful that after paying child support I have barely enough for gas and food. I’m not grateful for being talked down to at my job by any one of my six bosses. I’m not grateful for the guilt and shame I carry like a weight around my neck.

And why should I be? This stuff sucks! This has been, without qualification, the worst year of my life. I have hurt in ways that I did not know were possible. I have been broken down to my bare elements, and while that may prove to be beneficial in the long run, the process itself has been scarring.

I don’t doubt that I will look back on this time… someday… with a certain amount of thanksgiving. I am growing. I am having layers of ego chipped away and that is a good thing. I am facing my past in a real and substantial way. All good things, but my God, does it have to hurt like this?

My faith tradition is filled with lament. There’s a whole book of it. (Spoiler alert, it’s Lamentations). I love Psalm 22. Yes, the psalmist eventually circles around to praising God (pansy!) but for the most part, he (tradition says it’s David) is looking at the circumstances around him and saying “Everything is trying to kill me. This blows!” Jesus echoes the first line, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, from the cross. I don’t think he was super grateful in that moment. By Sunday, there had been a course correction, but Friday was a shit sandwich.

It’s bad form to stay in the places of un-gratitude for long. People tell you to “suck it up” or “get over it”. I especially like to be reminded that “life isn’t fair” or “you brought this on yourself”. Yay, thanks for that! I don’t want to be a whiner. And even in the midst of all of this, I do have much for which to be grateful. As I said to my therapist yesterday, my friends are much better than Job’s. I have what I need for each day. And the kids, oh the kids! They light up my life! But sometimes life hurts on an epic scale and it’s not okay to tell people to “man up”. If you don’t want to be around me while I’m hurting, that’s cool. Just don’t run back when things are good.

This season won’t last forever. One day, I’ll look back and be grateful for all that I’ve gained in this time. I might even be wistful for my days as a bookseller. Until then, I remain ungrateful.