What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

The church I serve, like many, has started the tradition of choosing “star words” around epiphany. I star word is a word intended to guide and anchor you throughout the year. There’s nothing magical about it. It’s just supposed to give you a place to focus your intentions.

Last year my word was “vitality”.

Andrew Solomon in his wonderful TED talk about depression, described it as a loss of vitality. That completely resonates with my experience. So when I received “vitality” as my star word, during my interview no less, I received it as a gift. 2017 certainly had its moments where I felt filled to the brim with vitality, but in those moments where I didn’t feel so full of life, I used the word to remind me of where I wanted to be and to what I was hoping to return.

This past Sunday, we chose our new star words. The word I chose was “understanding”.

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I had some time in the car to think about what “understanding” means to me and how I might make it a focus of my year. There’s two ways that the word tends to be used: first understanding as knowledge. Understanding in this sense has always been important to me. I relish having a deep understanding of those topics on which I am passionate. It is interesting that this word would come up in a year that I will hopefully be going back to school for a bit (more on that at a later time).

Of course, there is the second understanding of… understanding… and that is as empathy or compassion. A portion of the famous prayer of St. Francis comes to mind:

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love

So much of the last few years has been about my desire to be understood (and to understand myself) and in the process, I have likely not sought to understand as much as I should. This seems to me to be the greater challenge.

These two concepts overlap for me at the place of inquiry. To gain better understanding of a subject or of a person is to ask the right questions.

I’ve been struggling lately with my writing. There are so many things to read, so many “hot takes” on subjects and I struggle with wondering what value my voice adds to the cacophony of thinkpieces and commentaries produced from by much wiser people than myself. Or if not wiser, than at least funnier.

What I believe I may have to contribute in this season of my life is asking the right questions, not giving the right answers, the assumption that there are “right” answers being the source of so many of our problems these days.

In thinking about this word, I also couldn’t help but think of the primary text from my theology classes. Daniel Migliore derived the title of his text from Anselm who rifted on Augustine:

“This definition, with numerous variations, has a long and rich tradition. In the writings of Augustine it takes the form, “I believe in order that I may understand.” According to Augustine, knowledge of God not only presupposed faith, but faith also restlessly seeks deeper understanding. Christians want to understand what they believe, what they can hope for, and what they ought to love. Writing in a different era, Anselm, who is credited with coining the phrase “faith seeking understanding,” agrees with Augustine that believers inquire “not for the sake of attaining to faith by means of reason but that they may be gladdened by understanding and meditating on those things that they believe.” For Anselm, faith seeks understanding, and understanding brings joy. […] Standing in the tradition of Augustine and Anselm, Karl Barth contends that theology has the task of reconsidering the faith and practice of the community, ‘testing and rethinking it in the light of its enduring foundation, object, and content… What distinguishes theology from blind assent is just its special character as ‘faith seeking understanding’.”
(Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology) 

The work of theology, a work I feel I have somewhat neglected in recent years, is faith seeking understanding, not for the sake of power over others, but for the sake of building up community and finding joy in the Divine Life that we all share. In doing ministry, I think so many of us get caught up in tasks of budgets and maintenance that we forget that our work is primarily theological in nature. When we do own that part of our call, we sometimes see that our responsibility is to give answers. But theology is faith seeking understanding, not faith with understanding. It’s the seeking, the journeying, the quest that should energize us. I’ll admit, when I think of trying to come up with answers to the issues that surround me, I get overwhelmed and exhausted. But when I ask myself whether or not I am asking the right questions, then I find myself focused and alive.

Like Common and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) said, “It’s the questions, y’all”.

Reorienting my writing around questions is part of the equation. Finding the right questions to ask to seek a better understanding of my neighbor is another piece. I also know, that for me, teaching is a part of understanding as well. I fully believe that you don’t know something unless you can teach it to someone else. And you really don’t know it unless you can teach it to a six year old. When our church did a recent spiritual gift inventory, I was reminded that teaching has always emerged as one of my primary gifts.

So how do I teach emphasizing questions over answers? Good question…

More importantly, how do I teach in a way that allows me to gain empathy and compassion for the people around me? Even better question!

As I have sat with this word for a couple of days, I can’t shake Elvis Costello’s song from a head, a song that come along with its own set of probing questions:

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity.

I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?

 

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#NoKaepNoNFL: Patriot Games

A couple of weeks ago, I was given an ultimatum: hang out with my son and watch the Steelers play the Patriots, or don’t hang out with my son. There was negotiating. He was going to watch this game.

I made the only sensible choice. I watched the game.

And immediately felt guilt.

First, I had broken my boycott. Yes, I could have taken the time to explain all of the politics behind what I’m doing, but I don’t think he was going to hear me. He’s in love with football. He’s in love with the Steelers.

Second, they lost. Look, it’s the Patriots. I’ve seen the Steelers lose to the Pats more than I care to admit. It always sucks though. Always.

Third, Antonio Brown got hurt!

All of a sudden, a single phrase echoed across the Steel City:

There goes the season!

I was fully convinced after the game that I had jinxed my team.

Because, you know, I have that kind of power. Because the world revolves around me, dontchaknow.

Those things aside, I’m glad I did it. My son and I had a blast! We yelled at the TV together. He introduced me to the new players I’ve missed from not watching this year. We consoled each other after what was a tough loss after a very good game.

I doubt that after this year I will ever be as fanatical as I once was, but I don’t think I’ll be able to give up football for good. If I could find something else that bound me to my son as strongly I would go for it. I’m sure that reads like an excuse and maybe it is, but I wouldn’t trade that three hours on the couch for anything.

I will say, however, that watching this game brought up a very familiar frustration. It’s not just about watching the Steelers lose. It’s watching them lose to the Patriots.

In my adult life, no team has been a bigger thorn in my side. They’ve beaten us in so many AFC championship games and other big games throughout the seasons that I’ve developed a bit of a complex around it. It’s no coincidence that the three most recent Super Bowl appearances that the Steelers have made have happened in years when they didn’t have to play the Pats in the playoffs. They are the monkey on our back.

But it’s not just that…

It’s their pretty boy quarterback.

Tom Brady is the guy who doesn’t have to steal your lunch money because he’s got guys to do that for him. Tom Brady stole your girlfriend. Tom Brady got your promotion. Tom Brady got that parking spot.

My hatred for Tom Brady is only amplified by the fact that he is so damn good. There is a legitimate argument to be made that he is the greatest quarterback any of us have ever seen. And I hate his stupid, pretty face.

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And then there is Bill Belichick, AKA Darth Hoodie.

Belichick famously gives the most dry, least compelling press conferences in the world. He’s not the stereotypical, yelling his head off on the sideline guy. Belichick looks like a Bond villain on the sidelines.

Bill Belichick is your dad disapproving of your poor financial decisions. He is your supervisor questioning the whereabouts of your TPS reports. He is the auto mechanic who emasculates you for not being able to handle your own car problems.

He’s arguably the best coach of all time. His teams are consistently in the championship conversation. He is incredible at getting the best out of “washed up” or “no name” players. He’s known for being meticulous about every detail.

And it looks like it takes herculean effort for him to smile.

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I know that there are a lot of people who have similar feelings about the Steelers. It’s just that most of those people live in Ohio, so who cares? (I kid!) It would be different if the Steelers were a lesser team, but it’s the frustration of always coming SO close and then being knocked down by the same team over and over again.

Perpetual second place.

Lifetime silver medal winners.

Always Solange, never Beyonce.

Of course, then there’s this:

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With all of the “these guys should stick to football” talk that has come up this year, there was never any commentary about Tommy having a MAGA hat in his locker or paling around with Trump at events. That’s just what successful (“white”) men do. The MAGA crowd loved The Patriots Super Bowl win last year as the team with whitest receiver corp in the league made a comeback against Atlanta, a notoriously black city. The tweets after the game were… charming.

There’s also the aura of dishonesty that hovers around the team: calls that tend to go their way, spygate where they stole opposing team’s signals during practices, and of course deflategate. Deflategate at least lead to the sports announcer’s gold mine of sixth grade humor as they got to discuss in detail how Tom Brady likes his balls.

And this:

This is probably overstating, but to me the Patriots feel like the team of empire. They even have the appeal to nationalism built right into their name. It almost felt scripted that they were the team to win the Super Bowl right after 9/11. There’s a “win at any cost” ethos that I’m sure other teams have as well, but no team seems to flaunt so flagrantly.

Maybe I’m just being a typical bitter Steelers fan. It’s hard not to when you see your teams all time sack leader in a Patriots uniform. 6_8002212.png

Really, James?

But this is what the Patriots do, take the discarded players from other teams, plug them into their system, and magically, those players have a new life.

Yes, I am a bitter Steelers fan.

The odds are good that this year’s AFC championship game will be a repeat of last year’s. The Steelers vs. The Patriots in Gillette Stadium. And while the team that I saw a couple of weeks ago looks that the kind of team that can actually hang with the Patriots, I don’t know that it will end much differently than last year.

And my son will cry.

And that’s the worst thing about the Patriots: they make my son cry.

I don’t discourage the tears or tell him “it’s just a game”. I like that he feels things deeply. He gets that from his old man. The Cowboys made me cry during Super Bowl XXX. That Pats have made me cry many times.

He cried a little after the last game, then he rebounded. He processed, then went right back to loving his sister and mother. And it came back to being about time that we got to spend together, sharing emotions both joy and sorrow. We hugged me as I left and he thanked me for watching the game with him. Even with the a loss to the Patriots, there was no where else I would have rather been.

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Sadvent, 2017

I left my first full time call right before Advent of 2011. I didn’t want the season to be about my departure. I wanted them to have time to celebrate the season without thinking about the future of the church.

And I was pissed. It had been a disastrous call. I was burned out and angry. I felt betrayed and abandoned. And I felt like a failure.

Thus began a depression that would reshape my life.

I’ve been ordained for 8 and half years and I’ve gotten to preach three advent seasons, none where I was in a stable call. Maybe it’s hard to understand if you’re outside of the church world. It’s like being a quarterback who gets benched before the playoffs, or a pitcher who gets hurt before the world series… or an accountant who misses tax season(?)… I don’t know…

Advent, I recently told someone, is the season that has all that is beautiful about church. It has the best music, the best liturgy, and a rich theology of waiting and anticipation that I think is incredibly meaningful. It’s hard to be on the sidelines for that.

I had hoped that being engaged in the life of a church would lessen some of these feelings this year. In some ways, it has made them worse. I confess to a bit of envy in watching my colleague preach these days. She’s done a fabulous job! It’s just hard to be in the pews some mornings.

I realize, as I write this how petulant I must seem, like the whiny kid who’s been put in time out and now thinks the world is “not fair”. Yeah, it’s a bit obnoxious and I apologize. I am reminded again of the great privilege that I squandered and the collateral damage of that squandering. It’s overwhelming at times.

And yet, I can’t ignore that I have been down most of the month. Granted, my friend’s death certainly didn’t help, but that death happened over a backdrop of a season where I feel my wasted potential most profoundly. It’s hard for me to ignore that I feel love, joy, peace, and hope most profoundly when preaching about love, joy, peace, and hope and what I feel right now is their absence.

I’m writing this to make it real, because sometimes things aren’t real for me until I write them. And if it’s real, I can begin facing it. I’m hopeful that this may be the last Advent that I feel this for awhile, but I’ve also had that hope before. This is a place where I still have work to do on myself. I still have too much of my identity tied up into ministry and I need to be careful of that. I am more than a guy in a pulpit and I’m still doing important things with my life. I still have things to contribute.

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My wife made me an Advent wreath from succulents. She’s crafty, that one. It’s beautiful and I love it! She knows how much Advent means to me and has gone out of her way to make it special for me the last two years. Last year it was the Bourbon Advent calendar which ended up being surprisingly meaningful. This year, a wreath made of plants I can continue to grow through the cold winter months. As she often does, Shannon reminds me that I still matter, that I am loved, and that there is someone in the world who is fighting with and beside me every step of the way. Even when I don’t believe that I have much to offer, I believe that she believes that I have something to offer, and sometimes, that is enough.

And that is the gospel in a nutshell;  we are valuable because we are loved. We are known, even with all our faults, and still loved. That is redemptive and healing. That should make us want to fight on and make sure others know that they are loved too.

So, in this season of waiting, I wait. I wait for restoration. I wait for my community to affirm once again that I am called to service. I wait to be brought back into the fold. But I don’t wait alone. And I don’t wait passively. There is work to be done. There are people to love and there is love to receive. The latter often is the harder work.

This season is hard for me. Waiting almost always is. I am depressed. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could get over myself enough to feel the joy and love that surround me. It will come. I believe that. For now, I wait…

#NoKaepNoNFL, weeks 12 & 13

Week 12: More than a game…

Going into the first week of December, I was mentally preparing myself for the anniversary of the death of my friend Harold.

Harold passed away early last December after a hard battle with cancer. He left behind his lovely wife, three boys, and friends and family who thought the world of him.

I remember the first time I saw Harold.  We attended seminary together and e was walking up the hill to attend a chapel service. He caught my attention because he was wearing a Steelers sweatshirt. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Football was the foundation of our friendship. We watched Super Bowl 40 together with a group of friends in seminary. Later, after we had both graduated, he came to visit Pittsburgh and I took him to Jerome Bettis’ restaurant. Later still, after I have moved to Ohio, he and I connected to go see the Steelers play the Broncos at Invesco Field outside of Denver. It was an awesome game, the Steelers won, and by the end the place sounded like Heinz Field. We Steelers fans travel well.

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By the time football season rolled around last year, Harold was already pretty sick. The last time that I saw him, I went to hang out with him during one of his treatments, then we watched a preseason game against the Saints. On the day of his funeral, the Steelers beat the Bills on a snow covered field. I think Harold would have loved that!

Football was the foundation of our friendship, but church was the substance of it. He loved the church and served it faithfully. Even in the midst of his struggles, he couldn’t help himself but be a pastor. the first time I went to visit him after I learned about his illness, he took the time out to talk to me about my situation and my relationship with the church. I told him I didn’t know if I was still called to the church, still called to ministry. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he knew that I still had a call, but that maybe it wouldn’t look like what I expected. He never lost his faith in God’s ability to use me for good. I keep a picture of Harold on my nightstand. When things feel rough, I look at and remind myself that I still have more to offer.

While I was emotionally prepping myself for Harold’s death, my friend Elizabeth died. To be honest, I’m still pretty stunned. Liz and I knew each other first from church. Her dad was my pastor through junior and senior high and there were times when she and I were the youth group in total. We got to know each other better when I made the inexplicable decision to join marching band during my senior year. We butted heads a lot. I was more arrogant in those days and she called me out on it. A lot!

Southwestern PA is one of those towns where high school football is a big deal. Maybe not quite Texas big, but a big deal nonetheless. Unfortunately, my high school didn’t field a very competitive team. I remember during games being one of the few band members who actually watched the games. I remember Liz making a joke about my being the only person to ever go from playing football to being in the marching band. Though I doubt she was right, it certainly wasn’t an upwardly mobile move in terms of high school hierarchy.

But football was the backdrop for that friendship as well. There may have been as many people in the stands to see the band as the football team. Marching band is one of those things that forms lasting friendships at best or, at the very least, grudging respect. By the end of that school year, Liz and I were pretty good friends, and we spent a lot of time together as we both had difficulties adjusting to college life in our freshmen years. It was interesting to hear at her funeral service that people loved the things about her that I did: her love of living things, her creative spirit, and her wicked sense of humor.

It’s strange for me to think about how football was a part of the connective tissue of both of those relationships. It wasn’t the heart of either, but in some ways, neither happens without it. As I’ve struggled through this boycott, a big part of it has been that I have so many good memories connected to watching football and the game has brought me in contact with amazing people. No matter what happens to my relationship to the NFL after this year, I will always cherish the role the game has played in my life.

 

Week 13: A Violent Game

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It used to be that the Ravens/Steelers rivalry was the one that was known throughout the league for its brutality. In recent years, the shift has been made to the Bengals/Steelers rivalry. Going back just a couple of seasons, the games took on a new intensity. At the center of a lot of this was Vontaze Burfict, the Bengal linebacker who seemed to relish in injuring other players. His excessive play almost single handedly cost the Bengals a playoff game two years ago.

While I didn’t watch, it seems Monday night’s game was another ugly game between the two AFC North teams. I say “ugly” because, while I enjoy physical football, these teams push the barrier when they play each other. The penalties go through the roof and slow the game down. It looks personal and not all professional. It’s not good football.

That my team is at the center of many of these ugly games is yet another disheartening aspect of my fandom. I love my team, yet they are often in the middle of controversy for playing in an unsportsmanlike fashion. It’s not fun to feel like I’m rooting for the bad guys.

That said, the picture above makes me smile. Rookie wide receiver sensation JuJu Shuster-Smith laid out Vontaze Burfict while blocking for Le’Veon Bell. It didn’t look like a cheap shot to me (I saw replays in bars… I probably spend too much time in bars). I know I’m biased. I also know that one of our players went out in a stretcher earlier in the game and the emotions were probably off the charts. Yes, I take some satisfaction in seeing Burfict knocked on his ass by a smaller wideout and I love that the Steelers receivers aren’t prima donnas afraid of blocking.

If it sounds like I’m waffling between two different emotions, I am. As a lifelong Steelers fan, I take pride in our team playing in a physical manner. And a lot of times, it feels like we win because we’re the tougher team. Growing up with guys like Jack Lambert and “Mean” Joe Greene as the icons teaches you that there is a way that the game is supposed to be played and that way is physical, violent even.

On the other hand…

Hi, I’m Derrick. I’m a pacifist.

Yeah, it’s weird. The internal conflict that this game has created for me over the years is kinda ridiculous. Being away from watching the games brings some clarity to that feeling, but also additional confusion.

How does a peace-loving me justify watching, and loving, such a violent game?

I have a Facebook friend who often decries that those of us who bemoan the violence of the world are also the ones who love violence in our entertainment. I’ll be honest, it annoys the hell out of me every time he brings it up. I confess that some of that annoyance is conviction. Can I enjoy a violent sport, violent movies, or violent video games and still “preach” what I do with authenticity?

While I could easily sum this up with my favorite Walt Whitman quote:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. 

But there is more to it than that and here I might lose some of you:

I think we need violence in our cultural images, even though it is a slippery slope.

The Apostle Paul uses the image of the armor of God, one of the earliest images I learned in Sunday School. The idea is that we are in a spiritual struggle, but that our “weapons” are things like faith, truth, and righteousness. As prevalent as violence is in our culture, it was more so in Paul’s.

I think Paul wrote this language to remind his audience that life is a struggle and more so when you are striving to live a good and upright life. I think we need stories of good vs. evil to inspire us in our daily lives to resist evil wherever it may appear in our lives. I think what’s important is to relegate weapons like swords and guns to our fantasy lives and fight with the weapons that Paul prescribes in our real lives.

Am I stretching here? Maybe. Perhaps I’m simply justifying my vices. If that’s what you believe, see the above quote from Mr. Whitman. But I look at my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who came to prominence during the 70’s when the city’s major industry was beginning to collapse. As men were being laid off from the steel mills, a thankless job to begin with, they would watch their team battle on Sunday afternoons and be inspired to keep fighting for their families. I grew up hearing stories of how the games lifted up an entire city that felt like it was in a downward spiral. The toughness of the players was the toughness of the city. Maybe I’m giving too much credit here, but I think this mentality is a big reason why Pittsburgh has been able to reinvent itself.

What can’t be ignored, though, is that football is not a work of fiction. It’s a real sport played by real men who can do real damage to themselves and their opponents. It can’t be ignored that players risk paralysis, brain damage, and lifelong pain and debilitation. Some see it as a foolish risk, but for many of the players involved, it is a testament to their manhood.

And I think this speaks to one of the real struggles that we are having in our culture right now: what does real strength look like? And what does strength look like for men in an age when the cultural norms of what is appropriate for men is changing so rapidly?

A friend of mine shared this video, the thesis of which is that we men need new definitions of toughness. We need the strength to go inside of ourselves, explore our emotions, and tackle our demons. If you ask most men, they’d rather get hit by a linebacker than do that kind of work. Justin Baldoni challenges men to be more sensitive, more vulnerable, and more in touch with our inner workings. As someone who has put in this kind of work in therapy, I know how exhausting this process can be. Looking inside is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. Admitting weakness is hard, especially when we are told over and over again that what we see in the NFL (or in the military) is what is supposed to be the gold standard of masculinity. The epitome of strength. I encourage you to share this video with the men that you know and have a conversation about what it means to learn new scripts as men.

 

Grief on top of grief

“Grief on top of grief”

That’s how my therapist described what I’m feeling right now.

I had spent the early part of this week mentally and spiritually preparing myself for the anniversary of my friend Harold’s death. Harold was a seminary friend who succumbed to cancer last year. I sat with him several time during and after treatments. I watched him wither away. He continued to encourage me, even as his own life was fading. It was hard to watch this big personality become something small and frail. Harold’s death knocked the wind out of me last winter and I was planning on spending this anniversary, quietly, away from the world, in reflection.

Then on Wednesday, I got the message that Liz had died.

Liz and I were incredibly close during our senior year of college and freshman year of high school. Her dad was my pastor throughout junior and senior high and it was he who told me of his daughter’s passing. Not only am I dealing with the loss of my friend, but the hurt of seeing a mentor grieve and not really knowing how to be there for him other than to literally be there, which I will tomorrow.

Liz, I should mention, is the second person from my graduating class to pass away this week. What the entire hell???

When I described my relationship with Liz to my therapist, she called her my “joy person”. I probably have several of those, but it was an accurate description. Whether it was writing, Star Wars, or pro wrestling, Liz was the person I could talk to about whatever I was into at the moment and she almost always had the same amount of enthusiasm for it as I did. Years after high school, when Facebook reunited us, I discovered that she had married another friend from high school who owned a family farm. As adults, we were able to share our love of growing things. She never let me romanticize about making a living as a farmer. She let me know how hard she and her husband worked. At the same time, she encouraged my green thumb and it always felt a little extra special to get a “like” from her on something I posted related to my garden.

Harold left behind a wife and three boys. Liz leaves behind a husband and two boys, slightly older than my oldest. I’m trying not to center my own grief, knowing that there are people hurting more than I am.

I don’t grieve well. I’m not a crier. Right now, I wish that I were. Crying would feel like a huge release.

I’m heartbroken. There is part of me that feels like I’m too young to be burying friends. I know that isn’t based in reality and I know that as I get older this will only become more common, but damn.

I don’t know what else to write. I’m overwhelmed. I was already having a kinda rough week and then I got blindsided by waves of emotions. You all know how I hate to feel things! Tomorrow I will go to Pittsburgh and say “goodbye” to my friend. And I will set aside a little space to remember my other friend. And I will not beat myself up for “grieving wrong”.

I am sad. One of the first sentences that I ever learned to write and yet it is as profoundly true now as when I was first learning my letters.

I am sad.

#NoKaepNoNFL, week 11: A Black Man Named “Lynch”

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Marshawn Lynch is one of the most dynamic running backs I’ve ever watched. He’s that mix of power, instinct, and speed that only the great ones possess. Once he gets rolling, he switches into “Beast Mode”, and it almost looks like defenders are truly afraid to tackle him.

Who could ever forget the “Beast Quake“, a run so powerful that it literally registered on the Rictor scale?

 

Besides being a magnificent runner, Lynch is also a bit of an enigmatic figure. He has a notorious love of Skittles! He was fined at one point for refusing to speak to the media. Then after his fines, his interviews turned into media standoffs with one word answers or “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”.

When questioned by Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders about his reticence to do interviews, he gave the all time great answer, “I’m just ’bout that action, Boss”.

Which then lead to this masterpiece:

 

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I have a soft spot for Marshawn. In an age where athletes are molded into perfect, media products, he maintains his individuality and let’s his play do the talking for him.

After a brief retirement, Lynch is back in the NFL, running for the Oakland Raiders. Early in the season, he joined in the NFL protests in his own unique way, rocking a “Everybody vs Trump” t-shirt. marshawnlynch

This week, he drew the president’s ire during a game in which his Raiders played the (hated) New England Patriots in Mexico City. Lynch opted to sit for our national anthem and stand for the Mexican one.

Classic Beast Mode.

Of course, our president, who seemingly has little else to do other than pick Twitter fights with people of color, decided to go after Lynch.

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Our reality show host-in-chief seems unwilling to do any critical thinking about why players are protesting during the anthem. He’s certainly unwilling to lead in any unifying way. No surprise there.

That someone like Lynch gets under Trump’s skin is no surprise. He’s a non-conformist. He won’t fit into anyone’s mold. Plus, he’s excellent. There was a lot of debate about where Kaepernick ranked in terms of quality of NFL quarterbacks. While comments about Kaep’s abilities are laughable to me, there is no debate with Lynch. He’s easily one of the best in the league, so good that he was talked out of retirement by players who wanted him on their team.

The NFL is a league made up predominantly of black players, not as high a percentage as the NBA, but still around 70%. The teams themselves are 100% owned by white men. It is nothing new in this country for white men to make money off of the backs of black men. What’s new is that those black men now have more freedom to talk back.

It’s easy to understand why so many black players don’t want to speak up. For many, they are the first in their family to go to college. For some, playing in the league provides security for their families for the first time. It’s hard to defy someone who signs your paychecks and the NFL owners have been able to count on that until recently.

What people like Kaepernick and Lynch have done is put the NFL owners in the uncomfortable position of having to publicly silence black voices. They’ve handled it about as skillfully as would be expected, revealing ugly racists, sentiments in the process. Texans’ owner Bob McNair’s comments that we “can’t have the inmates running the prison” says everything you need to know about the mindset of the NFL’s corporate culture. To men like McNair, the football field might as well be a prison yard… or a plantation.

While Kaepernick has been an amazing example this year of protest outside of the system (hopefully only this year), Lynch is a great example of what protest inside of the system can look like. Lynch can afford to have the bullseye on his chest because he plays at such a high level. The Raiders would be idiotic to listen to Trump’s calls for his benching. Lynch’s position of power is forcing people to pay attention to his protest and that is a win.

I think my biggest disappointment of the season is that more superstar players have not been as vocal as they could be about the issues that have lead to protests. Players are still kneeling, which is great, but we’re not seeing the high profile players make any radical statements. Don’t get me wrong, I get it! Cam Newton, for example, is making a fortune off of being a likable personality. Antonio Brown has carved out a niche for himself as the lovable guy who dances in the endzone. Maybe no one is asking Odell Beckham Jr.  the hard questions about social issues. It’s got to be frustrating knowing that if you speak your mind endorsements could hang in the balance or you could be blacklisted like Kaep.

As I was googling images of Marshawn Lynch, I saw a t-shirt in his merchandising, of which he has quite a bit, that said “Lynch Mob” with his number 24 on it. Part of the strength of black people throughout our history in this country has been the ability to take back those things that have been used to hurt and kill us and using them to celebrate us instead. There is something about the image of a lynch mob being used to rally around the strength of a black man instead of rallying to humiliate and destroy him that I find compelling and invigorating. Marshawn Lynch for me is a symbol of black strength and black excellence and I hope that he keeps pissing off the likes of Mr. Trump while stiff arming his way into the endzone…

…unless he plays the Steelers…

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As we get close to Thanksgiving, let’s take a moment to be mindful of where our food comes from. As I’ve written about before, people of color often have a difficult relationship to the land, in large part because of the history of black bodies being used to create white wealth. The Black DIRT farm collective exists to “Bring an image of Black Dirt (which is healthy and biologically active soil) to the mind of the larger community; as well as remind the larger community that as a farmer and farm, the basic tenet of our jobs as food producers and as care-takers of the land, is our responsibility to the soil; one of the basic units in a healthy environment. To retain Black, in Black DIRT, is to pay homage to the black agrarian experience and to the totality of the agrarian struggle in the Americas. The farm is founded upon the diasporic struggle in the Americas and the U.S., and to work from the contributions that folks of color have made to agriculture and society at large”. You can see more of their work here

 

 

 

 

Writing for My Life

 

IMG-3068A few weeks ago, I reconnected with a really good friend from high school. It was great to see him. Though our lives have changed tremendously, all the things that made us friends nearly two decades ago remained intact.

As conversations with me tend to, ours veered off into a discussion about the church and the frustrations therein. I joked, as I often do:

If had any other marketable skills, I’d do something else.

This friend, instead of laughing at my weak, self deprecating humor, replied, “I’m really surprised you’re not a writer”.

I’m not a writer, but I sometimes play one on the internet.

 

The new subtitle for my blog came from the underrated 2005 album “Be” by the rapper Common. On the track “They Say” feat. Kayne West and John Legend, Common rhymes the line:

Writing for my life cause I’m scared of a day job.

While I don’t intend to deal with my fear of regular employment here, I do want to dive into the first part of the line.

Writing has saved me. I say that without hyperbole. The last three years, this has been my place of processing the collapse and reconstruction of my world.

I’ve been accused of oversharing. I probably have.

I’ve been accused of narcissism. There’s a little of that. I did use my name for the blog title, after all. But there’s not as much as I’m accused of.

I’ve been accused of dealing with my shit in public instead of in private. That’s dead wrong.

The writing has been my way of processing the work that I’m doing in private, and putting it into what I think are consumable bites. I’ve been diligent about only telling my story and no one else’s.

Both of my last two therapists have strongly encouraged my writing. That’s been a huge help. They’ve both understood the way I process the world.

Writing isn’t just my catharsis, though. In the last few years, it has been my ministry when I haven’t been allowed to serve in a more traditional capacity. Every now and again, someone will send me a text saying how something I wrote, maybe a year or more ago, helped them through a rough time. This has been especially true when I’ve written about depression. I’m humbled and grateful for that.

I’m not a great writer. I know great writers. I’m friends with great writers. I’m married to a pretty great writer.

I’m a good writer. I’m a better speaker… I think. I don’t know. I haven’t done it in quite awhile.

I like to write though, and writing is clearly my art form. It’s my creative outlet and my means of interpreting what’s going on in the world.

I don’t know how to classify my writing, which I think has been problematic for me at times. Do I write thinkpieces? Commentary? Biography? Am I a spiritual writer? Maybe I’m just a run-of-the-mill blogger.

If I’m honest, I would love for writing to be a bigger part of my life. I’ve gotten published in a couple of small publications. That’s fun and I’m certainly better when I have an editor! Sometimes that’s constricting though.

When I started my Patreon page, it was one of the most vulnerable moments of my life. Basically asking people to pay me to write was as scary a thing as I could imagine. It’s been humbling too. After an initial wave of interest, things tapered off. And I’ve lost supporters. That’s hard. I’m grateful for those who have stuck around, but being who I am, I focus on the losses more than I should.

Writing can also bring out the worst in me. I have a fair number of friends who have written books or gotten published in larger publications. I envy those things. I wish I didn’t. I want my friends to do well. I love reading my friends’ work! A friend recently had a book published. I’ve never been happier to pre-order a book n my life!

But those moments make me feel deficient. It makes me feel like I haven’t honed my craft enough. Or maybe I’m just not that good. And then the self doubt creeps in. Then I spend hours in the fetal position.

I’m better at not dwelling there than I used to be.

This is the third year I’ve contemplated doing NaNoWriMo. The first two I started and fizzled out. This year, having seriously dealt with my issues of self delusion, I didn’t really jump in.

I’d love to do more long form writing. I have a project that I’m working on. It’s coming slower than I’d like, but I do like how it’s shaping up.

The thing I try to keep in mind is that writers write. They write every day. They write shitty first drafts, as Anne Lamott says. They write whether they have an audience or not. I have this week off of work, so I’m dedicating more time to writing.

At the end of the day, I’m writing for myself. I’m writing because I get a backlog of thoughts and I feel more clear when I purge some. I’m writing because often in the process, I discover what I actually believe. I’m writing because other than gardening, it is the thing that makes me feel most like myself. I’m writing because I don’t know what else to do with my hands.

But I guess I’m writing for you too. At the real end of the day I want to be known. I want to be understood. I want people to have a peek under the hood. And, if I’m completely honest, I want to be loved. There’s an intimacy that comes from writing because I write with my heart on my sleeve. I don’t take well to being silenced or censored. It feels like an attempt to negate who I am.

So maybe I’m writing for us. Because at the endiest ending of the end of the day, I want community. I believe it’s the only thing that will save us. I’m contributing what I have to  contribute to the greater good and I hope you will as well.

So maybe I should change the subtitle to writing for our lives.

Nah.

Too much work.