I’m sitting writing this in midtown Manhattan before my Portuguese class and nearby there’s a couple fighting and another couple with their arms around each other and someone else eating dinner out if a styrofoam container. The buildings around me are many stories tall a few stars beyond them are already shining because we’re well into fall.
I’ve been thinking lately about being small. Also about small decisions and how they add up. How you find yourself in New York City, taking a Portuguese class so you can communicate with your Brazilian in-laws in Times Square. All the things that led you here, and all the little decisions and moments that will lead you to wherever it is you end up next.
On my way home. I like the way the clouds in Brooklyn make the sky feel like a ceiling which makes me feel both larger and smaller. I like the number of people on the subway and the sidewalk. A man and a woman sit down on the train, the women pulls out lined yellow paper with two packing lists, one labeled “dogs” and the other “humans.” The guy across from me keeps looking around and shaking his head. There’s so much I’ll never know.
I like how Jesus rarely gave any straight answers. There were just questions answered with questions and stories. Understanding always eludes us. But he did say this “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which, in the end, doesn’t require enlightenment, because it isn’t so much about a dramatic life-change as a thousand small decisions, made daily, to love.
If you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance you read other Episcopal things or have Episcopal friends, in which case you probably know about the current big news in the Episcopal church, which is the strike taking place at General Theological Seminary, which led to then being fired, which leads to a lot of angry and sad clergy and lay people.
A fee weeks ago I marched with 300,000 other people in hopes that some action might be taken by our leaders before we wreck our home, this earth, and it felt almost like a prayer, like a thing you do because the world is broken and you are small and there is hope that someone will hear your voice.
In the end, I don’t know what will happen at General or to our planet or to the church, but I know that a place to start is in prayer, in hopes that God will hear us in the midst of our confusion and that, despite our missteps and all the ways in which we are lost, we will hear each other.
Boa noite! I’m currently taking a Portuguese class(hence the song. I don’t understand the words – I’m not very far along yet), which is why my posts have been pretty late at night (I’m writing this on a train at 10pm) .
I recently finished reading Capon’a book, and I wrote out a few thoughts here.
Between being in the middle of an unusually busy time at work, taking a class, a few other projects, and the normal day to day stuff of being an adult, I’ve often felt recently like I’ve been running from one thing to the next, and one of the reasons I liked the book was because it was about slowing down and appreciating the world for what it is, rather than what it means.
Of course, there is a lot to do in this world. This weekend, for example, I’m participating in the People’s Climate March. There will be thousands of others, including a lot of people of faith. Climate change is one if those issues that should not be set aside, though we all know it’s easy to do so. I hope you’ll consider coming if you’re in New York (and maybe even if you’re not) and if not I hope you can participate in this work in other ways.
I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by the problems we face. Andrew W. K., who writes songs about partying and an advice column, helped me out a bit in this area. Prayer, he says to an atheist advice seeker, is about being humble and reminding ourselves how small we are. Which, I think, is at least part of the truth. It’s a part of the cycle of action and movement and silence and rest.
So I’m praying and doing what I can, recognizing that I am small, but that is no excuse for apathy.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Benjamin Booker, which is why I’m sharing it above. It’s pretty great, kind of raw, stuff. Also, I’ve been reading Robert Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb, which is kind of a cookbook, I think, but more of a reflection by an Episcopal priest and amateur cook. The beginning is all about looking closely and lovingly at what is. So here’s a part I love:
Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rink; but for as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles form the trash heap.
That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’ chandelier, the wishbone in His Kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because at least one lover has never quite taken His eye off it, because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the sons of men.
Maybe the world isn’t – maybe you aren’t – there to serve a purpose, but because it is – because you are – loved.
This past weekend I was in Chicago, where I visited a few museums and lake Michigan and ate some deep dish pizza. I also visited Fourth Presbyterian Church. The sermon was by Shannon Kershner. It was all about the cross and fear:
“Take up your cross,” Jesus said, “and stop worshiping fear and death as your gods. Take up your cross and follow me. Take up that horrible cross as a sign that you believe in the life-giving power of God more than you believe in death-dealing power of fear.”
Definitely worth reading the entire thing.
Early on Monday morning, I went to the post office to pick up a package. They send all the people with package slips to a separate window, but this morning there was no one at the window. We waited awhile. Someone left. Someone got very angry. I snapped at a lady. She wasn’t listening to what I was telling her, but I still felt a little bad about it. It probably was not her fault. Maybe they are understaffed. Maybe someone didn’t show up for work for some reason.
I rarely get angry. It’s just not in my temperament. Often this serves me well, but I do think there is a place for anger. There’s a time to knock over tables and call people out. Maybe at 9am in a post office isn’t really the time.
Last weekend I went to a march on behalf of Eric Garner, who was killed when police held him in an illegal chokehold. People are angry about this and other recent shootings, and rightly so of you ask me (I know you didn’t, but anyway).
Of course, the anger I felt in the post office is nothing like what others are feeling about the real injustice in the world (I’m not even certain it’s the same emotion).
I think anger is often the right response to many of the things that happen in our lives, and can be useful. An important question is what you do with that anger. Do you take it out on those who are powerless or just struggling to do their jobs, do you harm others, or do you channel it against the people in power, those who abuse their wealth and privilege?
I don’t know how long you can live angry before it starts to eat at you, but it seems like there’s a kind of anger that can be used to create change. The kind that Jesus demonstrated when he threw out the moneylenders from the temple. This anger isn’t petty or self-centered. It ultimately comes out of love for others and a desire for justice.
Maybe you, like me, are following the events in Ferguson, feeling sad and somewhat helpless. Many Episcopalians are praying and preaching about Ferguson. Some people from my church held a walking vigil in the neighborhood. I am not sure what the right thing to do or say is, but listening to the voices of the people who are suffering from racism and doing all we can to make their voices heard is a good place to start.
If you, like me, are white, The Root has helpful list: 12 Ways to be a White Ally to Black people.
The one thing we can’t do is ignore Ferguson. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr (via Sojourners):
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.
Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself … Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.
I hope we can all pray and listen, learn and preach, and pay attention.
Posted in Justice
Last week I discovered this song by The Oh Hellos, which I think may be a Chrsitian band. It’s catchy, folky, group-sing kinda stuff, which I always enjoy.
The other day I signed up for SoulPulse, mostly out of curiosity. Twice a day for two weeks it sends you a text or email and you fill out a short survey about your spiritual health. Then it gives you a summary. You can read more about it here.
Measuring your spiritual health seems kind of impossible, if you ask me, but it’s an interesting exercise in mindfulness. Twice a day it pops up in my inbox (oh, hello!), and I have to think about how close I feel aware of God or how joyful and peaceful I feel.
I often don’t know how to answer these questions. Peaceful compared to what? What exactly does awareness of God feel like?
Sometimes you do know, though, like when you get to interview a 10 year old (like I did last week) or you are with people you love. I don’t know exactly how to measure joy and peace, but I’m glad to be paying attention.
P.S. Here’s a GIF
It’s been a busy week, friends. This song by Spoon is helping me through. Give it a listen. No spiritual themes, that I can discern. Just a great song.
Also, I’d like to recommend to you this short piece about grief and the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like . . .
Every week at St. Lydia’s we read a poem (I wrote a bit about it here). I read Disgraceland by Mary Karr last week, which goes well with this song by Fink, I think. Here’s a bit of it:
Christ always stood
to one side with a glass of water.
I swatted the sap away.
When my thirst got great enough to ask,
a clear stream welled up inside,
some jade wave buoyed me forward,
and I found myself upright
in the instant, with a garden
inside my own ribs aflourish.
Read the entire poem here.