31.

It’s been some time since I’ve written here.

I’ve gone and made it to 31 years old, quite in spite of every indication to the contrary. This was one of the busiest years of my life but I daresay one of the most important years of my life all the same.

Here’s a run-down of everything that happened:

  • In October 2018 I attended the State of the Art Astrology Conference in Buffalo, New York. It changed my life. On the final morning of the conference my grandmother fell at her home in North Carolina. Given that she was 92 years old I didn’t expect that she’d make a full recovery, and this proved true on the following new moon. I wrote about it here.
  • In November 2018, I offered an ancestral feast for the first time on All Saints/All Souls, beginning a newfound love affair with my blessed dead. On the Thursday following, my grandma died. A week later my beloved and I spent nine car-sick hours in a car with our dog winding our way down US-58 to attend her funeral in Danville, Virginia. The funeral homily was a full-on fire-and-brimstone affair, preached by a family friend. Michael and I were both shaking by the end of it.
  • In December 2018, my daughter spent Christmas with us. I made a conscious decision to begin being slightly more open about all aspects of my life and ministry after a come-to-Jesus meeting with a trusted friend who encouraged me to “let my light shine.” (It meant I’d actually say ‘I’m a pastor and an astrologer’ out loud when people ask.) We also spent some time with Michael’s family-of-choice in Memphis.
  • In January 2019, I was elected to the steering committee of the Association for Astrological Networking. During the final week of the month, I left my job after the congregation I was serving decided—without my knowledge or input!—to rescind their status as an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ. I also found out that they were rejecting LGBTQ candidates for the settled position out of hand (I was an interim). I have never left a job without first lining something else up in my life. This was the first time I ever did so, and it was tremendous, fearsome, right—and my choice had the full support of my judicatory. (I hope it’s the only time I ever do so.)
  • In February 2019, I was offered another call at a congregation in another part of the country. One of the search committee members referred to undocumented migrants as “those illegals” and complained loudly about how homelessness was ruining San Francisco. I turned the call down. By some miracle I began to be able to support myself—by the skin of my teeth—on income from my consulting work. I did my damnedest to be faithful. (God certainly was.)
  • In March 2019, I worked my ass off. At one point I saw five (five!!) clients in a single day, which is a ton of mental and emotional energy. Jailbreak the Sacred found its way to me and so I learned how to host, record, and publish a podcast. The kiddo spent her spring break with us, and I decided I’d spend my in-between time at the Episcopal congregation I did my seminary internship at. It was time well-spent.
  • In April 2019, two very interesting things happened: the week following Easter I had a lucid dream in which I was teaching in Japan in Japanese, and a tangle of synchronicities pointed me further in that direction. I began learning Japanese again in earnest after piddling around with it as a weeaboo sixth grader. The second thing that happened was a mystical experience while at a cabin at the Red River Gorge with my beloved that cracked open my world in ways I had never anticipated. Oh, yeah, I also started writing a book.
  • In May 2019, I began learning all 2200 常用漢字 (joyo kanji)、the 2200 Chinese characters that Japanese high school students are expected to know by the time they graduate. I also got a book deal for a book entirely unrelated to the book I had started writing in April. I finished Book One and started immediately on planning for Book Two. I also attended the Northwest Astrological Conference (NORWAC), made some wonderful new friends and industry connections, and began planning my next professional steps. I was also hired as the sabbatical replacement minister for one of the most incredible churches I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and serving.
  • In June 2019, my daughter came for her summer visit with us; she’s now completely hooked on Pokemon, which means that we’re doing our job well. I finished and submitted the manuscript for Book Two, viz. the one that will be coming out on January 7th of next year. My job at Union began during Pride Week.
  • In July 2019, we visited my family in Virginia for a week, and then returned to Lexington. I kept on learning Kanji and wrote a research paper for a conference journal—which conference has now been postponed. July was otherwise unremarkable except for the fact that I stopped going to the gym due to being completely burnt out with my lifting routine. Time for something different.
  • In August 2019, I premiered a piece of music at church and had an utter come-to-Jesus moment with regards to my financial health. I opened a Roth IRA! I made a conscious spending plan! I also began re-training my entire body for bodyweight fitness and calisthenics. I feel better than I have in a long time as a result.
  • In September 2019, I finished learning all 2200 kanji (their semantic meanings and writing, anyway). I also returned to editing Book One after putting my podcast on hiatus for the time being. On the final Sunday of this month I’ll have another premiere of a new work, this time by the combined forces of the church choir and our local college’s choir.

This is a very “tell” instead of “show” post but after having written close to 150,000 words in other forums I’m not really pushing myself to make this blog post a literary masterpiece. Let the record show that my life is full and that I’m wildly, wildly happy.

 

in the indicative

I’m just past the threshold on the opposite end of a long, dark tunnel. The light hurts my eyes. And like a puppy who was abused freshly brought to a caring home at last, I find myself learning to trust, learning to not be afraid of the passing shadows or sudden noises that pervade typical life. When will the other shoe drop in this newfound place of peace and comfort? More terrifying, what if it doesn’t?

For once I am not in crisis mode, as I have been since, oh, 2009. Part of this is simply growing up and entering into a deeper sense of self. Part of this is abandoning the toxicity of a religious imagination that only valued me inasmuch as I could be something I wasn’t. And still part of this was getting out of the situations that held me in thrall to crisis-as-normative.

But there is now a new normal, and the task before me is to learn how to live not out of fear of an imagined shoe-drop but rather to live in contentment and contemplation of the way things have turned out, aware and open to deep joy and acceptance of the things that are. To no longer live in the subjunctive. To give my poor beleaguered limbic system a break.

To wit, I stand on the other side of a series of difficult interactions, decisions, and circumstances that have consumed the bulk of my twenties. Before me there’s a vast expanse of an open field-forest-mountain-range-vineyard laying before me (oh Shenandoah!) and now there are four demesnes that beg my attention—I would lavish it upon them.

I will lavish it upon them, given that I’m now living in the indicative.

I. Relationships. To myself, to the divine, to my family first and foremost. Renewing, strengthening, and propelling my bond to my daughter as she becomes more and more an individual (six going on sixteen, help Lordt). Forging deeper and tighter cables of love for my partner as we prepare for marriage. Cultivating understanding and growth with members of my family system. Inviting friends to dinner. Deploying periphrastic phrases will-he nill-he to make a rhetorical point.

But these chains of love and friendship are the very backbone of my existence as a functioning adult, or so I proclaim. It’s time to square proclamation with the reality of things.

II. Household. Frankly, it’s time to get my financial shit together. I have a pipe dream of somehow, some way, completing an additional graduate degree in the human services—because I’m a masochist, that’s why—and I can’t responsibly do that until, at the very least, my consumer debts and other financial obligations as they stand now are taken care of. I’m working a dream job with phenomenal opportunities for growth, so I have no reason not to do this. I’m even more beholden to the stewardship piece of spiritual development given that I now actually have something to, you know, steward.

III. Creativity. Not only have I neglected this space for too long, I’ve also been neglecting a major part of my soul, to wit, music. Ideas for this opera or that sonata or this dance suite have been kicking around in my head unabated but I’ve lacked either the presence of mind or the energy or the sheer chutzpah to make those ideas become a reality as I hammer away at the block of silence in my workspace.

At the same time, too, words make their way to the fore and fall unrealized into the fulminating abyss of ever-present distraction. Oh Blog, how I love thee! And yet how I have drawn distant, or worse, navel-gazey (and I’m doing that right now, flagrantly). I’d been starving Euterpe* and Erato** for the sake of paying too much attention to Melpomene’s*** call to self-loathing and self-limiting. Such shouldn’t be the case, given the need to practice creation is as much a part of my existence as the need to breathe oxygen. Forgive me, muses.

Though, admittedly there is space for grace here—there’s good reason one in constant crisis can’t be creative. Now my muses can breathe again.

IV. Contemplation. This is perhaps the most crucial to the whole process: learning not to live in the future or the past, but simply in the present, aware of how the world is throwing itself at me, screaming to be observed and appreciated and contributed to in the sheer raw realness of the moment.

For this is not something to be tacked on as an addendum, but a modality through which everything else must be filtered. All exists because in the loving inclination of the Universe’s engine of joy, everything belongs.

And in that I claim that while I cannot live in the future, I am shaped by its unbounded goodness; by the same token, I am not beholden to my past despite having been brought to this place by my very journey through it.

Indicative. Present. Presence. And all is yet grace.

*the muse of music
**the muse of lyric poetry
***the muse of tragedy and emo MySpace pics

Grace For Dzhokar Is Grace For Us All

When I was nineteen years old I was not an expert decision maker.

I had some grasp of the consequences of my actions, sure; I thought a lot about the way things I did would have an impact on the course of my life from that point. A nineteen-year-old should have those faculties. But I was awfully impressionable, and I looked up to people whom I respected. My best friend and roommate at the time was fit, healthy, lithe, and could eat an entire box of Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels without so much as blinking. I looked to him for nutritional advice. I was enamored with Mark Driscoll’s red-faced preaching at the time and the strong picture of masculinity he painted (which, I realized, I was attracted to for very different reasons than wanting to be a “man’s man”). So I looked to him for theological advice. I fell in with the Wild at Heart obsession of the late 2000’s and went digging in my psyche to find my “father wound” and wound up hurting my dad terribly in the process. I believed the myth of “God’s perfect plan for your life” and wound up feeling spiritually abandoned because God never made that plan known in black and white.

I’ve had to learn the hard way that the leaders I wanted were not the leaders whom I needed.

So it makes sense that Dzhokar Tsarnaev, in the great grand identity crisis that is the ages 18-22, was looking to strong figures and narratives to give his life shape. Figures like his brother Tamerlan, whose ideology and forthrightness surely impacted him. Narratives like that of the dominance of extremist political ideologies that can transform worlds for good or for evil.

Figures and narratives, heroes and dreams–but somehow Dzhokar’s search went awry and those dreams turned to bombs. Could his story have turned out differently if he looked elsewhere to find those shaping influences? Certainly.

Dzhokar is responsible for his actions which, obviously, are reprehensible. He is a murderer. But we must also consider our roles in tragedies like this and ask the pointed questions of ourselves: how are we combating the narratives and ideologies that give rise to violence? How are we showing people a way to a better identity, one that is not turned inward in self interest but outward in love? How do we shape our lives to be a healing presence to those around us and draw them into the work of healing the world alongside us?

Christians know this (at least, I hope), because it’s one of the lynchpins of our understanding of reality: we realize that we are only able to work in healing because we ourselves have been healed. We ourselves have been raised with Christ, and therefore the Resurrection life is available to all: to the victims, to the families, and even (I believe) to Tamerlan and Dzhokar, two brothers who made a couple of hellacious decisions. Because Love wins in the end, and I believe Love will win the Tsarnaev brothers as he has won us all.

Let Dzhokar live with his bad decisions. Let him experience the grace of life and be given the chance to make amends for what he has done. No, he will never be able to bring back the victims–that is God’s task–but in the hands of God and the restorative justice of God’s people I believe Dzhokar can be a witness to God’s prodigal grace which is lavished upon us all.

Wilfred Owen reminds us:

The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

Let Us Do the Lord’s Prayer

Receiving the Eucharist on a daily basis is a real treat. Frequent communion is a traditional obligation to be sure for those of us who call ourselves Wesleyan–nothing hinges upon it other than putting ourselves more boldly in Divine Grace’s line of fire. My seminary has made it a point in recent years to begin offering the Eucharist on a daily basis, and this past week was no exception.

On Friday I was returning from my usual breakfast haunt around 11:45 in the morning when I decided I’d turn into the seminary parking lot and make it to the noon mass. Last week was met with a number of challenges in my personal and relational life that I had already brought to the table the day before, so Friday’s eucharist was just gravy; I decided to go anyway even though what I really wanted to do was to go home, unpack my things from moving earlier in the week, and take a nap.

The celebrant, Irene, was from an African country and her English was still thick with a breathy and beautiful African accent. She wasn’t used to serving the UMC Great Thanksgiving, and towards the end she offered the invitation to the table before the Lord’s Prayer had been said. Afterwards in place of the usual postcommunion prayer she simply said “let us do the Lord’s Prayer.”

It was obvious that she meant “let’s say together the Lord’s Prayer” in that context. But what has stuck with me about Friday’s eucharist was the way she bade us to pray: let us do the Lord’s Prayer. God bless English and its auxiliary verbs. What does it mean to do the Lord’s Prayer? To be sure there are a number of different rabbit trails I can chase on this idea, but what strikes me is that, perhaps, to do the Lord’s Prayer is to fulfill the prayer as Our Lord prayed it originally: “let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

It’s a fairly simple connection to make, to be honest. In fulfilling the great commandment and the great commission through our obedience to God, we become the vehicle by which the kingdom of heaven overtakes the kingdom of death, and we become the agents of God’s will on earth as it is worked out in the divine mind. Not that we are puppets, not that we are bondservants, but we become heirs through our incorporation into Christ. We are scions of the family business, and we join our divine Parent in our family’s trade of turning death into life. This is what it is for us to do the Lord’s Prayer.

The other side of this, however, is not quite so obvious. By placing her invitation for us as the gathered community to do the Lord’s Prayer after having received the Eucharist, Irene created a moment where the nourishment of the table was drawn explicitly and inexorably to the life of Christian service to which we who follow Christ are called. The sacrament is food for the journey, bread for the mission, a divine breakfast to fuel a life of walking in the unforced rhythms of grace alongside our Lord. Out of this gracious rhythm comes waves of life-giving love that enables us to see where the will of God should be done and empowers us to make it happen.

The sacrament opens our eyes to the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven around us and in us. The sacrament constantly converts us, and in converting us so God converts the world through us and embraces his children as the Prodigal Deity, the God who throws a silken robe around us and proclaims that we who were once dead are now alive, we who were once lost are now found, we who were once homeless have come home at last. When we do the Lord’s Prayer we are the servants emptying our Master’s closet of rings and cloaks and lavishing them upon his children who come home.