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.