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

The Man God Loves

[Warning: Pulp Fiction language ahead! Also I know the title of this is “The Man God Loves” and I use that as this is a personal reflection from a cis-male perspective and it’s also a play on a song title. I don’t mean anything more than that.]

As I’m writing this Ella Fitzgerald’s performance of “The Man I Love” is playing on Spotify. In a bizarre way I somehow feel as though the lyrics could just as easily speak of “the God I Love,” especially the line I’ll do my best to make him stay.

I have trouble trusting God. I have trouble trusting in God’s goodness and his welcome, especially in a world that continues to be peppered with personages and prophets who pander to pedantic impieties and utilize the message of God to denigrate the humanity and realness of others.

I know that those people do not speak for God, and that my heart and life have already been spoken for by the God who suffers rejection and death for the sake of welcoming all into that God’s own divine demesne.

But sometimes the voices of those who cry “no!” to God’s children are louder than the dying voice of the God who cries “no!” to the pattern of suffering and death. The lie weasels into my thought processes: have I done something to drive God away? Am I still worthy of grace, despite all my darkness? And so I find myself doubting God, as though I cannot be found behind the nagging shadow of my own imagined unworthiness, listening for God’s dying whisper of tetelestai, listening for the rustle of linen in the resurrection tomb, listening for the footsteps of the myrrh bearers, and hoping that I too will find myself eating fish on the beach with the God I love. The voice inside me nags, “maybe I haven’t done my best to make him stay.”

I wonder if God ever sings “I’ll do my best to make him stay.” The reality is that God hasn’t gone anywhere; the issue at work here is my own human forgetfulness. This is why the Sacraments are so utterly important–we remember our baptism, we remember our participation in the death and resurrection, we remember the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we remember our forgiveness from sin, and we’re even set apart to help the world remember its belovedness in the other sacraments. The great grace is that I am spoken for whether or not I can hear the echoes of those realities in my mind’s ear. There’s nothing I can do to make God stay because God has never left, and will never leave. And the grace upon grace is that I can taste the realness of love in bread and wine, feel the embrace of the loving God in the arms of those whom I know love me, in their words, in their smiles and acts of service.

Even though the glow of those holy moments in which I knew God’s presence has faded, the grace of God is such that I can still see the glow of God’s presence in those people who bear God’s image. The light of God in these acts, in these glances, strikes me like purging flame, burning away the grime over my eyes and welcoming me once again into the light of God’s countenance.

And I am an image bearer of God, and what more, the final word has been spoken regarding me: beloved. And I’m willing to wager on a God whose arms are stretched far enough to embrace a world that has forgotten the God it loves. We are the world God loves, even though we’re probably going to screw it up on the way to making that love a reality for all people.

But praise be to a God who can’t get enough of us darling, forgetful fuck-ups, who joins us in the pit of despair and transforms that place of destruction into a fountain life and light and uncomfortable grace that demands we do something with it. And what’s even crazier is that God actually trusts us to bring the world back to life with him. A God who never leaves, and who does God’s damnedest to help us remember.

Hooks

My field placement supervisor often repeats to me a saying that she picked up from her spiritual director: “you can’t hang a picture on the wall without a hook.” What this means–or at least, what I’ve gathered that this means–is that one can’t grow unless you have people, influences, instabilities, and idiosyncrasies that give us some kind of resistance. Not unlike the necessity of resistance in developing physical strength, these resisting factors–or “hooks”–become, in the hand of the God the resistance that will cause us to grow spiritually and emotionally.

One of the hooks upon which I’ve been snagging my sweaters recently is, ironically, the hook of other people like me, who seem to identify with certain elements of my identity and speak out in ways that make me immensely uncomfortable. People speaking out of hatred, out of prejudice, out of utter ignorance. People who have chosen to sacrifice love on the altar of being right. People who imagine that they are speaking in love, but don’t realize that the love out of which they have chosen to speak isn’t a genuine love for the Other, but rather a love for a worldview that they cannot bear to see challenged by opening their eyes to new possibilities. People who seem to have a monopoly on the Spirit of God, yet won’t listen to her speaking. People who seem to be genuinely jerks.

The hilarious aspect of all of this is that it’s easy to frame this argument from an “I’m a gay man being upset about conservative Christians being mean to me” perspective. And I’m sure that’s the angle many of you, dear Readers, were assuming that I was presently taking. Indeed, that has been a source of upset for me in the past few months; I won’t lie. To see people trampling the name of the God of Righteousness and instead sacrificing to their self-made God of Rightness–this wounds me deeply, and I still find myself uncomfortable in churches where I have yet to build up relationships of trust. I get uncomfortable when people sit down at a table next to me in a restaurant and begin a bible study–I fear the things that will be said, the laments made over the state of our country, the blame piled upon us gay people whose only crime is our existence.

The issue is, however, Christians are not the only one speaking out of a fundamental need to be right; no, there have been voices from the LGBT community speaking with such lack of charity towards others of differing viewpoints that I have trouble aligning with them, even when I agree with them. What a handful of leaders in the LGBT community who have come out of a conservative Christian milieu have utterly forgotten is that the journey from rejection to acceptance is a journey of healing and a journey of reconciliation and it cannot be rushed. I began to support equal rights for LGBT people after years of being virulently homophobic as I was wrestling with my own sexual identity, and that was before I even came out. But even then it was a journey, a journey of getting to know others made in the image of God, a journey of finding those hooks and hand-holds along the rocky and twisting path that enabled me to climb upward step by tentative step towards a life of love.

But even as I mention a journey of reconciliation, I must point out that the journey of reconciliation is NOT a journey to rightness. More harm has been done in the name of being right than I care to admit; statements like “love the sinner, hate the sin” are indicative of this kind of attitude, and it is precisely this kind of attitude that makes the deeply-wounded teen struggling with identity decide to swallow a fistful of sleeping pills. If a word spoken in service of the God of Rightness results in death, it is not a word spoken in love.

Perhaps the God of Rightness is today’s Molech, into whose sacrificial fire we throw our friends, our family, our sons, our daughters, our loved ones. I stopped believing in this false god long ago, when I chose to stop sacrificing those dear to my heart on his bloody altar. The thing is, both sides of any debate seem to love serving this particular abomination.

What is hammer that will tear down his image, the wet blanket that will put out his sacrificial flame? Love. Love transcends differences of opinion. Love turns the need to be right into a need to be righteous. Love is that power that says “I relinquish my say as to whether x is a sin or y is an incorrect assertion. I choose to embrace you and affirm you regardless of my own opinions.” And I think love requires the radical trust that the God of Love, the God of Righteousness, will deal with each of us on God’s own terms, and those terms will be simple.

“How well did you love?”

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.