Wednesday the 13th

Usually it is Friday the 13th that people fear. It has a bad wrap. Black cats. Voodoo dolls. No walking under ladders. All superstition rooted in fear. Somewhere in sometime these things begin with fear, disappointment, or bad news.

Wednesday the 13th will be a day I will no longer hold affinity for in any positive way. Today I called my mom to discuss my upcoming vacation. I was excited to make plans to hangout and have dinner. I have not seen my mom since June 01, 2008, the day after my wedding. I miss her.

We chatted a little. More small talk and then, “did you talk to your brother? Nope Why? I was thinking it was some drama about my trip. Someone was upset that I could not spend time with them. The pitfalls of having a huge family. I waited for the silence to clear and for her to tell me that one of my brothers was upset with me or that she was disappointed that I was not going to stay near her.

“I have stage 2 Renal Failure.”

Crickets…

Shit…I pretended like I did not hear. “I am sorry mom. My phone is breaking up.” If I did not hear it, it was not true. Please God, don’t fuck with me. Tears crept up behind my eyes.

“Mom, what did you say?”

“I have stage 2 Renal Failure.”

“Hmmm, that sucks.”

My mom is a nurse. She has been all of my life. She used to give us shots from medicine she kept in the fridge that she smuggled from the office. She was a tough one to trick to stay home from school. She would insist on taking your temperature from the backside. It was more accurate. I had perfect attendance for most of my elementary years.

My mom and I had a hard time growing up. My folks divorced when I was 5 or 6 and my mom was left in a condition that was not the best to raise 3 boys under the age of 6. We went to live with my father and my grandmother. My dad’s sister lived there too. Soon my aunt (dads sister) and her 4 kids moved in to the house. That was 4 adults and 7 kids packed in to a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house. This was not easy on my mom.

We were my mom’s life. She ate, slept, and existed for us. She fought to get back on her feet and soon we would see her every other weekend. She was the one that cultured us. She took us to plays, museums, gardens, and anything that was free in the LA basin. She was the smartest and most cultured and creative person I knew.

My mom was not the mom everyone else had. She was not the PTA kind of mom. She was not there when we got home from school. She came to as many of our things as she could but missed more than I would have liked. She did her best.

I have not always seen eye to eye with my mom. For a while were where estranged. At odds over something that I can no longer remember.

Recently, I have been going to therapy. I have been going for the last 4 months. It has allowed me to reclaim the beauty and joy of my youth. For the longest time when asked of my childhood I could only conjure up pain and disappointment. These last few months have allowed me to remember the mom that pushed my on the swings. The mom that hid her homelessness from us. The mom that laughed and smiled when everyone else could only cry.

I have loved reconnecting with her about these things. Every phone call over the last few months have seemed to open up another beautiful memory that we get to share. My mom is a strong woman. She might be the strongest woman I know. She has survived breast cancer. She has survived domestic violence and an abusive husband. She loved disco when everyone else thought it sucked. She gave me my love of Motown Records and tried to teach me to dance while Soul Train was on. I was poor in many ways growing up but I was rich in mom.

“Hmmm, that sucks.” I wanted it to not be true. I prayed deep inside my heart, in a place that I have only been once before with my brother, Grant.

“I have stage 2 Renal Failure. It’s not the end of the world. It is not my favorite. But I will enjoy the time that I have.”

I wanted to cry. She wanted to make plans for next Thursday. “Why don’t we go to the zoo and have dinner”, she offered.

That sounds great, mom. My phone was about to die. I told her this and in a calm voice, holding back tears she said, “I’ll talk to you soon, honey.” Thursday cannot come soon enough.

Three Brothers [Kenya 2005]

I was a missionary in Kenya in 2004-2005. I was assigned to Church World Service, East Africa to take photographes, write human interest stories, and help with report writing. This photograph was taken at a primary school in Nairobi that butted up against a landfill.

There was some really big programme kick-off and all kinds of politic big whigs were to be there. I went to take photos for CWSEA. We have a programme that sought to mitigate violence and war by protecting schools and involving the community to invest in the protection of the schools.

As I was taking pictures the tall boy in this photo asked me to take a picture. When I set the camera on him he motioned over to the other two boys to come in to frame. The other children in the yard were kept at bay with glaring looks of promised whoopings.

Through an interpreter I found out that these three boys had come from Sudan and were living in a slum near the school. A local agency sponsored them to attend school. This was the first time the three had a photo of themselves. I promised to return with a copy for each of them.

I left the school and came back in the next few weeks to give the boys the photos. I could not find them and no one at the school could tell me what had happened to them. I often look at this photo and pray for them.

Shocked & Awed!

Yesterday was not a crazy day at all. I ran 9 miles in preparation for this Sunday’s race. I felt really good about it. I could have run another 4 miles, so I am feeling confident. I am practicing the Zen Meditation and am really enjoying it.

The day has been a welcome relief from the crazy that seems to have inhabited the last 6 months. I have been pummeled with “bad news” one after the other. It has been a learning period like no other that I have had in my life.

I have been reframed, refashioned, and renewed. It is been tough but I am thankful for the renewing of my mind and the reboot to my body. I have had a lot of time to devote to my self and the healing, processing, and reflecting I have not had time to do in my life.

I have grown. I have changed. I have reclaimed much of what I discovered about myself while in Kenya. I have awakened a deep spirituality inside me. I have mourned. I have celebrated. In it all I have been.

All of this makes yesterday all the more awe-inspiring. I was centering myself to attend my first church meeting with Trinity PC (the call I start on May 01). Then around 4:00 PM I checked my email to see if I got anything from the church and noticed an email from OU.

I opened the email and read it. I read it again. I asked Mere to read it again. I asked her what she read. She said, “Well, it says you got in.” It said I got in to the University of Oklahoma’s  Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. I got in to the school I had hoped for.

I was admitted to the part-time class. It’ll take me 3 years rather than 2 to finish this degree. I am floored. I am in awe. I am shocked. I cannot believe it. I wanted to pray about it and sleep on it before I said anything.

I am thankful for this. I am not sure how we will pay for it but I am sure God will forge some way. We have been at this together for some time now. I appreciate the journey you all have been on with me. I am thankful for the kind words, the prayers, the encouragement, the affirmation, the ass kicks, and the love you all have showered me with these last 6 months particularly.

Dawn has broken and the sun is shining after the rain storms. The birds are singing. The cats on the prowl. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God.

I’m wondering how it feels for you?

One of my favorite movies is “Once.” Even better is its soundtrack. I have listened to this album countless times. I am always moved by its beauty and hunger in the midst of complex emotions.

I would like to think I am a person comprised of complex emotions and a dynamic zeal for life. I would also like to imagine myself as a debonair, game playing sort of fella but that is utter fantasy.

I am who I am. I am not surprised that my heart visits the song “Say It To Me Now” again and again. I have been very stressed out these last few months. I am entering my fifth month of unemployment. Being unemployed has forced me in to conversations and realities that have been very difficult. I have had to fully redefine who and what I am in light of this call upon my life.

The very fabric I fashioned my masculinity from has been torn and the role I have been trained in since birth, the provider, has fallen away. The adopted and learned roles of spiritual director and minister have faced uncertainty at best and have encountered indigestible doubt at worst.

I listened to the words to this song again,

Scratching at the surface now
And I’m trying hard to work it out
And so much has gone misunderstood
This mystery only leads to doubt
And I’m looking for a sign
In this dark uneasy time

So if you have something to say
Say it to me now

And I’m not trying to pass the buck
I’m just trying to get a better look
And I’m wondering how it feels for you
Now that the shoe is on the other foot
And I didn’t understand
When you reached down to take my hand

And if you have something to say
You’d better say it now

Cause this is what you’ve waited for
A chance to even up the score
And as these shadows fall on me now
I will somehow
Cause I’m clearing up this wreckage Lord
And there’s more than you’ve ever seen before

So if you have something to say
Say it to me now

 

I have found myself bartering with God. If you do/allow/give/provide X I will do/not do/be better at Y. Come on God you got to give a little to get a little. And God knows I have little to give. The days following my departure from my last call were some of the darkest days of my life.

I read, “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross, to compare notes and hopeful awaken from my torment. It did not help me. I was an inconsolable mess. I made plans. I schemed. Nothing I tried offered relief from the crisis of the soul I was in.

I joked about it. I did all I could do but embrace it. I begged God for a way out, a way forward. I got nothing for months. I worked out. I have spent an average of 10-15 hours a week at the gym.

I tried volunteering with limited success. I wrote a little. I created a lot of art. I still asked God for answers.

With hope on the horizon I pray that whatever God is going to say that it be said now. I am beyond weary. I am beyond begging. I am beyond doubt. I am not sure I have any more depth to travel with or on. I dare not give up God. What would I be left with but a fool’s prize?

I love the ending of “Once” because it is a hard and real ending to a complex human problem. There is no neat, nice bow to wrap up the story. Some times life is suffering and the momentary glimpses of grace and love are worth it. Some time those momentary glimpses of grace fuel that insatiable appetite for more and we are never satisfied.

If I have learned anything in this process it would be that life is not a road map to be traveled in strict guidelines. Some days you will need to follow the map, some days you will be better to go off the map and travel by sight, and some days your vehicle will break down or the road you want to travel will be closed and there will always be a detour offered.

It may be time for me to accept the detour and be ok with the human condition that prompts the human ending.

Zen [Louisville 2009]

This is a photo of the laundromat I used to frequent near the University of Louisville. It is called, “Suds & Tan.” I loved going there and doing laundry as I meditated and people watched. There is something very therapeutic about doing your laundry in public. I get a sense of accomplishment and clarity as I sit solitary or surrounded in the laundromat. It is a place people go to get clean. A space temples, churches, and other holy places occupied in life.

Redemptive God, Preemptive God: That is the Question

I am hanging out with a good friend of mine. We are taking down tacos like we were Kobayashi. We are both ministers. We have both been introduced to the faith as adults. We both wrestle with living out our faith.

There we are sharing our stories and our heartaches in between tacos. I am sharing with him my frustrations of finding a place to serve in ministry. I have been searching for a call since early March 2011. Until this past October I had the safety of serving a church. I left that call to support my wife as she accepted a call to serve a church in Oklahoma City, OK.

I am angry. I am disappointed. I feel abandoned. I think God’s a dick. I am backing up my Liebherr and am dumping its emotional contents upon him. He is overwhelmed as a flood of emotions cascade in to his ears.

I shared this story of when I was an evangelical, I used to gather with folks and we would pray for physical provision. We would also give thanks and claim stuff in the name of Jesus. We would get together in a prayer circle and call out the desperate or not so desperate needs we were dealing with at the time.

It could be that nasty masturbation habit, taking a drink, the need for health, the hope for acceptance in to college or a new job; mine was financial provision. I was fine with my job. I wanted God to provide me with money to pay off my student loans so I could really serve. Not this halfass volunteering I was doing. I wanted to sellout to the Kingdom of God and go all in!

I shared this with the group for almost two years. When I departed for mission service and then seminary I held on to that prayer. I prayed it a thousand times. Yet, here I am in the same boat of financial debt. I have given God over a thousand opportunities to liberate me from debt. God has failed in doing so. God, therefore, is a dick.

I am unloading the misery of this story and the subsequent disappointment of the economic hardship that has befallen so many these days. I am certain that my choice to chase an ordained call to ministry has been a bad one.

Then my friend asks me, “Do you believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God?” I was taken aback by his question: Do I believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God? You have got to be joking? WTF are you talking about? This made me more awkward than Patton Oswalt in a (pseudo) romantic role opposite Charlize Theron.

Do I believe in a God that is actively working to prevent hardship from befalling me or those I pray (magically) for? Do I believe in a God that is taking the shit around me–this depravity gone wild–and loving it in to goodness?

The answer is obvious. I live my life expecting that God is in some divine prevent defense covering all of the depravity that might come my way. Yes! I believe in a preemptive God. I hold on to the dysfunction of my humanity–the frailty of my being–in my hopes of a preemptive God.

The problem with this is that holding on to a preemptive God has obscured the resurrected glory of a redemptive God. My eyes cannot see the resurrected, reclaimed, renewed vision of the redemptive God through the faded, tattered hope of the beaten down preemptive God.

I have very real financial debt. God must offer a way out. God does not call me to be burdened by debt and bound by this unjust system of lending. It’s in the cussing BIBLE!

“God protect me from the pain of emotion, God guide me in your ways,” has been a spiritual cover up. It is the foundation of the religious mask I have donned for the last fourteen years. The mask survived my transition from conservative, evangelical through spiritual, occultist to progressive, liberal Jesusish thingy.

I have been praying for God to strike while the irons hot. I called out for God to take this burden away from me that I might be liberated to do “real” ministry. Perhaps, God is not calling me to liberated “real” ministry.

The preemptive God is connected through provision. This God tirelessly responds to my pleas for help. Like an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lassie looking out for that dangerous well for me. The preemptive God keeps us dependent on tradition, folk ritual, and half-truths as we beg and plead for this madness to stop. The preemptive God is devoid of the glory of this season and the arrival of that little eight-pound, six-ounce infant savior.

The redemptive God does not depart or hide. This God is intimately present. This God is source of “costly grace” of which Bonhoffer speaks of in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” The redemptive God is the root of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s “Preferential Option of the Poor”, explored in his book, “The God of Life.” The redemptive God is the stream from which Marcella Althaus-Reid’s “The Queer God” flows forth.

The redemptive God is what this nation requires. The redemptive God restores and reconciles that which is lost. The redemptive God takes what is meant for evil and makes good. The redemptive God delivers us into the belly of a whale and restores our call. The redemptive God takes us where we are and delivers us to where we might be. The redemptive God is those four folk lowering the paralytic through the roof towards restoration. “Their faith has made you well.”

We need the redemptive God to take what has been meant for ill and turn it on its ear for good. We need the redemptive God that does not destroy the community-building of shared hardship and loss. We need the redemptive God that draws the best of the worst to bear witness of the “not yet.”

The redemptive God arrived in a manger. The redemptive God clings to her mother’s breast. The redemptive God is fully human and fully divine. The redemptive God is here with us.

The redemptive God is mired in the same cussing junk in which we find ourselves in. The redemptive God borrowed money to attend college to earn a degree that does not guarantee him a job. The redemptive God has diabetes and no money or health care to pay for it.

The redemptive God is a scared teenage mom hiding the pregnancy from her parents. The redemptive God is the Occupy movement camped out in the streets and invading the halls and minds of justice. The redemptive God does not hide from woe.

“Do you believe in a redemptive God or a preemptive God?” I believe in a preemptive God but I am trying really hard to believe in that redemptive God. Perhaps, this is what Thomas Merton is speaking of when he says, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” The redemptive God is pleased to have us stumble towards redemption in glee. Now that is some shit that preemptive God knows noting about, grace.

“She-God”?!?

I ran across this cartoon clip engaging the genitals of God. It is an interesting discussion of sexuality, gender, and the divine. It is a Kevin Smith like dialogical exploration of culture. It seeks to tie culture to witty razor sharp comebacks. This is perfect for all of the hipster, D&D wielding what not’s that want Jesus, God, and religion to be cool. God bless Brodie from Mallrats! It is a bit harsh on language and tone. Please watch only if you are OK with the profane exploration of God and the Divine.

Part 1

Part 2

What do y’all think…

I am off to Ghost Ranch for a few days and may be with out internet. God help me. If I do not die in a plane crash, get detained by the Feds, or wander off into the desert on a vision quest I will be back mid-week. Blessings and please pray for the returning national missionaries as they return home and continue their journey as seekers of truth, followers of Christ, and vessels of compassion.

Palabra tu Madre.

Mad World?!?

People are dead.

There is no good reason and it sucks no matter the angle taken to explain. We can call then angles, heroes, martyrs, or what have you…they are dead. Everyone read this or not reading this will die.

What the hell is going on in this society?

I am sitting here trying to write papers. I am compelled to read about it and began to watch the news conference. A_ _hole I am. Why am i not praying? What am I doing? Voyeur!

I have spent a better part of the morning reading threads on this tragedy. People are arguing the politics of it. Some blame Satan and his evil minions for this attack against the gay loving American fabric. Some lobby for gun control. Some laugh at those praying and questioning God.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is pointing fingers. Everyone owns the truth.

Why is this event more tragic than the thousands that die in Africa due to war, famine, drought, or disease?

It intrigues me as to what draws the attention of this fickle culture. We have the collective attention span of a ten-year-old.

My heart breaks at this. My head hurts. I wonder why God would let this happen to anyone. I get scared. I want to bury my head in the sand.

I am reminded of Tears for Fears song “Mad World”, as covered by Gary Jules.

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very
Mad World
Mad world
Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me
And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very
Mad World
Mad World
Enlarging your world
Mad World.

It is a mad world, full of hurting, broken people. Where do the differences lay? I like Kendra’s prayer, “Suffering God who lived among us and died as a criminal, Be with those who mourn loss and who feel isolated in their grief and loneliness. Be present in the Holy Spaces where we gather as your people to worship and know you. Amen.

This will be my prayer today.

Translation has lead me to a thought…

I am smack dab in the middle of a Hebrew intensive course. I thought I would share with ya’ll a bit of what I do in the class. Below is the Hebrew text (Masoretic text with extra breathing marks) from Isaiah 49:16. I will break down the sentence for you and give you a translation in English.

`dymi(T’ yDIÞg>n< %yIt:ïmoAx %yti_Qox ~yIP:ßK;-l[; !hEï

!hEï is a particle interjection demonstrative adverb meaning behold!


-l[; is a preposition meaning upon


~yIP:ßK; is a feminine noun meaning hands with dual absolute ending


%yti_Qox is a Qal Perfect Verb in the 1st person common in gender singular in number which means cut in or on, inscribe, or engrave, with a suffix that is 2nd person feminine in gender singular in number with a direct article…meaning I engraved you


%yIt:ïmoAx is a feminine noun with a 2nd person, feminine gender, singular number suffix…meaning your wall


yDIÞg>n< is a particle preposition with a 1 Common Singular suffix attached of the Hebrew word for before, in front of…this form emphasizes in front of


`dymi(T is a particle adverb meaning continually, uninterrupted


So a rough translation would be, “Behold, I engraved you/your upon the (my) hand, your wall uninterrupted in front of (me). The “I” is God. The “you” is God’s people. The hands of God are engraved with the people of God. God has a tattoo!!!