How To Disappear Completly

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How does one preach of the body today?  The body matters stills.  In light of last nights verdict the body matters all the more.  This mortal coil containing the hopes, dreams, and life-force of a black teenaged boy.  A boy walking home from the store when dominance appears.  The body matters.  If nothing else is said this morning I want you to hear that the body matters.

Because the body matters, we failed last night.  Justice escaped the lips of 6 women charged with returning justice to the lifeless body of Ms. Martin’s son.  This nations collective breath held.  Some rejoice, claiming that justice was served.  That standing ones ground is necessary to prevent thugs from overtaking your hard-earned possessions.  Others exist, restless and afraid.  The veil of safety has been removed.  Gone is the air of equality.

Post-racial America? Hardly.  We are not anywhere close to that ideal.

Today is not a day for silly antidotes, light-hearted humor, or pointing to the heavens proclaiming justice is on its way.  Justice has failed.  Justice, if she was ever blind, failed to see the injustice of the death of a black teenage boy at the hands of a grown man.

I want to comfort you.  I want to be a good pastor and deliver a rousing sermon of comfort, peace, and divine wisdom.  I cannot.  Not today.  Perhaps next week.  Next week I promise I will pray, fast, and beg God for justice and then I can bring it here.  Today I shamefully don my privilege.

I am afraid.  I am filled with emotions that I both feel shameful of and gratitude.  I do not have to justify my presence to authorities.  I do not have to qualify my anger or frustration towards injustice.  I can walk away from this matter, put my head in the sand and not be bothered by it.  I am free to wander this earth and look for meaning.  I can do this because I do not have to worry about survival.

Last night my timeline blew up.  The first one was, “WOW!”  The next was, “Disbelief, I thought he’d at least het manslaughter.”  I searched out People of Color to listen to and found a seemingly never ending stream of voice after voice expressing anger, hurt, frustration, exhaustion, and hopelessness.  One twitter commentator said, “I don’t hate white people.  I don’t hate George Zimmerman either.  It’s not that suddenly we all hate.  It’s that suddenly none of us feel safe.  That is what the verdict did.  It took away the luxury of being able to feel safe.”

My largely white, liberal circle blew up with emotions.  Guilt.  Shame.  Disgust.  Then the “I am Trayvon campaign rolled out again.  People posting pictures of hoodies or Trayvon with the words, “I am Trayvon” across them.  It is intended as a symbol of solidarity.  A symbol stating that we are outraged along with you, Black America.

Today, right now it serves to silent black voices and coopt the pain and fear that rests heavy upon the hearts and minds of Black America.  We will never be the same.  The US has to change.  Right now, today I pray we feel the pain, the anger, the hurt, and the fear.  I pray that there is capacity of the liberal, progressive white America to hold on, chill, and pause.  Ms. Martin’s son was denied justice.  Black America just received another reminder that the justice system we are all subject to does not include them.  The justice system is rooted in the racism, segregated past of this Nation.  I’m not Trayvon Martin. I’m part of the problem. I’m part of the dominant culture that oppresses & binds others to injustice for my benefit.  It is terrifying to be here today.  I honestly pondered the thought of quitting.  I want to run away and hide.  I worry about what confronting the pain in your eyes will do to me.  See I make it about me.  If it is about me I can dismiss it or seek to mitigate the injustice.  This is privilege.  The same privilege that killed Trayvon & found his killer not guilty is the same privilege that would allow me to quit and walk away.

There are at least two United States.  There are two kingdoms.  These boundaries are clear as day.  Those in the power like to define the conversation as a have and have not.  The power likes to deny the tined color bias that segregates the nation in to “US” and “THEM.”  US gets to define the rules and cries foul when THEM gets nearer to justice.

Outside of this I have nothing.  Talking about the body seems inappropriate today.  But it matters.  The body matters.

Creep

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Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!  For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you.  Draw me after you, let us make haste.  The king has brought me into his chambers.  We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.

I am black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.  Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me.  My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!

Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who is veiled beside the flocks of your companions?

Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.  We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.  While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance.  My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh that lies between my breasts.  My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi.

Ah, you are beautiful, my love; ah, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.  Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely.

Song of Song 1:2-7, 10-16

“I am black and beautiful”, She speaks, contending that her beauty is not a product of her station in life.  She challenges the upper class concept of beauty being attached to ones living conditions.  The higher ones social status is the greater their beauty must be.  She is setting up her beauty as independent of her social status.

The use of “and” eliminates the possibility that her blackness is a condition.  The world wants her to use “but” here and make her blackness a hindrance to her beauty.  That she is beautiful in spite of her blackness.  This would make her love an aberration, under a special clause.  Therefore, her love would not challenge the status quo.

This is further supported by the claim of theologian Cheryl Exum as she states, “Black indicates color, not race…Clearly the woman sees herself as both black and beautiful; the question is how beauty and blackness are related.”  Her beauty is not the marginalizing factor.  It is her blackness prescribed by her work in the fields.  This was something that lower-class women would have had to perform.  The question is about her breaking through the veil of social class.

This is where her beauty arrives.  She is beautiful because she has black skin, not in spite of it.  She is challenging the status quo.  She demands her lover tend to her needs.  She is unashamed in her description of her desires for her lover.  She is also bold in her assertion that she is black and beautiful.  She will not let the daughters of Israel direct her in social decency and decorum.  She is beautiful in her departure from marginalization and into her lovers waiting arms.  She becomes a symbol of liberation.

The passage as a whole takes on new light when viewing it from the hermeneutic of rebellion against the status quo.  It is her passion and desire to break free of her constraints.  Be they social, political, or religious she is willing to leave it all behind to enter the chambers of her lover.  She fears not the penalty of her actions.  She is undaunted and unapologetic in her pursuit of him.

Neither is he ashamed.  He receives strength as she pursues him.  The world becomes more focused and clear.  His longing matches hers and a true union of souls emerge.  This inspires the host of witnesses to long and marvel at this love and urn for this kind of passion.  To hunger to be free.  Liberation dances upon their lips and their hearts ache to break free from the status quo.

What happens when we are taken up by this kind of passion?  As a reader, we become involved and invested with their love and soon long for it.  This becomes the standard to which human love is measured.  I cannot stop here.  Just as the woman of the Song of Songs challenges the status quo, we too must endeavor to resist conformity of the current depraved circumstance that bind us to status quo.  Preventing us from experiencing the full and consuming love of God, of each other.

It is here that we move from a passionate, impatient, lustful, desirous, and hungry human love towards something more.  We look to God, our beloved Creator, and the longing and desire present in the Most High and awaken to know that to be loved and hunger passionately for the love of God is to bear that same witness in and with others.  It is here we move from a literal interpretation into a mystical allegorical rendering of God’s divine love story with us the beloved creation.

Physical beauty in the Song of Songs lies in passion and desire that cater to eroticism.  The beauty of the woman in chapter one is defined by her longings and her experience.  Her pursuit of her lover adds to her beauty.  There is no checklist that asserts her beauty.

In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 beauty lies in the heart.  In verse seven we see God’s designation of beauty as, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”  Here we see that it is not the things that are said or done.  Rather it is the heart that provides beauty.

This is then countered with a description of David in verse twelve, “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  This contrasts verse five of the Song of Songs in its declaration, “I am black and beautiful.”  The outward appearance of David is beautiful.  This vision of beauty is determined by the beauty of David’s heart.  It is not necessarily David’s outward beauty that is visible, but David’s heart radiates externally and is witnessed as beauty.

As it is the woman in the Song of Songs desire to strive against the status quo that provides her beauty.  So too David’s beauty lies in his unique circumstance.  He is smaller than the rest and is not thought of as one that could be anointed.  The Lord does not see as we see.  Beauty to God is present in motivation and in the divine creative process in and of itself.

We find an entirely different understanding of beauty in Proverbs 31:10-31.  The Song of Songs idea of beauty yields a poetic list of inspired qualities in comparison to the love felt and yearned for.  Proverbs has a checklist of attributes that are ascribed to what a beautiful woman will exhibit.  Her beauty does not lie in passion and untamed actions and desires.  The beauty of Proverbs is rooted is practical chores that tend to the status quo.

In verse ten we find, “She is far more precious than jewels”, in verse twelve, “She does him good, and not harm”, verse thirteen, “She seeks”, verse fourteen, “she brings”, verse fifteen, “She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household”, verse sixteen, “She considers”, verse nineteen, “She puts”, and in verses twenty-two and twenty-four, “She makes.”  Her beauty lies in her actions that care for and provide for the husband and family.

She is not idle or unkind.  She speaks wisdom and is strong.  Physical beauty is considered vain here.  Charm or persuasion is deceitful.  The beauty of the Song of Solomon would not be tolerated in Proverbs.  It is deplorable.

We have three different perspectives on beauty.  One is passionate and representative of the human spirit.  It challenges the law and demands to be noticed.  The next is calm and peaceful.  It is patient and kind.  It sooths quietly and demands little.  The last is also demanding and representative of works.  It is practical and abides by the law.  They all describe beauty none the less.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Love of beauty is taste.  The creation of beauty is art.”  Beauty is as beauty does.  Go and be artists in the world.

Intervention

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I am weathered but still elegant,
 oh, dear sisters in Jerusalem,
Weather-darkened like Kedar desert tents,
 time-softened like Solomon’s Temple hangings.
  Don’t look down on me because I’m dark,
 darkened by the sun’s harsh rays.
  My brothers ridiculed me and sent me to work in the fields.
  They made me care for the face of the earth,
 but I had no time to care for my own face.

Get up, my dear friend,
 fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
  Look around you: Winter is over;
 the winter rains are over, gone!
  Spring flowers are in blossom all over.  The whole world’s a choir—and singing!
  Spring warblers are filling the forest
 with sweet harmonies.
  Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,
 and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms.
  Oh, get up, dear friend,
 my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
  Come, my shy and modest dove—
leave your seclusion, come out in the open.
  Let me see your face,
 let me hear your voice.
  For your voice is soothing
 and your face is ravishing.

Song of Songs 1:5-6, 2:10-14

Recently my parents sent me a box.  It contained momentous that they or I had kept.  These momentous spoke of the things I had held on to of the last 25 years.  It is interesting to explore the things that once defined you, the things that you once held dear.

I spent a day unpacking this box, pulling out the carefully wrapped items.  An old tarnished brass bell that my grandfather once owned that used to adorn the wall of my teenage bedroom.  My high school letterman jacket that is still brand new.  I never wore it to school or since.  A tin of love letters and pen pals, that might have been love letters if I could have had the courage to articulate it as such.  My senior yearbook and an old photo album.

I spent the day carefully glancing at the handwritten notes throughout the yearbook struggling to remember the faces that went with these words.  These words of kindness.  These words of encouragement.  The world, our lives, were a wide open plain set before us to explore.

The youth in our voices only matched by the youth in our faces.  The brightness in our eyes illuminated our hope.  As the past has a way of doing, my time paused and reflection delivered me to yesterday.  The condition of my life with its stinging morsels of love.  Its delicious conviction of mind and moral fortitude.  The utter neglect heaped upon a body that worked like a dream and the inability to know what kind of gift we were really living with.

The photographs affirmed my thoughts.  The smoothness of our skin.  The absence of extravagant curves.  The ease in which smiles appeared upon our faces.  The delight that inhabited my heart in that moment pointed to the thin places present around us all as we ponder yesterday.  As we ponder what our bodies once were.

We were in those moments unaware of the power and majesty we possessed.  Our bodies and minds eluded the peace and strength we pretended to have.  Uncertain about who or what we really were.  The softness of soul coupled with the hardness of cultural separation.  Body image was a common theme we all sought to ignore.

Comparing ourselves to others.  Measuring up the best of others to the worst of our own.  Bombarded with what we needed to be beautiful, thin, popular, or loved.  It was never enough.  The confidence and hope that once filled our faces was replaced with dysfunction and secrets.

Like the popular zombie tale our once vibrant and healthy bodies were replaced by the mindless, flesh hungry slow waltz of creepers, walkers, and garden-variety zombies.  Obsessed with staying young.  Youth is a high desired commodity.  Ignoring the natural process ones body descends.

In her article titled, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” Mary Schmich offers us a series of folky, wise tidbits of advice.  Such as,

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

 

“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”

I read these 17 years later and realize the truth and value in her words.  It’s like finally getting the punchline from those jokes your uncles used to tell each other.  There is a power and beauty to our youth.  Our bodies are amazing.  They are indeed the greatest instruments we will ever own.  We do not realize how beautiful and amazing we are.  It is God whispering in our ears, “You are more beautiful than you imagine.  You are made in my image.  You are beautiful.  You have my eyes.  My lips.  My heart.  You have my love”

Earlier this year Dove got together a group of people together and a police sketch artist.  The artist first meet with folks and asked them to describe themselves.  The artist drew what they described.

As everyone waited to meet with the artist they hung out with each other.  They got to know each other, laughed, shared stories of themselves, and built relationships.  Then the police artist met with the other people and asked them to describe their newly acquainted friends.

They described the power in their stories.  They described the beauty in their eyes, their lips, their smiles, and their face.  The artist sketched what they shared.  Then the individuals that were sketched were brought to look at the two sketches side-by-side.  Tears flowed as they all realized that they were not what they thought they were.  Beauty leapt from the sketch others described of them and beauty hidden in the sketches that they themselves described.  They were more beautiful than they imagined.

The PC(USA)’s Brief Statement of Faith says, In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.  But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator.  Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

Being beautiful is a reflection of who we are.  It is our fearfully and wonderfully made inheritance as children of God.  The Song of Songs offers us a portrait love.  A celebration of the body.  We read Song of Songs and explore the passion, image, identity, expression, wholeness, and beauty of our bodies.  These mortal coils are more than reflections of dominate culture bound in violated images of God.  Our bodies are the liberated reminders that we have the courage to unmask the idols of culture and faith and live in to the sacred call of Christ to love and be peace.