Experiencing another Holy Disturbance on the lake

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I love living in the city. Between Buffalo and Philadelphia it’s been 3/4 of my life. I love people who learn how to share, the convergence of cultures, the creativity, and the ability to walk/bike to most places I go. I don’t love various forms of pollution we have to adapt to, especially light pollution. It makes the stars really difficult to see.

I learned three important disciplines that help me stay even though I’m privileged with the mobility to live in another context. The first is to take care of whatever creation I’m living on. That started as spider plants in the house, then growing herbs in pots and now into a backyard garden. Secondly, take advantage of the open/green space we have. Play outside. The third is to leave regularly and enjoy God’s creation in the larger region. This past week I got to enjoy two separate trips to the Poconos – one for a wedding and the other for a two-day mentalizing session with the other Circle of Hope pastors.

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I took this pic while thinking about this stuff

My cell talked about two concepts that came to me during an hour chill session on the pastors’ trip while we met at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning. While sitting on the edge of a small lake yesterday, I enjoyed the stillness of the water. It reflected the glorious autumn spectacular of the trees as well as the sky full of chubby clouds. The reflection almost looked like the real thing until something would disturb the water. I think I can sometimes enjoy a copy or reflection of something so much that I almost think it’s the real thing. That might be like listening to a good podcast and imagining I’m in Antarctica or watching my indie sci-fi thrillers and wondering which one of us is a cyborg. While reflecting the Goodness of God is important, we need to experience God directly in order to make a good reflection.

I decided to experiment with the acorn sitting next to me, tossing it into the stillness and got a nice thumpk, producing a perfect circle that rippled out smaller and smaller. I imagined that ideas can be like that – those within the blast radius of it’s goodness feel the big waves, further away you don’t really get it. Experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is kind of like that, too. We all feel the Holy Disturbance at one point or another, but most of the time we stick to our conditioning and miss the big ripples. We can easily stay behind our screens, fixate on our anxieties, and keep the earbuds in while doing whatever we need to do for comfort and privacy. The ripple doesn’t move us.

When we learn to open ourselves to the experience of God’s Spirit through worship or prayer, we can become like water still enough to be moveable. We don’t just feel the little ripples or reflections, we experience something that makes us want to joyfully throw acorns.

As we gathered in our weekly face-to-face time, I think we all got some strength. It’s wasn’t just putting gas in the tank so we can do normal life, it’s being present to the reality that a once caged birds have been set free to fly and are soaring. It honestly excites me to worship together this Sunday, when Preston & Ellen have been developing a liturgy for us to be able to draw near to God together. I imagine 200+ covenant members getting together later this month for the Love Feast and my heart is further warmed. I want to live where the Holy Spirit is disturbing me and moving me. There’s nothing quite like the real thing.

Rod at one month and change

Version 2The other day Rod wrote a piece on his blog about Rachel Sensenig as our new pastor. What he neglected to talk about is himself. Rachel and Rod spent the past few months “teaming.” I used quotes because of a double entendre. In one sense, they had the unusual distinction of both being primarily assigned to our congregation at 1125 S Broad St. We normally have one full-time pastor at each congregation, even though our pastors are OUR pastors – the distinction is more about focus than limits. Teaming also describes a fullness of life – like creation in Genesis 1 & 2. The possibilities, potential, and time for change made for a rich season that we all have enjoyed.

Rod also has a “baby” job, in a way. Even though he has been doing development pastor work in Circle of Hope from the beginning, let’s not take the change we have perpetrated too lightly.

Rod is not the pastor stationed at 1125 S. Broad anymore. He and Gwen sat in the third row last week and people noticed – even commented on it. He is not going to be “up front” all the time, just some times and at other sites, too. He’s not going to be at all the meetings, helping all the leaders, or finding his way into places he needs to be like he used to. He does not have the wheel of the ship. He is not going to be the first person people on South Broad call after their cell leader, even though we’ll still be able to get to him when we need him. He is not gone, he is not retiring or semi-retiring now or in the near future. What a gift!

It is a big change for us, and let’s not forget it is a big change for him, too. Like he has repeatedly said, being pastor is great. God called him into a new role and we all have made that happen, but it comes with some losses as well as blessings.

I think we should get excited about what we have done. Usually the founding pastor dies in his position, like the pope. He finally disappears one day and people have to decide what life is like without him. It often causes such disruption that the church never recovers, fully. We did not do that and Rod did not want to. Instead he did something that you really need to pay attention to. He gave up what he loves and has known with us for two decades and took a role that is more about serving others behind the scenes than relating to everyone.

Don’t be dismayed, he’s still with us and still energizing our whole church, but on a smaller playing field with a lot less of the hand-on pastoring he loves so much. We are attempting to unleash him in a new role and assign him in ways that employ his unique gifts in our system to help us all develop. God has called him into more praying, more counseling, more systems work, more leadership development. And we are glad to pay him for 4/5 of a week to do it. 4/5 of Rod’s week is quite a bit, in case you have not been following him.  It is not like he hasn’t always done those things, but it is not the same. We are better off for the change, even if some of us will think it is weird to see him in the third row for a while until we get used to it.

Conflict can generate beauty

Photo by Jack Fusco

I got to take a quick trip up through Ontario last week. My family and I got to experience the beauty of the Niagara River, Niagara Falls (including the Hornblower!), and maybe best of all – we laid on the shores of Lovesick Lake and observed the Perseid Meteor Shower. We didn’t even know it was going to happen, I think my kids just thought it was Canadian magic or being 2hrs from a city and light pollution. The reason we can see such glory is not because junk is falling from space onto us – it’s because the earth swings through a bunch of rock/debris in our orbit each year around this time. It’s conflict. The earth is coming through, and the bits (like a tiny asteroid belt) pass into the planetary orbit and turn into fireballs and “wakes of light.” Spectacular.

We experience conflict every day. Most of the time we don’t get too emotionally involved and we find solutions easier when our defense mechanisms don’t take over. I find that when our emotions get to firing, we generally respond to threat in one of three ways: avoidance, assertion, or combustion. These categories aren’t scientific or anything but can generally describe most reactions.

Jesus lived in the middle of conflict. Besides the overlay of Greek/Roman empire influence, his tribal life existed during a spiritual reform as well as survival movements in the face of warrant kings and economic disparity. As he gathered folks from many walks of life, he also created conflict. Whether he called disciples out of their collusion with the states, out of their family business, or from under a fig tree, Jesus moved people to make changes. That meant leaving job, family, etc – not easy stuff to walk away from.

I have been enjoying a lot of conflict lately that Circle of Hope lives in. I think we have the vitality and centeredness to discern the Holy Spirit and move with God – that’s what this whole Second Act thing is about. We are trying to move beyond what has worked so far and change. I think our leaders have shown a lot of courage thus far. Each of us has to do our own processing about this particular threat. I hope we don’t just avoid it, I think that would be the worst. Combusting or asserting both keep us moving.

Our Compassion Core got about 120 of us to meet up at 9pm the other week at the future

Photo by Amanda Capasso

headquarters for the Phila Police to remember Mike Brown and other victims of racialized police brutality and to pray in a new era of justice in our city. We prayed for police (especially those who don’t wan to kill anybody, don’t want to stop & frisk, etc), for leaders, for those involved in the numerous stories we read, and for God to wake us up with justice. I think getting somewhere at 9 pm created conflict, so did the racial focus of the event, as well as not blindly siding with the authorities. About half the people who went didn’t RSVP on Facebook – maybe they are not on FB or maybe they didn’t want it on their feed because it was about Jesus or Black Lives Matter. I had a few combusting conversations about it, especially if I enumerated that last sentence. I felt the assertion more than anything – over 100 people feeling moved to do a notable act of compassion that brought us together and made a statement in the world! That was spectacular – like the meteor shower. Conflict was beautiful.

Last Sunday my good friend Drew Hart spoke at our Sunday meetings (listen to it here). They went long, especially because he was helping people process how we are “Taking on the form of Christ in this racialized world.” I appreciate both his prophetic, truth-telling brilliance paired with a pastoral instinct to help people move along the journey from right where they are at. I could sense lights turning on as he pointed out how we can jump on individuals for saying racist things (like the Hulkster lately) because it absolves us – but it doesn’t see how we are being formed by a racist system that produces the attitudes. By getting at the system, with the hope and power in Jesus, we can make personal changes and move together to form something new every day (not just on Sundays or protest days).

 

I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of couples – married and about to be – in counseling sessions. We do a lot of work about communication and conflict. I get to co-captain an amazing baseball team that is full of conflict – every pitch. After a session with some business partners the other day, I felt grateful to be living with so many people who want to get at solutions – even if it’s in the middle of combustion. It’s quite a beautiful thing to want to solve a conflict with another person. After all, we live in a world where we send unmanned drones to blow up houses, people stab each other over a few bucks around the corner, and Black men are being locked at astonishing rates. Getting beyond just intention and into transformative relationship with Jesus, the earth, and one another is still the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen.

When Philly Jesus makes real Jesus confusing

Maybe you haven’t heard of Philly Jesus (PJ). Mike Grant found the LORD as he describes as the stone that found me when I was at the bottom. From musical theatre to hip hop, dude has been into public performance for a while and into being a born again Christian lately. Stories differ on how/why this white boy put on the “Jesus jersey” but a following of 11k on Instagram and 3.7k on Twitter and pieces by the BBC point towards people paying attention to his antics.

This morning, he retweeted this Philly.com article that got me thinking more about how not cute I think PJ’s schtick has become. I thought a goofy white dude at Black Lives Matter protests or playing hockey at City Hall was endearing. Just imagining Jesus showing up in Philly is kind of cool. I also think Black Jesus is funny – especially parts with King BachI quickly went from “eh, that’s kind of interesting” to “SMH” for two big reasons. He began a $70k Gofundme campaign so he can buy a fancy car and go on tour to other cities. No doubt connected to likely funders, he went from mooching off of SCOTUS decision celebrations to deleting all his gay friendly posts describing his new rather rugged position against homosexuality (see that Philly.com article).

I think I’m learning:

People have to do a lot of work to take real Jesus seriously. PJ’s antics seemed to have swung people from “Heyo – Jesus is kind of cool” to “Oh, yeah. Christians are judgmental and they want money for fancy cars.” To spend time listening in prayer, studying the Gospel, or devoting your life to the Way of Christ is totally awesome. Did it just become harder to access in Philadelphia?

People will give money to something because it’s funny, because they think it’s cool, but are often challenged to share their heart and wallet with what’s most important to them. I’m grateful to be among so many dedicated partners in Circle of Hope who generously make love happen. I do not take it for granted.

If you want to be a Christian, you represent others with your opinions. If you try to be a public person or persona who claims to be a Christian, you probably represent more people than gave you permission to. Your political profile pics or memes that you share are more than personal expression. Feel the good that goes with being part of the Body and be as generous as you can as the nation processes change.

I talk to people whose only perceptions of Christians are Jimmy Swaggart, George Bush, the Pope, and/or some celebrity like Shia LaBeouf. Drawing closer to the heart of God through being formed into a people with a common purpose might sound more confusing than someone condemning immorality and asking for money to build their special building nowadays. Let’s keep demonstrating what it’s like to find our true selves in Christ. Let’s keep sharing the love that fills us. Let’s keep walking in the way that brings healing, justice, and peace in the land with our Creator who very much wants to keep the Redemption Project going.

 

 

Learning to climb while churches are burning

I got to have breakfast with people from two different states who each had a personal connection to Bree Newsome during last week’s US Social Forum. One was a mentor in organizing/activism and the other a friend of the person who taught her how to climb a pole for her action a few days ago. After reading her statement two days ago, I’m even more grateful for the Spirit and precision of what she did, what she said, and how she did it. I think we need to learn how to climb like Bree right now in some literal and many metaphorical ways.

As she was about to get arrested, Bree said You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today! Then she gets into Psalm 27 and eventually 23 on the video. Not a lightweight. Not a single act of one person (read her statement above) but a reflection of a group strategizing for how to empower communities to understand and resist white supremacy.

Recently eight black churches were burned in eight days. Maybe they weren’t all arson. Maybe they weren’t all acts to terrorize black people. Maybe they weren’t all burned down by white people. It might be a good time to rebuild – see theRebuild the Churches Fund. It might be a good time to remember that 2,000 black churches got burnt from 1995-2005. I think just rebuilding doesn’t get to the root of the problem or the root of the solution. 

Back in Philadelphia, Septa police admitted overreaching when a dad with his preschooler didn’t pay the fare and got manhandled, while still holding his daughter. We now know the rookies who killed Brandon Tate Brown and future officer involved shootings will have more info. Will that stop the attacks on young black men? 

I remember the first time I took a roadtrip through the South. I saw state buildings bearing a surprising

GA State flag from 1956-2001

symbol – the Stars and Bars. It was explained to me as both a “part of our history” from white people from various backgrounds and black people. Not everybody thought that history was worth celebrating – many felt like it was a twisted reminder of the Good Ole Days when humans were property rather than a “remember this so it never happens again.” As people around the country have been rallying for it to be removed and even put in a museum, I’ve been wondering about the outcome of that could be.

If South Carolina actually does have the two thirds legislative votes to remove the symbol from government buildings, what would that do? If I were a devious leader of that State, I’d take it down immediately so people would be appeased then business can go on as normal with a different symbol up. I’d do whatever it took to not change the systemic withholding of societal rewards and dis-advantage. That would be pretty devious.

For 28 more Clever Drawings Will Make You Question Everything Wrong With The World go to https://www.distractify.com/satirical-paintings-1197696130.html

I’m afraid that what may actually happen is even more devious. Pulling down the Confederate Flag turns us back to the flag we all should love…the American Flag. This flag hasn’t had such good PR since WWII. Leave that symbol of oppression and embrace the true freedom that comes from the US! This flag, for many, unconsciously serves as a remedy to the current ailment and gets forgiven for its own past and current atrocities. I think turning to another flag perpetuates the empire cycle – rather than breaking it with Jesus whose Kingdom doesn’t even have a flag.

Learning to climb like Bree takes some spiritual listening – to God, one another, and to people experiencing systematic violent oppression as well as doing something creative and Spirit-inspired about it. I’m grateful to be surrounded in Philadelphia and specifically at Circle of Hope by so many people that want to learn to climb, too. Wherever you are, it’s going to be hard work – so get the spiritual stuff from God because the journey is long.

Junteenth 2015: freedom has its delays yet hope prevails

A bunch of my friends are so-called white people. In the past few days on Facebook, several even warned people against talking racial politics on their feed or place of work. I generously assume they are trying to shut down the white people they know who want to deny that the Charleston Shooting continues a long thread of violence against Black people in the US. I want to think that because their white friends celebrated when George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson walked. By the way, the “I Support Darren Wilson” FB group has almost 90,000 members. I also wish stories of outrageous violence against black people would stop, and I think Jesus does, too. Until we get there, I can’t imagine Jesus not getting shot, abused, left out, and executed. I also cannot imagine Jesus not rising and forming an alternative.

Jon Stewart’s joke-free monologue last night is still blowing up, being liked and shared by all sorts of folks. I appreciated his connection that state violence abroad to “protect American lives” – including drone warfare, invasions and torture – with violence against American lives at home. He presumed “we” when speaking for the country. That was a bold move, and people like me don’t often want to think that we are part of the “we” that continues to commit atrocities against people part of a racial group because they are part of that racial group. Jesus forms an alternative while caring and acting with those who suffer, being present in the suffering and offering hope for something different.

Today we are able to celebrate Juneteenth – the oldest celebration of the end of racialized chattel enslavement in the US. You see, there was a few delays to freedom in Texas in the days before communication was so fast and accessible here. Most understand that the Confederacy didn’t officially recognize the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) until the end of the war (4/9/1865). It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that Texas came along. Imagine being part of the group who did not know about Lincoln’s decree or the news from the battle front only to find out that the law had made you free years/months before. I think there’s a complex array of anger & frustration to distain but gratitude, elation and celebration must have prevailed. During a week when #askRachel was taking over the emotional airwaves in the wake of the McKinney debacle, Juneteenth can be a day when Charleston has its full context with the emotions, memories, realities, and hopes that media outlets cannot give us and cannot take away.

Some powerful memes are also floating around today to clarify that the recent white supremacist murder rampage in an AME church’s prayer meeting was more than a random act of violence or one sick person’s twisted response to their delusion. We are still in conflict with a system that protects white supremacy and white skin privilege. The battles are still (Ephesians 6) against rulers, powers, and authorities both in spirit and in this world that are systemic, not just against individuals or people.

African Electro artist Young Paris’ post as of now has over 200k likes and 250k+ shares.

There are always exceptions to the general flow and other people are mistreated or rewarded. Symbols remain in prominent places particularly and powerfully serve as seen things to point to unseen ideas. Whether it’s on your t-shirt, a tattoo, the name of a street, or the flag above government buildings – we choose what we display/advertise/evangelize for a purpose. Take Jesus dying on the cross and using the symbol of the cross to identify his followers. What does the symbol mean to you and what does it mean to your neighbor?

From the Southern Poverty Law Center

Attacking a symbol can be as powerful as the symbol itself. Burning a flag is potent, open defiance. When doing anything symbolically, the act itself is open to interpretation. Sometimes the point is unclear or perceived as inappropriate or offense. Sometimes disrespect or questioning legitimacy is a step towards forming something new. Jesus’ defiance sometimes looks pretty assertive like standing up to turn your other cheek to get punched like a human instead of backhand slapped like a subordinate. Other times it looks like defeating the powers of sin and death and walking out of a tomb.

We are working with some real spirit, flesh & blood problems and I’m really grateful to be working out some spirit, flesh & blood solutions with so many people. We have opportunities to be formed by the Holy Spirit into a people that don’t need to just identify injustice, we can be part of the Beloved Community that demonstrates justice.

I have found that my hope in the Kingdom of God outshines my quest for freedom and justice while also being the solar power that runs it. The source of my hope is what fuels my activism or gives me the juice to want to stay in the game with such overwhelming opposition. I do not think the Church is a place to hide from the injustice of the world in hopes for a future just world. I have found that especially in Circle of Hope the church is a healthy soil polyculture for the Holy Spirit to cultivate resistance and restoration. Jesus didn’t shy away from hard conversations or avoid the people who disagreed with him. His hope was an opportunity for transformation that forms us into transformation agents for God.

The luxury of disturbance: meeting God in the liminality

Like many of you, I’m a rhythmic person. Actually, my flow probably feels more polyrhythmic. I live with certain cadences – whether it’s having breakfast with my children, using my own bathroom/sleeping in my own bed, meeting at Franny Lou’s Porch with my cell on Thursday mornings, getting to worship together on Sunday nights as a Circle of Hope, or being near internet/cellular service. I had the luxury of disturbance recently and God met me in some outside-my-usual spaces.

My seminary program, the Masters in Intercultural Studies through the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS), has a flow. As a hybrid learning program, my cohort convenes online for discussions and then face-to-face for a week or two per year. This time Wheaton College hosted us in their kind of fancy facilities (very nice!). I took major components of two classes – Missional Leadership and Human Spirituality, taught by two brilliant Native women who held space for a co-learning environment with about eight of us.

I decided to drive to Wheaton so I could visit my good friends in Pittsburgh (BB, Andy, and the kids), one in Chicago (Colleen), and see Dustin and the gang’s permaculture design experiments on 30 acres of family land in Canton, OH. It wasn’t the fastest way to travel, but now the Graces are equipped with hybrid technology I spent about $100 on gas over the 1,700 mile trip. I got to listen to Dune on audiobook, some tunes, and lots of quiet. It didn’t seem convenient all the time, but I enjoy spending time on the road – even though about 1/3 of it was out of TMobile’s service area so I was in a sort of cocoon. I enjoyed driving through Midwest thunder showers, mountains of PA, and seeing the funny t-shirts for sale in Indiana such as “Hoosier Daddy.”

I had to leave right after the class so I could make it back in time to help out with my kids’ school in their production of Seussical, Jr – again feeling disrupted. Being back home after being gone requires a lot of catching up to communications and happenings in the community, and being less available than normal for a few days can throw me off.

I wish I could distill the whole trip into something readable, but I guess if you’re part of my faith community you’ll be feeling it through the next season. In Jackie Ottmann’s Leadership class, we discussed how leaders can make space so people can experience change – often helping to create ethical space where we usually taste liminality. I hope that’s not too expensive of an anthropological word – basically it’s a time/space where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It can be that moment when the water is just about to/starts boiling…when it just became hot enough. Liminality is definitely disruptive to normal flow, but can be where the gritty grind of transformation happens.

This excursive week or so for me had it’s share of liminality and I’m glad that I was given the space to be able to get disrupted and be able to do something good with it. So often we as humans get stuck in patterns and pathologies that don’t experience disturbance outside of crisis. This break in my routine included enough time for reflection. I’m still digesting what God is saying – but I’ll say I’m grateful:

1.  to be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ – we can connect and work through stuff together and want to be directed by the Spirit. Lots of my friends don’t have it. So cool!

2. to have been raising my kids in a village of parents – whether or not one has biologically reproduced does not matter in village formation. As I see my creative middle schoolers rock their play, I can see the love and care poured into them by dozens of aunties and uncles in the church.

3. to have this luxury of disruption and the time to reflect about it – the flexibility in my schedule exists because of so many passionate and gifted leaders who also want me to grow and develop. Thanks for sending me to seminary and wanting to work out the disruptions I create because of it.

Baltimore in the Age of Ultron

I wonder how many of us will watch Avengers: Age of Ultron as it comes out this week. It’s probably going to break records. For many of Americans, the rising of an inhuman an evil trying to destroy the community is not only fictitious but entertaining to watch the fanciful nationalists defend us against it. Others see the Powers more clearly, like the apostle Paul offered in his letter to the Ephesians “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

In Baltimore, it shouldn’t be hard to see something dark allowing a 25yr old to get killed for running after making eye contact with law enforcement. Six cops are suspended with pay and the department admits they should have buckled him in while in custody as well as attended to his medical needs sooner, multiple times. Although I think seeing that white supremacy inherent in the system actually requires some work for many Americans. We see burning cop cars, angry black people, and the headlines filled with “riots,” “looters,” or worse. We don’t see the inhuman circumstances that lead up to the outbursts or even the “peaceful” protests after Freddie Gray’s funeral. As a society, we see the destruction of property before the destruction of human life or community.

As much as we can point out thugs overzealous fans rioting celebrating a little too hard getting reported differently reflects a majority public opinion, we know that crowds burning stuff because Joe Pa got fired for not protecting kids from his sexual predator friend is different than Baltimore. Baltimore’s unrest, riots, or uprising stands as a challenge to white supremacy. It might be easier for you to see people damaging stuff than it is to see dead people. It might be easier to make suggestions for how desperate people should act than to stay focused on what makes them desperate.

I’ve noticed more “unfriend threats” on Facebook in the past day than in the last half a decade combined. Many by white people who are trying to be clear that they will no longer tolerate sympathy for the state/property without empathy for another loss of a black human by unreasonable policing methods. I wish it didn’t shut down dialogue or cut of relationships-even virtual ones but I get it. We all have our limits.

I actually saw this picture in my FB feed yesterday. You can read most of the original post [that not only got taken down but the profile deleted] with some commentary in this article.

While I haven’t talked to or seen the poster in almost 20 years, you might think “how can you still have a connection with him?” While admittedly, the connection is thin but I hope he reads this post. I want to influence him. If he was in the Philadelphia region, I would want him to get compelled by Jesus to see a bigger world than he’s been exposed to and get in touch with a healing agent that actually forms something more powerful than even the atrocity-spawning Powers.

I think forming the Church with Jesus actually heals the brokenness of the world. I also march (why not come out on Thursday?), organize, make deep relations with different kinds of folks, live in an urban whatnot, practice peacemaking, village parent, etc etc etc. I see Jesus still out there getting pushed around and told to be calm while thousands of national guardsmen and riot cops move to restore “order.” We are still angry because it’s actually this order that perpetuates ultraviolence here and abroad and doesn’t bring justice. We still don’t know who killed Brandon Tate-Brown. The War of Terror isn’t slowing down.

My sense of the Age of Ultron is more than a film about techo supermilitary turned back on its perpetrator/creator (like so many of my favorite robot stories). In real life there are no Avengers, only those moved by the Holy Spirit to resist & restore. We have an opportunity to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit,  looking for something real in fiction while Jesus unmasks the fictions in reality. Let’s be considerate in our conversations and see. Maybe we can compel more people to come together and create something beautiful with our Creator even while we fight against the evil of our times.

Holy Week celebrates Exodus from Iron Cages and Freedom from Faith in Powers

While studying at Temple University, John Balzarini taught me about Max Weber (“VAY bur”) and the Iron Cage of Bureaucracy. I bet most of us are unfamiliar that the societal systems of dehumanization we’re so accustomed to ever did NOT exist. It’s normal for us to deal with bureaucracy (that no one seems to like, btw) all the time but since no one seems to be personally responsible we stay irritated and docile. “Just doing my job” is a close second to “just sayin'” in my book of irritating common phrases. Does one mean that since it’s only one’s job, they don’t have any agency to choose human interaction over blind obedience to abstract and unchangeable policy? Whether it’s  talking to an aggressive telemarketer, a Comcast tech support, Eichmann claiming he was solving a math problem, or most governments – at some point we feel that what’s right won’t be done for unimpressive reasoning.

Christian cake makers or fast food cashiers in Indiana have a new law so they don’t have to serve gay people because of religious freedom. Maybe a gnarly church spawned up as an unexpected application of the new legal freedom. Now that there is a law, we don’t have to relate. SEPTA lost a free speech case (they won’t appeal) so they will run anti-Muslim ads on 84 buses starting next week. They changed their policy for the future so no more political messages can be placed, but I doubt they are giving back the $30k to Stop Islamization of America out of protest. The law does not save us, neither does free speech. 

Jesus violates bureaucratic ties between religion and state – especially the economics when he thrashes an area of the Temple where non-Jews were allowed. In that area, exploitation of a rule to not use empire’s currency for worship was permitted. Someone asked me one time whether ArtShop was like that (holding a market of 50+ local artists in the building we use also for worship) or offering our music for donation was sort of like that because they heard megachurches have gift shops with lattes and dvds of the meeting you just watched. I think we are wise to be suspicious of weird practices of churches – but let’s also watch out for companies who make a buck off of your generosity. I am more suspicious of PayPal, who takes 3% of those electronic donations you might make to the church. Square Reader takes a little less, but was a big compromise for us to make available (cash, check, or Bill Pay cuts out the e-money changers on that gift).

Sometimes the law helps. 150 people (including a few from Circle of Hope) were in the Caucus Room at City Hall today for the release of the Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities’s new report: “Development Without Displacement: Keeping Communities Strong.” This coalition work has been going for almost a decade and helping Philadelphia to become the largest city to adopt a Land Bank might be some good fruit, the joy of connecting and working together will outlive any legislation. We all have certain bugaboos about laws or lack thereof – like the US Immigration Policy that just deported a Mennonite Pastor or Fracking in PA. Even with better legal stuff, even if everyone had everything they needed – would that kind of law save us? 

I don’t think it’s wrong or a waste to pursue justice together – often that’s opposing unjust laws and practices of the powerful. There is more to justice that just-sounding laws. Even if fracking was illegal in PA, we still have a limitless appetite for cheap fuel so we’d allow another practice that was potentially as dangerous to life – just not so close to home. The work needs to go down to a community level and even a heart level. I follow the Way of Jesus that frees us from faith in the Powers – the same Powers that will continue to perpetrate systems that dehumanize us and commoditize creation in one way or another. To escape from the Iron Cage is not merely awareness or personal holiness – we need to co-author with Jesus an embodiment of his world redemption project that began long ago. The social locus of this movement gets revealed during Holy Week. Don’t miss the story, it’s being written again through us.

The dress that out trended Trayvon and other things we can’t handle

Last Thursday bunches of my friends were talking/posting about the dress that broke the internet. I think that whole thing was fascinating. It was trending hard and even famous people weighed in on which color combination they saw. The same day, other friends of mine were talking about another “color issue” that wasn’t getting as much buzz in our national consciousness – the third anniversary of Trayvon’s death. The week after he NAILED IT with the Keystone XL veto, Obama was hanging out with Trayvon’s parents to commemorate the anniversary. That’s a nice gesture, but many of us are feeling the Spirit move us to more than sympathy – after all we still don’t know who killed Brandon Tate Brown on Frankford Ave!

Monday the execution of Kelly Gissendaner was postponed for a second time – the first one because of snow and this time because of an issue with the lethal injection pharmacist – supposedly. My friend shared this open letter to Georgia Christians yesterday that has some insight into her story as well as an appeal of putting a limit to the violence. Her case is really wild – and with so many under-represented people of color in the same system, I hope putting off this form of state sanctioned violence is a trend.

Today I read about Brett, the “Soldier of Christ” going back to Iraq with some other Americans vets to join the Assyrian Christian militia to fight ISIS. Not only is he Polish/Irish (yay!) but quotes Matthew 25 in needing to take care of the vulnerable in a day when the US left things worse than how they found them. I admire his courage and commitment, even though I have a different interpretation of how to live out Christ’s directive. Maybe you can feel the tension that I do – at least he’s doing something. It sometimes feels like I’m surrounded by a generation of people who hear about horror stories or know about injustice or oppression (more about it than any generation before) and the only response we can muster is to complain or do internet things.

When we are facing more injustice than we can handle, what do we do? When we are suffering does God care enough to move? At one of Circle of Hope’s meetings last Sunday night someone from my cell brought into our discussion this tension and asked if “God will never give us more than we can handle” is actually in the Bible. A friend who worked as a chaplain was quick with the clarification (1 Corinthians 10:13 – God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also provide a way out so you can endure it) as something about keeping our hearts from being set on evil rather than dealing with pain. Tye Tribbett even wrote a song about it.

I’ve heard people tell me that God gave them cancer to teach them something. I heard Ricky Gervais joke on his HBO special that God also gives AIDS to babies in Africa as part of bit about problematic Godviews. I think the advice “God will never give you more than you can handle” might be a useful self-help mantra at times but is probably more of a capitalist “buck up, cowboy” that got attached to the faith. I think that it’s nice to think there are limits to suffering and that Jesus cares about it. Rather than getting tougher, however, I wonder if we can get softer and let God in to care about us. Can we be tender enough to allow Christ’s compassion to move us to heartbreak with others? Can we be open enough to let the Holy Spirit deploy us to work for justice in some rather complex times?

Lent is a good opportunity to explore what we can’t handle. There’s a lot. I think Jesus was finding his limits in the desert, but with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be honest about those limits, those spaces where we feel the tension with courage and see if God doesn’t move a bunch of us to become a healing agent there.