Being scared can actually help us see

A lot of my friends find the Enneagram useful for gaining personal understanding, discipleship, or team building. For them (and maybe you), it’s useful to know that I’m a 6w7 (six with a seven “wing”) – which among other things makes fear extremely relevant to my process which one can also describe as a need to feel secure. What makes me scared? Lots of things – the dark, flying, heights, public speaking, ticks, fire, snakes, the ocean, dead bodies, gaping wounds, selfie sticks…and lots of situations including but not limited to meeting people, forgetting someone’s name, that someone is mad at me, my wife’s driving, that someone doesn’t like me, conflict, and talking to people that I have known enough to say “hi” to but not much else for over a year.

Knowing what frightens me doesn’t make me stronger, it makes me feel weak – like I have less agency to change myself or a situation. Fear can show us space where God might want to work. I do have an instinct to avoid when I’m afraid, but the stronger instinct I have is to attack what I fear. I end up in some funny/awkward situations as I try to work it out. I wonder if all this being scared means I’m weak, or if it can help me see. I hope that I’m like Tris (Divergent books, films) who is told “fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up.”

Especially since 911, fear is our national state of normal. Do you remember that for ten years we lived under “Code Orange” and other constant messages of scarcity, fear, and threat? I don’t think we ever got to live in blue or green – it was always elevated. When the people are afraid, the powerful can do all sorts of wildness with little resistance and help from the masses to quiet the dissent. The War on Terror, Abu Ghraib, lynchings, militarization of the police, Guantanamo Bay…how long will we endure?

The national consciousness got tested this week when 170 bikers were charged in connection to a shootout that killed nine humans. We were so not scared that I heard about the racialized coverage and police behavior before I heard about the incident.

What actually frightens the national consciousness? Remember 2010 when people were terrified that group of black teenagers could easily turn into a flash mob like a wildfire? Consider just a year ago when people I know told me emphatically about how the “knockout game” made them not want to live in the city anymore and vehemently fought with anyone (verbally or via keyboard, of course) who said that knockout was a racist myth made up by media or anything contrary that we should fear that the black kids we see are probably about to will punch us in the face for fun.

The national consciousness does not fear that we might actually lose our soul for not helping Nepal that much (in relation to say…military spending post 911) while we continue the War of Terror. I believe most people aren’t afraid of “real life Sons of Anarchy” because their bloodbath didn’t threaten white supremacy or security of white privilege. Ferguson did. Baltimore did. The movement of people, mostly citizens, pointing out a character flaw with the fabric of American society does.

Can a lack of healthy also point us towards where God might want to work? If we can listen to the fear, and admit what scares us – I think we’ll learn a lot about our heart, where we’re really at, and have some conscious space for the Holy Spirit to do some work on us – whether it’s comforting us, healing us, or empowering – we are called into embodying alternatives. Understanding who benefits from unhealthy levels of fear in the national consciousness not only points out where we are sick, but where Jesus might be showing up to either calm the storm or flip tables.

Working out solutions in this dissonance between desensitization and being swept up in lucrative anti-black media campaigns can be really maturing. I think our anger can get misplaced if we’re not careful. There are people out there who I think want to embody a different reality with the Holy Spirit – one that can see past the veneer of a corrupt society with enough possibilities left can be One with God and each other. Our invitation must go deeper than consciousness, awareness, or enlightenment – Christ has opened eternity. I want to be transformed together into a community that can speak and act in our moment in time with a compelling demonstration that has an answer for “what next?” by being. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to fill our sails so we can do more than avoid fear – we can gather the afraid ones and the angered ones to show the fearmongers Christ’s love that does a lot more than cast out fear. We are about the celebrate Pentecost on Sunday – let’s see if we can allow it to be really special – come be with us at 2007 Frankford 5PM or 7PMThe Holy Spirit forms us into a community that can get deeper and fuller than media problems, social constructions, worries, wounds, and conflict because we Jesus is with us and Jesus is leading us. This reality is better than the one we can make by voting and it needs to touch those who don’t know about it yet.

Feeling, healing, and embodying

Philadelphia has been in touch with suffering this week. The Phillies (for a day) had the worst record in baseball and Utley can’t get over .130. We marked the 30th anniversary of the state firebombing a whole block with impunity (until a civil suit in 1996, no criminal charges). Less than two miles up the road from me a train going 106 in a 50 went off the tracks, killing at least seven and injuring over 200.

I spent a few minutes near the scene yesterday morning, but couldn’t get close enough to see too much. I did see the looks on many faces of people who had been there for a while. Whatever prevented me from really feeling it before then was removed. Reading stories, seeing helicopters, and understanding numbers got me interested and sort of vaguely sad, but I drove away from the scene in tears.

When Scotty wrote We Are All Lepers Here he had been studying leprosy, a misunderstood disease. Rather than being a disease that makes limbs and whatnot look gross and fall off, it’s a neurological disorder caused by bacteria. The disease often makes one unable to feel – at least certain parts of the body, thus not pulling one’s hand away from a candle while sleeping or attending to early infections. As a metaphor for the Body of Christ, the song asserts that in order to feel the pain of the Body – we need Jesus to help us feel again rather than just “tending to our own.”

My brilliant friend Randy Woodley takes this body image a step further in his book Shalom & the Community of Creation that it’s not even just Jesus’ followers that He made us one with, through discipleship Christ restores us back into a natural harmonious rhythms as part of creation.

How I wish more of us in the US could feel the sting of Nepal’s earthquakes this month. Over 8,000 are dead from the quakes, aftershocks, and tremors. That number doesn’t register very easily with us but when experts say over $5 billion in damage (over 25% of their GDP) we sort of get a better sense. If we felt it – I’m not just talking about tears, now – couldn’t we shave a little off of the federal $600 billion “defense” spending to help out?

At my cell’s meeting this morning, we talked about how depressing it can be to learn or think about some of these situations and facts – feeling isn’t always our problem in the same way. Rather than feeling our limits as in a place to reach out for God we feel powerless and often ambivalent about faith. I know what that’s like, I’ve even described it as feeling too much.

If you have that kind of sensitivity today I hope you can allow that to be a space for you to acknowledge Jesus – the very sensitive person of God. Not only does Jesus come into the suffering of the world, He offers hope that our work is not in vain, that doing our small part is worth it, and that being faithful to the cause makes ripples throughout time that we can’t even fathom yet.

If you are not feeling very sensitive to some of these issues (or others), I hope that space can also be ripe for Jesus to bring some feeling back into your body. I hope that your emotional and spiritual scabs might fall off or that God will touch you and you’ll help pull the proverbial hand off of the hot stove before it gets too badly burned.

We are all connected in this great big Community of Creation, and those trying to walk with Jesus can have a richer sense of what it means to feel pain as well as heal and to shine hope in the face of despair. There are a lot of folks who want and need to be made alive again. Let’s embody what it looks like to be a people who bring hope to the challenges of our day.

Seeing the tracks of the Mother

First something about fathers. My friend Eric often tells soon-to-be fathers about one of the gifts fathers bring to the life of the family. The father chooses to be in the life of the child. Many expecting dads don’t quite grab the reality that the baby in utero is a precious human that they are also responsible for. Usually by the time they hold the newborn something has clicked.

Mothers don’t usually have that luxury. As the child grows and develops within them, a woman experiences direct change and acute awareness that new life abounds. They go with the Good that is given much sooner and often longer.

I’m grateful to have so many great mothers and aunties around me. I’ve never lacked. I’ve been shaped by the work the most by my own mother and my wife, the mother of my children. We’ve raised our kids in a community full of mothers – women who both gently nurture and fiercely protect. My mom has always inspired me with her growing faith, hospitality, and adventurous spirit. Whether it’s making a new friend or being someone I could be my honest self around even as a teenager, my mom helped me become a person who cares about authenticity, character, and honesty.

Martha is the kind of person that you would think never gets sick because of how trustworthy and reliable she is. She’s devoted to the cause and is the kind of person to take a lot of talent and work harder than anybody to refine it. She’s tender when our children fail and always there to help them get back up.

I’ve had a number of conversations over the years about reclaiming feminine imagery for God or friends feeling the need to de-dudify their God image for a season. Most of the time I’m talking about people trying to work something and heal. Every once in a while, I think someone is feeling anti or thinking that if God is Mother (and their mom was a pushover) than being disciples of the Mother means you don’t have to clean your proverbial room anymore or call for a sammich if you’re hungry.

I love what my Jackson based friends theillalogicalspoon did with Hosea’s prophecy in their song Mother Bear, a good Mother’s Day anthem.

how long, o Lord?
we’ve seen Your tracks,now show us
Your claws. roar again and save us all.

Lately I feel mothers rising. Whether it’s the Black Spring, opening a business a week before the baby comes, teaching 10yr olds how to have healthy conflict, or helping their kids graduate…I’m feeling it. Thank you to all the women who have mothered me, mother me, and help birth & protect new things for God.

Awakening in a Force Sort of Way

I’m grateful because friend Greg turned my onto the live stream of the Star Wars celebration live today and I got to watch the debut live of the new teaser for the long anticipated (holding loosely on to hope) teaser. If you haven’t seen Han & Chewy or the crashed star destroyer or if these things don’t make your armpits sweaty than skip the next paragraph and read on.

Is it strange that I feel like I want to be part of the Star Wars thing? I don’t just want to enjoy the film, I want to talk about it with other nerds and pray without ceasing that Jar Jar Binks (or some similar nightmare), podracing, younglings, lack of actual characters or story arc, and terrible onscreen chemistry makes its way into this new rendition like it did on the prequels. I want to celebrate it, enjoy it with my friends and familiy, and look forward to more – maybe even go to the theme park based on the new films someday.

Lately I’ve felt even more strongly about wanting to be part of Jesus’ movement, forming a local 11149514_10152796716168657_1676257322379632346_nexpression in Circle of Hope. I sat at the long anticipated neighborhood coffee house with a mission Franny Lou’s Porch with a friend who I’ve known a little for a few years and wants to make something new with Jesus that is rooted in our time and place – incarnated even in the culture of the neighborhood, region, and watershed. The Compassion Core of Circle of Hope gate us earth-loving (and sweat-free!) t-shirts to show our neighbors not only that we love the earth but how the Holy Spirit is creating and renewing right where we are. We cleaned along with Philly – and expanded into South Jersey as a team.

As the Sixers’ season ends and the Phillies begin, I realize how much I like to be associated with them, too. I want to wear their gear and know what’s going on. I feel part of it, even though neither Ruben let me get a good deal for Cole Hamels nor Hinke signed me as a point guard. I not only want to wear some CoH swag (I like being associated with Circle of Hope as a people and vision) but figure out how to create something new with the Holy Spirit together. Just this week when another covenant member passed on due to lupus, our youngest cancer survivor turned one and laughed hysterically in my arms. Our newest expression of Good Business actually opened! Our worship team taught us a new gospel song and young rappers excitedly took my card to book another show with us. One friend decided she wanted to make a covenant at the next Love Feast. Another friend worked out a strained misunderstanding at one of the gardens while others stood with the North Philly Peace Park. The little yellow flowers actually bloomed in my back yard.

At least as much as I feel excited about the Force Awakening in December in theaters worldwide, I feel an awakening among a people that feels like a force – the kind to be reckoned with. I’m really grateful to be on the team.

Would I really rather step on a Lego when we have this gift?

I feel like God gave me a gift this week. As I walked the four blocks from my house to my office, I lamented that the horse stables are recently all gone and now there is a big hole. I don’t even know what’s going in there, but likely some kind of expensive new housing. With so much of that going on, it kind of irritates me. My mind easily goes towards the character of our neighborhood being under threat by capitalists as well as friends and neighbors facing spiking rents and taxes moving them toward forced displacement.  And I feel some kind of way about it. I’d rather step on a Lego then be stuck in midst of the ugly parts of gentrification.

That much wasn’t the gift. Maybe my “default setting” tends to be pessimistic or I have a healthy hunger and thirst for justice & righteousness – but I feel the brokenness of Shalom. When I walked this time, I felt astounded by how much good stuff Circle of Hope has been generating or helping generate right here in the thick of it for over a decade. There are loads of people who are choosing to do more with their lives than make personal profit paramount – so many that I felt free to not condemn or damn the stuff that didn’t make it through my personal righteousness filter that day. I felt genuine gratitude.

Since Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness serves as our central story of why to do Lent, it’s is a good time to go back to Isaiah 40 or John 1 –

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

I have let Jesus transcend two of my bad instincts about this little prophecy about John the Baptist and the coming of the LORD. First – Isaiah talking highway doesn’t mean anything remotely like my conception of highway. Making the path for God did not mean putting up a toll road, a Cracker Barrel, Walmarts, oil derricks, or destroying the wilderness. It’s closer to the opposite. God is coming into the wilderness and we are preparing more for ourselves to participate (does God need a highway??) in the wasteland. The inside-out, upside down, and sdrawkcab way of God’s fullness gets realized in and through Jesus. Advent prepares us for His coming, Lent gets us into the wilderness with him.

Putting too much of a highway takes over the wilderness. My other bad instinct was to think that the coming of the LORD meant the wilderness is gone because of the stuff about mountains and valleys and plains. Maybe that would mean Jesus coming meant injustice was over or that I don’t have to suffer anymore. It’s the injustice and suffering that are the precise location for where Jesus comes to save and erode. My preparation does not mean it no longer hurts – but I have hope in the rising tide of Christ’s redemption project.

The US War of Terror reached a dubious milestone – over 1 million dead in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. We talked about some of the havoc that drugs (legal and other wise) wreak the other night at Doing Theology. God gave me this gift like a lovely wave – one that I could ride if I concentrated on it. It’s like surfing in Atlantic City. I can think about the pollution, predatory poverty profiteers, or grandmas chained to slot machines. That wouldn’t be bad – but then there’s this wave. I can ride it – but I’m going to need to focus. And it’s fun.  And I still want to work for justice. And I’m grateful for this gift today.

When Malindy Sings

I had a great moment in class the other day when we took turns reading  a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, When Malindy Sings.

Below is the poem.  I wasn’t too excited to read it out loud.  I was the 3rd or 4th person to give a stanza a whirl.  For some reason, I thought I didn’t deserve to be reading it or something.  Trying to put together the phonetic words (in a heavy dialect that I am not that familiar with, etc) without channeling Mammy or some other wild representation of people of his day.

It was pretty cool to do it with my classmates.  This poem is a great example of how

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

G'way an' quit dat noise, Miss Lucy--
Put dat music book away;
What's de use to keep on tryin'?
Ef you practise twell you're gray,
You cain't sta't no notes a-flyin'
Lak de ones dat rants and rings
F'om de kitchen to de big woods
When Malindy sings.

You ain't got de nachel o'gans
Fu' to make de soun' come right,
You ain't got de tu'ns an' twistin's
Fu' to make it sweet an' light.
Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy,
An' I 'm tellin' you fu' true,
When hit comes to raal right singin',
'T ain't no easy thing to do.

Easy 'nough fu' folks to hollah,
Lookin' at de lines an' dots,
When dey ain't no one kin sence it,
An' de chune comes in, in spots;
But fu' real malojous music,
Dat jes' strikes yo' hea't and clings,
Jes' you stan' an' listen wif me
When Malindy sings.

Ain't you nevah hyeahd Malindy?
Blessed soul, tek up de cross!
Look hyeah, ain't you jokin', honey?
Well, you don't know whut you los'.
Y' ought to hyeah dat gal a-wa'blin',
Robins, la'ks, an' all dem things,
Heish dey moufs an' hides dey face.
When Malindy sings.

Fiddlin' man jes' stop his fiddlin',
Lay his fiddle on de she'f;
Mockin'-bird quit tryin' to whistle,
'Cause he jes' so shamed hisse'f.
Folks a-playin' on de banjo
Draps dey fingahs on de strings--
Bless yo' soul--fu'gits to move 'em,
When Malindy sings.

She jes' spreads huh mouf and hollahs,
"Come to Jesus," twell you hyeah
Sinnahs' tremblin' steps and voices,
Timid-lak a-drawin' neah;
Den she tu'ns to "Rock of Ages,"
Simply to de cross she clings,
An' you fin' yo' teahs a-drappin'
When Malindy sings.

Who dat says dat humble praises
Wif de Master nevah counts?
Heish yo' mouf, I hyeah dat music,
Ez hit rises up an' mounts--
Floatin' by de hills an' valleys,
Way above dis buryin' sod,
Ez hit makes its way in glory
To de very gates of God!

Oh, hit's sweetah dan de music
Of an edicated band;
An' hit's dearah dan de battle's
Song o' triumph in de lan'.
It seems holier dan evenin'
When de solemn chu'ch bell rings,
Ez I sit an' ca'mly listen
While Malindy sings.

Towsah, stop dat ba'kin', hyeah me!
Mandy, mek dat chile keep still;
Don't you hyeah de echoes callin'
F'om de valley to de hill?
Let me listen, I can hyeah it,
Th'oo de bresh of angel's wings,
Sof' an' sweet, "Swing Low,
Sweet Chariot,"
Ez Malindy sings.

The next thing

This next week is quite a transition time.  I’m hanging with my kids a bunch so Martha can finish getting Circle Thrift ready to move to her next home, less than 2 blocks up Frankford Ave on Labor Day-lots of room still for you to help out with the “human chain”.  Tuesday we begin the renovation of our current spot at 2007.  Wednesday I start classes at Temple.

And if anyone can teach me basics about iPhoto and other cultish mac programs that would be cool, we won’t have other reverse images anymore here.