When God said poop: prophetic theater and suffering through our collective sins

I’m not totally sure how I got on an Ezekiel kick, but I’m on one. While talking to a couple of cool pastors the other day at the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium in Philadelphia we got on the topic. They told me that they stick to Ezekiel’s “greatest hit” – the Valley of Dry Bones. The other week I dipped into this prophet while going through the story about the destruction of the cities Sodom & Gomorrah. God, through Ezekiel explains the sin of Sodom was that “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” If there ever was an Old Testament prophet with a one-hit wonder for pastors – it’s Ezekiel with Valley of the Dry Bones and its “B-side” about Sodom.

The prophet Ezekiel

Since got into chapter 4 the other week, I haven’t been able to leave it alone. The big WOW is after God explained that he was to suffer for the collective sins of the covenant people through a 390 then 40 day session of laying on the ground while eating meager food & water and “playing dolls” version of a siege playset. “Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” That’s pretty amazing. God says poop.

We could act like four year olds and stop there, but then we would miss out what is happening in the longer arc. Ezekiel, beginning his prophetic ministry in his early 30s is both re-enacting the sins of God’s covenant people and showing the future destruction of the city while he and his 2,999 other Jewish elites are in Babylonian exile. Through a very colorful display, God is trying to get his covenant people to deal with their collective sin – turning away from God as their king, moving out of being one people, and losing hope about their future. I think this is an engaging liturgical theater rife with politics, certainly causing problems but useful to God’s cause of restoring the covenant people back to the path of God’s harmony. Then comes a lot more preparation before the more popular word about Sodom and finally the dead dead dead things being made alive again.

I can’t help but wonder what God might be calling the covenant people in Jesus to do about our

One artist’s rendition of what Columbus Day is really celebrating

collective sins in North America. For starters, I’m concerned with the systems that benefit a small group to the exclusion of many trough the land theft/abuse and genocide of the people God made a covenant with about taking care of this land thousands of years ago and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and generations of rape and forced unfree labor of Africans. How long will our sisters and brothers in Christ shrug off dealing with this set of unreconciled brokenness with “you still talking about that?” “shouldn’t you just get over it?” or “it’s really not racial injustice any more – it’s really a class issue.”

I don’t think Jesus is laying more guilt trips, I think Jesus is empowering us to do something substantive about it. Through the work of the Creator of the universe, we are capable of experiencing a oneness with God/creation/one another that unravels these systems and forms a healing balm to the atrocities bringing us back to Shalom. Our question is less about whether we have the responsibility to deal with our collective sins. Our question has more to do with what we’ll do with our Spirit-filled imagination in the restoration of God’s Shalom.

Theatrics have been part of good protests as well as worship for a long time. I don’t have a high tolerance for regular worship to be overly theatrical, but I do love the occasional Christ-centered demonstration. Can using some symbolic acts – even costumes – help make a deeper point to people who might not otherwise pay attention or be interested?

I think for many of us, like Ezekiel, the process will include suffering – but not as much as those who already suffered. If we use our prophetic imaginations, at least the suffering will be productive and the theater fun. Since around two billion people use dung for fuel (including our boy Ezekiel) can we not also use the proverbial excrement of life (our collective sins, personal failures,  etc) to fuel the daily bread of change?

Three ways to turn up the Love during a violent week

On November 17, 1957 MLK was preaching in Montgomery [full text and lots of audio here] when he said “Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.” It’s actually pretty simple. I have a lot of feelings – some of which might be approaching hate and I need to check my heart.

I’m heavy today for Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, ISIS, and the United States. I am also feeling heavy about the situation around the violent conflict that put a gay couple in the hospital in Center City a two weeks ago. As I’ve been praying through (always wise) all the violence, I am trying to listen for God to direct me for how to respond rather than shoot from the hip all the time. Here are three things that I feel will turn up the love during a particularly violent week.

Turn up the good news, especially those that fly in the face of conventional hate.

One of my best friends leaves today on a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. You may want to read more about what Peggy Gish (working there now with CPT) had to say about it last week in her blog about a step to coming up with new strategies is halting the old, dysfunctional ones. I tend to think most things in the media [whether intentional or not] pull Americans away from the super military waging war for the windfall of profits for transnational corporations. Like so many other empires, if we have enough food to survive and something to keep us entertained we’ll tacitly go along with the bigger plan.

When ISIS cuts off heads on camera or gets headlines from Austrailia to Indonesia to Algeria, the US ramps up fear which increases our tacit approval of this horrible war. When we turn up the good news, God can use us to assuage fear that keeps the violence cycle going. Come out on October 7 to make some good news in the face of Drone Warfare if you want to be with a bunch of Philadelphians trying to do the same thing.

Before you put someone on blast, consider whether you are actually as confident as you are about to sound. It’s easy and often cheap to make blanket statements, stereotypes, and colorful remarks to get people to “like” your passionate status before we understand what we’re really talking about. As someone whose attempts to make space for more dialogue and often is dips into the rhetorical, I need to watch my mouth – and it’s hard.

I feel fortunate that it wasn’t too long after I read the “Meet the Three Worst People in Philadelphia” blog that I saw a beautiful statement by the victims. For some it’s tempting to dehumanize the victims by not listening to them as people by not taking their ask seriously.

Thank you to the  community for their help and support, as well as the Detectives who did a great job gathering details,” they wrote. “We are thankful the DA is working so hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again in Philadelphia. Finally, we ask you to keep your comments regarding the suspects respectful and non-hateful. Please show your support for legislation change protecting the LGBT community this Thursday in LOVE Park at 2 p.m.

For others it’s tempting to dehumanize the perps in all sorts of ways, by doing so alleviating our responsibility to make a more whole community. You may want to join the throngs of posts commenting on their parents, Twitter feed, zip codes, or work history – as if we know them, don’t think they can get better, and don’t think we are anything like them. I really appreciate people for zooming out even through the pain. Besides having an occasion to update PA’s lack of “hate crime” distinction for future violence prevention, some people are even taking a societal sense of responsibility in their anger. On a Raging Chicken Press post, Debra Leigh Scott pleads that the “reality is that Kathryn Knott [one of the suspects] is OUR child. She is the poster child of the kind of people born and raised in America. Fired in the kiln of inequality, elitism, prejudice, consumerism and fear, she is just what America’s schools, media and values create.”

We need to make more love. MLK was working with some Jesus in Matthew 26 when he was preaching above. Like him, I don’t want to go out as a person to die by the sword – whether it a physical or metaphorical weapon. Living by the sword is confusingLike when my cell was talking about how confusing violence in the Middle East is for us, Scott shared this little gem.

We need more lovers and we need them to outlove the haters and transform the bystanders. We need lovers who will demonstrate to others what it means to be a lover. We need love to dismantle systemic injustice. We need love to make our communities whole. What do you think we can do to turn up the Love this week?

As I finish the 2nd steeping of pu-erh (that was love-ly at least), I’m about to go hug my family and take them to celebrate the compassionate work in our community. Come on by if you want to be with some lovers tonight.

Four things for Christians to Never Forget on September 11

I was surprised by how many of my Facebook friends this morning were posting #neverforget. I looked at how it was trending and there were various politicians like Congressman Joseph Kennedy III referencing our “darkest days” and how we learned about defending and protecting. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a number of conversations around 9/11 with people I love that generate more anxiety than understanding over the years. I want to appeal specifically to those of us following Jesus to never forget a few things today because there is so much we could forget if we’re too ensnared by the status quo.

Today reminds people of their pain and sometimes brings hurt feelings back up. No need to be too terse or cynical on or about a day that many Americans – especially for people from the NYC area – find to be really sensitive. 

One time I had someone end a conversation about 9/11 with me by saying “I guess we just feel it more because we’re from around there” as a way to not question anything about the CNN version of the story. I’ve talked to a surprising number of people who lost friends, family or had their dad working in the building, or had a friend who was home sick when he should have been at his desk in one of the towers. For many Americans, it’s easy to feel belittled or get defensive as soon as dialogue begins. For people of Arab decent (also South Asians and others who might resemble Arabs to the ignorant) 911 was a watershed moment for an exponential increase of anti-Arab racism in the US and islamophobia.

We need to learn what to do with our pain so it doesn’t just hurt others. We have possibilities to mend, connect, forgive, listen, speak, and be heard. We also have the option to respond by inflicting more damage. Thankfully, there are many who allow their grief and loss to be transformed into something beautiful. This post from Shaner today about an event that we did a few years ago carries a potent message…”On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we hosted an event called ‘Jesus, Bombs, and Ice Cream’ and one of the folks who moved us with her testimony was Terry Rockefeller who lost her sister in the World Trade Center. She has used her pain to fuel a movement of victims working for peace.”

Today is a rally cry for both the war machine and the resistance. Perpetual preemptive war rages on. Statistics Brain, with their narrative, lists causalities of the day including in the towers, NYC, the flights, and in the Pentagon – it’s almost 3,000 deaths. Costs of War breaks out just the direct deaths in Afghanistan (21,000 civilians), Iraq (133,000 civilians), and the secret war in Pakistan (20,000-50,000 civilians).

Some of the resistance has a different rally cry, one that some find as offensive as others find slogans such as “these colors don’t run” or a certain Toby Keith song. One of my friends from high school worked on one of the early 9/11 Truth Films and one of my favorite rappers (who happens to be from Harlem) wrote a song about it [warning: lots of bad words]. I think there are a lot of ways to resist war making and war profiteering, I think the best is making peace with Jesus.

Jesus is making peace like it was His job as the church continues to fracture. Some fly American flags during their worship, others speak out for those oppressed by the military the flag represents, and others remain ambivalent. Even though it’s uncomfortable, I think we still need to be in the mix with Jesus – speaking and acting for peace. While we need to be in the middle of conflict, let’s be caring and as sensitive as possible; for God, for those who died and those are still hurting in the US, as well as those who seem further away but suffer no less. Working for peace is not just criticizing the fighting or being correct about an issue. It is cultivating possibilities for healing, respect, and justice.

we need the Prince of Peace

I think a bunch of you are already planning on going to the Shalom House Festival tonight at 2007 Frankford Ave (6:30-8:30, btw-that’s before Lost starts).

Shalom House

Besides dinner and learning more about who Shalom House is (and what they do), there will be time to share experiences about violence.  I hope that you might feel okay sharing your story-whether it turned out well yet or not.   Here’s one of my Philadelphia violence experiences.

The first time I was around 4th & Jefferson (in 1999 for psalters practice), Joey Getz and I went to the corner store for a Sunny D break.  While waiting in line, a man bum rused the cashier, hitting him in the face with the flat end of a pistol.  Everybody (6 or so of us) hit the floor immediately.

My first thought was “I hope he doesn’t rob me, too”-which is kind of embarrassing.  Then I hoped that he didn’t shoot anyone, especially Joey.

The robber left, and as soon as he was gone-so was everyone else in the store-with their items that they no longer were going to purchase.  Without really knowing why, I put back my Sunny D and asked the cashier if he was okay.  He had a trickle of blood coming down from his temple.  He was dialing 911 and said he was fine, and that we didn’t need to wait around as witnesses or anything.

I’m not sure it worked out good, yet.  A few months later several of us began a semi-intentional household at 5th & Girard, including a psalters practice room.  Now I have 10 friends living  less than a full block from the store.

I’m not sure what would be a good end to this story.  I did see Jesus move in towards the hurt and the danger, I saw the casting out of fear as I literally moved closer to where such an event happened.  Sometimes I wonder if I know the guy who did it or have seen him and don’t even know it.

(If that was you, thanks for not shooting anyone that day.  I hope you are in a better place now.  I’d love to meet up sometime and talk if you’re up for it.)

re: definition

Great day with the family, working in the yard and the house.   I am constantly surprised by how wonderful it is to increase the definition of different areas.  When my yard bleeds into one blob, it feels chaotic to be out there.

I get something inside when there are boundaries in the garden.  Different areas for different things.  Places where you don’t walk.  Weeds pulled up and other junk that collects between plants.  It feels so tranquil.

This is not my first post about such things.  But it is the first post about yard work when I thought of a song-not a ton of connection beyond me stealing the title.  This is a great video, too.

Cop:  [To Hi-Tek] “are you deaf?”

Tek:  “nah, he’s Def.”

Mos Def:  “he’s Hi-Tek.”

psalters spring 09 update

this is a cross post with the new handsome Circle Venture blog.

For psalters Jay Beck & Scotty Krueger, creating a working Philadelphia headquarters has been a challenge.  They spent the better part of the last five years living on a converted veggie oil-powered school bus with the rest of psalters travelling around, leading worship, leading seminars, and experimenting with Exodus.   Some of those travels were international, most recently Jay & Scotty attended the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous People in Israel & Palestine.   Christians from around the world gathered to worship in their traditional cultural styles of music, dance, and dress…it was a great time to learn and network and visit friends and various sites in the Jerusalem area.

Inspired not only to compose new psalms that bring together both worship and social justice, psalters are in the process of developing the Croatan Training Center & Studio located at 2007 Frankford Ave, the same building as our Frankford & Norris congregation meets.  Jay has already taught a series of West African Drumming classes so dozens of people got a taste of how transforming and fun it can be to learn.  The studio will not only be a place for psalters to practice and record, but also a resource to make connections with other musicians and friends.  The Training Center aspect will feature a library of cultural and theological books and videos as well as various classes and workshops by our team as well as other musicians from Philadelphia and around the world.  More from Jay on Croatan Training Center & Studio here.

The team has also been commissioned to compose and perform the music for a new play by Director Lear Debessonet and Playwright Lucy Thuber called Quixote.  “A site-specific performance based on Cervantes’ classic tale ‘Don Quixote’…this production re-imagines the intersection of art and its community” (from stillpointproductions.org).  It will run in Philadelphia this Spring, and perhaps NYC this fall.

The team continues to participate in local worship teams for Circle of Hope (including a special 9pm worship time at 1125 S. Broad St on March 22), as well as other local performances, seminars, and worship times.   This summer may feature a short tour in mid June that includes the Ichthus Festival in KY.

Circle of hope, croatan,  croatan training center,  ichthus festival,  israel,  lear debessonet,  lucy thuber,  palestine,  philadelphia,  psalters,  quixote, stillpointproductions,  wcgip world christian gathering of indegenous people

Law & Disorder in where?

Jenni got me watching this BBC special hosted by Louis Theroux called Law & Disorder in Philadelphia.  Below is the first of 6 parts that you can view on youtube, or on Jenni’s blog (link above).

I can’t help but feel a lot of things while watching.  It’s pretty good in the sense that I wanted to continue once I started.  Pretty brutal in that it portrays a dangerous and seemingly unsolvable cycle of poverty in violence.

If you live around here you might recognize some of the sights (maybe even people).   People around the neighborhood do act like this sometimes (and so do the cops), but the sensationalization bugs me.  People are going to look even crazier when they have such a narrow-viewed interrogater looking at violence in the city at one level.  It’s almost to say “this is why our city sucks” or “be afraid to live here because these people are on the loose.”

Well, our city does kind of suck sometimes.  I’d like to dig a bit further at some causes of poverty, Louis.  I’d like to explore why we’re not working together to keep illegal guns off the street.   I’d like to consider the American way of life that leads the “haves” to run to a place of relative safety, sometimes at the expense of the “have nots”.  I’d like some more options for people who get stuck in the ruts of their surroundings.

I guess it would be a boring movie to explore corporate profit on the street drug industry, sale of illegal handguns, letting neighborhoods languish before buying them up, etc.  At least boring in the sense that you don’t have a person with a crack addiction yelling into the camera to reinforce a lot of stereotypes.

The culture of violence or the cycle of poverty are not easily explained or solved.  We really do need Jesus in Philadelphia.

sitting next to strangers

I love how funny people are.  Most Americans from the US have this thing about sitting next to strangers, especially when eating.  It’s not cool.  Sometimes I’ll go to a restaraunt in Center City with Martha and we’ll sit 6″ away from strangers, and it’s kind of weird for a minute.  You see what they are eating, you hear part of their conversation.  You don’t talk to them, though (although I usually will ask them for sugar or something just to break the taboo).

Temple’s campus is the same way.  Generally, even at the picnic tables, if someone is sitting there alone they have the whole thing claimed.  Unless there are Eastern Europeans involved.

One day I was sitting there jammin to tunes and checking my email on the laptop and 6 Polish people practically surrounded me slowly, one every 3 minutes or so.  I was at their table now, but I was still wearing headphones and not paying attention (besides I only understand like 10 words in Polish, sorry Nani!).

Table For One photo by Baerbel Kavanaugh

"Table For One" photo by Baerbel Kavanaugh

Today a guy sat next to me at this table and kept looking over semi-discretely to watch 2 piece rock vidoes that I was checking out while I finished my lunch.  I almost wanted to give him a headphone so he could get a taste, but I didn’t.

We can live in such proximity with others and kind of pretend that they don’t exist.  Other places in the world that I have been to aren’t so much like that.  Why do we have this idea to “respect each other by leaving one another alone”?   I don’t really want to live like that.