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.

Getting lost: four steps toward spiritual renewal

I remember the first time I went on a personal retreat. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just knew that I needed to spend some time alone with God to get some spiritual resources to keep up with my preferred pace of life. I went to Cranaleith, and shared dinner with some of my favorite Sisters of Mercy.  My second time was actually harder. I went to the hermitage at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. I’m not sure I even had a cell phone at the time or a laptop, but there is still bad phone reception and no wifi. I was alone.

But wasn’t that the point – being alone? I took off my watch. I found time to journal, nap, drink tea, read books that I’d been putting off. There was time to walk through the forest and enough space to try to get lost. When it was dark I was a little lonely. It felt like 11pm and when I checked it was only 8:30. What more could I do? That was a good moment to get my proverbial burger flipped and find out what a deeper spirituality could mean. Spirituality is not just a collection of practices, values, beliefs, and ceremonies – it is a process of transformation. 

If you are experiencing the edge of your personal resources, if your lifestyle is outpacing your interior stuff, if you feel a longing to sharpen what you’ve got or gain some more tools – I think it might be time for you to get lost. It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s way easier to be found than you might fear.

Make a move. 

When you feel under the pile, added demand is a hard thing to accept. Other people and circumstances will make their moves, which often include you doing more. If your spiritual edges are frayed, take your self serious enough to clear out some room on your calendar. If it’s only a few hours – that’s a start. If it’s an eight hour shift, even better. I find that 32hrs away (9am-5pm the next day) is splendidly disruptive yet not too much to recover from.

For people without the regular retreating discipline, booking the time is the hardest part. Add kids and a seemingly inflexible work situation and you might have a bit of arranging to do. You are worth it.

Make a plan.

Your plan will change depending on how much time you have and where you are going. Some people are able to stumble into active rest space without much of a strategy and still get found by God. Most of us do better to have a little idea for what we’re going for.

Create some boundaries for yourself. Will the phone be off? Can you survive without internet? Do you want to fast from food or at least stimulants like candy and coffee?

When you have the time set aside, find a place to go that matches your slot and budget. We made a list of places to go on a personal retreat. You can download a suggested outline for going with another person (or a few) here. The Circle of Hope pastors have been making a list of book suggestions on Goodreads.

Take care of the path.

When Rachael was talking about our divine hardwiring for the neurobiology of spiritual disciplines at the Public Meeting last week, it was in talkback I believe when someone (probably her) brought up an image of two trails in the forest. [I’m paraphrasing and embellishing on it now] One looked like it was used only by deer. The other was well worn and maintained. Even though they both lead to fresh water for drinking, swimming, and washing – one is significantly easier to travel on. Making a new spiritual discipline is like doing some bushwhacking on the deer path. You’ll always find more opportunities for that. When you are going to live in the proverbial spiritual forest, you need access to clean water every day. Make your camp close enough so you have fast access in an emergency and easy access so you can do it a lot.

Your regular silence, solitude, and prayer habits help you get to the Living Water on the regular. Especially for the person who wants to do a lot (deep relationships, family, meaningful work, mission, service, hobbies, etc) you are going to need to do more tending to the path(s). 

Get lost.

One of my favorite retreat activities is getting lost. Whether I’m walking a labyrinth, spending more than two hours straight in a book, or walking in the woods – getting dialed in enough to the moment helps shed some of my routine anxieties and preoccupations in order to be found by Jesus in a new way. Maybe because I live in a huge city in a household that includes both children and internet I have trouble getting lost on the regular. I need to make some moves in order to get there.

I hope you find encouragement to see the opportunities that are available to you and avail yourself to God in those opportunities. May you get lost enough to be found again soon. We are getting filled with the Spirit to help Jesus with his world redemption project. Let’s be as healthy as we can.