I wish I could write anything as beautifully as Luke 6 is to me. Jesus in Luke 6 comes out swinging. If Luke 6 ain’t hurting you, you ain’t listening. If Luke 6 doesn’t seem like a direct rebuke of our times, you ain’t watching. Foxes may be calling “Lord, Lord,” but they do not do what he says. The sandcastles will fall. There are no grapes in the briers. And we – we must keep Loving, defiantly.
You can stand on the banks, just watching the river, and think you are safe. The current is so strong, though, that the longer you watch, it pulls you in, sweeps you away, and miles downstream you realize you have been taken, realize you are gulping in water.
There’s no rescue mission.
Well, not exactly. You’ve already been rescued. You just have to move your eyes back, back to where the world was shown its rescue.
I confess the current got me this week. “Look at this stream of hate everywhere,” I thought, my phone showing me clip after clip and comment after comment of the children of God denigrating each other. “Look at how the powerful hate and boast with no fear of God. Look how hopeless it is,” I said, my feet inching into the waters. Then there I was, miles away, choking, hating and despairing.
Where are you looking?
Truly God designed me, and he knows how I feel things a bit too strongly, a bit too passionately. I’d like to think that he wouldn’t even use the qualifier “too” because I was fine tuned to feel precisely at the levels he wanted. I may be too much for this world at times, but that does not mean I am not exactly what I am meant to be. I like to think he always knew I would be in danger of this particular current — the one where empathy takes me into deep darkness — because he had to build other people to feel a little less so they could accomplish their work. I like to think we’re all working to carry out this wild God’s purpose in some kind of harmony even as we let the discord of our humanity loosen the nuts and bolts sometimes. I like to think the whole plan here is to need that God working in union with the machine. I know just how to readjust you back to working order. So, child, where are you looking now?
The cross – I see it bobbing up and down in my drowning sight, and no sooner than I see it, am I back on the shore, dry and breathing well again. Here where the world was set right by being flipped upside down; we forget that, even as we worship the icons of the cross. We’ve been rescued, all of us. Don’t you remember?
18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.
27 But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing.1 Corinthians (CEB)
In this meditation on the dichotomies of Conservatives and Liberals (don’t worry, both are loved and both are called out), Father Richard Rohr writes, in reflecting on 1 Corinthians 1: “Paul believes that Jesus has revealed the only response that works. The revelation of the cross, he says, makes you indestructible, because it says there is a way through all absurdity and tragedy, and that way is precisely through accepting and even using absurdity and tragedy as part of God’s unfathomable agenda. If you internalize the mystery of the cross, you won’t fall into cynicism, failure, bitterness, or skepticism. The cross gives you a precise and profound way through the dark side of life and through all disappointments.”
See, Satan is in the current, because we know Satan is the accuser, and we know the current accuses. We know the accuser delights in the world tearing itself apart. We know the accuser has only to slide a word of blame over our eyes to make us forget the cross already erased the words before they were written. We know the accuser wants us to feel right and justified; we know the cross laughs at that — why we in our justification hung God up naked and laughed while he died, and still death was defeated. That’s why looking at it reminds us of how the world really is, how it’s been set right then and here and now, if we just remain foolish enough to look at it. The current is running as it always has been, and we are seduced into thinking it’s stronger now than it has been or that maybe it can carry us to where we need to be. The cross stays standing; oh children, you thought you were ending me here? This is where love dried up the current. Look at it.
“The Old Rugged Cross” was a well-worn hymn in the church where I was raised, and the melody can still choke me up, but as an adult, the words don’t really match with so much that I now believe. I listen to it with a bit of bittersweet admiration. Oh, but the cross is the crown. There’s no exchange rate. Our wily and wild God is hilarious, isn’t he?
The electric company came and cut down my favorite tree. I was mad at them and at my parents for agreeing. My dad took the wood, made boards from it on Pawpaw’s sawmill, and built me a desk.
Now I write on it. I study God on it. The tree and I both grew up on the Vachon place, on Island Creek. Surely the rains that soaked into its roots fed also our natural spring from which I drank. We weathered the same storms and watched the bulls fighting by the creek, so endlessly stubborn. Surely the birds sang to both of us. Surely this tree is as much my brother as the men who share my blood. Surely this tree which listens to the tapping of keys and scratching of pen knows me.
Still, walnut tree, I wish you were growing live there. Maybe I wish it for myself too. I wish to still be young, feet flat on grass, still undamaged and in original form. But we are both here now.
I didn’t know if God laughs or cries at all the ways we miss his presence until I let the desk collect dust for years, the same way my soul was doing. God’s finger came circling through on both of us, writing out – hahaha. Oh, what you are missing!
Neither wood nor flesh cannot resist rotting forever, though. This tree and I will not be here long, no matter how we endeavor to preserve. But we are both here now. Both living this current purpose which is simply to know to whom we belong. Just don’t let the dust settle again, God says. I long to write these things within you, not just on the surface.
The months of great discomfort continue on. I find no peace in my heart and no peace on earth.
A drop of clarity came this morning, as I read more of “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. In this secular book, written by a Muslim woman, I find the traps I’ve fallen into. Oh, Lord, there are so many ways I have looked at you and your world through lenses prescribed to me by people who knew you not.
I continue to work on wiping them away.
I wondered in June, as people started to crowd back into spaces, if it were really so unbearable to sit with yourself at home that you would endanger yourself and others for a meal or a trip, even for a church service. I know we build our lives around these rituals and events. I miss them too.
And I know it has been almost unbearable. Sitting with myself the last few months, I have grown increasingly angry. Part of this is the writing. I work on poems, two short stories, and a novel that have bloomed forth from my own experiences, and I grow so weary of revisiting the traumas of my past. The way I was given a barbed cross to flagellate myself by those who will contort their own to fit into any shape that will give them power. The way they told me to beware of false prophets blasting through movies and music while they kneel before wolves. The way they wrapped blessing around success and sold it to me so that every failure felt like judgment. The way they tell you to give your life to God but continue to play puppet master over your decisions.
At first, I tried to give the anger to God, sometimes still believing him to be a bit of a genie: take this anger and grant me a wish for peace. I have found, though, that he won’t take everything like they said he would.
I take to the image of the Peaceable Kingdom from Isaiah 11, often, as a way to grasp onto hope. It has just dawned on me that the lamb, the goat, the calf are expected to do nothing. They have no power there. The wolf, the leopard, and the lion? They have the power to not eat the innocent, the small, the young. The strong, in humility, must stop eating the weak.
I’m angry because the powerful keep eating. I’m angrier at those powerful who keep eating and say its their blessing. I look at my skin, scarred from the chewing some wolves have done, and I rage.
But then, there’s the wolves who pretend they can’t possibly be wolves…
When I come to scripture these days, I try to purposely recast myself in the places I typically have not. Not – would I ignore the broken and beaten man on the side of the road, but would I, beaten and broken, accept help from the one I despise. As a Roman citizen, what would I think of Jesus? As a pharisee trying my best, how could I not fear him? Who am I not accepting help from? How am I fearing Jesus and his threats to what I think are right and good?
So, what sheep am I continuing to eat? What power do I hold onto?
In this quiet and lonely and disappointing discomfort, I’ve found myself in sackcloth and ashes, repenting for so much. This new-to-me holy repenting that peels away those false lenses and brings God into clearer focus is so much better than the fearful, terrifying, ticket-to-heaven repentance I punched for so long. It’s holy and purifying because the love is already there; I just have to accept it.
I look at my covetous heart and grieve. I look at my complacency over systemic white supremacy and grieve. I look at the things I kept looking away from when I was comfortable. I look at all these sheep, torn apart. “Are you going to love people or not,” I ask myself. “There’s no half way.”
Help me lay what power I have down, I pray.
I’ve thought relentlessly about this image from Isaiah 26 since it appeared in a prayer from Pray as You Go last week: We were pregnant, we writhed, but we gave birth to wind (26:18). This year, I have found so much of what we thought was solid and life-giving was just wind. And wind can be so destructive. It can disperse so much. I repent.
Without all this anger and discomfort, would I have made it here? Would this have surfaced, could I have ran away and into routine? Would I have seen the futility and danger of all this wind?
We think God can transform all things to good, but what if he has no space for my anger? What if he said, “Oh, that’s yours alone, and you have some work to do. When you are ready to quit writhing about on the ground laboring over the wind; when you are ready to stop skulking through the fields licking your lips at opportunity; when, in weeks or months or maybe even years, you’re ready to forgive yourself and others, I will be here, having already done it.”
I am working to bring together and organize ideas I’ve jotted in multiple journals and notebooks, on receipts and hotel paper. I am going through files on an old hard drive that has carried over stories and poems and essays from computer to computer for the last two decades. Revisiting the heartbreaks and pain of myself at 16 is a surreal experience. My college essays are both more impressive and are more flooded with adverbs like “truly” and “clearly” than I remember. Eesh.
I have saved drafts for this blog that rest like unfired pottery.
Goethe said, “Do not hurry; do not rest.”
My thoughts are fragmented too. I try to finish tasks only to be distracted by something else. I zone out to Animal Crossing just to feel like I’m completing anything.
Writing is lonely and exhausting and so completely voluntarily that it is impossible not to feel foolish every moment of the day. To sit and mine your experiences and observations, to think hard about people, to labor your imagination and wear out your heart, to slash at words both with the reckless abandon of a maniac and with the precision of a surgeon — it’s all madness and heartbreak. It’s humiliation.
Nikki Giovanni said “A lot of people refuse to do things because they don’t want to go naked, don’t want to go without guarantee. But that’s what’s got to happen. You go naked until you die.”
In those old files too are drafts of business plans and deliverables from previous jobs; I read old resumes and the bullet points are like hieroglyphics. All those dreams and accomplishments, yet I keep finding myself here, hunched over blank pages despite all the things I have hunched over before.
Anne Lamott says, “You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.”
An experiment in microfiction, wherein I try to tell a story in under 250 words.
June would have no children.
“Lord, you alone are my inheritance. You are my prize, my pleasure, and my portion,” she prayed over the petunias spilling from the pots on her porch. She plucked the dead heads with no great tenderness, dislodging the plant itself. June, feeling the plant wiggle up from the soil too far, winced.
Her husband, in the field cursing at a broken-down tractor, was no father. Still, they loved one another.
At dinner, he rubbed his rough hand across his cheek. “The apple tree is et up with maggot flies.”
“All the rain?” she asked. He shrugged. It was all pestilence and plague.
Over the garden, she sang hymns of redemption. Still, the dirt remained too full of clay and the leaves too eager to blight. Harvest was light. As a little girl, she watched her zealot uncle march through the pastures preaching to the cows. They hadn’t seemed to mind. She wondered now if her seeds were heathen.
“You are my prize, my pleasure, and my portion,” over the petunias. And they always sang back in full blooms all summer.
“Wonder why,” Oscar, her husband, had whispered to her in the dark, many years ago, “that your belly stays empty.”
She had shrugged. It was all pestilence and plague.
This morning, I told Jesus, “You are tricky. You know you are tricky.”
Jesus said hard things.
I’m not a theologian. God has built in me a love for words. I am trained to analyze words. I was trained to micro-analyze words. Put your finger on the poem and focus on that word and work outward.
Jesus said hard things.
I am not a theologian. I know there is wider context to explore here.
But Jesus said, “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword.”
And I will move into the wider parts of Matthew 10. I will move into the wider context as I study this. But this week, my finger has been on verse 34, one from which I have always ran.
Truth slices, doesn’t it? Like a sword might. It is not peaceful to have false histories sliced open.
Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword.
Jesus slices. It is not peaceful to cut yourself from whatever ensnares you so that you may follow him. It is not peaceful to cut yourself from comfort.
Jesus said hard things.
1 Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
2 Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.
3 May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
4 those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”
5 “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
6 And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.
7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
8 who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race. (Psalm 12, NIV)
My Lord, my Lord, the groaning of your children scorches the earth. I confess that I have not walked their paths, so give me ears to hear their cries. May I hear the grief in fires. May I hear the fear in smashed windows. May I hear anguish I’ve never felt expressed in ways I must now understand. I repent. Forgive me. Take from me the strut in my walk. Take from me the boasting of my lips. Humble me, Lord — with grace when possible, with the cleansing fire of the Spirit as needed. Renew in me the bold life of Jesus Christ who walked against the empire that would kill him, knowing the birth of God’s Kingdom was worth the death of self. Ever stumbling, give me strength to match his march. In the submission to truth and discomfort, sanctify me. Let it be so — Amen.
On Folly Beach, a wave knocked me over, and I went from being a person gleefully wading into the ocean to a panicked girl screaming about her phone. That iPhone never came back to life, and I lost some fantastic pictures of my parents seeing the ocean for the first time in decades and cool pictures of Charleston, SC. But I also lost a voicemail I had saved so I could replay my mawmaw’s voice when I missed her.
In that devastation, my dad put his arm around my neck and assured me that when I needed to hear her voice, I could ask the Holy Spirit to bring its sound to me. He was right. I ask the Spirit to bring her voice up from my memories sometimes, and it’s there. Not always as clear as a voicemail may have been, but somehow more resonate because it comes from deep holy places in my soul, like how maybe I’m still in all those moments in God’s time. I remember as a little girl, spending the night with her, curled up against her, and her telling me the story of Goldilocks and then screaming mid-sentence because a little miller moth hit her in the mouth. Now, if you knew Ila, you can probably hear her without even having been there for that occasion.
And sometimes, even when I’m not asking, He brings it on the wind, usually while I’m in a garden or a flower bed. I won’t kid myself, either. She’s there whispering when I’m being too shy. She’s there in my own voice when I get angry.
I wrote a few posts ago about how I feel God when I’m with other people, particularly strangers. Seems to me the Holy Spirit likes to come rushing in when I’m holding the hand of someone I barely know. Yet, there it blows, bring up to me the memory I hold deep in my soul that we’re all family. Nowadays, those moments don’t come. I buy fully into the power of social distancing and masks, even though I mourn a bit the way you can feel the hesitation and suspicion in our interactions. At a store recently, a woman dropped some of her items and my body made a rush to help her, but then my brain blared an alarm, and so I muffled from behind my mask, “Can I help you?” and she muffled from hers, “No, but thank you!” The rumble of the Spirit was there a little bit. But muffled.
It’s lonely to be away from people, these other parts of the Body. Even as an introverted homebody, I long for embrace and communion and Communion and eye contact. I think of all the times in Communion, I’ve heard the words “in remembrance of me,” and how it never dawned on me that there would be days that even Communion itself would be a memory.
Yet, I think about my dad and the Holy Spirit and how the first saints in the light of ascension must have depended upon that spirit memory to take those baby steps forward.
Spirit, help me remember. Help me taste the bread and wine. Help me feel my brothers’ and sisters’ warm hugs and see their smiling eyes. Remember, remember, remember. Spirit, help me remember. Where they have helped me remember You, please help me remember them.
- Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote some wonderful prayers to help us remember during this time.
- Have a little worship experience in Sara Watkins’ song “You and Me.” When I want to feel free, I remember you and I remember me.
The Architecture of Our Blood by Amanda Wenisch
I can learn nothing from trees
about the architecture of our blood.
What use is there in tracing back a line
to Scottish chicken farmers, hungry Irish, or curly-headed Brits?
I know it full in my prints —
the anger in the angles,
the beams of thick spiritual zest,
the floors muddy and beaten by the anxious pacing of our wide feet,
and this house sinking into sands, floor by floor,
until the roof is swallowed by time.