Monthly Archives: January 2013

to be or not to be…

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…will always be the question.

 

i’m a big man behind this keyboard. like everyone else, i can claim to change the world with the push of a few keys. but where it counts the most is where there is no technology at all. this is where i often fail. once my spirit is connected with another’s (in person), there are no amount of computer screens that could shield me from the dance, the war, the  joy and pain that will overtake us.

 

i love writing and dreaming and praying for better things to come. i’ve seen evidence of a different kingdom in the most insignificant of places and there’s no doubt in my mind that it is worth striving for with every fiber of my being. but i’ve also been a conduit for pain. how it can be that i hurt the people i love the most will forever remain a mystery to me, but the truth is that i do it more frequently than i care to admit. i do it with my actions (or lack thereof); not the words i say or the ideals i believe in, but the things i do.

 

so don’t believe what i say on here. people write and say a whole lot that they never follow through on. when something you read on here sounds too good to be true, you’re right to question it. there has been far too much bullshit delivered from my fingertips. henceforth, let my yes be yes and my no be no. when you see me screwing up, treating my wife like something common rather than a treasure to be held, trying to one-up a friend, losing my temper…know that i am not what i confess or believe. but pray, as i do, that the hope we have within us will someday break through and that love and reconciliation will reign supreme above all forms of hypocricy and false hope.

 

may i never be an idealist, but an activist in ever facet of my life. i want to live like each breath will be my last, rather than hoping that i will get a second chance with each new day. grace is so amazing and essential, but i crave to be what is writhing inside of me. relying on grace is something we all must do, but when we drink from that well more than we do from the living water of the kingdom, we will remain in perpetual reluctance. we will not be. we will simply write, speak and praise the things we wish we were.

 

no. that is not for you and me. we must be who we were meant to be.

 

-dave-

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jesus, the most radical humanitarian

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in my last post, i lamented about what seems to be a piece of lumber lodged in the eye of the american church. this time i’m taking on the role of apologist. you see, i remain a part of the christian church for many reasons, primarily because (like it or not) it is my family. i was born into the evangelical world and i remain inside the belly of the beast (i mean that in the most endearing possible way).

as fervently as i’ve tried, i haven’t been able to come up with a good enough reason to pack my bags. every system, every religion, every club is broken and in need of exhaustive repair. the evangelical christian church of america being no different, i remain a participating member while assuming the role of conscientious objector in regard to most of her political engagement.

all that said, i want to brag about the tradition into which i was born and raised. more specifically, i am proud of being raised in a family that led me to know about jesus. not the jesus that claims to be pro life while supporting the murder of criminals and adversaries in foreign lands, or the jesus who preaches self defense over cross bearing. no, i was introduced to the jesus of 1st century palestine who would rather lay down his life for his enemies than lay a finger on them. this same jesus incited his followers mimic his way for the sake of people who remain on the outskirts of society to this day. this includes prostitutes, women seeking abortions, drug addicts and people who work for the IRS.

as far as i can tell, there is no system, religion or philosophy conceived in the minds of human beings that has called upon its adherents to give more of themselves than the person, jesus of nazareth. think about it. even the most humanitarian groups stop short of non-retaliation, judging others and enemy love. jesus personified what he hoped to create in this world; a community of people living for the sake of those who have had their lives taken away from them.

admittedly, my family has played a major role in sucking the life out of already down and out folks. for this, there are no amount of condolences to be expressed.  but the jesus i have come to know died as a friend of “sinners,” believing them to be worthy of all his time and energy. it is this radical humanitarianism that i feel unworthy to have come to understand and aspire. it is the kingdom he raved about and embodied that brings healing wherever it goes. there is nothing more beautiful or true.

for all the lamenting i do about the imprint my family has left on american society, i am eternally grateful for the stain left by the cross of christ.

are we any better?

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what makes us any different than our ancestors?

i’ve been reading a book called “the cross and the lynching tree” by james cone, which makes the case that the lynching of black folks in america (between 1880 and 1960) is directly relatable to the cross of jesus. cone makes a strong case in this regard, but there is something far more troubling, to me, than the correlation between the cross of christ and the tree that our black brothers and sisters hung from; it is that the church was overwhelmingly silent.

can it be that it was simply a blind spot for the american church during this era, or is there a less charitable answer to this horrifying reality? it seems that many white christians were not blind to this injustice, but were fully aware of the lynchings and segregation that occurred during this time period. however, it remains true that their silence was heard more loudly than the voices of those who spoke out.

can it be that in their worship services and songs, white christians were worshipping a god that had nothing to do with setting the captives free? how is it that white slave owners, proponents of segregation, even sympathetic bystanders to the cause of black folks were able to read luke 4:18 and believe they were in the right to stand by while black folks were unjustly held prisoner?

the hymns composed long ago, along with songs being written today, proclaim the incredible work accomplished by jesus on earth. he shattered racial and class barriers, bringing shame to the people who believed themselves to be righteous and called by God? when did we become the kind of people who, though embracing the forgiveness accomplished on the cross, would subsequently take the whip and hammer to hoist jesus onto the cross over and over again (matthew 25:40)?

i’m not sure what part to play in soothing the pain of slavery, lynching and segregation. i only know that if i were enslaved or discriminated against for reasons pertaining only to the color of my skin, i would hope that someone would come to my aid. i would hope that someone might have mercy on me and my family. would my hopes and prayers reach the same blind eyes and deaf ears of our ancestors from only a few generations ago? are we any better than that?

i hope to never fully comprehend the anguish of having my child unjustly lynched simply because she is white. even now my heart is broken that our ancestors were so unflinchingly violent towards a race of people that were ripped out from their homeland to cultivate ours at the cost of their lives. are we any different than those who came before us? do we care more about abstaining from impure thoughts and stopping gay marriage than we do the fact that an entire culture has been forced into the poorest sections of our country? who knows what it would be like today had it not been for people like william lloyd garrison and martin luther king, jr…

nowadays, everyone would rather forget about slavery and lynching. i don’t want to be so intense about this, but i just can’t forget the fact that we forced the cross we were meant to bear onto innocent men, women and children. mlk shouldered the cross for black folks in america, all the while loving his white oppressors. which of our ancestors would we most like to resemble? oppressed or oppressor?

-dave-

new year, old questions

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what if faith was simple and pure?

what if hope was was never lost?

what if love could be embedded within the horror of a cross?

what if God made the universe, that stars and all the planets?

What if God is right here among our songs, our liturgies and praise…our fights, our tears and all our hate?

what if our religion and the church of our invention are tools we use to please ourselves, to praise the things we crave?

what if the way is truly narrow and the few that find it don’t look like me?

what if the ones who “know” the truth are the furthest ones from finding it?

what if knowledge superseded faith and made our Lord into systematic theology?

what if we drank the cup that we’ve been given?

what if death was not determined but the chosen route to resurrection?

-dave-

my dear friend john

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as i mentioned in my last post, i want to write about people and organizations that are doing good under the radar. the first victim of my writing is a person i am grateful to call friend: john owens. john deserves a much more thorough and well-written biography, but he may never receive that, so i’ve decided to pay homage to him in the way i know how. here goes…

i have no idea what it’s like to dedicate 20 years of my life to something. but that’s what john owens gave to folks in the quincy area who had very few options as to where they could grab a bite to eat.

john functioned as prep cook, chef, maitre d’, server, busser, dishwasher, janitor and handyman at the faith covenant meal, a lunch program that served up to 110 people on weekdays in quincy center. what started as sandwiches being served out of a camper van by esther sanger (a woman i never had the pleasure of meeting), was faithfully carried on by john for the following 20 years.

for john, the faith covenant meal (fcm) was more than a place for someone to get a really good meal (well-balanced and nutritional i might add); it was a church. i don’t mean that there was a liturgical service of any sort or even that it was held in a church (which it was). fcm was a place where people could enter with the hope that they might be fed a free meal without judgment, and john always delivered on that expectation. even beyond the free gift and the absence of being misunderstood, laughed at or judged at first glance, john offered a beautiful community, unique and unparalleled even in “real” church environments.

it was john who cultivated an environment free from judgment. his understanding of the love of god was translated into his own incarnational plunge into the lives of countless people who walked through his welcoming doors over the years.

during his time at fcm, john carried himself in a way that was inviting and unpretentious. it may be that his nature is that of a humble, soft-spoken and warm-hearted man, but he honed these traits as though he were a trained soldier (of a different sort of course). in the time i worked with john, there were plenty of occasions in which he could have exploded angrily at a volunteer or guest, but he didn’t. he would remain a calming presence, ever-mindful of the fact that this church basement was a sanctuary for people in desperate need of peace.

Imagethere was one occasion i can remember in which a guest got right up in john’s personal space, spitting relentlessly in his face with every word. this was pretty terrifying for me, as it was my third day on the job. but john remained quiet, listening to the guest’s grievances and allowing him to voice every nasty word or complaint that came to his mind. in the end, they hugged. john conceded in ways that made no sense to me, as i saw the guest as a nuisance who was probably hopped up on some combination of prescription pills, whereas john loved him.

john was not always reserved. in fact, there were a few occasions in which i witnessed john quickly spring into action in order to break up a scuffle in the dining room or to remove someone who was disturbing the peace of the community. though he stands at around 5’7″ and weighs about 150, john is much tougher than he looks. i can tell you that his man strength far surpasses my own! he was able to bring people to the ground in the blink of an eye.

no joke. the man is a beast.

john would also engage in some pretty intense theological debates with rev. sheldon bennett, the unitarian minister at the church of the presidents in quincy (host church of fcm). though normally quiet, john was not too shy to speak passionately about the way he believed. whether they agreed or not, john’s devotion to his faith was to be admired. these were times that i would just sit back and enjoy the show!

entertainment was also made available free of charge.

i had the supreme privilege of learning from john owens for three months of my life. he was gentle and humble in spirit (still is, i’m sure), spending himself for the sake of folks that society would rather forget about. if i turn out to be half the man he is, i will consider myself to have lived well.

thank you john.

-dave-