Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The past couple of weeks, I've been listening to "The River" by Ali Farka Toure, who is internationally famous as the "Bluesman of Mali", and probably the creator of the Mali Blues sound. I was fortunate to see him perform in DC before his death in 2006, and this album is one of the all time must-haves of Mali music. The music on "The River" is desert music... the sound is spare and clean, and Toure spins dry webs out of musical loops that he repeats over and over again, developing them as he goes, but always returning to the main theme, sustained by a strong, syncopated rhythm.
I've concluded that this music is making sense to me because the past two weeks have been desert weeks for me, a time of an unusual amount of physical and emotional suffering, and of the sudden, violent death of the first romantic love I'd allowed myself in over a year. This reached a crescendo on Friday, right as I was preparing for the Emergent Village visioning gathering in DC. I went into the gathering a total wreck, having not really been able to eat or sleep much for several days. I know that sounds melodramatic, but eh, it's true.
So I entered the process with my shattered self, thinking I was alone. And what I discovered is that I wasn't. Not in the least. Emergent Village is at the most bare-bones stage that it's been in a while... no money, most of the board members have stepped down, and there's a lot of confusion about the future as many of the iconic figures of the Emergent conversation have moved on to other roles. When the lot of us came together on Friday night, there were people who were anticipating administering final rites, and some of them were pretty upset. About 2 hours in to the gathering, about 80% of the people in the room had declared that they felt like they were "outsiders" in the discussion, which seemed really awkward at the time... all these "outsiders" staring at each other, wondering who was on the "inside". So, I wasn't alone... everybody there felt jittery and/or out of place.
The truth, of course, is that there really isn't an inside. There are folks who know a little more than other folks, but it became apparent --to me at least-- that every single person there is an exile in some sense. We came together, believing in the real worth of Emergent Village, because it has served as a meeting place for us... a place where, for once, we could feel that we were accepted in our fullness without being expelled for failure to conform, where our desire to not only love Jesus but live with integrity to our particular experiences in and perceptions of the world is valued despite the theology that logically follows from this integrity... theology that upsets the apple cart in most denominations. I think I can say with confidence that this was a room full of People Who Can't Lie Worth Shit... a bunch of people who have to call it as they truly see it, even if that gets them in trouble. And it has. And it will. And we can all pretty much live with that.
So, I know there are folks who want to know What Was Decided. You already know this from the other blogs, but there's no burying of E.V. It will continue to live. A lot of ideas were thrown out that revolved around the value of the flat organizational structure and of continuing to have the energy, activities, and ideas come from the local and regional levels. There was a clear desire to support the arts, and justice issues, and above all, to preserve the forum that E.V. provides for the continued connecting of people who reside between the lines but who still love and seek to follow Christ. Although there is not yet a definite model for the structure of the "New" E.V., it seems very likely that any future structure will incorporate those goals.
I think the most important and powerful takeway, though, was the strong sense that there is no "inside". The folks who came to this gathering really did come from all kinds of theological and cultural backgrounds with connections to all kinds of churches and para-church organizations, and we were all allowed to be there as individuals with our own individual voices without any sense that this posed a threat to the conversation as a whole or to any of the individuals there. I ended up breaking down on Saturday and leaving, but when I came back on Sunday there were only a few expressions of genuine concern from individuals, and I was immediately welcomed back into the conversation. There was no sense that I'd broken a rule, but also nobody babied me. It was cool. I was a person dealing with my personal trauma, and there was respect for that. I felt like everybody there was treated like that, with respect for their opinions, for their perspective, for their experience.
Over and over again, I was struck by how incredible each person there really was... in their intelligence, their idealism, and their integrity. When people spoke, they spoke from their hearts, without apologies for their ideas, and they spoke beautifully. There were people who spoke less often, but when they spoke it was with intelligence and presence. Everyone there was really, truly THERE. I can't say I've ever been in a place with people who were so fully present... even when they were tired, bored, and irritable...
and it's this, in the end, that truly gives me hope for E.V. Many of the people who were there had travelled a long way, and many of them, like me, were carrying deep, ugly wounds from their personal experiences. We were all there because we really need for E.V. to survive. We really need each other. God has led us each on these winding, rocky paths, and we've ended up as these patchwork people who don't necessarily fit anywhere but who are continuing to follow Him as He leads. For many of us, our separation from the churches that nourished our faith is a source of sorrow that never really goes away, and the choices we've made have hurt people in our lives, so that, too, is a pain that stays and stays and stays, even as we thank God for what He's done in our lives.
I think in images, and this is my image of us as we move forward... we are dancing to the music of the desert with tears streaming down our faces. God hasn't really turned our mourning into dancing just yet... we're doing both at the same time. We're celebrating each other, and the new life that God will bring to E.V. and to us, and we're mourning all of the losses that have resulted from our choices and the choices of others because of our refusal as individuals and as a group to Just Shut Up And Sit Down. We're celebrating and mourning at once, because that is True. That is life... and in the end, that ability to look with honesty at our situation, to both mourn and celebrate, is what will enable this to survive.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
2. N. 1. Self-confidence, Self-assuredness. As in basis for belief in ones self in a situation. Esp. In context of contest or display of skill such as sexual advances or going into battle.
2. Good luck fetish / charm to bolster confidence.
3. ability to bounce back from a debilitating trauma and negative attitude
Ex. He lost his mojo when she dumped him. He got his mojo back now.
So, I've had a particularly bad couple of weeks... there have been blessings and I've seen God's protection in all of it, but it has been rough, and parts of it, well, they're not totally over. But today I am proclaiming a new day, because frankly, I can't keep feeling as bad as I have, and it's time to move on, claim the blessings, leave what's still unfinished at the Cross, and focus on what's ahead.
In that spirit, I give you my Personal Fight Song for Today, LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out.
Because evil isn't. going. to. win.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Just a warning: this is not going to be a comfortable blog post, and I don't mean I'm going to talk about my kidney infection again. This is a serious post about some uncomfortable stuff.
I found out this weekend that a musician friend of mine has had a habit over the past few years of routinely having sex with women who are anywhere between 10 and 13 years younger than him. He's my age, 33. Some of these young women have been 16 and 17 years old, high school sophomores and juniors. He denies any wrongdoing, and was moved to tears on a couple of occasions with self-pity at the thought that anyone would consider him to have done wrong. Despite his protests of innocent intent, I did some research, and he's been shrewd enough to avoid going below the age of consent in the state that I know about, Pennsylvania. In Virginia, what he did would be statutory rape.
He's lived a lot of places and done a lot of travelling, so there's really no way of telling how many of these young girls he's taken advantage of, how many promises he made, how many may still hold a hope in their hearts that he'll come back. The stories I do know about lead me to believe there are a probably quite a lot of them out there. Of course, the way he conducts himself, and the way that young girls think, none of them has, or probably ever will, take him to court for what he's done. To do that would be to admit that they weren't "grown up" when they allowed him to seduce them, and a key part of his smack is praising absurdly young women for their maturity, beauty, and emotional depth. He also comes across as gentle, sensitive, the kind of guy who means every beautiful word he says. In other words, his routine is typical, and typically effective.
As I've been thinking about this over the past two days, swinging between intense rage at the injustice of it and my impotence to do anything to right it and intense sadness at realizing this person was my friend and is completely unrepentant of this behavior, I've been hit hard with a different point, and that's what this post is really about.
My friend doesn't seem to be a bad guy. He's crazy-talented, lots of people like him, and he is a master at turning things around so he looks like the victim. But the truth is that we are all pretty good at this in our own minds. It's a basic part of our nature that we justify ourselves to ourselves. We know our motives, see. We know what we meant to do, even if what we did was quite different. Even if it really hurt people in ways that cannot be reversed. Even if what we did preyed upon the weaknesses or ignorance or innocence of another person.
We don't all do this all of the time. Most of us have some level of filter on our actions, and we are occasionally aware that we are being assholes. Some pious folks like my Dad do far more than the average amount of self-examination, and are perhaps more aware of their sins than is really advisable on a day-to-day basis, but even Dad doesn't have a totally clear view of himself. Our self-justification mechanism is as old as the story of Eden. It's hard wired, and difficult to maneuver, even when things like parental love are in the mix.
So my recurrent thought today has been this: Holy shit is it important that we tell each other the truth. I literally have been having a sense of vertigo at the thought of how many lives could have helped if someone whom my friend really loved and trusted sat him down and gently told him that they loved him but he had to stop sleeping with minors... way back when he first started doing it. Or if just one of those parents had found out and taken him to court for what he did. If anyone, at any point, had screamed "STOP!!!" and MADE HIM STOP.
The implications for my own life are what really make my head spin. What patterns are present in my life right now or in the past, that all I needed was for someone I really trusted --who understood me and whom I was close to and respected-- to sit me down and say "I love you and you have to stop this". And then I remember all the times that people have, sometimes friends but most often my Mom and Dad. I haven't reacted well initially, but damn... what if they HADN'T?? and then I start to tear up out of gratitude.
Let me be clear: I have been the subject of Christian Witch Hunts, and I am not a fan. I'm also not a fan of "accountability partners", a concept I was introduced to in college and that will to this day cause me to foam at the mouth in rage at how ripe for abuse that whole concept was and how blithely and widely touted at Covenant. I don't think ANYONE should decide it's their job to call out the behavior of someone whom they haven't laughed with, cried with and probably gotten drunk with at least once. But if you are that kind of heart-friend, and someone you know is doing something that is hurting them or the people around them or you, you've gotta say something. Really. You have to. Because our ability to justify our own behavior is so very deep and so very poisonous, and it can literally wreck our lives, our relationships, and even our mental health as we become more and more distanced from the reality of the world as it sees us, wrapped in our bubble of self-pitying, self-righteous, self-justification.
I mourn for my friend. I mourn for every young girl he's hurt. I'd appreciate it if you'd join me in praying that he gets the wake-up call he needs and that he's never allowed to hurt another girl. But I also hope you hear me out about telling each other the truth. I'm always mindful of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and always very wary to call anybody out on their "sin". But what if she'd been caught beating her child to death? Attempting suicide? It'd be different then.
Love, sometimes, is rough rocks being slammed by waves as the wind howls... whether we like that or not.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
It was Epic.
I had/have a kidney infection. A kidney infection. It just doesn't sound all that dramatic. I mean, I'm an empathetic person and I have had friends with kidney infections and I've said (and honestly felt) "that must have been AWFUL", but dude, that is the MOST Donna Reed milquetoast namby-pamby way to talk about what this was. I mean, I did my homework online, and left untreated, I COULD have died. Thankfully (for me), I live in one of the wealthiest cities of the wealthiest nation on Earth and I have medical insurance that is significantly subsidized by my employer. Which means that I should be smacked if I ever, ever complain about anything ever again. Well, not really, cuz I'd get smacked a lot and honestly that would be a REAL interruption to life, and I wouldn't get much work done.
Honestly though, before I descended into the worst of the symptoms and I really couldn't think much more than "Jesus Jesus Jesus" and "Please (whichever person/doctor/nurse I was waiting on) Please Please", I pondered over the thought that my as-yet-undiagnosed kidney infection very likely WOULD kill or at least permanently damage the health of someone in many other countries... even in my own country in the poorer areas. In fact, the majority of the world, faced with what I was, would be totally effed.
Let that sink in for a sec. I said "kidney infection" and you thought, huh, sucks for you. and of COURSE you did, because I'm sitting up in bed now, two days after I felt like I was gonna friggin DIE, listening to Radiohead and blathering on about my life on the internet, having taken my very cheap antibiotics and my very cheap ibuprofen and drinking lots of water that I don't actually pay for from a tap in my kitchen, and aaaaargh you get my point. I'm glad for me, but this removed the blinders I normally keep on for sanity's sake, the blinders that block out the suffering of most of the rest of the world, and how comparatively rich I am. I know this is a tired old WASPy thing to ramble on about, but whatever... it's still the truth.
So, I have all this privilege, and all this access, but I don't have a CAR... and I'm not married, and the closest family member is 4 hours away. So the moment came that revealed the Typical Weakness we have here in the Land O' Plenty... you know, the one Mother Teresa called us on... and that's the Oh-Shit-Who-Have-I-Invested-Enough-In-To-Warrant-Calling-In-The-Middle-Of-The-Day-And-Puking-In-Their-Car-On-The-Way-To-The-Hospital dilemma... otherwise known as our massive love/relationship deficit.
Now, I know some FANTASTIC people, and a lot of them would have done everything they could to help me, but a lot of them simply COULDN'T have left work in the middle of the day at the last minute... and most of them live over an hour away due to traffic. I'm not friends with my neighbors beyond saying a friendly "hi" to them because I don't want to invade their privacy. The expectation in our culture/country is that a) I should have a car, b) failing that, there are ambulances and taxis, use them, and c) I should have a husband-boyfriend-personIhavesexwithonaregularbasis person that I can call in cases like this. Which I don't. And I had 3 bucks in my checking account, so there was no taxi in my future. I wasn't actually dying, so an ambulance would have been a little extreme.
As it so happens, I have a wonderful wonderful friend, Allie, who has patiently explained to me on multiple occasions that I can actually, truly, really call her if I need ANYTHING at all. Honestly, we've talked about this almost every time we've seen each other. Allie also has a job that allows her to more or less set her own schedule, and also has her out and about in her company car quite a lot. So I called her, and she was utterly utterly fantastic, bearing with me through
- a doctor's appointment that ballooned into 1 1/2 hours (complete with receiving a shot of anti-nausea med to the buttocks while being regaled with the story of how the nurses make shots for gonorrhea patients even more painful than they have to be if they don't like the patient), picking up my meds and food for me at CVS while she waited;
- a hair-raising 10 minute ride home (featuring my continous, uncontrollable shaking and her having to stop the car 3 times on a quarter mile stretch of Lee Highway so I could vomit);
- the subsequent trip to the ER with me wretching into a CVS bag and then a bucket forked at me by an annoyed ER staffperson, and then recovering from my nausea in the 3 hours that we waited in the waiting room, only to be told by the ER staff that I couldn't leave without having my recovery verified by the doctor,
- for which we waited another hour, 5 minutes of which was face time with a total of one (1) doctor and one (1) nurse;
- and then checking up on me twice, that night and the next morning.
So, you have probably lost the thread. I know I have. Oh, my point was vulnerability. I know an amazing person named Allie who is not only amazing but who was also willing and able to drop everything in the middle of the day and give me the rest of it. The day, that is. I haven't always been in that position, and I don't think I'm the sort of person that someone would call in that situation. For one thing, I don't have a car, and that places me in this sort of strange murky handicapped status w/r/t access to services in our culture. But I also seriously wonder if I am that kind of person. I'd like to think I am. I know I used to be someone that folks would call if they needed something, but I was also a lot needier then and projected that outwards by a need to be needed (plus, I had a car). I don't really want to return to that, but I do want to be part of a healthy, working social web. I want to be a giving part of community, broadly speaking.
My "community" has always been church in the broader sense. Not usually a particular congregation, but more a cluster of associations with "church" people. I know Allie because I met her at a dinner at a Christian group house where my friend Israel was living at the time. I know Israel through... well through Yahoo Personals, but I seriously wouldn't recommend that as a way of meeting people. Although there is a point to be made there... I met him online, and people make real connections online, but Israel is not the kind of person to keep it online and that is unusual, I think. My friendship with him has stuck because he IMMEDIATELY took it out of online space by calling, inviting me over, etc., etc. and a lot of the friendships I now count as my best and most valuable have no more than three degrees of separation from him. and they're ALL Church People. or at least Ex-Church-People-Who-Are-Still-Christians-Of-One-Form-Or-Another.
Ok, this is a STUPID long post. Let's sum up:
1) I got REALLY sick this week, and I have no problem posting every last detail about it on the internet.
2) I was again knocked upside the head by the reality that most of the world only dreams about the access I have to all sorts of privilege.
3) but I don't want you to smack me when I complain, even though this would be a rational, and perhaps useful, response.
4) Our social norms and networks in the culture where I live, and I guess in "American" culture broadly (at least middle and upper class culture) assume Access. If one or more of the Expected Pieces is missing (car, Significant Other, sufficient money in the bank account), then you don't really have much recourse,
5) unless you know Allie. or are blessed enough to know someone like her.
6) I am blessed to know Allie and call her a friend, but I'm not sure I'm the kind of person I'd call in a crisis, and that's a real issue because I want to be that kind of person.
7) Online networking does provide authentic community, but only if you rip it out of the online context quickly. It can go back and forth, but you have to resist it assuming the online "shape" too quickly or you won't push out of it and you will miss out on the connections that come from life out in the Real World. Or at least that's my hypothesis as of right now. When I really need to end this blog post.
Ok, if you've made it this far, thanks, you're a good friend. Maybe I'll call YOU next time I'm really really sick. :^)
Monday, April 13, 2009
Reading through my blogroll today, I came across this paragraph, which made a lot of sense to me. The emphasis on "chastened epistemology" is exactly what draws me to the emergent conversation. When humility isn't present in the conversation, I pretty much tune out, because humility = teachability. How can I believe God's been speaking into this person's life if they aren't humble enough to hear anything?
"Something else that made a big difference was the fact that around the same time all of this happened I had begun to enter the emergent conversation. Not only did this give me a place where I could work through my doubts and anger towards God, but it also gave me an opportunity to hear other sincere followers of Jesus Christ giving voice to a variety of opinions on the issue of same sex relationships. I listened and read what they believed and how they believed one should respond. However, I think the conversation was most helpful in teaching me to embrace a chastened epistemology, and out of that some much needed humility was born in me. It was because of that humility that I was able to go to Nick and confess that I knew there was a possibility my beliefs were wrong. It was that humility that gave me the courage to ask his forgiveness for acting like I had a monopoly on “the truth” and for being so certain I was right and he was wrong. This attitude began to open up a safe space for Nick and I to genuinely connect again, to have real conversations instead of wrestling matches, to share our thought processes and feelings, and to really hear what the other person was saying. It seemed that when we stopped trying to convince one another we were right it became evident to us how much we loved one another…and in the end it was love that stopped all the negative and hurtful things from continuing."
If you'd like to read Liz's whole post, you can find it here.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Here's the deal: I am attending a writing conference in DC on Saturday, and they have this loverly opportunity for folk to meet with actual editors who will read their actual writing and actually tell them how much it sucks. Or doesn't.
The problem is, I haven't written any poetry in a while and I don't really like what I have written. So, I'm posting below (takes a deep breath) threepoemsthatihaven'teditedatall.
(shifts uncomfortably on the couch)
(guiltily scratches nose)
That's right, ladies and gentlemen --all 7 of you who regularly read my blog (God bless ALL your hearts)-- I am posting shitty first drafts of poems. and I'm asking you to read them and tell me how to change them so I don't completely embarrass myself when I stick them under an editor's nose on Saturday. Or if I just shouldn't show them to an editor at all. Or if I should IMMEDIATELY remove them from the web and burn the paper I originally wrote them on. Really.
Ok, enough already. Here they is...
Time slips behind bookcases
and under the bed
and in between the towels
in the closet
that I folded so neatly last Saturday.
Time drains down the sink
in the bathroom, where you
carefully shaved, and where I finally
dusted off your last whisker this morning.
Time crinkles among the old newspapers
and sticks out of the pile of library books,
3 weeks overdue. Time clings to
the tumbleweeds of cat fur under the night stand
where I haven't moved the magazine
you left open on page 12.
Everything is growing old.
I love you.
I have not yet forgotten
standing on the hillside in Jerome, Arizona
looking into the black-and-white valley and
just slightly drunk, I stood
awkwardly balanced on the second rung
of the railing by the sidewalk
and spread my arms, free
and ready to fly.
At that time I knew, without thinking,
what I have since learned
the hard way.
It is best to be alone, and alone, and
alone. It is best to stand by yourself,
throat thrilling-tight at the ecstasy
of nature's beauty
accountable to no one but God,
and feeling fully free.
After I'd spent 3 days indoors,
the men on the metro looked
like angels cut from marble,
shipped from southern Italy
guarded by 20 armed men
at the Louvre.
Maybe it was the light, which was
splashing itself sensuously on them,
draping over their every feature,
noses chiselled and eyes
glittering like stones
at the bottom of a clear,
fast moving stream.
I stared as the light
draped itself over them, giving up
all sense of self-worth,
desperately worshipping their lips,
outlining each curve and
variation on pink with
lingering on each strand of hair
curling out from under their hats,
touching them so lightly that
you'd forget the light itself was there
if you weren't staring hard.
And I'm not even mentioning bodies,
because honestly --honestly--
that's not what I saw. I couldn't stop
staring at how light
laid herself down over each man's face,
paying homage to the beauty she saw,
but avoiding lust, the desire to possess.
And I wished fiercely
to love someone
with that much abandon.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The book is coming out on April 20, but if you pre-order it from the publisher before April 15, you can get a 40% discount on the retail price. Which, you know, kinda sounds like a deal.
So, without further ado, heeeeere's Pete!
The Last Supper
It is evening, and you are gathered together with the other disciples in a small room for Passover. All the time you are watching Jesus, while he sits quietly in the shadows listening to the idle chatter, watching over those who sit around him, and, from time to time, telling stories about the kingdom of God.
As night descends, a meal of bread and wine is brought into the room. It is only at this moment that Jesus sits forward so that the shadows no longer cover his face. He quietly brings the conversation to an end by capturing each one with his intense gaze. Then he begins to speak:
“My friends, take this bread, for it is my very body, broken for you.”
Every eye is fixed on the bread that is laid on the table. While these words seem obscure and unintelligible, everyone picks up on their gravity.
Then Jesus carefully pours wine into the cup of each disciple until it overflows onto the table.
“Take this wine and drink of it, for it is my very blood, shed for you.”
With these words an ominous shadow seems to descend upon the room – a chilling darkness that makes everyone shudder uneasily. Jesus continues:
“As you do this, remember me.”
Most of the gathered disciples begin to slowly eat the bread and drink the wine, lost in their thoughts. You, however, cannot bring yourself to lift your hand at all, for his words have cut into your soul like a knife.
Jesus does not fail to notice your hesitation and approaches, lifting up your head with his hand so that your eyes are level with his. Your eyes meet for only a moment, but before you are able to turn away, you are caught up in a terrifying revelation. At that instant you experience the loneliness, the pain, and sorrow that Jesus is carrying. You see nails being driven through skin and bone; you hear the crowds jeering and the cries of pain as iron cuts against flesh. At that moment you see the sweat that flows from Jesus like blood, and experience the suffocation, madness, and pain that will soon envelop him. More than all of this, however, you feel a trace of the separation he will soon feel in his own being.
In that little room, which occupies no significant space in the universe, you have caught a glimpse of a divine vision that should never have been disclosed. Yet it is indelibly etched into the eyes of Christ for anyone brave enough to look.
You turn to leave – to run from that place. You long for death to wrap around you. But Jesus grips you with his gaze and smiles compassionately. Then he holds you tight in his arms like no one has held you before. He understands that the weight you now carry is so great that it would have been better had you never been born. After a few moments, he releases his embrace and lifts the wine that sits before you, whispering,“
Take this wine, my dear friend, and drink it up, for it is my very blood, and it is shed for you.”
All this makes you feel painfully uncomfortable, and so you shift in your chair and fumble in your pocket, all the time distracted by the silver that weights heavy in your pouch.
Commentary from Peter Rollins:
This reflection was on outworking of my first interaction with the enigmatic figure of Judas. Here I wanted to play with our tendency to identify with the favorable characters in the Bible. For instance, when reading about the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector, we find it all too easy to condemn the first and praise the second without asking whether our own actions are closer to the one we have rejected than the one we praise.
Judas is here a symbol of all our failures, and Christ’s action to demonstrate his unconditional acceptance. Judas helps to remind us of Christ’s message that he came for the sick rather than the healthy, and that he loves and accepts us as we are.
(You can also read another excerpt "No Conviction", here.)