Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

Lent, Week Three: Reconciliation

The image quality isn’t very good, I know; I thieved it from a PBS article and am working on an older computer that doesn’t do image capture all that well.  But you get the idea—each red balloon is a mass shooting in the United States.

In 2016.

Reader, it’s not even March yet.  I come to you on this Saturday in Lent because my Friday was thrown off, my whole week was thrown off by the fact that my town is now on this map.  My town now has a little red balloon saying that some are dead, some are injured, all are now on statistics lists of this country’s numerous dead born out of an unnatural love of violence.  My town now has made the national news, the international news, as another place holding vigils and wondering why; as another name that scrolls across the screen while talking heads say maybe this time, maybe this action will be the one that causes us to unfurl our fingers from our guns and step away from the fear that drives us to this mortal embrace.  My town now is another in a chain that will not be that time.

And Reader, I am so, so angry.

The sacrament this week is that of reconciliation, formerly known as penance.  Reconciliation has three aspects:  conversion, confession, and celebration.  Conversion is the recognition of being in the wrong, of turning back toward Christ and the life and choices He would have us lead and make.  Confession is the telling of what went wrong to another—for Catholics, this is a priest; for many Protestants, this is God Herself; for some, this is a pastor or deeply trusted friend.  (You can ask your pastor to do this; it’s not an official sacrament, but many clergy will hear confession as part of spiritual growth.)  Celebration is the recognition that a new way is forged, that the wounded are healed, and that the freshly forgiven are charged to go out into our lives and forgive others in the courage and love of the Spirit.

I find this a somewhat perfect sacrament this week because it is so easy to demand that the shooter be brought to justice.  It is so easy to demand that he be the one to confess, to be crushed by the full force of the law even as he senselessly crushed the lives of so many others.  It is so easy to call for celebration that the wicked shall be judged by a righteous God Who cries with us at the rising death toll.  It is, in fact, too easy.

Reader, I confess that I have harbored anger against a brother, a fellow creation of God.  I confess that I have numbed myself to the suffering of others because I cannot stand the spineless promise of prayers from politicians anymore.  I confess that I have not done as much as I could to petition those same politicians and everyone I can find to change this, to see the way our culture is killing itself one bullet at a time.  I confess that I have walked away from important conversations because I felt too empty to argue any further.  I confess that I have not returned to the spring of living water to fill that emptiness because I am filling it instead with wrathful frustration and scathing cynicism.  I confess that I no longer try to bear the sorrow.

The shooter was wrong.  He was wrong to take life that was not his, he was wrong to drive a community into shock and fear, he was wrong to be so careless about his fellow humans.  I am not in the least advocating for any judicial lessening of this understanding.  But Reader, we cannot continue to demand the reconciliation of the violent without acknowledging our own places of turning away from God.  I cannot rage at the empty speeches of those far away and far removed without acknowledging that I don’t continually write their offices to tell them to fix this.  I cannot despair at the American love of weaponry without acknowledging the many ways I glorify the rough-and-tumble violence that promotes it.  And I cannot call this man evil without seeing that I am not perfectly good.

My heart aches with my anger at this, Reader.  It aches with my sorrow and the pain and my ever-dimming hope that we might one day say we have had enough.  But the only way to soothe that ache is is to turn from my part in creating it, however small; to confess that I have had that part in creating it, that I have left undone various aspects of the Kingdom building God asks of me; and to celebrate that I have been set on a new way that will never be easy and will require more and ever more reconciliation but that will continually bring me closer to my Lord.

Psalm 13 begins, “How long, o Lord?  Will You forget me forever?…How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”  How long shall we stand vigil for the lost and pray for the fallen?  How long, o Lord, will You leave us to this violence?  Yet verse five is the psalmist’s hope:  “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.”

I do not have the answer to this violence, Reader.  I do not have the shooter’s confession.  I cannot say when we as a nation will turn away from this path.  But I can seek reconciliation for myself; I can ask forgiveness of my God and His people that I might go out into this fallen world and forgive.  And in that, I might celebrate the Spirit that breathes within me to allow forgiveness even of the enablers, even of the silent, even of the shooter.  For God’s love manifests in unconditional forgiveness, drawing us ever and again to Himself that we might never be lost or left behind; in gratitude, may we strive to do the same.

 

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Psalm 13:6)

Fifteen Minutes of Infamy

When I was in middle school, my older stepbrother had a Nintendo 64 and the game “Goldeneye,” a first-person shooter adventure based on the James Bond film. My first reactions to the deaths of the WDBJ employees this past Wednesday were that it couldn’t be real, this must be a video game; only those have that gun barrel sticking out of the bottom of the screen that way.

I am in no way tying video games to violence, or to this particular act.  I’m merely trying to wrap my mind around someone not only planning to shoot two people but filming himself doing it, later posting it on social media alongside the videos of cats falling off of slick desks and the first time a baby laughs and that moment someone’s friend wakes up after someone else has drawn on his face.  It is boasting, straining for the attention the shooter felt he didn’t get on his own merit, taking to the wide embrace of the Internet to proclaim he has Done Something Big.

And it is sickening.

It is also sickening that it surprises me that I am as broken about this as I am.  I grew up in the schools fettered and frightened by Columbine, adding active shooter drills to those that taught us what to do in the event of fire or tornado.  There have been more than 57 mass shootings in the United States in my lifetime, nearly half of those from 2006-2012.  Even the satirical publication The Onion has half-heartedly jabbed at the frequency of such events in America, the nation of freedom where God and guns are both invoked as inherent rights of (hu)mankind.  I am used to this, used to hearing of yet another series of deaths by the power of fire-hot copper tearing through skin and muscle and bone at 1,126 feet per second.

But on the news this morning (I always have “CBS This Morning” playing in the background as I prepare for work), there was an interview with the boyfriend of one of the dead.  Chris Hurst, fiancée to Alison Parker, spoke of love and plans and hope and life and at the end of the interview he said, “This was two of us, guys.  This was two of us, gunned down.  We will not forget them.”

Somehow, that has stuck with me.  Part of it is that I am always interested in the way that people band together within their careers—it is not only the police who have the thin blue line, although they may be the only ones who give it a color.  Nurses, pastors, journalists, teachers, artists, coaches, scientists, maintenance workers, doctors, writers, firefighters, and so many others continually stand at each other’s sides, supporting those who know what their days are like, who understand what it is to be worn thin and still get up and go to work the next day.

But part of it, I think, is the visibility of this.  The two gunned down worked in television; they were part of a community’s visual understanding of itself, bringing the news each and every morning.  I think of the local morning show I watch, and of “CBS This Morning,” and how attached I have become to these people I don’t actually know by virtue of laughing at their banter and hearing their voices while I try to figure out what to pack for lunch.  The WDBJ murderer was also in television and, to the end, decided what he did needed to be on camera.

I have no wisdom on this, Reader, no soapbox speeches of gun control, no staunch defenses of hometown journalism.  I have only a deep and abiding sadness, a horror that somehow someone thought this was the way to handle feeling left out, downtrodden, insulted.

And I have a fierce, fiery rage at the people who are captializing on this.

My Facebook feed is always an interesting adventure because I have many “liberal” friends who are very much for things like choice in the matter of abortion, gun control, gay marriage, universal healthcare, and so on.  And I have many “conservative” friends who are on the opposite end of the spectrum of all of these.  I very much appreciate being able to connect with this diversity and hear more within an argument than just one facet.  But there are times when people will post things that make me so incredibly frustrated and angry that I have a hard time not yelling at the person for being so dense (which is something I’m planning on looking at in a couple of weeks, actually).  Like this:

I wanted to punch my screen when I saw this, not only because I disagree with everything about it but also because this takes the live broadcast of the execution of two people and makes it about platforms, hashtags, and concepts.  NO VICTIM SHOULD EVER BECOME LESS HUMAN SO THAT OUR LABELS CAN GAIN TRACTION.  Adam Ward and Alison Parker have names, loved ones who weep for them, friends who will never hear their voices in real time again, hopes and dreams and dances that will never happen.  For anyone, anyone to deconstruct them or any other person shot, burned, beheaded, bombed, hanged, drowned, beaten, or any of the myriad of creative ways we have to destroy each other into pieces that we can put into our little boxes of understanding is to take the complex gift of humanity and make it less.  It is to look at a creation of God and say that this is not a person but a composite.

It is this that allows someone to film himself killing someone in cold blood, because that is not a human being and his pain is more important than theirs.

Much must be done in the realm of how we view weaponry and the availability of tools for causing harm to others.  I quite appreciate this other image I saw today:

But before any action, we must always return to the space of looking at another soul wrapped in skin and say I recognize that you are human, too.

 

You want what you don’t have, so you kill to get it. You long for what others have, and can’t afford it, so you start a fight to take it away from them.  (James 4:2a-b, TLB)

To Repeat, to Repeat

I am white.

This is not true in the strictest sense of the color white; I do not match the many papers littering my desk.  I am, in fact, a sort of mottled peach covered in light brown freckles.  The insides of some of my fingers are a burnt orange; I’ve never figured out why.  The veins that show through my black tattoos are lavender and teal.

When I was a kid, my family had a foster kid who was black.  This was not true in the strictest sense of the color black, either; she was a deep brown with palms even lighter peach than mine and frizzy black hair.  I called her my chocolate baby because I was three and she was two and the only thing I’d ever seen before that was her color was a Hershey’s bar.  I thought she was beautiful, and I still remember when I figured out that you don’t grow out of your skin color like you can with hair color and that I was, in fact, always going to be white.  It broke my heart.

This week has been so strange in the utter nonsense of the Dolezal mess and then the heartbreaking stupidity of the Charleston massacre.  I have everything and nothing to say to this.  In fact, I would love to let Dr. Greg Hills speak for me, because I agree with what he says.  And I would love to have Jon Stewart speak for me, because I wholeheartedly agree with what he says, too.  I would even let myself speak for me from three years ago, because it’s still true.

But those are easy.  Those are leaning on the words of others so that I don’t have to respond here, now, to the fact that we as a nation are continually ignoring the deep split between our rationality and our actions.  My father sometimes tells the story of growing up seeing segregated water fountains in public places and I always thought oh, how far we’ve come.  How good it is that we would not stand for that anymore.

Is it better or worse that we “allow” everyone to drink from the same water fountain but refuse to stop segregating safety?  Is it better or worse that I can teach a class of students of every shade but know that the darker kids will fight twice as hard to go anywhere with the lessons?  Is it better or worse to know that racism has buried itself in our marrow rather than boldly flying its colors?

I cannot in good conscience look my black, brown, peach, yellow, white, or beige friends in the eyes and say I am beyond angry about the murders in Charleston or the appropriation of oppression of Dolezal if I am myself still shading away from “them” in any sense, if I am not refusing at every opportunity to point out the places built to exclude, if I am not paying attention to the thousand small ways that I keep my comfortable little bubble intact.  But I cannot even begin to understand, Reader, what to do.  I can mourn, as Reverend Gafney calls for, and that is good and necessary.  And I can, in the little daily interactions, refuse to turn away from someone simply because s/he looks different.

But what else?  I’m not much of one for storming the capitol or even organizing a prayer vigil, yet God did not call me to be His feet so that I could sit on them.  Christianity is a faith that walks, runs, leaps through the places where hate destroys to be the light that saves.  It is a faith that demands we hold ourselves and each other accountable to a Kingdom view that says this shit won’t be tolerated, cannot stand in the presence of the God Who Himself was rather darker than the Europeans when He was in human form.  It is a faith with no patience for injustice, and the deaths in Charleston are quite simply that.

Hate is not just.  Unprovoked violence against the defenseless in a sacred space is not just.  Blaming the victims is not just.  Pretending that our social system did not create a place where someone felt it was not only possible but right to plan and enact the murder of nine people is not just.  And we must face that.  We must say it to ourselves, the shocked whispers building to the outraged roar that we are part of injustice and we cannot stay there.  We must not stay there; we must refuse to accept that this is Somewhere Else, that it is a fluke or an accident or a tragedy unconnected to the conversation we have in every level of a society that promotes weapons as though they’re intrinsically harmless, that connects skin color to human value, that belittles the mentally ill by classifying hate as an uncontrollable malfunction.

I have no idea how to do this, but I know that it must be done.  To continue repeating this cycle of violence founded in racial prejudice is to ignore all that we learn every single time about the worth of God’s children—and what good is it to be thinking creations if we do not learn?

 

And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean.  All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living.”  (Mark 7:20-23, NCV)