On Anger Getting the Best of Me (An Apology) and Keeping it Compassionate

67784A few days ago I let anger get the best of me.  It’s not pretty when that happens, especially publicly.

It was on a social media post, something I never encourage and usually try to discourage…but anger got the best of me.

In a season of great frustration: pandemic, politics, the politicization of a pandemic…well, there are tons of reasons.  No excuses, mind you.  Just plenty of reasons.

It felt bad. In the clear light of the morning, I took down the whole post and exchange.  I had to.  None of us were at our best in that moment.

Part of what kills me about the current state of politics is the seeming disconnect between what our vote, our support for a candidate, seems to say about us…and it’s something I struggle with.

Because the candidate I will vote for (and Lord, I pray he has a good, solid, exciting running mate) has an accusation of sexual assault against him, which he denies.  And he recently made a careless remark about race (which, while not racist, was certainly careless…and for which he apologized for).  And, while I don’t expect anyone to be perfect, I mean…c’mon.

The more laughable/sad part of it all is the supposed outrage by the other side that he’d say something like that, but their deafening silence when their candidate has done far worse.

But I don’t like “whataboutisms,” and there’s no excuse for the above.

In a normal voting year, I would not be voting for him.  This is frustrating for me.

But I don’t see this as a normal voting year.  Because the current occupant of the White House not only has an accusation of sexual misconduct against him, but has 24 such accusations.  And this all comes after a weekend where he (once again) re-Tweeted posts calling another politician a “skank,” fat-shaming another female politician, and disparaging mental-illness.

On top of that he has continually made racist or misogynistic remarks, not to mention supporting policies that continue to keep the marginalized on the margins (low unemployment numbers for African Americans are empty when the jobs are not living-wage jobs…that’s all gone now, anyway).  Did you forget the “Muslim ban?”  Did you forget how he remarked on Hillary Clinton’s backside?  Or his disparaging comments about the appearance of Carly Fiorina?  Have you forgotten how he made fun of a physically disabled reporter in front of thousands who cheered?

Do you laugh at that kind of thing?  If you do, I don’t want to know…

On top of that, we’re nearing 100,000 dead in this pandemic, and will soon surpass our dead from World War I, and the delayed response from this administration still does not have anyone taking any sort of blame.

And on top of that, I see a politician continually manipulating my religion for his benefit…even though he doesn’t even practice my religion, though he claims to.

And on top of that he has cruelly suggested putting alligators in a moat across the Southern border, or “shooting to maim” people who cross the border, or even punishing women who have an abortion somehow…it almost seems like cruelty is the point.

And on top of all of that, he hasn’t even adhered to the fiscal responsibility the party he leads has repeatedly championed, unmasking that responsibility for the clanging gong that it is: a political ploy without conviction.

But what frustrates me the most, and what made me the most angry the other night, is that I’m having a difficult time divorcing a vote for him from the support of his rhetoric, his racism, his fat-shaming, his misogyny, his bald-face lying, his inability to accept responsibility (that “The Buck Stops Here” sign Truman championed found its way to the trash), and his constant politicization of everything (do you even wear a mask?).

For me it’s a spiritual issue.  In our spirits, how can we support with our vote, with our rally, a candidate who exemplifies our basest inclinations?

I’m having a hard time not seeing the people who vote for him as racist and misogynistic and absolutely OK with being lied to and manipulated.

It’s just true.  And it makes me angry.

It makes me angry that I’m having a hard time divorcing him from those who vote for him.  It makes me angry, and makes me afraid: are his supporters like him? Deep down inside, do they think those things?

And, if I’m honest, it makes me angry that now I will cast a vote for someone who has been accused of sexual assault, too, because he is the lesser of two evils (unless he chooses an awesome running mate, which could turn a sad vote into a glad vote).

That anger got the best of me the other night…and I regret that.

I’m sorry for that.

Instead of just letting it hang out there, I thought it might be good to give you a glimpse into what’s going on behind the scenes in my heart and mind.  I think it might be important to put out there that I’m not sure how to divorce the candidate’s rhetoric from the voter’s vote, you know?

Like, if my friends and family members who vote for the current President are as racist and misogynistic and willing to laugh at Tweets and comments that tear people down…well, I don’t want to know that about them, you know?

It makes me angry to think that they’re someone who would do that, because frankly, I don’t want my kids around that.  Hell, I don’t want to be around that.

That’s not what my family is about.

And maybe you feel stuck, too, right?  Maybe you feel like you’re stuck between two bad choices, and Trump is the least-bad of the choices.  I can understand that feeling, I have the mirror of it, and would welcome that conversation.

But the gleeful support?  The cheering and goading on of the terribleness? The re-posting of the heartlessness?

Some people say that he’s “raw and real.”  Mike Rowe feels raw and real to me.  Hell, Joe Biden feels raw and real to me.

Our current president feels “rude and manipulative” to me.

Are you rude and manipulative?

Do you laugh at racist jokes?

Do you allow your children to pick on other children?  Then why would you allow, with your vote, your president to do that to other people?

This is where I’m coming up short, and it makes me frustrated.  It feels like a vote for him is a vote of support for the racism he espouses (would you ever call a White Nationalist a “good person?”), and for the misogyny he exudes, and for the heartless proposals he’s put forward…and I don’t want to think of you as blatantly racist, sexist, and heartless.

I don’t want to…but I’m having a hard time not doing that because, well, we’ve seen four years of it, and you want to sign on for four more?

Maybe the damage is done…

But, I have to say that, I feel like I’m being manipulated in all of this, too.  Clear-eyed, I see it now.  The mantra “Keep them angry” has been running through my head.  It’s a mantra that an operative used to describe the tactics of our day that push out the vote by the Right, but it certainly could be applied to the Left, too.

And anger always gets the best of us.

There’s certainly a ton of reasons to be angry, and good ones, too.  But I’m deciding to go in a different direction.

I’m deciding, today, to “Keep it compassionate.”  Compassion for the people being demonized, demoralized, and degraded will spur my vote this year.

Compassion even for those folks who might vote for the other side, because I have a desire to break the anger-spell driving the divisive politics of our day.

By the way, I don’t see compassion as weak.  In fact, I think it’s about the strongest thing you can be because, well, it’s easier to give into the anger, honestly.

I’m still frustrated that I don’t have a better ticket to vote for (Yet!  That running mate could do it!), but I won’t let the anger get the best of me…or, at least I’ll try not to.

But I do want to ask, absolutely without a shred of rhetorical questioning: how do you separate the vote from horribleness?  How do you separate the vote from the cruelty?  Is a vote for a candidate a vote for their words, beliefs, and ideas, too?

I know it’s not always a vote for their actions…we all make mistakes.  But what if there’s not only no remorse, but indeed a doubling-down?

I don’t know what to do with that, because a vote for that feels like rubber stamping, or even agreement with, those ideas.

And we can’t just say “it’s about the policies,” because as I point out above, the policies seem to be laced with that vitriol, too.

But even in this case, then, I’m going to go with compassion.  The kind of compassion that says, “God, they know not what they do.”

I’m still angry at the injustice…but that’s on all sides. No one is not guilty of that.

But when I enter the booth this year, I’ll be “Keeping it compassionate.”

On Essentialism

786C82F7-7A2F-438A-9CCC-D0A703E5B4E8Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today not to bury the Church, but rather to bury our illusions of what the church was.

We may have thought of the church as our safe space.

We may have thought of it as our sanctuary, a shelter from the storms of life.

We may have thought of it as our reliable friend, companion, and guide through the storms.

Surely it is all of this. Yes.

Yes.

But it has also been our training ground for discipleship. Slowly, but unyieldingly, you have repeated in word and deed, through hymn and creed, that you are about your neighbor and the tough work of loving your enemy into friendship.

You may have thought that it was just practice. A weekly ritual (monthly? can we be honest?), but it has not been.

Slowly but surely your swords have been molded into ploughshears…and if they haven’t, you’ve been attending a political rally, not a church.

Slowly but surely  you have prepared for the moment when the church would be pushed into exile, whether by pandemic or politics, and your sensibilities have been honed to detect the bs from the psa.

Do you see? Have you not heard?

Individual rights do not Trump (word used on purpose) communal responsibility.

We have been prepared for a moment like this since our last national crisis. Will we shirk back into kowtowing to the political winds because it is expedient?

Or will we trust the Gospel?

Will we imagine we are like Target and Walmart and Kroger’s?

Or will we admit we are not them, and are often against the profiteering they stand for?

Will you, Beloved, stand up for your baptismal vows? Or kneel before the calls of so-called liberty that bear no resemblance to your freedom in Christ?

This is the question.

Stay home. Trust science. Keep the faith. The faith that says being last actually means you’re first. The faith that says the meek inherit the earth.

The faith that says we are dying to live for our neighbor.

Attending to the Little Deaths

IrishWake_iStock_48838408I was running today, listening to a podcast where they were discussing one of my favorite Buddhist authors, Pema Chodron, and her book When Things Fall Apart.  It is not an exaggeration to say that Chodron’s book has changed my life, and saved many parts of me over and over again.

As the discussion unfolded using the book as a map, the host and guest noted that Chodron’s notion of the Buddhist maras, or “evils,” includes the “fear of death.”  And the guest went on to say, “And that doesn’t just mean the big death. That’s also all the other little deaths.”

And I stopped running.

I stopped running, put my hands on my knees and sighed a big sigh. I just decided to be for a brief moment, huffing and puffing, sweat cascading down my face.  I took a second to honor a little death right then and there: the death of my routine.

Yes, you might think it’s a small thing, but I hadn’t honored it yet.  I have deluded myself, using the drugs of “one day” and “soon” to shove my grief aside, but I have to come to grips with the fact that my routine, the one I knew, is dead.  I have been afraid to honor it because, well, that would mean I’d have to admit it is really dead.

It is.

And for me this is no small thing.  I live and die by the calendar and the clock. For as flexible as my schedule is, I make it inflexible purposefully because I need fences to organize my life.  It’s ironic, really: I don’t like fences when it comes to my thoughts, beliefs, or ideas, but I need them when it comes to my daily rituals.

We must have roots somewhere if we want to grow, right?

And it got me to thinking that all around us, in our homes, in our workplaces (or lack thereof), in our civic engagements (or lack thereof), in our patterns and practices, there are a thousand little deaths at this moment, and so many of us are just “waiting it out.”

But, Beloved, this is a Wake, not a pause.  This is a Wake.

The Wake, especially in my Irish heritage, was where you sat up all night with the body of the deceased, usually laid out on your kitchen table, and you drank, and played cards, and made a ruckus, trying to rouse the dead person from their prone position just in case they might still be alive.  Everyone likes a party, right?  And so if they were “mostly dead” and not “fully dead,” they’d rise to join.

They’d wake.

Well, in March we thought maybe our routines were just “mostly dead.”  But now, in May…well, my friends…it’s time to start organizing the funeral.

We need to honor these little deaths.  We need to stop pretending that things can go back to the way they were.  I mean, even if we wanted them to, and I’m not sure we really do because, let’s be very honest: the system wasn’t working very well for many, right?

But even if we wanted them to, they can’t.  We’ve seen too much.

We’ve seen how quickly the elderly have become expendable.  We’ve seen how fragile our “robust economy” actually was.  We’ve seen how grocery store clerks belong in the same sentence as fire fighters, nurses, and doctors, and we’ve noticed how glaringly other so-called “important professions” are missing from the term “essential worker.”  We’ve seen how our political system and our politicians, with some notable exceptions, will politicize a pandemic.

We’re not waiting out this virus, Beloved.  It’s killing things.  People, yes, but also our illusions, and we have the choice to numb ourselves with platitudes, or we can do the hard thing and no longer shelter our lives from the pain it is causing.

We must honor the little deaths, even if we do so in little ways.

It is freeing for me to say, with such frequency, “I don’t know.”  I say it all the time with my kids now.  My partner and I say it to one another regularly, especially when we talk about things happening in the summer months and next fall.

I don’t know when we’ll get to go to grandma and grandpa’s house again.  I don’t know if we’ll be at our nephew’s graduation party.  I don’t know when we’ll resume swimming lessons.  I don’t know if we’ll keep our jobs.

I just don’t know.

One of the little deaths I’m having to grieve now in this Wake is the death of so much certainty I thought I had, so many plans we had already made.  Like my ancestors at an Irish wake, I raise a glass to that certainty saying, “Cheers.  You had a nice run, old pal.”

Because it’s gone, and in many ways that’s both OK and so not OK, but either way it’s just damn true.

We must attend to the little deaths, Beloved.  We must free ourselves to grieve, to tell stories of what was, and be present in the waiting for what will be.

What Does the Church Look Like Without Communal Singing?

silent-and-semi-silent-vowels-in-japanese-devoicingHow can I keep…from singing? the old, old song asks.

Well, turns out you keep from singing because it might infect the alto section…and Lord knows no song is complete without the alto section.

If you don’t believe me, just ask an alto.

The very idea that communal song will be put on hold for a while, even after churches can gather in person again, breaks my heart.

Music is at the heart of what makes worship a thing.

Music is, some would say, what makes a church service tolerable.  And if the music is good?  Well, that can make a tolerable church service enjoyable, even.

Music was always the fallback for a pastor who gripped a sub-par sermon in their hands.  “Well,” they would think, “at least they’ll see Christ in the liturgy…”

The loss of communal singing in church will be great, indeed.  Where else, save for the bar, do we sing communally anymore?  Gone are the glee clubs.  Gone is classroom singing.  As the Fine Arts disappear from school curriculum in deference to STEM courses, gone is the peculiar mathematics and social intelligence that communal singing, both the learning and the doing, offer humanity.

And, sure, I’ve seen many the stoic pew-sitter stand obediently during a hymn and never move their lips.  But that is the exception, in my experience, not the rule.  It’s not that some have chosen not to sing in church, it’s that now we must choose not to fill the void those lyrical objectors create.

What will we do?

Well, we won’t stop music, that’s for sure.  In fact, one of the beautiful things about the liturgy lies in its repetition.  I only need to hear the introduction to Setting Four of This is the Feast and the song of my heart begins intoning, even if only in my mind, “This is the feast of victory for our God…

To be honest, one of the reasons the liturgy is repeated week after week is just for this reason: so your heart knows how to sing when your lips, for whatever reason, be it tragedy or overwhelming joy, cannot stir.  The liturgy is kind of like your familiar road home that you take, and though your mind drifts as you drive it, you arrive safely back in your garage before you know it because your body knows the way.

Your soul has memorized it.

That does not, of course, replace communal singing, but it is a bit of comfort, Beloved.

No, we will not abandon music, but we will do what communities have done since we first began purposeful gatherings: we will ask someone to sing on our behalf.

After all, what is a pastor but the person called by the community to lead them through the parts, sometimes offering them on the community’s behalf?  Who is the cantor but the person commissioned by the assembly to encourage song, arrange song and, if need be, sing for the silent community?  And, like the elected representatives currently fulfilling (or not) their duties in our government on our behalf, these people will take on the role of speaking for the community, singing for the community, until it can again.

This has happened in small ways, always.

I remember our musician playing an especially emotional rendition of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” one Sunday morning and, when his voice gave out as the tears choked him, the whole community started singing the song for him.  It was more than beautiful.

This will be that, but in reverse.

And I remember a particularly troublesome bout of laryngitis that afflicted me one Christmas Eve, leaving me no voice for my favorite Christmas hymns, as I had to save it all for the sermon. On that O holy night the community sang for me.

This will be that, but in reverse.

And surely wise leaders will take the opportunity to safely incorporate soloists, distanced duets, and whatnot for those gathered.

Crisis is the mother of ingenuity.

What will it look like?  I don’t know yet…but you can’t stop the music, Beloved. It dances inside you. It lives in the heart of our spirituality.  The Christian Celts claimed God sung creation into being and, as Jesus said, if this virus silences the disciples, the very rocks themselves will ring out in song, vibrating with the energy of sun they’ve absorbed every day of their existence.

The crickets chirp the soprano line. The wind rushes through the trees as an able tenor (which are hard to find!). The opening petals of the flowers and their almost imperceptible cracking will replace the bass pedals of the organ if they have to…though they won’t.

They won’t, because we’ll find a way.

It will be sad, it will be difficult, but it will be done.

You will sing for me, and I for you, until we can sing together.

 

Justice is on Trial

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The cross Arbery’s mother set up. Photo credit: Richard Fausset/The New York Times

“What have you done?!” the Lord asked. “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

That question, “What have you done?” cuts both ways in America. It always has, if we’re honest.

If you think for one damn minute we live in a post-racial society in the (dis)United States, explain to me why we still see Confederate flags at Reopen Michigan rallies.

Explain to me how a man in a KKK hood in California shops for produce in compliance to the face mask ordinance.

Explain to me how this pandemic has, in its very spread, cut itself along racial lines…doesn’t that make you scratch your head?  Doesn’t that make your heart hurt?  Doesn’t that objectively indicate that there is disparity in our system, forcing the spread of disease in communities of color?

Explain to me how a man can go jogging in a neighborhood of moss-hung trees and modest ranch houses and, just because of the color of his skin, is stopped and accosted by white residents armed with weapons.

No, not just accosted…hunted.  They saw him running and, like seeing an animal they wanted to get, grabbed their guns, hopped in their pick-up, and gave chase.

And if you think this is an isolated incident, need I say the name Trayvon Martin?

Need I say the name Alton Sterling?

Sandra Bland?

We may have outlawed lynching, but it took two months to get an arrest in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, with the prosecutor originally advising that no charges be brought because the murderers acted “in self defense.”

Apparently being black in a predominantly white neighborhood is threatening.

Actually, the above statement is exactly correct in my personal experience.

Not too long ago someone visiting my house looked out our window and, seeing a person of color in the cul-de-sac casually said, “Someone’s in the wrong neighborhood…”

The person is our neighbor. I mean, literally they are our neighbor, but this person who shows up weekly in a house of worship should also understand that word in a different way.  Did not Jesus say “love your neighbor” and, when pressed on the issue, gave a wide-sweeping definition of that word that undoubtedly included those who don’t look like you?

Let’s face it: most Christians have deified their prejudices, their political policies, and their bankrupt morality, not God.

The question, “What have you done?” weighs on me though.  Because when that person made that casual remark in my home I just said, as casually, “Oh, that’s Mr. X. They live in that house,” pointing down the road.

What I should have said was, “Yes. Apparently you are in the wrong neighborhood if you think we talk like that.  Apparently you are in the wrong neighborhood if you think this family puts up with that.  This isn’t the house, or the neighborhood, for that.”

Combating racism starts at the level of the heart, the head, and the mouth.  So many white people gather at Arbery’s grave not to cheer a miscarriage of justice, nor to protest it, but rather just to go home shaking their heads, preferring guilt to responsibility.

Be responsible.  We are responsible, in all the ways that word can be used, for this mess.

Justice is on trial, Beloved.

And for Christians, this issue needs to be personal.  Not only because our past is complicit in the problem, but even more so because we claim (emphasis on that word) to worship a God who fell victim to a miscarriage of justice.

The story of Jesus is one of a loving God going walking in the wrong neighborhood, a neighborhood that preferred violence to peace, preferred division over unity, preferred vengeance over service.

So, the question I’m asking myself, and I’m asking you: what have you done?!