Personal

Personal reflections, comments about things I've been doing, etc.

What I Really Want for my Birthday

I’ve always been difficult to get gifts for. As a child, I always wanted something special, something I couldn’t describe or put a name on, and I was disappointed that I never got it. I grew accustomed to that disappointment and came to expect it on Christmas and my birthday. As an adult, I’ve generally not been one for possessions. If I need something badly enough, then I go out and get it. If I don’t need it that badly, in most cases I’d just as soon do without.

At times, I’ve gotten gifts that have been meaningful or have been something I really needed but hadn’t gotten around to getting. I’ve always appreciated these efforts of my loved ones.

However, this year is different. I have received so many great gifts over the past year. My wife has gotten a great new job that she likes and that makes a difference in the world. My eldest daughter got her Master’s Degree earlier this year and has started her Doctorate. My middle daughter is doing wonderful work to reconnect art to daily life. (Find out more and consider donating on the website for Miranda’s Hearth). My youngest daughter is in Thailand learning about rescuing and carrying for elephants. (Learn more at Loop Abroad). Big thanks to everyone who contributed to her fundraising to be able to afford this trip.

I too, have had a wonderful life changing experience this past year. I started seminary last fall and last month went out to my first summer intensive. I have met some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. At this time when we look at all that it messed up in the country and the world, the people I’ve met and my experiences at Church Divinity School of the Pacific have brought me great hope and joy.

So, what is left to desire for a birthday present? What I want is for each person reading this post to discover how they are called to help make the world a better place, whether it be through advocacy around prison reform, studies around the nature of gender, reconnecting art to daily life, learning how to better care for all of God’s creatures, or wherever my journey is taking me. What I want is for each person reading this post to feel some of the hope, love, and joy that has made this past year so special for me.

Thank you, everyone.

Deconstructing the Established White Christmas: Homelessness, Immigration, and Pain

“I need help,” the old man said. He had come to the Homeless Memorial Service and was looking for food, shelter, and comfort. It had been a long day and I suspect all of us wanted to get home to dinner. He had been saying the same thing for probably half an hour as we tried to get him to head up to the soup kitchen for dinner and then return to the warming station at the church afterwards. After telling his story several times and describing the extent of his few belongings we finally got him on his feet and heading towards the door. He had a 2018 calendar because he was hopeful for 2018.

The day before, I had been to a Blue Christmas service at another church. I prayed for my friends and family members who have lived on the streets. A couple have their own apartments now. Another is in jail after getting into a fight.

I prayed for my friends and family who have been fighting illness. Some have fought cancer this year and are doing well. Others are still in the middle of that fight. Some have died. I prayed for those who have pain yet to be diagnosed. Some are at home. Others are in hospitals or rehabilitation centers.

I prayed for those who have been separated from their families this year. Those U.S. citizens who have seen their hard working tax paying parents deported under new administration policies. Those U.S. citizens who have seen their parents take sanctuary in local churches to avoid deportation.

A vigil outside of one church particularly stuck in my memory. The church was a Spanish speaking Pentecostalist church in a rough part of town. Years ago, when that part of town was where the wealthy lived, it had been a beautiful mainline Protestant church. Some of the stained glass windows survive. Others are now covered with plywood.

On Facebook, a friend with OCD posted about his torments, questioning whether the Episcopal church was Christian enough. Many criticised his post while others offered prayers or tried to help people understand what OCD is really like.

I have just finished my first semester of seminary and I am missing my classmates and my readings. I’ve been thinking a lot about post establishment Christianity and if we can learn anything from post colonial theory. I’ve struggled with how theory and praxis intersect and I think there is something in these experiences to be explored.

Last night, I listened to an An Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. I think about the “subalterns”, those suffering outside the existing power structures. Mostly, I exist fairly comfortably within the power structures, although there are places where I struggle or have been rejected by the power structures.

This evening, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The established churches will sing beautiful carols. Some will have incense. I will be there, thinking not only of God becoming human and living with us, but of God becoming a subaltern. Fleeing to Egypt from the power structures, coming back from Egypt leading to a conflict with the power structures that resulted in crucifixion.

If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, walk with the homeless man saying, “I need help”. It is a modern vernacular translation of “Lord have mercy”. Pray with those struggling with pain and illness. Confront the political and ecclesiastical power structures. Most importantly, keep your eyes open for where the subaltern Christ has been born around you. O come, let us adore him.

October

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month. For me, it is probably October.

Forty-one years ago, I was off in college and received a letter from my mother that one of my high school classmates had disappeared. I called home frantic. Over the rest of the month, I received additional letters from home; newspaper clippings of the search for Rocky, followed by the bulletin from her funeral service. They never found the murderer.

Five years ago, on Sunday, Tropical Depression Eighteen formed south of Jamaica. Over the following week it gained strength and made its way up the coast as hurricane Sandy. As I was digging out after the storm, I received a Facebook message from my sister, “Aldon call me immediately”. There had been a car accident. My mother was dead.

This morning, Facebook suggested a memory from a year ago, my blog post, Good Friday Open Heart Surgery. I spoke about the discernment retreat I was about to go on with the Commission on Ministry and my hopes and fears. A week later, my greatest fear happened.

I am still putting together the pieces from each trauma

The Christmas Louse

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

I have often quoted Robert Burns, “To a Louse” in my blog, and the quote came back to me this morning as I reflected on the gifts I received yesterday. The gifts we receive give us some indication of how others see us. They are based on assumptions about what we are interested in, what we find enjoyable.

I have been thinking about this a lot recently. A couple months ago, a group of people whose vision of who I am has a significant impact on who I may become said that they see me in a very different way than I see myself. It was, and continues to be, jarring. One person suggested I read Parker J. Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. The suggestion says something about how that person views me and based on my reading so far in Palmer’s book, it is a view that clashes with how I see myself.

Another book I was given was The Agpeya: The Coptic Prayer Book of the Seven Hours. In the fall we visited a Coptic Orthodox church in Hamden for their Egyptian fair. My wife, knowing my interest in liturgical prayer from many traditions, picked that up for me. I find the different words and traditions used to pray helpful as I think about prayer and I have started using The Agpeya in some of my prayers.

My wife also got me a copy of Upstream by Mary Oliver. It is a selection of her essays. I really enjoy Mary Oliver’s poetry, but I’ve never read any of her essays. I read the first essay last night, about going upstream, and I really like it. As I reflect on Mary Oliver and Parker Palmer, I suspect that Oliver may have more to say to me than Palmer and that this is something I need to reflect upon in my own writing.

My middle daughter, who built a tiny house as an art project she now lives in, gave me the book, Living at the End of Time by John Hanson Mitchell. From reading the cover, it sounds like the book is about the intersection of my interests and my daughter’s interests; a simple life reconnected to art, beauty, simplicity, and spirituality. I have not yet started it, but I am looking forward to it.

Yet, lest people get too one-sided a view of my interests, my eldest daughter got me Colin Cremin’s book Exploring Videogames with Deleuze and Guattari: Towards an Affective Theory of Form. I often talk with my eldest daughter, over Skype as I am driving to work in Connecticut and she is coming home from school in Japan about Deleuze and Guattari as well as about videogames. I’m pretty excited about reading this book.

I hope to bring thoughts from each of these books into my writing here for the next several weeks.

Praying for Milton

Yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook about a review of a church his wife works at that starts off, “These people are Zigeuner trash. These Gypsies should be all be rounded up and exterminated”. He said he had reported the post to Facebook, but they were not taking down the post.

I’ve shared my friend’s post a few different places suggesting others request the review be taken down or that the review gets drowned out by positive reviews. I am not a big fan of removing content, or of trying to silence other people’s speech, even if it is hateful or promotes violence. I’ve had to do it for work, and I often wonder if it is the best approach.

Who is Milton? What has happened in his life that fills him with such hate and hurt? What has gone on in his life that makes him think it is okay to post stuff like this. I set these thoughts aside, and got on with my day.

Throughout the day, as I read articles about the anniversary of Sandy Hook, the conviction of Dylan Roof, and the latest news about President-Elect Donald Trump, my mind went back to Milton.

I believe it is a sin to refer to any person as ‘trash’ and I wondered about the word “Zigeuner”. Wikipedia says this is a racist term most likely from a Greek word meaning “untouchable” used to describe Romanians and Gypsies, especially by those, like the Nazi’s, intent on genocide. My sense of Milton as a broken person, a sinner in desperate need of God’s love became clearer.

I did a little searching online. Milton’s Facebook page talked about going to various elite schools, but the times didn’t make a lot of sense. He posted a very positive review of a church in New York.

He posted on the page of a Bar “I hope you die.” about a week ago.

All of this made me think of Evan. What are we supposed to do when we see someone posting about death, hatred, and genocide? My first reaction is to pray for Milton. To this, I’ve posted a comment on many of his posts that I am praying for him.

I am sharing this post as a question to all of us about how we respond online.

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