The Pace of Progress

I happened to see the above image on a tote-bag a few days ago and was immediately struck by it. I had a good conversation with the owner of the bag about progress and how it can feel like progress is being lost right now. One step forward and two steps back. But for me the image represents exactly the way in which the arc of history is bumpy when you look at it up close.

I got home and started researching the image. I found out that Women You Should Know commissioned David Trumble to riff off of the classic depression-era image colloquially called “Men at Work” calling his image “Feminism at Work.” In it, in chronological order, are some of the most influential women in advocating for feminism and the rights of women, whether it was the right to vote, use birth control, or have a seat at the political table.

Then I got to work on a writing assignment I have in which I’m exegeting the book of Romans. I know the Apostle Paul isn’t known for his staunchly feminist viewpoint, but try to follow me on this one. Up to this point in the letter to the Romans Paul systematically showed how neither Jews nor Gentiles could claim to be righteous before God based on what they’d done or how they were born (side note, and probably fodder for a future blog post, whenever you see the term “righteous” in the New Testament it almost certainly carries the weight of “justice” as understood in the Prophets of the Old Testament, so economic, gender, and racial justice are all in view when the New Testament refers to righteousness).

From there Paul went somewhere that seems a little strange at first:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rom. 5:1-5, NRSV)

Because we are declared just people and have peace with God we should boast in our suffering. Wait. What?

I think Paul is giving advice to woke people. I think he’s saying, once you’ve settled your shit with God, you realize all the ways that you’ve been unjust and unloving and admit that you can’t fix any of that, all you can do is work towards being just and loving in the future, you’ll have peace within yourself. You have to start by loving yourself even though you participated in unjust systems, did unjust actions, and were unloving to yourself, others, and God. Once you accept that you are loveable and can forgive yourself for all of your unjust and unloving actions, then you start seeing all of the injustice around you. That’s when you need to develop the skills of hope.

I think every woman depicted on the girder above became an expert in hope. They endured suffering, they built character, and they strengthened their hope-muscles. It’s easy enough to hope for something that’s a day away, or two. But to do work in the hopes that maybe in a decade or a century your work will bear fruit. That’s some strong-ass hope!

And that’s exactly the hope that we all need to cultivate if we want to continue seeing progress towards gender justice, racial justice, economic justice, and all forms social justice. Some Christians want to attack social justice as if it doesn’t have anything to do with God or the gospel (more blog fodder I guess), but the bible makes it clear that there is no difference. The good news of Jesus is that everyone is worthy of love and belonging, that we get to put down our various hustles for worthiness (TM – Dr. Brené Brown), and start the work of seeking justice. I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he said:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30, NRSV)

Once you let go of the hustle it’s easy to see suffering as something to endure rather than a commentary on your worth and value. Once your worthiness is not on the line it’s easy to advocate for the worthiness of other people. Once you know that you are lovely and loved no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or how you were born, it’s easy to hope that everyone can receive that beautiful gift.

Then the work begins, that has always been the work and will be until it is done: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NRSV).

_______________________________________________________________

hope

when the world
takes two steps backward
progress is not lost
merely delayed

vision progresses
ever forward
imagination unleashed
inevitable

a game of inches
and miles
hearts growing
together
slowly…
so…
fucking….
slowly!

do not forget
the whiff of freedom
glimpses of equality
puzzle-box covers

find the corners
and edges
the shape of
what might be

and make it so

Season 1 Episode 9 – Vulnerability

In which I talk about the necessity of vulnerability, yoga, time travel, and paradoxes.

Dr. Brené Brown has done extensive work on shame and vulnerability that has informed my theology deeply. I believe that her work directly expresses how to live out what Jesus called the greatest command: love. If we can’t be vulnerable, if we can’t process our shame, then we can’t love ourselves, others, or God.

We all need love and belonging; Dr. Brown has shown this to be an unquestionable fact. Without vulnerability we can’t give and receive love and belonging. With vulnerability we are at risk of the pain of shame. It is a risk to love and be loved; yet unless we take that risk we all lose.

The paradox of love is this: to belong you must risk not belonging. The choice to be vulnerable is the choice to pursue love, despite the cost.

Image credit: brenebrown.com

Cannabis: Golden Pineapple from Eco Firma Farms

Season 1 Episode 9 – Vulnerability

 
 
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Season 1 Episode 8 – Deathology

In which I talk about how death is the impetus for the central question of the universe, consider the ultimate cause, and question whether that first cause was based on intent.

Death, which is inevitable, drives us to consider whether our lives have any purpose or not. Further, it drives us to consider whether the universe has any purpose or not. So a theology of death calls us to align our views of death and the purpose of the universe. If it’s all random chance or intentional choice. And if we can choose, what is it that we choose: harm or healing, joy or pain?

What do you think is the purpose of the universe? What do you think happens after we die? And how does that affect how you live?

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

Cannabis: Zkittlez from Farma

#deathology #bothand #intersectingspectra #fearbasedeconomy #dietohate #egomurderers #otherpeoplearepeopletoo #depressinghope #depressingoptimist

Season 1 Episode 8 – Deathology

 
 
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How Truth isn’t Truth to Fundamentalists

In an interview on Sunday with Meet the Press, lawyer for President Trump, Rudy Giuliani said, “truth isn’t truth” by way of defending his client against possible perjury. He has since attempted to clarify his statement via Twitter:

To me this points to the larger problem within fundamentalism (whatever the politics, creed, or beliefs, for more check out the podcast on the theology of fundamentalism): truth as proposition rather than pursuit.

The fundamentalist need to avoid being wrong (because being wrong is tantamount to being dead) leads to seeing truth as a proposition to be accepted (or rejected if you want to be excluded from the community). You must accept this doctrine or that political belief or this scientific theory or else you are capital-W Wrong. And being wrong sends you to hell or destroys the country (or world). It’s based on fear and the shame associated with being wrong.

Mayor Giuliani said that he wasn’t attempting to pontificate on “moral theology” when he said “truth isn’t truth,” but rather was saying that it’s often impossible to determine what actually happened when two people say contradictory things. While that’s an accurate statement on the surface, I don’t believe that it correctly portrays the situation nor the underlying motivations of most fundamentalists.

There is plenty of actual evidence (not hearsay nor unsubstantiated testimony). This is far from being a case of “he said, she said” and I believe Mayor Giuliani and President Trump are smart enough to know that. With all the fundamentalists that I’ve known, grew up with, and continue to talk to, the common denominator has always been a deathly fear of being wrong, even to the point of changing the definitions of ‘truth’ to suit their position.

Mayor Giuliani came out and said exactly what is at the heart of fundamentalism and exactly why there’s almost no space for dialogue between fundamentalists and anyone else. For fundamentalists truth isn’t truth if it means they’re wrong, being wrong is unthinkably dangerous, therefore truth much change to keep them safe. That’s why the morality of President Trump hasn’t been a problem for the vast majority of White Evangelical Christians (i.e. rebranded fundamentalists).

Moral theology is exactly the point, despite Mayor Giuliani’s dissembling. Morality and theology must, of necessity, be located outside the experience and understanding of the individual. Put another way, morality tells us how to interact with other humans and so should require us to be wrong at times as we learn and grow. If we aren’t ever wrong morality is a useless construct. Similarly theology is meant to tell us how to interact with the divine. If the divine is nothing but a reflection of what we already want then we can stop wasting time pretending that we’re doing something dictated by a higher power and simply take responsibility for our own actions. But that’s anathema to the fundamentalist mindset because it requires embracing being wrong, placing themselves as subject to a higher truth, higher morality, and higher calling rather than justifying what they already believe to protect their fragile illusion of being right and therefore safe.

Truth is only truth if you are willing to let it change you.

 

Season 1 Episode 7 – Fundamentalism

In which I talk about the, um, fundamentals of Fundamentalism (and how all of us recovering fundamentalists can pave the way towards a better future).

Cannabis: Silver Tip from Farma

 

Season 1 Episode 7 – Fundamentalism

 
 
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Season 1 Episode 6 – Science

In which I talk about terpenes (like beta-Caryophyllene), the endocannabinoid system, science, and how it’s not at all in conflict with theology.

Cannabis: Obama Kush from Farma

 

Season 1 Episode 6 – Science

 
 
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Season 1 Episode 5 – Gratitude

In which I express gratitude for the eucharist, Hamilton, and frugality.

Cannabis: Diesel Tonic

Method: Pulsar APX Vaporizer

Season 1 Episode 5 – Gratitude

 
 
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Season 1 Episode 4 – Liberation

In which I discuss homemade tincture, the arc of history, and liberation theology.

Cannabis: Homemade AVB tincture (Already Vaped Bud).

Season 1 Episode 4 – Liberation

 
 
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Season 1 Episode 3 – Holiness

In which I discuss the nature of holiness, not as being right all the time, but as being fully and completely you.

Cannabis: Lemon Meringue from Satchel

 

Season 1 Episode 3 – Holiness

 
 
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Habakkuk and Despair

As the news carries yet another story of yet another unarmed black person murdered by police (his name was Antwon Rose), my thoughts turn first to despair. Again!? Another!? Murder justified by circumstance and denigration!?

And then my thoughts turn to Habakkuk.

I know, that’s probably not what you would have expected, but hear me out. Long ago, during a time when I was close to giving up on God, I came to Habakkuk. The words of the prophet echoed the emotions of my heart:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save? (1:2, NIV)

There’s this utter despair in the complaint of Habakkuk that I feel rising up in me again and again as I hear the news: more murders, more injustice, more racism, more sexism, more homophobia, more xenophobia, more, more, more. When will it end?

Why do you force me to look at evil,
stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
and stand justice on its head. (1:3-4, MSG)

“Justice is a joke!” as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, is about as succinctly as I can state this feeling. What’s the point? Why keep pursuing justice if there’s no such thing? Why demand equality if it’ll never happen? Why keep trying, fighting, resisting, when it doesn’t work?

God’s response to Habakkuk was, shall we say, not exactly what he wanted to hear.

Look around at the godless nations.
Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock.
Something’s about to take place
and you’re going to find it hard to believe.
I’m about to raise up Babylonians to punish you… (1:5-6a)

God goes on to describe how the Babylonians, the most feared power in the ancient near east at the time, were ruthless, bloodthirsty death-dealers.

They descend like vultures
circling in on carrion.
They’re out to kill. Death is on their minds.
They collect victims like squirrels gathering nuts. (1:8b-9)

Yup, those are the people that God decided to use. WTF!?

Habakkuk’s response to God was just a little more tactful:

God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you?
    Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we?
God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work?
    Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline?
But you can’t be serious!
    You can’t condone evil!
So why don’t you do something about this?
    Why are you silent now?
This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous
    and you stand around and watch! (1:12-13, emphasis original)

And, for me, this is the pivot back to justice, mercy, and love. It’s the place where Habakkuk leads me to complain to God about all of the evil in the world. It’s the place where I see that it’s safe and good to inhabit a place of despair–as long as I do so in community and communication with God and God’s people. Isolated despair is dangerous, cancerous, and ultimately deadly. But despair in community gives it a place to exist, space to be and breathe and process the overwhelmingness of the feelings.

God empathized with Habakkuk (and does with us too):

And then God answered: “Write this.
    Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
    so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness
    pointing to what’s coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
    And it doesn’t lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
    It’s on its way. It will come right on time. (2:2-3)

“How long?” Habakkuk asked. “Right on time!” is God’s reply.

But God didn’t stop there. After that the response turned to a full accounting of the evils that God saw, and letting Habakkuk know that God’s character had not changed, despite the evidence of evil everywhere. Starting and ending with the reminders of faith:

The righteous person will live by their faithfulness (2:4b, NIVish)

The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him. (2:20, NIV)

The opening reminder is one of the more often quoted passages from the Hebrew Scriptures found in the Christian Scriptures. It is a call to faithfulness in relationship with God. Staying loyal to the righteousness of God, the understanding of what justice, mercy, and love look like, and continuing in that relationship even when despair sets in (especially when despair sets in). That is faithfulness! It’s not holding the right set of propositional truths nor complying with the correct system of rules and regulations. No, it’s being faithful to the relationship, to the person of God, who is love and justice and mercy. And it’s trusting that God will continue to be faithful to us even as in the past.

And it was to the past that Habakkuk turned to process his despair:

God, I’ve heard what our ancestors say about you,
    and I’m stopped in my tracks, down on my knees.
Do among us what you did among them.
    Work among us as you worked among them.
And as you bring judgment, as you surely must,
    remember mercy. (3:2, MSG)

He then recounted God’s past victories over evil and injustice. He remembered God’s past faithfulness and, in relationship, called on God to continue to be faithful in the future. Finally, Habakkuk came to the answer to despair:

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights. (3:16b-19a, NIV)

“Yet” is a powerful word in the face of despair.

Yet I will wait for justice to roll down.

Though people are still being murdered for being black; though immigrants are still being criminalized, victimized, and interned; though corporations and oligarchs still control most of the world, at the cost of the poorest and most vulnerable; though equality for women, for non-binary people, for LGBTQ people, for people of color, and for so many others is still just a long-hoped-for dream; yet…

Yet I will rejoice, I will be faithful, I will recommit to the one who has committed to me, in love and mercy, to seek justice together, for as long as it takes.

Habakkuk leads us into despair, not to defeat it or destroy it, but to contextualize it within our faithful relationship to a faithful God. To see that despair is the natural response of compassion. We’re supposed to feel this way because we’re learning to love, not just ourselves, but our neighbors. We are learning justice and so become aware of injustice. We are learning inclusion and so becoming aware of exclusion. We are learning hope and contentment and so becoming aware of greed.

Despair is a death-moment. It is a losing, falling, cross-taking, Jesus-Way following moment. The God of the cross is a God that suffers-with (i.e. has compassion). The Way of Jesus is the Way of faithfulness to the just, merciful, loving character and nature of God even through suffering. Hope lies on the other side of despair, and it’s found through the work of compassion.

How do you process despair? Cultivate hope?

(Read Habakkuk in the NIV)
(Read Habakkuk in The Message)