Saturday, January 30, 2016

You Should Be Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me

It's a long-form, electrifying personal essay about being black in America. It's nightmare fuel for the state legislative yokels doing their best to redact public school history until nothing is left but a whitewashed civics lesson. You owe it to your brothers and sisters of color to take pause and give Coates a circumspect consideration. Here's an excerpt:

The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant "government  of  the people" but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the term "people" to actually mean. In 1863 it did not mean your mother or your grandmother, and it did not mean you and me. Thus America's problem is not its betrayal of 'government of the people," but the means by which "the people" acquired their names.
This leads us to another equally important ideal, one that Americans implicitly accept but to which they make no conscious claim. Americans believe in the reality of "race" as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism--the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them--inevitably follows fro this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores and earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast a as beyond the handiwork of men.
But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming the "people" has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the pre-eminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible--this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have bee brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.
These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new name has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power. The new people were something else before they were white--Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish--and if all our national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again. Perhaps they will truly become American and create a nobler basis for their myths. I cannot call it. As for now, it must be said the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieve through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs, the chaining of limbs; the strangling of dissidents; the destruction of families; the rape of mothers; the sale of children; and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies. 
The book, by the way, is written as a direct address from the author to his son.

from Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. New York: Random House / Spiegel & Grau, 2015.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Guided Meditation for Converted Jedi

Still yourself.

Be aware--your body, your breath, your surroundings. The seat or ground beneath you; the ceiling or sky above you. Hear each sound--rustling foliage; passing cars on the road; birds; the air.

Know and consider that the being of the triune Creator binds together the very fabric of reality. Consider the sacred immanence of the Creator among creation. Know his enduring pervasive nearness to all he has made. Know he loves all he has made.

Consider that the Creator has made you a temple. Matter housing spirit. Creator among creation. Consider; he has removed the barrier between your spirits. The creator binds you together. He also invites you, personally, to sacred fellowship.

Let your mind and consciousness sink to the pit of your chest, to your most vulnerable depths, to your spirit. You are naked and present with the infinite ocean of sacred being.

You stand in the temple of your heart. Its steps and columns are blood, flesh and synapse. The temple pulses grotesquely with the beating of your heart. Inside, still and strangely cool, initial darkness gives way to a vast, never-ceasing vista of scented smoke and impossibly bright rays of glory. You have an audience with the eternal mysterious person who holds you together sub-atomically and beyond.

Before your eyes, behold the majesty of the master of galaxies and quarks and stars and sand and the very electrical pulse animating your beating heart and the pallid grey wetware substrate of your finite consciousness. Remaining aware of this impossible being--his nearness, his openness, his readiness for fellowship--know that you have just barely begun to be ready to pray.

Speak, for your lord is listening.

"He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together." ~ Colossians 1:17

"To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you." ~ St. Theophan the Recluse

Friday, August 9, 2013

Size Matters Not

The following is the short homily I preached at Shepherd's Heart this morning. The gospel text for the day (on which it's based) is Mark 9:14-29, in which Jesus has just come down from the transfiguration on a mountain and immediately performs an exorcism.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus and his closest friends have just descended from the mountain where Jesus was transfigured. Peter, James and John had gone up with him, and saw the glory of God shining upon a human being. They witnessed in the most literal way possible heaven touching earth. Before their eyes and ears and every sense that God’s glory shook, Jesus radiated a white light as heroes of the faith appeared and the voice of the Father spoke.

Peter wanted to build sacred tents to honor the holy event taking place right in front of him. It was a natural thought, as God’s glory had always resided in a building, a holy place that where God’s people came to worship. But Jesus instructs them and us in a new way of holiness by walking down the mountain instead of staying on it. With Jesus, God’s glory no longer dwells in buildings or on mountains. Jesus is the sacred place. Jesus is where the glory of God abides. Jesus doesn’t stay on the mountain. Jesus goes where the need is. Our God is not a god to lock away the glory and throw away the key. Jesus became a human being and lived among us. That means that Jesus brings the glory of God to the place where we live.

Think about this story we’ve just heard. Jesus and his close friends are coming down from the mountain of transfiguration and find a crowd listening to the rest of the disciples talking about a demon-possessed boy with some Jewish scribes. They have been unable to heal him, and in response Jesus gets frustrated. He’s frustrated because he has an expectation for his followers. He sent them out with authority to cast out demons. Notice that, technically, Jesus didn’t need to be present to fix this situation. His followers, with faith and prayer, should have been able to help this child. The healing and deliverance ministry of Jesus is a ministry that belongs to his followers. It is not beyond us because we are not God. It is not Jesus’s exclusive privilege.

A troubled father has brought his tormented child in search of Jesus’s healing power. Think about what the child’s father does and says. He has brought the child to Jesus in the first place, meaning that he has some faith already. He pleads with Jesus to heal him, but he’s not quite sure if Jesus can really do it. And Jesus kind of throws his words back in his face in rebuke. “If you are able”!!, he protests, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” The father’s response is priceless--“I believe; help my unbelief!”

I believe! But... I don’t quite believe. Isn’t that all of us? We believe. That’s how we got here. That’s why we go to church and sing of and pray to Jesus. Yet our belief is weak. It is half-hearted. And we need help. We need help believing. Listen again to Jesus’s words: “All things can be done for the one who believes.” But no one in the story really believes that well. Not the disciples, not the crowd, not the father of this tormented boy. Who is the one who believes perfectly? Who is the one who deeply and perfectly trusts God the Father? Jesus. Of course, Jesus. A sufficiently believing person can’t be found. So Jesus steps in to do what no one else can do.

What do we learn about Jesus here? He’s been frustrated by their unbelief, yes. He’s been working hard to lead these disciples in the way of faith, love and holiness and they’re still coming up short. So Jesus does what he always does, he steps in and brings the salvation and glory of God. Jesus, full of faith in Father God speaks to the demon and he leaves the boy immediately. Even though he is frustrated and disappointed in the faith of his followers, he has mercy on the child anyway.

Jesus settles the discussion between the disciples and the scribes. Whatever reason for this child’s suffering, Jesus shows up and delivers him. Jesus, the glory of God fully alive in a human being, puts evil in its place by taking authority over the demon. Jesus teaches his disciples, the scribes, the crowd and us all a lesson: “All things can be done for the one who believes.” There is a higher possibility for us as human beings--a life of faith means a life of victory in Jesus. Also, there is a deep and powerful mercy in the heart of Jesus. Think about that father’s words again: “I believe... help my unbelief!!” There is a higher possibility for us, but when we fall short Jesus still has mercy on us. Jesus takes the tiny, frail, imperfect faith that we have and meets it with that brilliantly shining glory that Peter and the rest saw at the transfiguration.

Most of the time, we will not feel strong and powerful and full of faith. We will most our lives have much room to grow in our faith. But Jesus sees the small faith that we have and he blesses us anyway. Jesus is the one who heals; he is the one who delivers; he is the one who sends away demons. And he mercifully answers our prayers, helps our unbelief, calms our fearful hearts. He is our good news. Look to him. Listen to him. Cry out to him. Call on the name of the Lord Jesus. Call on the name of Jesus and you will be saved.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

"You Have Not Neglected"

"For the whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, so that your children might be kept unharmed... For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people, and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places."

Wisdom of Solomon 19:6, 22

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

God on the Mountains

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
-Isaiah 52:7

My friend Sam helpfully put this passage from second Isaiah in its exilic context during his chapel sermon this morning. It reminded me of the way apocalyptic literature functions to comfort oppressed and suffering people with the proclamation of God's universal authority vis-a-vis the humiliating political might of pagan rulers like Babylon and Rome. This passage is so frequently used in reference to Christian evangelism (I think Paul uses it somewhere in Romans) that it made me think of the connections between preaching the gospel and comforting the oppressed.

This cuts both in the direction of what is sometimes thought of as classical evangelism--Jesus died for your sins--and social gospel evangelism--Jesus calls his followers to support and fight for those in need. Both are ways of saying that the evil and the cruel powers of the world don't have the final say, but rather the merciful and just God of Israel.