Day #40: Integrity

Everyone from Judah who is living in the land of Egypt will die by the sword and by famine, until all are gone. 28 Those who actually survive war and return from Egypt to the land of Judah will be very few.
-Jeremiah 44:27-28

Not everyone gets a happy ending. The resiliency gospel is not the prosperity gospel—there is no promise of wealth and happiness here. So the ending returns to the beginning. This series began with a passage from Jeremiah, where the prophet bought a field in a collapsing nation state, with a near-defunct currency, to create a deed that wouldn’t be honored. To prove that there is still hope in destruction. By the end of his life, Jeremiah has been dragged to Egypt on a fool’s errand with some refugees trying to avoid war. War comes to Egypt, and most of the people Jeremiah accompanied to Egypt don’t make it out. Jeremiah dies in Egypt, although we aren’t told how. Meanwhile, in Babylon, where the other half of the nation was deported, life gets marginally better but it still sucks. And then the story ends. It doesn’t get better.  Jeremiah remains resilient as he can through war, national crisis, and bad decisions. He has integrity. But it doesn’t get better. He just tries to bring his best self to a world getting worse.

Takeaway: Resilience is a sexy word in pop culture. It was so trendy I was reluctant to make it the center of my Lenten practice. But actual resilience is not very sexy, because it’s an admission that things might not get better. Life could get harder than it is now. Tomorrow, Jesus will resurrect, but he won’t stay, God won’t stay in flesh on earth. This embodied hope we came to count on—the friendship and mentorship of the kindness of the universe—it doesn’t stay as close as we wish. Resurrection is hope, but it’s not resolution. We still have to make a way in the world with hope standing at a distance. When I think about climate change, the American economy, the institutional church, I realize: it might not get better. But I want to bring my best self to the worst times, even if the worst of times go on and on and on. Several times during Lent, I’ve read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road,” and it summarizes best the resilience I want to embody. It’s the integrity of hope in all circumstances. Ada Limón writes of the Great Blue Heron as a symbol of hope, and says “I think even if I fail at everything,/I still want to point out the heron like I was taught.” Read “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road.” What does it look like to point toward hope, even if you fail at everything?

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

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Advent is Not for the Hopeful, it is for the Tenacious

This post is an excerpt from a sermon I preached Dec. 4. Find the full text here.

This Advent, I’ve heard many Christians saying how excited they are for the season of hope and comfort. After the stress of the election and the beating 2016 has given us, they ask to avoid the dark things and focus on the hope.

When I hear this, I wonder if these Christians are really want comfort or if they want stability. If they are asking to hear peace, peace when there is no peace. I wonder if these Christians are searching not for hope, but for the opiate of the masses. When spoken by the privileged, pleas of hope can sound like pleas for ignorant bliss. Let’s speak of hope, they say, because we have the luxury of choosing when we have to confront oppression.

When the people asking for hope live in middle- and upper-class comfort, it sounds like they are asking for permission to bury their heads in the sand. Continue reading

An Anabaptist Survival Guide to the 2016 Elections

(This post is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on March 13. The traditional Anabaptist view is that Christians should not vote and thereby support a fallen system, but I–and many other contemporary Anabaptists–am of the school that voting is an extension of our creative nonviolence. This post is designed to speak to both those who vote and those who are conscientious objectors to voting. All of us must survive the election season.)

The 2016 election is brutal. Not just because it started in 2015. The whole narrative of the election hinges on an existential proposition–that we’re not voting for a person, we’re voting on the very nature of our lifestyles. It’s a terrifying proposition to put to a democracy, but it’s probably not too far off base.

So how do we deal with fourteen months of news reels asking us if the world as we know it is about to end? I tried to design a few practices for my own congregation.

DO Less. Be more. Ask yourself, “Am I seeking the things that love me back? What matters? Where matters?” Seek the places and people who matter.

DO Rest. You by yourself won’t change the election; you will not with a Five Hour Energy or a longer Facebook comment sway the outcome of the state. Be kind to yourself. Rest. Do the things that strengthen you. Live outside of the news cycle. Continue reading

What the Church Needs: Calling Bullshit and Imagining the Impossible

This week, while I’m at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, I was asked to respond to the question What do you see in Anabaptism that is needed for the church today? It’s one of the themes for the week; there are lots more people saying intelligent things about it, and I’ve tried to collect some of them here. Given the nature of the question, I’ve put on my rose-colored glasses and examining Anabaptism at its best.

Anabaptism today offers two major contributions to Christian conversation. The first is that Anabaptists have a unique framework well-suited for the theological task of calling bullshit. This task is a theological task, and a critical one in our time—I’ll say more about this in a minute. When I was in seminary, one of our assigned readings was a thin book by Harry G. Frankfort called On Bullshit. I want to read an excerpt from the opening chapter:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit…. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and avoid being taken in by it…. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what function it serves.”

Continue reading

The Mad Farmer and the Hard Work of Joy

It’s been a long couple of weeks, hasn’t it? What with Michael Brown’s grand jury; the grand jury on Eric Garner’s case; all the other recent headlines on police brutality; and on top of it, the ongoing hopelessness of immigration reform; the looming prospect of Keystone XL; the dry, dry winter; the intersectionality of it all.

Who even noticed we’re halfway through Advent? (On the church calendar, not the picture pop up calendar you buy from the toy store or the German market.) My church’s theme this Advent is Faith on Tiptoes, in the traditional four parts. No, you Mennonites, not bass, tenor, alto, soprano–the other four parts: hope, peace, joy love. Continue reading

Mulberries, Monarchs, and Evanescent Hope

What do any of us know about mulberries?, I fumed. We can’t tell a mulberry from a serviceberry. It wasn’t about the mulberries, really. Of course it was. But it was also about hopelessness.

The joy and danger of my work is that I traffic in the good. Not in the way that when I worked at an ice cream shop, I trafficked in the good, scooping cones slightly larger than the 4 oz. regulation size. I traffic in the Moral Good; every aspect of my work translates to the larger philosophical task of Pursuing the Good. And today, I was tired. Of doing good. Of the long, long time and many, many committee meetings it takes to accomplish anything in church. Of the pettiness of human nature and our inability to transcendently love each other. Of our constantly falling short of the Glory of God. Continue reading