Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Random Thoughts on Related Events

1. The Stanford rape case, the source of internet outrage for a week, is related to the mass shooting at the Orlando gay nightclub, Pulse, news of the next week that supplanted the Stanford rage. Both are examples of a patriarchy that teaches real men grab their twenty minutes of action where they can and not from another man. It's a masculine ideal that is seen as less than wholly to blame for rape and hate crimes because in one way or another the victims of the crime had it coming.

2. Everyone's a tough manly man until they're faced with a prison term or they see two men kissing. Then everyone's delicate sensibilities are shattered to where they can't cook steaks anymore or they have to go shoot up a night club or something.

3. If prison is too damaging a place for a rapist, perhaps it's time to look at our prison system.

4. Was the Pulse shooter (I don't like giving these people fame, others want to name them---I don't know which is the better notion) a deeply closeted and conflicted gay man? I see mixed reports on how his visits to Pulse prior to his rampage might be interpreted. The point is: study after study has shown that the men who are most vocally against homosexuality are also turned on by erotic images of other men. I'd say that well over half of gay men raised in a strict religious setting that condemned homosexuality could tell you stories of internalized homophobia. I grew up in a relatively liberal form of Christianity and I have plenty of tales to tell. I have no surprise to offer at the news that this shooter was at least fascinated by Pulse for some time.

5. These are random thoughts and I have many more. I haven't time for them all this week. Suffice to say, for now, that I do not see these two events as separate. Excuses, justifications, commentary that begins with "this won't be a popular opinion but . . . " are rampant after both. Both events focus an awful lot on the perpetrators and not in ways that say, "how do we be better humans, how do we raise up better men?" but in ways that say, "what they did was understandable and the victims could have avoided their fate if . . . " Rape culture, gun culture, toxic masculinity . . . We have such a hard time talking about these. We have a such a hard time acknowledging these.

But my last random thought that is related to all of this is: Fear is the enemy. Paranoia is the enemy. Jesus taught us this. The Prodigal Son story is all about that. Mr. Rogers' story about about looking for the helpers is all about this. We can't give into the utter bullshit of rape culture and gun culture and toxic masculinity. If we do, we're going to end up being the religious folk who won't help, we're going to start shooting the Samaritan who will take care of us at our lowest, bloodiest point.

When we are feeling our rage and fear and whatever else and are still able to say, That other over there, the one not like me and who, on the surface, scares me a little---that one is also made in the Image of God, then we have some hope for humanity.

But we have to put down the guns. We have to set aside our gender norms. We have to not only look for the helpers but be the helpers.

We have to realize we're the Samaritan, despised and avoided, to someone and we have to help.

Right now, we need help dismantling rape culture, gun culture, and toxic masculinity.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Orlando Shooting

Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. [Mark 6: 27-33]

I used to try writing songs in my 20s, but I never got very proficient as a musician (never got past a few basic chords on a guitar), and so I moved on to other creative endeavors.

But last year sometime, the above text was part of the gospel lesson one Sunday and the "come away" sounded particularly musical to me that day, and this bubbled up. I imagined it as Jesus to his disciples and I also imagined it today as a lament for anyone who feels or sees the powers of the world destroying our heroes and our hope. Of course, that includes LGBT folk.


On June 12, 2016, a man with guns entered a club in Orlando Florida and killed 49 people and wounded that many and more beside. I had no words to talk about it. I shared a couple of things other people said on Facebook, but I didn't know what to say for myself.

Then this song that I can't play on a guitar bubbled up again. I sat on my couch and sang it for my laptop and posted it for my Facebook friends.

And casual and frumpy as I am, singing poorly and missing notes, I'm going to let this be my commentary on the Orlando shooting. For now.


Come away to a quiet place.
Come away and rest awhile. (2x)

Without joy and full of fear,
With little hope and some despair,
We'll take our grief to a lonely place.
We'll seek our solace there.
Because we still have a little hope
We'll survive what we can't bear. 


In our own nation we are exiles.
Shunned and shamed by our own tribe.
We'll heal our wounds in a lonely place,
Far from home but still alive.
We have no home. But we have breath.
In the breath we will abide.


From our exile, we will arise.
We won't always feel this way.
We'll gather strength in this lonely place,
Strength to face the coming day
When we will die as we love.
Love will have the final say.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Speak Humility Silence Love

My desert heroes, the Abbas and Ammas of the Fourth Century, valued silence. There are endless stories and sayings about this. It was a way to practice humility. It was a way to practice listening---to others as well as for God. It was a path to loving their neighbor.

I'm often quiet in a group. Sometimes it's because I'm trying to practice what my heroes taught, a lot of times it's just that I've grown increasingly socially awkward. We live in a culture that finds silence uncomfortable, even when we're alone. We keep music and television playing so we never have to experience the silence. I'm sure my silence in groups rubs up against that cultural norm and I sometimes perceive that my silent awkwardness makes people uncomfortable. Out of hospitality, another virtue among the monks, I might try to speak more. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it only increases the awkwardness.

Of course there is a time to speak.

We have these collections of "sayings" because they spoke sometimes. Sometimes it was a novice to the desert life approaching an elder, asking, "Abba, give me a word." The abba may or may not have answered the request, but they did often enough to give us a large body of literature.

They might also speak out against something happening that was patently wrong. They were big on not judging (some sayings tell us there is nothing worse than passing judgment), and so when they spoke up, I imagine it was out of some clear call to speak.

I think of people throughout history who have spoken out. Just in the last 150 years of American history, we have the voices speaking out against slavery, for women's suffrage, for civil rights . . . The famous slogan of the Act Up activists in the early years of the AIDS crisis was "Silence = Death." Just yesterday, I specifically asked, on Facebook, for my straight cis male friends to speak up more against rape culture because I'd noticed that on a few threads wherein it was discussed the only people speaking were women and gay men. An awkward but generally useful conversation thread followed.

Sometimes speaking is as awkward as keeping silent.

The point of both speaking and keeping silence is one and the same. It's not to appear the most knowledgeable or to fix the problem at hand or to avoid conflict or to prove rightness or wrongness. If the greatest commandments are to love God and to love neighbor as self, then whether we keep silent or if we speak out, the point is to love.

It won't be an easy, sweet love. Not all the time. When it is, it will be an enormous gift.

And someone won't like it or find it too uncomfortable or otherwise judge you for your effort.

But the point  also is not to be liked and always comfortable and free of conflict. The point is to love.

Whether we speak or keep silent, we will make mistakes. We will love badly. We will fail horribly. We will not find this love to bring a peaceful existence at all times.

And we must find our way to do it. It's the greatest commandment.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Survival Mode

I was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago. It's been quite a learning experience and it's probably a never-ending learning experience. I now have, for example, sugar dips that can alter my mood. I can get pretty focused about finding my next meal, and maybe a little aggressive in that focus. In those cases, I also experience actual hunger---that stomach-growling feeling. Other times, I may not feel the hunger pangs and, emotionally, it's a quite different experience. In short, I get sad. It's a particular sort of sad, a kind of longing that doesn't focus on food. In one case, I was on a bus, on my way home, and what I experienced was an irrational homesickness, a sad, if impatient, longing to be there already, not 20 minutes away. (Yeah, homesickness from 20 minutes away.)

I think this happened a few times before I realized this sadness that was coming upon me was a need for food. When I did realize what it was, I was kind of relieved and I now knew what to do about it. I find a snack (which I've started carrying in my backpack) and I don't feel sad anymore.

So far into my life, this is the closest I can name as feeling like I'm entering into survival mode. It's a sort of desperation to get some morsel of food in me, but it's also an easily remedied desperation. In general, I have the means to find a snack at nearly any given moment.

I see people in survival mode daily in this big city. From my neighborhood to downtown where I work, homeless people are always present. I see them develop survival instincts that I have never needed. From storytelling ability to being able to pick out who is likely to help to being aware of all the places where they can get a meal, clean clothes, medical attention without insurance or money---I see them being masters of getting through each day.

But it's not only disease and poverty that sends our species into survival mode. You can see it in the CEOs drawing seven-figure salaries who are afraid that a living salary for their lowest paid workers would somehow make their life less livable. You can see it in the elected officials who vote for their own raise in salary but won't budge on minimum wage legislation. This is greed, yes, but it's a type of self-preservation---survival mode---that says living well with less, even living quite well with less, diminishes them.

Which, as many things do, brings me to the Desert Mothers and Fathers. These desert monks and hermits developed their disciplines (sometimes quite extreme by our standards but sometimes in response to their current understanding of science and psychology) as an effort to control what they called "passions." They didn't use the word in the way that we do. We speak of passion as something we're really into (a passion for music) or else sexual desire (a passionate kiss that may lead to other passionate activities). For the abbas and ammas, passion was something else. Passions were everyday things that might get in the way of relationship with God and each other.

In fact, the earliest versions of the list we now call The Seven Deadly Sins were originally called passions. Gluttony was hunger that stood in the way of relationship. Wrath was an anger that rose to harm. Lust was sexual attraction that turned into obsession and objectification. Greed and envy were natural desires for personal comfort or attributes that became harmful to others. Sloth was known as acedia, a sort of detachment, not an entirely bad thing, that was magnified into indifference or lack of caring or suffocating boredom. The worst passion for the desert dwellers was pride, which we today might think of as healthy self-esteem but they saw as considering oneself better than everyone else. They really valued seeing other people as being better than themselves.

So, in short, what we might call normal human emotions and even needs, they saw as impulses to be controlled for the good of other people. It was only through this extreme (to us) impulse control that they felt they could fulfill the gospel commandment to love one another as God loved them.

Standing in the way of their ability to control their passions was, as they understood it, the fear of death. It's the fear that if we don't get enough food, enough sex, enough wealth, we will die.

It is a sort of survival mode mentality that they fought against. They fought it by saying, directly or indirectly, "If I do not have this thing, I will not die." (Or, perhaps more typically, "I have already died in Christ, why would I need this?")

I don't know how to convince millionaires to alter their thinking by saying, "If I only made six figures, I would not die." Really, that's not my immediate responsibility. I've never been remotely near a situation where that would be a personal concern and the abbas and ammas also have a lot to say about judging other people.

But over the last couple of decades, I have actually used this mantra when faced with one want or another, something that I knew I didn't need. I'm hardly an ascetic, but sometimes reminding myself what is and isn't a life and death situation----and I've had very few life and death situations----helps me detach from some wants. My success rate is variable. I'm no role model of self-denial. Still it's a tool I have in my toolbox for when I know I don't need one thing or another.

It is true that there are situations where if we don't get certain things, we will die. If I don't get food at specific times, it's not outside the realm of possibility that I could do real damage to myself due to my diabetes. At the same time, when I am feeling my sugar levels drop, I can also keep myself away from panic or aggression by reminding myself, "I can make it home or to this store or restaurant long before I'm in actual danger. I am not in immediate danger of dying."

It seems to me that we all live as if we're, at some level, in survival mode. Whether it's stockpiling wealth or being unable to resist or just put off a purchase until a better time (how credit cards get us into trouble), we all go around not really believing that we can do without some things and we will not die.

Most of us don't always---or even often---have to be in survival mode. What the ammas and abbas were trying to live was an ethos of doing without so that we might open up to love and service.

This ethos, I believe, can still speak to us 17 centuries later. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pause Pressed

After that 50 day marathon of daily blogging, I've (as may be obvious) taken the last week off.

Someone watch me and if it looks like I'm even thinking about doing a 50 day run again, please do what you can to stop me. It was exhausting. (And let's be real---there were some real clunkers in there.)

But what it did was prove to me that I can do it, so there's that.

And this has encouraged me to see if I can set up a regular schedule (as all the "successful blogs" blogs say you should do). So, when I come back, I hope to have a day of the week set so people know when they can expect a new post.

(I'm open to suggestions for what day of the week works for you, gentle readers.)

So, I hope I'm saying goodbye to the haphazard "post when the mood hits me" way I've been treating this blog for the 7 years of it's existence.

Hello to regular Crumbs.

But not daily.

That was just nuts.

Stay tuned. I'll make a decision before too long here . . .

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Easter 50 Breath

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  [Acts 2:1-4]

And so the church begins and this year as I read the passage, I'm struck by how the coming of the Spirit signaled the ability to communicate.

There's a myriad of ways to look at this story, both as a literal text and as a symbolic text. But this time, I'm seeing how the coming of the Holy Spirit on these first Christians brings about a means to easier communication.

In a world where multiple languages were spoken across a relatively small part of the world, that would be an amazing barrier to take down.

In our present world, where I can travel miles and miles and trust that I'll be among people who speak my language, I also see how speaking the same language does not always facilitate our communication and certainly not our unity.

I could easily go into lament about the divisions in the world, in my country. They are disheartening and perhaps there will a be time to look at them.

Here, on the final day of the Easter season, the day we call Pentecost, a festival day to cap a festival season, I am turning to the promise of this story, that the Holy Spirit can come into a crowd of people with many differences and they will understand one another.

May the Breath that spoke the universe into being once again descend on us as flame and bring into existence the new thing, the hope for a way forward. May the Word, in whom there was light and life, be heard through the confusion of many voices.

Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth! Alleluia!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Easter 49 Watch

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.  [Joel 2:28-32]

I'm having a quiet Saturday. I'm thinking about how, 50 days ago, we were keeping vigil and how, again, we keep watch again. 

I have often said that the first job of an artist is to look, to see. Perhaps, even, to watch. Artists show the world the commonplace by seeing it first and then by reflecting it, refracting it through an artist's lens, we see it all fresh again. Common, everyday, but anew. 

Inspiration. Expiration. Respiration. 

In this way, religion is an art. 

Today, again, we keep vigil. Watch.

We're waiting for the wind to stir. 

Alleluia, come Holy Spirit . . .