Tuesday, January 24, 2017

transcend and superintend our civic order and engagement

"Be known for a Christian anthropology that puts the dignity of life — of every life — at the center of the political enterprise... be known for courage in applying this commitment, without prejudice, to every party and ideology.

"There are temptations of pride in this prophetic role as well... It is easy, through an excess of outrage, to become the parody of a prophet. But Christian faith, at its best, points to a transcendent order of justice and hope that stands above politics. So it was in the abolitionist struggle and the civil rights movement. So it needs to be in the Trump era."

// Michael Gerson

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Friday I sighed.
Saturday I marched.
Sunday I rested. And reflected.

Yesterday over 1% of the total U.S. population marched in solidarity with the Womens March on Washington in protest of the Trump presidency.

Why did I march?
Why did I spend all day standing/walking, hungry and thirsty and chilly, with "I'm Esther, call Joshua ###-###-####" emergency contact info written in Sharpie on my arm?

A photo posted by Jon Stockford (@jonstockford) on
Not because I agree 100% with the organizers' views. In fact, I find myself dissenting with much of their vision of "women's health" and "reproductive rights." In the capitol, some groups with opposing stances on birth control were excluded from co-sponsorship of the event. Some women felt shamed or excluded for being "not progressive enough." This is sad. In Manhattan, I saw all sorts of women, men, children, humans join together and bring NYC to a beautiful standstill. It looked like free and creative expression. It sounded (for the most part) like friendly chatter and sporadic chanting. It smelled at one point like the sage that someone near me was burning. It looked like quick, sweeping mobilization and organization. And I am glad that "privileged white women" employed their privilege to open this space and time, efficiently. There was mirth and joy and anger and hope and civility and friendship.

I marched for women. Old grannies, yesteryear's suffragists, women of color, women refugees, mothers, little women, unborn women, future women, church ladies, unchurched ladies, anti-church ladies, for the womb of the earth. I marched for my neighbor-woman.

Gloria Steinem said, "It's about knowing each other, which is what movements and marches are for." In our hours of waiting, listening, speaking, strangers became friends, opinions were expressed, solidarity and affirmation of humanity in diversity were witnessed. I marched because I knew I could be frustrated by an overwhelmingly white and underwhelmingly yellow turnout, so I give my color. I thought it could be riotously angry, loud, hyper-liberal, condescending –– and I gave my dissent and diversity and diminuendo. I give from my margins and I give from my privilege––because I can afford to. I had time and energy where many, for example, could not have afforded to take a day off from their all day minimum-wage-or-lower work. And most of all, I march for the woman not like me. There is space for all of us, right?

To me, feminism is simply the radical idea that women are humans, too. Women's rights are human rights. Daughters of Eve do not come from men's ribs. Sons of Adam do come from women's wombs. I believe that a society's thriving is tied to the protection and flourishing of its women.

I am not in favor of donning Donald's labels and profanities and obscenities: "pussy" "bitch" "nasty woman", tempting as it may be to "reclaim" these words or to throw them back in his face. Or in wearing dishonor (even ironically). One of my objections to his presidency is the precedent he sets, Our children are listening. To him and to us, too. I do not believe his defamatory strategies and hateful rhetoric (or "giving him a taste of his own medicine") are most effective in promoting peace, or that his vulgarities should be publicly and proudly imitated. But the shock value is also important and possibly effective in highlighting what must not be normalized. Not without protest.

I do not join in the chants of "NOT MY PRESIDENT" because, sadly, he is now our president. Even as I protested with over half a million people in his hometown NYC that is my home too, I look at Gambia this same week, and I am so grateful for our country's peaceful transfer of power. I am grateful for our freedom of speech and right to nonviolent protest. I am profoundly impressed at how peaceful yesterday's demonstrations were in NYC. The civility and camaraderie. The people's patience while protesting. So much faith restored in NYPDblue. Here are some chants I did join:

  • L–O–V–E / Donald Trump dont speak for me
  • No hate, no fear / Immigrants are welcome here
  • We want a leader / Not a creepy tweeter
  • Consent in the sheets / Dissent on the streets
  • Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like

And I carried a mirror, to show my fellow protesters what democracy looks like, to me. At some points in the day, democracy just looked like it needed a cocktail or a bagel or a nap or a potty break or a hug.

Democracy starts with the man in the mirror. I held a mirror instead of a sign, in hopes that our activism will always start from and return to ongoing reflection.

I held it out especially to any children, any "others," anyone noticeably on the minority of the march (the elderly, the elderly, the hijabi, the unpopular pro-Lifer, the colorful, the men) or of the country. I want you to know, this American idea, this project, takes all of us.

I hope we will stand close enough to our neighbors to see them in our mirrors––or at least within hearing distance. Hold each others posters, share snacks and lipbalm and stories, push strollers and wheelchairs. Maybe even embrace.

When they go low, we go high?

When we went low, He went lower. He descended to the dead, the dying, the departed––to hell. He gathers us up in his resurrection and ascension. That is how we, or I, go high.

This is my honest reflection.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Letters to Lucy, 2: Their struggle, our sacrament

Dear Lucy,

You must not waste your suffering. Ava Bright entered into hospice care today. And we must not squander her struggle, either. Those whose dying shows us how to live, whose fighting teaches us how to fight. If I could speak right now to Mama Shiou, Christine, Audrey, Ava Bright, each in their different stations so truly alive, I would say:

Your cancer was my cure.
Your near-death experience was my near-life experience.
You fought so bravely, to crawl back to the land of the living. 
Thank you. Thank you, so, much. 

Stay alive, Lu. When your muscle memory assaults you and makes you feel falsehoods, know that He speaks not only to our hearts and minds but also somatically, to our broken bodies. He donned one himself. You are feeling and flirting with the edges of terminal illness, yes. Yes, all you must do is heal.

We give cancer patients the space and time to attend to that intensive care, to wage their whole selves in warfare against death. We try to relieve them of their other tasks and concerns so that they can just go through the carnage of chemo and unafflicted by other concerns. They are "just" to heal, to try to live one more day. We provide their families with meals and childcare and carpools. They take indefinite medical leaves of absence.

her father carries her when she cannot take one step more.
Ava Bright

When people do not see our invisible terminal illnesses, they may not intuitively give the space and grace that they would give to one who is outwardly, visibly wasting away. We also struggle to give ourselves fully to both the healing and the incapacity. But God sees! Lucy, He sees the ravaging infection more than we even do. He knows how hurt and dying we are. He is carving out that space and time for us. He is our chemo ward(robe). He knew I was dead when I felt and looked rather alive and fine.

Do not fight to justify to yourself that you need space and time to heal. Ask the Spirit to convince your heart. Try not to exhaust your limited mental energy attempting to figure out and explain why you are so hurt and dead. Does any cancer patient know precisely how (or more ludicrously, why) they got cancer? Does it matter? How it imperceptibly snowballed into a deadly crisis. Maybe they were chain smokers who brought it upon themselves. Maybe they were born into toxic environments and nuclear dumps. Maybe they ate too many GMO foods. What matters? No matter what you chose before to bring you to now, cancer is so unambiguous in what you must choose next. Simply:

Are you ready to resign to death?
Or will you fight for more life?
Do you want to be healed?

I hate cancer. But for these friends' visible and invisible wars, I give thanks. I give thanks for their whole life-and-limb struggle, agony, to GET WELL, a sign for us. Life shone so brightly through their battered body walls. Remember their cancer. Remember them wasting away at 90, 80, 70lbs. Remember the childrens' resilience and bright hope in searing pain. Count their falling hairs, bottle their tears, remember their fatigue and weary regret in the fight for life. See how they made an offering of their pain, brought a sacrifice of praise.

And we are promised this: no matter how hard you fight, you may not, will not, become wholly whole, wholly holy until at last you pass through death's door? But is the fight worthy? Would you crawl bloody and naked and emaciated out of the abyss, through the wilderness, back to the land of the living?

And would you be consoled that these infinite distances, trespasses, took Emmanuel only three days? He is with you. You will never cover all that distance in all your life and all your losses and all your love. But He has already gone there and come back for you, and will again come back for you, again and again and again resurrect you, forever and ever and ever.

Keep going, dear love, and help me in this.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

on Speaking & Polo, Echo & Narcissus

Some possess the familiarity and commonality to speak into your life because for at least several miles, your meandering paths overlapped; maybe you set out from shared origins. Your sandals are interchangeably sized, your footbeds similarly molded.

But to a rare faraway few you grant the privilege to speak to you from across the universe. You throw yourself in the way of their words, you sit down by evening light to read their letters from another world, so far from your own that their reports seem fantastical and incomprehensible. You ask questions, you try to understand. Though you differ in disposition, in composition you are alike––stardust earthenware. And then you look beyond the impossibilities, the separation, the gulf. You decide, wherever He's going, is where I want to be. You don't know who's farther along toward a common destination, but you have this assurance that regardless of when and how arrival should occur, whether your journeys will in the while intertwine, you will see each other at home. You will wait at the table for the missing ones, and tomorrow, you will dine together.

Your paths might be lost to and apart from each other. But they converge at the last––and along the way, in brief instants of contact, a momentary glimpse of the Real, an echo of Home. For so long you've traveled alone that speech has come to silence. But you need that polar pull, that nostalgia that is not backward or forward in time, but is every word forever.

Reorientation. You summon your voice, and call into the canyon.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Letters to Lucy, 1: The dissonance

My dearest Lucy,

I call you "Lucy," because you see Aslan––and, more significantly, because He sees you.  Even now, in your "long defeat" of maladjustment back from Narnia, He sees you.

Your weary word of how dim this world, this time order, has grown to you reached me. And, my dear, I am alarmed. I wish to be by you, that in our togetherness we can stop time for a moment and bring that land back here –– in our with-ness, we re-member, reenact, recreate. We were supposed to be royal emissaries from that world, queens. Lucy and Esther.

You speak of allowing your dimming heart be snuffed out altogether, resolving the tension by giving in to the unbearably lonely darkness. You feel that the only other alternative is to let this world be bright to you and consider the white light one the dream, the fiction, just to stay awake this deathly hour. Yes, Lucy I am alarmed. You are at a threshold. You are in the valley of the shadow of death. The only way out, is I Am the Way. It is: I am the Resurrection and Life.

You do not know whether you will make it out. But, if you do, you will know with all certainty that He has done it. That Love is stronger than death. It is unassailable, it cannot be severed, you can never be separated. Yes, you are on the brink of Life. Dear love, what a terrific place to be!

I remind you that the Lord placed His mission on your heart. Do not be surprised or troubled if he puts you through boot camp, and makes you utterly invincible. I put all my chips on you coming through on that other side with your faith intact and joy multiplied.

I love you,


Sunday, December 4, 2016

it's still winter in Narnia

but we are pressing North.

we are not alone, though we are lonely. we are exposed, wet, we crave warmth. we leave room at the table for the most crowded empty chair, upholstered with a whole entire pillar. of cloud. of witnesses. behind and before. we are afflicted and perplexed and struck down. we are assembling and retaining only the most irrational team of baffling idiots, unafraid of nothingness. meek, oh my, weak, oh why. a band of fools, an orphan train. a shanty town on the move with love to gain and nothing to prove.

we work with blunt tools in fallow fields, we spill our blood and sow our tears, and all the while, joy rises and rises. these heavy crosses would crush us, but an alien lightness keeps invading, and lifting us up and up and up.

It is cold. the night is long. I had good shoes but walked a long way now all seven of my toes are frostbitten. I need rest. will I wake if I fall asleep in the snow? It would be a gentle way to go. I have kept my eyes open in an unseeing world so long, my eyelids fall.

and I am too small to know and too tired to ask for what I want, the helps and comforts for which I wish. but for what I need, I simply say, Lord have mercy and it all rains down to wash away my delusions of Lack.

winter isn't over. but neither is Advent. take me to a window, help me see. o Lord who changes not, abide with me.

the constellations bring tiny consolations at the end of a long day of longing, to the messenger in Sandburg's poem. the poet so ruined and pregnant with visions that he is moved to speak truth to power. to those privileged enough to be blind and deaf, unless they choose divine condescension. unless they stand in cramped footbeds and lie in mangers.

Give me hunger,
 O you gods that sit and give
 The world its orders.
 Give me hunger, pain and want,
 Shut me out with shame and failure
 From your doors of gold and fame,
 Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger! 
But leave me a little love,
 A voice to speak to me in the day end,
 A hand to touch me in the dark room
 Breaking the long loneliness.
 In the dusk of day-shapes
 Blurring the sunset,
 One little wandering, western star
 Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
 Let me go to the window,
 Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
 And wait and know the coming
 Of a little love.

// Carl Sandburg, "At a Window"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Open Pit BBQ Lamb

My Isaac, come off the altar now.

This is the coming
off of the altar
After one has been bound
seen the glint of the blade
in your father's hand
After one has tasted the honor and terror
Of being wanted by God
I am ready father
I am at the table
A near-sacrifice passed over
No, not this one
He was ready to be offered
Was he ready to be spared?
How did he live again ever after?
Did he carry that knife in his heart?