Watering Plants After Watching Philando Castile’s Killing

Planet Natural

Yesterday, I finally watched the dashcam footage of Philando Castille’s death.

This morning, as part of my house-sitting promise to my mother, I watered her plants.

I turned the faucet until it could turn no more and felt the water immediately pump through the extendable hose at full blast. I heaved the heavy load over the porch, unraveled the hose from its tangles, and walked to the first bed. I changed the setting to “Shower” and remembered to depress the lever slightly, because even a heavy shower can be too much for those tiny buds.

As I wandered through the beds of mulch and among their scatterings of green, pink, and blue, showering the delicate buds and small leaves, I prayed this small offering of water would be enough. I prayed the light shower would keep them hydrated when the hot summer sun mercilessly beat down on them later in the day. I prayed my neglect of the past couple days would be amended through this sprinkling, that it would be enough to keep them going in the time between my departure and Mom’s return.

I remembered I was not their real gardener. I was not at work under the soil soaking up nutrients to send up the roots, through the stems, and to the leaves and buds. I was not their planter or their keeper. Heck, I wasn’t even going to continue this work after Saturday.

And still, I watered each plant, each green that stretched out of the mulch and flower pots, each colorful bud closed up but expectant of the day it would open again.

I guided the small showers lovingly over each plant, and I wondered if God does the same with the tears shed over each unjustified killing, over each act of hatred and animosity towards the “Other.” I wondered if God uses those tears to water the hearts of the brokenhearted, that they may have comfort. I wondered if God uses those tears to water the hard hearts of those who do not understand the reasons for this pain, that they may soften and open. I wondered if God waters us with those tears so we do not remain numb but continue to be sensitive enough to soak them up and keep moving forward, to remind us that we cannot just let ourselves and our siblings continue to die and be killed.

And I wonder if God also sheds tears over our sorry, pitiful, divided state, and I wonder if God waters us with those tears, too. I wonder if in the midst of being showered, unknowingly or otherwise, with the tears of the oppressed and marginalized, we are also being showered by the tears of God.

And then I wonder where one’s tears stop and God’s begin.

*****

After I finished watering, I returned to the house and tidied a few things up. By the time I finished, the pitter-patter of a gentle rain shower sounded on the roof.

Maybe my small offering was accepted and met with another. Maybe God is still listening to and responding to our small acts of faithfulness.

Maybe that’s enough for me to believe right now.

Lord, Have Mercy

ABC Go

About a quarter of the way through my hour and a half commute, from the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley to the traffic congested highways of Northern Virginia, I heard the news from Alexandria.

I was concerned, but no one on the radio mentioned fatalities. It sounded like a scare, something to be aware of but not to consume me for the day.

Then, when I got to work and checked my phone for the news, the story got worse.

A shooter “devastated” by Trump’s election took out his anger on a group of representatives enjoying a game of baseball. The gunman shot a representative in the hip. He was in critical condition.

But despite working less than 30 miles away from the city in which this atrocity had occurred, the day continued. My co-workers and I briefly talked about the incident, but we had work to get done, so we got to it.  I did my job, left to go home, picked up some food, and drove home to my fiance and an anime.

But I didn’t stop thinking about this, and what it means for me as a person and us as a nation.

Through all the work tasks, wedding planning, meal prepping, and Handmaid’s Tale-watching, I reflected on guns and the sacred fragility of life and disgruntled citizens and national division and critical conditions.

I felt like I needed to make a defense, but I didn’t have one. I didn’t know if sharing my thoughts would be necessary, or if my silence would make me complicit with and approving of such an act of violence.

Basically, I dealt with a national crisis the way I imagine most people with anxiety do.

I figured I should try praying, but I could only think of one prayer to use throughout this day:

Lord, have mercy.

It’s an ancient, simple, and heavy prayer, one that cannot make sense of senselessness but can undergird us when the world’s chaos threatens to unseat us.

It’s a prayer to pray when anger manifests itself in violence, when we allow divisions to poison us, when we forget that every human being is made in the holy, divine image of God.

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we don’t know how to react out of shock and fear, when we use difficult times to push political agendas instead of offering comfort to those in pain, when we harden our hearts because it all seems like just too much (and sometimes, it really is).

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we go about our days as if nothing has changed because we don’t know what else to do, when the world keeps turning at the same time that it stops dead, when we wonder aloud what the hell we can do to end all of this suffering.

Lord, have mercy.

It’s a prayer to pray when we isolate ourselves, when we allow our own relationships to decay in the dark instead of bringing our grievances and pain to the light of healing and resurrection, when we do not take care of ourselves.

Lord, in all times and circumstances, please, just have mercy on all of us. 

Sometimes, it’s all I know to ask.

White America: Do We Have Enough to Share?

New York Times

White America seems to have a gratuitous fear of having “enough.”

We worry about having enough for important things, like money to pay our bills and loans, food to sustain us, and health care coverage.

We also seem to worry a lot about whether we can continue to have enough power and privilege at the expense of people of color and other marginalized groups.

It’s why we use terms like the “deserving poor” and “reverse racism” when we talk about healthcare, welfare, and affirmative action. It’s why we beg for people to “stop talking so much about race,” because it’s “unnecessary” and “too divisive.”

It’s why people in the writing and entertainment business say to writers, filmmakers, and other workers of color, “Diversity is so trendy right now, so it’s going to be so easy for your voice to be heard over mine.” It’s why people dismiss the #OscarsSoWhite controversy as pointless and bogus.

We cite both Black Lives Matter and the KKK as “racist,” when one movement rose up to protect black bodies and another to destroy them.

There is the rise of the “mennist” movement, because white men fear they are being mistreated when they have to make way for women leaders, especially women of color, and are called out when they make catcalls and off-color jokes.

We tell writers of color how lucky they are, thinking their “diverse nature” increases their likelihood of getting published, yet only 6 years ago, 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times were by white authors. Today, the publishing and entertainment industries continue to insist that promoting people of color in lead roles will result in financial loss instead of gain.

Even within the resistance movement, white feminists continue to struggle to make movements more intersectional and inclusive to women of color, as they often ignore acknowledgements of their own exclusionary practices.

We are the dominant group, the ones who have had the majority of political power for a majority of American history, the people who wrote laws into our Constitution to defend slave ownership and made our judicial process “colorblind” so our law enforcement can quite literally get away with murder, yet we fear sharing our power and privilege so those on the bottom have a chance to live off of more than the scraps we “so kindly” throw to them.

Do we believe if we concede or share any power, however small or great, we will lose all of it?

Do we fear that sharing with those who have little will result in us hitting the bottom?

Do we fear trading places with the people we have constantly slandered, dismissed, and oppressed?

Do my fellow white Christians struggle to realize that in Christ’s kingdom, the first will be last and the last will be first? Do we fear acknowledging this is how it shall be in heaven AND on earth?

In these actions, among others, we say to our brothers and sisters of color, “I am not willing to feed you but a small amount from my bounty.”

When we fear stepping down from our own positions of power to make way for people with less power and privilege to voice their equally legitimate concerns, we say to them, “These gifts are not for you.”

When we fear sharing our platforms, however important they may be, so people of color can voice their issues and concerns, we say to them, “Your problems aren’t important enough.”

We claim to be progressive, kind, loving individuals. We claim we don’t hoard power like others do. We thank God we are not like the Republicans and alt-right with their oppressive policies and hateful ideologies. But we should be beating our chests and asking God to forgive us for slamming the doors in the faces of our beloved siblings of color.

As white Americans, we have a lot to ask ourselves.

What will it take for us to concede some of our power and privilege to others?

What will it take for us to do this without accusing others of trying to steal from us?

What will it take for us to accept there is enough for everyone?

We Good? Reflections from an Anxious Person on Lent

Hard_Work_by_soneryaman

Nate Pyle

Having anxiety can make participating in Lent difficult.

My character perfection tendencies go into hyper-drive, and I am in a constant state of wondering just how well I’m doing with this whole “faith” thing.

Have I repented? If I have, how will I know?

Is giving up Netflix to read books from a few #BlackLivesMatter movement guides going to wake me up for real?

Am I good? Am I forgiven? Am I made new?

Will Easter be enough for me, my sins, and I?

Will this journey be enough for me?

I met with my spiritual director Linda this last week. She asked me how my “faith life” is going, which is such a difficult question for me. I’m never quite sure how to answer it, because I’m so anxious and such a perfectionist, I always think it’s not going as well as it could be.

So I told her I started meditating in the mornings. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, so it’s not really a Lenten practice, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a part of my “faith life” as much as giving up Netflix and reading books by black writers.

But meditation is so hard for me, because my mind is so busy, and honestly, going deeper into myself, the sacred spaces God calls me to examine and dwell in, scares me.

What will I find within me?

Will there be love and acceptance? Anger and hatred? Firm kindness, or judgment?

After I shared these concerns, Linda talked to me about the concepts of “original sin” versus “original blessing.”

Original sin begins with the assumption that all humans are made sinful (which is confusing because if God is good and we are made in God’s image, so what does being inherently sinful say about God’s nature?). According to this doctrine, we tell ourselves over and over “I’m not good. I cannot to be who I am. I must strive every day to reach an unattainable perfection that is unlike me.”

I was not made in blessing. There is nothing good to which I can return. There is nothing towards which I can keep striving, because I will always have that sinful nature in me, even as I aspire to be holy. The journey becomes tedious, exhausting, and even pointless.

If we messed up in Eden, how could we possibly make anything better outside of it?

This theology asks: What good are we? What good is God if God made us this way?

When we remember we are made in God’s image, when we remind ourselves our original creation was one of blessing and joy, when we remember the unbound, unconditional love God has for us, we remember who we are meant to be.

We remember we are made to love God and our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. We are made for more than our worst sins, our cruelest words and deeds, and our most embarrassing moments. We are made in a holy image, and even when this image is smudged, attacked, or hidden beneath our deepest wounds, it remains within us.

This original blessing, this uttermost essence of ours, is who we are, and we live life and seek God’s help to not only remember this, but to be this holy image in a painful, beautiful world.

This theology asks: How can we return to the good God made inherent in us? How do we continue to live out the Love within us with God’s help?

I took this theology to my meditation time the day after our meeting.

I sat on a yoga mat in the basement, facing my fiance’s guitars. His area is the tidier spot in the basement.

I breathed in and thought of my congressional representative, over whose comments about issues I became so furious. I breathed out and honored the blessing of his creation and the image of God inherent in him.

I repeated this process for the President, his cabinet members, and people who drive me crazy on a regular basis.

I repeated this process for my fiance, my parents, and my youth group.

For good measure, I repeated this process for myself.

Meditating on our God-given image changed the way I look at and even engage with people. It also reminds me while I am called to show the perfect love which casts out fear to the people who deny justice and mercy, this same, perfect love doesn’t cast out frustration, sadness, and the need for accountability.

Because I honor the image of God in myself, I honor it in others.

And because I honor this image of beauty, love, and holiness, which is inherent to every single one of us, I will continue to keep calling out the times I and others act in ways contrary to our holy nature.

So I keep praying. I keep remembering the image of God, first in myself, and in others, the ones I adore and the ones I abhor.

And my prayer for myself and for us is this:

You are made to love. How are you showing it?

Ignoring the Bodies, Losing our Souls: A Plea to the American Church

hands

BloxImages

Christians talk a lot about the fear of gaining the whole world and losing their souls.

Have we ever wondered if we can lose our souls by ignoring the world?

Martin Luther’s enabling of common people to be able to read the Bible in their own language and focus on Scripture emboldened the peasants of his time to air their physical grievances with their rulers, resulting in one of the largest rebellions ever. Yet before he ordered the princes to destroy them like “mad dogs,” Martin Luther said the liberation was for their souls, not their bodies.

American slave holders refused to let slaves learn to read the Bible, lest they get any ideas about what freedom really means, for the body and the soul. They also kept the upside-down Gospel to themselves, because they knew God’s call to never enslave a brother or sister, someone equal to you in all things. In his Narrative, Frederick Douglass describes the bleak reality of “the Christianity of this land: “We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!”

Christian artists like Toby Mac claim Jesus ended the debate over which lives matter since “he died for all.” Prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham uphold refugee and Muslim bans, despite the biblical commands to welcome the foreigner, by saying “it’s not a Bible issue.”

What has happened?

Have we tried so hard to forget the importance of our bodies that we’re threatening to lose our souls? Have we forgotten we are part of Christ’s living Body, and when part of us isn’t well, the rest of us suffers? Have we forgotten our complicity in structures of unjust power, because as long as our “souls” were right with God, everything else would fall into place?

Is this why we can come to worship on Sunday and ignore the detained and barred refugees and immigrants on the news? Is this why we can give our tithes and offerings but talk about the “deserving poor?” Is this why we can pray for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” while resisting any type of change that gives more people more access to the rights and privileges we take for granted? Is this why we can pretend we care about “equality” and “justice” while condoning police brutality because “if people would just behave, the police wouldn’t have to retaliate?”

This Lent, may we repent of our complicity to physical neglect for the sake of a misguided idea of spiritual preservation.

May we remember we are living, fragile, beautiful bodies, made from dust and destined to return to the same dust into which God first breathed life. May we remember our bodies and spirits are intertwined, that our souls are embodied and this flesh is both our struggle and our gift.

This Lent, may the Body of Christ remember to take care of her physical needs, the physical bodies which compromise her, or else she will risk losing her soul.