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I’m just the kid . . .

7

I remember the afternoon in Fort Worth.

I walked into Sound Warehouse—a regular stop on my way home from work—and picked up two debut CDs off the “Discover New Artists” rack: Shawn Colvin’s Steady On and David Wilcox’s How Did You Find Me Here?, which is still my favorite title for a first record. Today, one of the things that found me from the internet was a video for Shawn’s song “Ricochet in Time” with the tag “30th anniversary (acoustic version).”

Ain’t if funny how time slips away.

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, and a whole bunch of songs by the Beatles and others are older than that, yet somehow I think of records like Shawn’s and David’s as more recent, yet I have lived as much of life since those recordings came out as I did before them. How did I find me here?

David Wilcox writes amazing songs. As I have said a number of times on this blog, I wish “Show the Way” was our national anthem. But from my first listen of the CD, the song that grabbed me was “The Kid.”

I’m the kid who ran away with the circus
now I’m watering elephants
but sometimes I lie awake in the sawdust
dreaming I’m in a suit of light
late at night in the empty big top I’m
all alone on the high wire
look, he’s working without a net this time
he’s a real death-defier

I’m the kid who always looked out the window
failing tests in geography
but I’ve seen things far beyond just the schoolyard
distant shores of exotic lands
they’re the spires of the Turkish empire
it’s six months since we made landfall
riding love with the spice of India
through Gibraltar, we’re rich men all

I’m the kid who thought we’d someday be lovers
always held out that time would tell
time was talking, I guess I just wasn’t listening
no surprise if you know me well
and as we’re walking toward the train station
there’s a whispering rainfall
‘cross the boulevard you slip your hand in mine
in the distance the train calls

I’m the kid who has this habit of dreaming
sometimes gets me in trouble too
but the truth is I could no more stop dreaming
than I could make them all come true

Something about the mix of a kid who couldn’t read a map in class dreaming of rounding Gibraltar dug deep into my heart. When we had the chance to go to Morocco last year, I wanted to see Gibraltar because of this song. When I looked at the liner notes, I found out Wilcox had not written it and the song belonged to Buddy Mondlock. It was many years later—after CDs had begun to vanish—that I found a recording of him singing it. To my surprise, he sang a verse Wilcox did not. If nothing else, it shows Mondlock loves Casablanca.

I’m the kid who fell asleep at the movies
snoring right through the final scene
that’s okay ‘cause I was right there with Bogey
side by side in the pouring rain
it’s our last chance to make a getaway
but it looks like I’m bleeding
take them with you I’ll hold them off
they won’t get by while I’m breathing

Best I can tell, even Buddy doesn’t sing that verse any more. I would love to know what the story is, why words once written were left behind. In one way or another, I suppose, we all have verses of our lives that we quit singing or left behind for one reason or another. Perhaps, they were taken away from us; maybe we realized they were words we couldn’t sing once they left our mouths, or we began to move to a different melody. The difference is ours aren’t cataloged in iTunes.

One of the verses I quit singing was a PhD program at Baylor. I was in my second semester thirty years ago when I met Ginger. I was working full-time as the Minister to Youth at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth and using my day off the drive down to Waco and take classes on Thursday. I was on a ten year plan. By the end of the spring semester, I knew I could not work and fall in love and go to school, so I dropped out and went after the girl.

When I dreamed in my twenties, I thought I would get a doctorate, as most of my friends did. I thought I might be a professor, or figure out a way to go to school for a living. I didn’t know how to dream about spending my life with anyone until I met Ginger. Then I met her and that semester and a half was as far as I got before I changed my tune. I let my academic verse fall away like Buddy did with Bogey.

I can see how I found myself here. She’s still here, too.

Peace,
Milton

Here’s Buddy.

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a room of (sorta) my own

8

Billy Collins has a poem about working on a poem and then talking about it before it was finished, only to watch it get up and walk away. I know how he feels. Then there are other times when it helps to get it out in the open like a promise that needs to be kept, and talking about it can help it happen.

I’ve been working on a book for a while now. The earliest notes and drafts I have go back to the summer of 2016. I was hoping to have it finished by the end of that year. That didn’t happen. I circled around the next year; it didn’t happen then, either. I have been chasing this thing down for three years now. This book has had a longer gestation period than an elephant.

I would love to tell you I have been writing the whole time, but that has been part of the problem. The reasons why I have not written regularly are myriad. What matters is I wasn’t doing it. The energy I have found in getting back to blogging regularly has ridden side-saddle with trying to figure out what I need to do or change to create space to write. I figured out that space was both literal and metaphorical.

One of the signature stories in my life comes from watching my nephews play soccer when they were little boys. Scott, the youngest, was about five, which meant a soccer game was a gang of kids huddled around the ball moving up and down the field. My brother said Scott’s team was the best in the league because of one piece of advice the coach gave them.

“If you don’t have the ball,” he said, “don’t run to the ball. Run to open space and let the ball find you.”

I have come back to that advice a number of times in my life since then. It showed up again this week. I have been looking for a place to write where I can leave my stuff out and come back to it. Our house does not have a room like that. The barn is not temperature controlled. My “desks” are at one end of the dining table or in the window seat at the Marketplace. Both of those are good for my editing work and other projects, but not for the book.

I came across Guilford Co-Working last week, a place quite literally across the street from our house that rents places to work. I contacted the owner and he told me he had a client who only used his office a couple of days a week, and not all day at that, and was looking for someone to share the space. Just like that, I have a room of my own—or at a least enough of one to write. I took a picture of my desk.

After I finished my editing for the day, I went over there today for the first time and wrote for two and a half hours. What that means is, with the work I have done already, I should have a complete draft in early September and a new book to share with the world about this time next year. I feel good about saying it out loud because it is within reach.

At first, I thought I was writing a grief book about what I learned after my father died. Though that is still there in many ways, one of the things I learned about grief is that it is a universally shared experience, so that book has become one about how we are all connected—a central theme in my life all along the way. The book will be titled The Color of Together: Metaphors of Connectedness.

Believe me, I will keep you posted. Stay tuned.

Peace,
Milton

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say the words

9

One of the websites I go to for inspiration and sustenance is called Brain Pickings. It is hard to say what it’s about, other than taking a meaningful look at what it means to be truly human. It is curated by Maria Popova, who has quickly moved up on my list of people I would love to have to dinner. I have no idea how she covers so many different kinds of writing and thought–and then finds ways to connect them.

One of the articles I found today had an audio clip of the only recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice from a BBC series called Words Fail Me. One of Woolf’s quotes stood out in particular:

Since the only test of truth is length of life, and since words survive the chops and changes of time longer than any other substance, therefore they are the truest. Buildings fall; even the earth perishes. What was yesterday a cornfield is to-day a bungalow. But words, if properly used, seem able to live for ever.

Words, if properly used . . .

I read the words just before I went into a three-hour corporate meeting where people read their PowerPoint presentations and spoke in acronyms. I don’t think any of those words made it out of the conference room alive. As I have said before, business is out to kill language.

As my morning went on, I read about the way Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, turned Emma Lazarus’ words engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty into a weapon: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,”

I wonder how much money his immigrant ancestors had when they arrived.

On the train ride home from New York, I saw a Facebook post from a college friend who was quoting her niece:

My mom always says, “Say the words.”

Don’t just think someone did a good job or that they made an impact on you. Say it to them.

And I want to encourage you to “Say the words.”

Because someone just “said the words” to me and it made my day a lot better.

Words, if properly used . . .

I have a card in my wallet that someone I didn’t know handed me probably twenty years ago. It doesn’t have a logo on it, or a name, or a phone number. All it says is

I have carried it with me everyday since.

I don’t know if I agree with Woolf that the only test of truth is length of life, but she’s on to something brush with eternity that words–good words–can bring. We watch them do damage almost everyday, I know. Those words will not last because they will kill each other. The words that matter–I love you; I see you; I’m with you; I’m sorry; I can help; let’s eat–live on and on, and help us keep going as well.

If the point of our lives is to be remembered, we won’t be. If the point of our lives is to say the words that matter, they will live on.

Say the words.

Peace,
Milton

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nothing matters

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nothing matters

from my window seat I can see a bench
concrete sides holding wooden slats
under the tree that has taken a century
to grow beyond the telephone pole

from my window seat I can see a bench
concrete sides holding wooden slats
under the tree that has taken a century
to grow beyond the telephone pole

meet me there

and don’t bring a thing with you
perhaps a cup of coffee, or a pup
leave anything that beeps or vibrates
and we will linger with a sense of purpose

as though nothing matters
(as in we have nothing to prove other)

we will do nothing the way Martha did
–you say that’s how I always talk about her
because I’m with Mary in the kitchen–
I am working to learn that nothing matters

to understand what I mean you have to be here
on the bench next to me listening to the tone
of my voice, paying attention the way
Mary could not with her tray of hors d’oeuvres

nothing matters so much that we must do
nothing other than find ways to each other
so meet me on the bench–and bring snacks
all this talk about food has made me hungry

Peace,
Milton

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listen up, breaches

4

I’m preaching tomorrow at North Madison Congregational Church UCC, a wonderful congregation in the next town over from Guilford. In light of all that has gone on in the past couple of weeks, and also in light of Ginger’s trip to El Paso, I am using Isaiah 58:9-12 rather than the lectionary passage for the day. Since I am using an amalgam of different translations, I included the verses here.

My sermon title is “Repairers of the Breach.” The post title is how I wish I could begin my sermon.

If you remove the yoke of oppression from among you,
    the finger-pointing, the mean and inflammatory speech;
If you open your heart to the hungry,
    and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
    your light will shine in your despair,
    and your gloom will be like the noonday.
God will guide you continually
    and provide for you, even in parched places,
   and make your bones strong.
You will be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
You will be called Repairers of the Breach,
    Restorer of Livable Streets.

The last time I was here, I told you that Ginger, my wife, was on her way to El Paso, Texas to take part in a protest at one of the detention centers. She got back home last Wednesday night. On Saturday, we heard the news of the mass shooting there and it hit us a little closer to home. When we looked on the map we saw that her hotel was only a couple of block from the Walmart where people were killed as they shopped. She had walked past it in the evenings. She called the hotel to see if folks there were alright and the woman who had driven her shuttle bus answered. They were unharmed, but they were shaken.

The next morning came news of the shooting in Dayton. Barely a week before El Paso, there was a mass shooting in at a Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. In all three cases, the terrorists who attacked and people had been exploring “violent ideologies,” according to news reports. Someone asked the man in California why he was doing it and he said, “Because I’m really angry.” The white man in El Paso was trying to kill Latinix people because he saw them as an “invasion”—words he learned from the partisan rhetoric around immigration—the kind of “mean and inflammatory speech” Isaiah condemned.

Once again, we are traumatized. We are left angry, confused, and scared. Even though mass shootings have long ago ceased to be unusual, it still feels like the world has shifted and requires a different response. Layer on to that the polarization of the political discussion on just about any issue, and it is hard to know both what to say and how to say it. If this room of people is like any other sanctuary on the Shoreline, we share a variety of opinions on the important issues of our time. We are not in unison in how we vote, or how we choose our candidates. Often, we are wary of speaking up because we are not sure how we will be either received and perceived.

So I am asking us to risk together this morning. I know the good New England way is to not talk about religion or politics, but avoiding a discussion—not a debate, a discussion—doesn’t give us a chance to build a true beloved community. The verses we read talk about being “the restorers of streets to live in.” How can we build community if we are not honest with each other? How can we come together if we cannot learn to talk about hard things? There is more to faith than worshipping together on Sunday—that is actually at the heart of today’s passage.

The verses we read from Isaiah pick up in the middle of the story. After generations of captivity in Babylon, the Hebrew people had returned to their land and were rebuilding their lives. They had lived in captivity for generations. They were traumatized. In the midst of all that had been lost and all they were trying to build, they had committed themselves to worshipping God—by observing a weekly fast—as a way to show they wanted to make Israel great again. The prophet showed up to tell them God was not impressed because on the days they were not fasting, they were overworking and underpaying their employees, they were arguing bitterly among themselves, and acting duplicitously in their relationships.

Isaiah then drew a different picture of what it looked like to be the people of God, which Carol Anne read. The verses start with conditions—

If you remove the yoke of oppression from among you,
    the finger-pointing, the mean and inflammatory speech;
If you open your heart to the hungry,
    and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
    your light will shine in your despair,
    and your gloom will be like the noonday.

The prophet was not saying God would only love them if they did what God said. Isaiah said their behavior would give God room to act among and through them. Their acts of justice and compassion would release God’s healing Spirit in the world.

God will guide you continually
    and provide for you, even in parched places,
   and make your bones strong.
You will be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
You will be called Repairers of the Breach,
    Restorer of Livable Streets.

Breach, in military terms, means a break in protection, as in, “the wall has been breached.” A is also “a break in relationship.”

Repair, as you know, means to fix or mend, to make good, to put right, to put back together.

To repair the breach, then is to restore the relationship. It means to do what we have to do to put things right, to mend what is broken, to create a place where everyone belongs.

When we talk about repairing the breach, the call to action seems obvious: we go to the border, we work to feed the hungry, to push for living wages, we work to make sure all children have access to good education, we work to build an economy that doesn’t allow a few to prosper on the backs of the poor, we work to come to terms with our privilege, and we pledge ourselves to do what we need to do to dismantle racism and discrimination on all fronts.

Yes. All of those things. Yes.

And there is another breach to talk about, another healing that needs to take place that is more difficult. We have to figure out how to repair the breach between us and our siblings who feel angry and displaced and who act out that anger in ways that terrorize and discriminate against those whom they see as not like them.

During the last campaign, one of the labels aimed at an opposing group was that they were a “bag of deplorables.” I wish I could say that was the only insult thrown around during the campaign, but it was not. I mention it here because it came to mind as another example of the “mean and inflammatory speech” Isaiah told the Hebrews to stop.

We need to stop it too, whatever the discussion. Ginger quotes one of her former pastors who said, “Actions speak louder than words, but words speak more clearly.” Words that characterize people as “invasive” or deplorable” entice us to divide our nation into “us” and “them,” so that we can more easily dismiss or discard people because they are not like us. That kind of approach doesn’t heal anything; it does damage—to everyone.

This week, in response to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered another approach:

“Here’s what we have to say to all of America’s men and women falling in the grips of hatred and white supremacy: Come back. It’s not too late. You have neighbors and loved ones waiting, holding space for you. And we will love you back.”

“There is a mother waiting for you, I know it. I know there’s a teacher waiting for you, saying, ‘What happened to my kid? What happened to my friend?’ And we will always be here and hold space for you to come back. We will love you back. You are not too far gone.”

Her words challenge me because she chose to offer an invitation, rather than a condemnation. Her words convict me, to use a good Baptist word, of my sin of dividing people into us and them—which is another way of saying who I think is worth listening to. It is far easier for me to think of the refugees and migrants at the border as part of my community than it is to work to feel connected those who foment hate, or those who are so driven by fear that they lash out at people not like themselves. I want to write them off, but that is no way to repair the breach. I only make the divide deeper. We are called to repair the breach—to rebuild the relationship—whatever that breach is.

That means more than “agreeing to disagree.” It means more than correcting their Facebook posts. It means working to find a way to connect, to listen, to invite. It means, as the prophet Micah said, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. It’s that last phrase—walk humbly—that may be the first key to how we repair the breach to walk humbly with God means to walk humbly with one another. It means, “Love your enemies; be good to those who hate you”–to quote Jesus.

When people ask me about the United Church of Christ, I have a little spiel in response. I say we ordained the first African-American man to pastor a white congregation before the Civil War; we began ordaining women sixty years before they could vote; and we ordained the first openly gay man in 1970, when the American Psychiatric Association still listed homosexuality as mental illness. That is a rich an important heritage, after which we should probably repeat again, “Walk humbly with our God.”

My other repeatable statement about the UCC is that if Christianity were a neighborhood, we’d be the last house on the left. Maybe that’s where it starts—in our neighborhoods, both literally and metaphorically. Who do we know on your street, or in our neighborhood, or in our town stands on the other side of breach? What can we do to make our street livable for all of us? How can we incarnate the love of Christ in a way that brings healing? What questions can we ask? What word can we offer?

These are questions we can ask about our relationships, whether it is someone who may be undocumented, or someone in a service job that feels invisible, or someone who is so beaten down by the circumstances of life that they are lashing out, or someone so unaware of their privilege that they do unintentional harm. Whoever they are, they are us. There is no them. Whatever the breach, we are called to repair it. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

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I still remember

0

The first Toni Morrison book I ever read was her first book, The Bluest Eye, which tells the story of Pecola, a young African-American girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio in the 1940s. Because of her mannerisms and her dark skin, she is considered “ugly.” She has a doll that is white. Pecola wishes she could have blue eyes like the doll. The story of the impact of her context, her self-loathing, and life as a poor black girl in 1040s Ohio is brutally truthful. Alongside of the power of the story is the power of the way Morrison works with words. The first two pages are a great example. The book opens with this paragraph:

Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come and play. Come play with Jane. The kitten will not play. See Mother. Mother is very nice. Mother, will you play with Jane? Mother laughs. Laugh, Mother, laugh. See Father. He is big and strong. Father, will you play with Jane? Father is smiling. Smile, Father, smile. See the dog. Bowwow goes the dog. Do you want to play with Jane? See the dog run. Run, dog, run. Look, look. Here comes a friend. The friend will play with Jane. They will play a good game. Play, Jane, play.

I was disoriented by what I read because I knew enough about the story to know that Dick and Jane had nothing to do with it. Why was I reading something that felt like a First Grade Primer. There are not any words longer than two syllables. The entire paragraph is made up simple sentences. I turned the page to read the same words again, except they looked like this:

Here is the house it is green and white it has a red door it is very pretty here is the family mother father dick and jane live in the green-and-white house they are very happy see jane she has a red dress she wants to play who will play with jane see the cat it goes meow-meow come and play come play with jane the kitten will not play see mother mother is very nice mother will you play with jane mother laughs laugh mother laugh see father he is big and strong father will you play with jane father is smiling smile father smile see the dog bowwow goes the dog do you want to play do you want to play with jane see the dog run run dog run look look here comes a friend the friend will play with jane they will play a good game play jane play

And then immediately came this version:

Hereisthehouseitisgreenandwhiteithasareddooritisverypretty hereisthefamilymotherfatherdickandjaneliveinthegreenandw hitehousetheyareveryhappyseejaneshehasareddressshewants toplaywhowillplaywithjaneseethecatitgoesmeowmeowcomea ndplaycomeplaywithjanethekittenwillnotplayseemothermoth erisverynicemotherwillyouplaywithjanemotherlaughslaughm otherlaughseefatherheisbigandstrongfatherwillyouplaywithja nefatherissmilingsmilefathersmileseethedogbowwowgoesthe dogdoyouwanttoplaydoyouwanttoplaywithjaneseethedogrun rundogrunlooklookherecomesafriendthefriendwillplaywithja netheywillplayagoodgameplayjaneplay

She had repeated the words three times. The first seemed “normal.” The second, without punctuation or capitalization, felt poetic and perhaps a bit foreboding. The last, without spaces between the words, gave me a sinking feeling about where the story was going. Whatever happened, things were not going to end well.

And all she did was repeat herself using simple words.

I don’t have a big point to make other than to say I have never forgotten these three paragraphs.

Peace,
Milton

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better words

7

When we were in Provincetown last weekend to see Julie, our former foster daughter, cross the finish line for the Pan Mass Challenge, I saw a t-shirt in a window that said, “I am silently correcting your grammar.” I almost bought it.

The fact that language changes is both exciting and dreadful for someone who loves words and sentences. The dreadful changes, it seems to me, are mostly driven by business. My friends in development have decided that people “gift” them donations. We already have a verb for that: give. There’s no need to make the noun do extra work. I was in a meeting the other day where the facilitator wanted to discuss the “learnings” from your session. I wanted to raise my hand and ask, “Do you mean lessons?”

See—I should have bought the shirt. The changes I mentioned feel thoughtless to me. (Yes, I can hear my value judgment.) I take issue with them because the change doesn’t add anything. A friend once told me how her grandmother would stop her in mid-sentence and say, “Better word,” when she wanted her to learn to make her words matter more. Don’t be mad; be livid, outraged, or incensed.

In our editorial work, we use the Chicago Manual of Style as a guide. One of the continual challenges the deal with is how to make language—particularly pronouns—more inclusive. Though I was taught that “man” meant everyone, the truth is that it does not. It means male. The same is true for the pronoun “he.” It only describes men. No one else.

Over the years, people have tried different ways to make language more inclusive. Some have typed “(s)he” as a way of expanding the meaning. Others will write out “he or she,” which ends up being cumbersome. More recently, the discussion has expanded to include trans and gender fluid folks for whom the traditional binary pronouns prove inadequate. What has become apparent to me is “y’all” is about as inclusive as you can get. The Chicago Manual says it is now correct to use the pronoun “they” to refer to singular people as a means of being inclusive, as in, “When the police officer saw the car by the side of the road, they stopped to see if anyone needed help.”

One of my authors blew a gasket when I made the changes in his manuscript. “DON’T DO THAT,” he yelled in the comments. I explained why we were doing it and he complied. Being inclusive was worth more than being comfortable.

One of the places where our language both matters most and proves inadequate is when we talk about God. Like many, I have avoided using pronouns for God for many years as a way of communicating that God exists beyond gender. God is not a male, nor a white male at that. It, too, can be a bit cumbersome at times, but it is worth the effort.

One of the books I have had the privilege of editing is Beyond a Binary God: A Theology for Trans* Allies by Tara Sougher. Tara is the parent of a trans child and wrote a wonderful book about how her faith has helped her to grow as a parent and has helped her learn how to expansively express the love of God. At the heart of her argument is the Trinity, which offers us a picture of a non-binary God who is not bound by gender and in whose image we are created.

Over the course of my life in church, much of the discussion around the Trinity has centered around describing who does what: God is the Creator, Jesus is the Incarnate One, the Spirit the Indweller, for example. It shows up in our hymns: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Creator, Christ, and Spirt. The discussions about the Trinity go way back in church history and are littered with those labeled as heretics who sought to see things differently—to change the language.

I have found more meaning looking at the relationships, rather than trying to define the players. Let me say it another way: it seems to me that what the Trinity says about God is that God is relationship. God is Love. Who is visible or apparent to us in any given moment or experience is nothing more than a flash of insight to the indescribable mystery that swirls around us. Like Moses, we do well to catch a glimpse of God’s hindquarters.

All of my ramblings are to say perhaps “they” is the best pronoun for God when we need one—not because three is plural, but because God is more than we can comprehend or express when we limit ourselves to gender. God is non-binary. God is relationship, which means we, who are created in God’s image, are built for each other, for community, for togetherness.

I grew up being told that God never changes. I don’t think that is accurate. I think God’s love for us is indelible, indefatigable, and unending. But there is a sense that God grows up with us, if you will. Or, perhaps, it is that when we grow and change, what we see of God is more expansive. Our language keeps changing because we need new ways to express what it’s like to be human in these days. That goes for our theology as well. When we open ourselves to new ways to understand God, then they open up new ways for us to understand one another.

Words matter. How we use words matters. It’s time for some better words–even when they aren’t comfortable.

Peace,
Milton

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compared to what?

11

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The quote has come to mind this week in an unexpected way because I have watched the way comparison is used to deflect or derail a discussion. One says, “We need to close the detention camps,” and another replies, “Obama built them.” One says, “We need to look at guns as a public health issue,” and another says, “Why is no one upset about the daily killings in Chicago?”

I don’t know if that is stealing joy, but it is stealing something.

To answer with a comparison is to say, first, “I have no intention of listening to what you are saying.” Listening is a lost art in today’s culture. Twitter, among other things, has turned public discourse into middle school recess (with apologies to middle schoolers). The point is to fire a zinger, not to actually pay attention to what anyone else is saying or to learn anything. After a couple of exchanges the posts back and forth are nothing more than, “Oh yeah?” “Yeah” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah.”

That’s just what the world needs.

Years ago, Ginger preached a sermon and quoted Philo of Alexandria (as opposed to Philo of Waxahachie), who said, “Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I have quoted it before and I keep coming back to it because it calls me to do something other than write off people whom I can’t understand. Another thing Ginger often says is, “Look for the emotion behind the behavior.” (I married a wicked smart woman.)

The thing that matters most to me is to belong. That’s the emotion behind my words and actions. I am sixty-two years old and living in my forty-fifth residence, as close as I can count. Home is an elusive thing, even though I wrote a book about it. I am convinced that life and faith are both team sports. We live and die together. The point of existence is community. So when the Hebrew prophets and Jesus say over and over that the measure of a society is in how well they take care of the poor and marginalized, it resonates deeply with me. I think the point of society is to take care of one another. There is enough to go around.

So it pisses me off when 680 Latinx people are arrested at work in an ICE raid at a factory in Mississippi while Trump was visiting in El Paso in the wake of a mass shooting aimed at Latinx folks. Yes, I know it was circumstantial that they happened at the same time, but it still makes me mad. So I will look at the emotion behind the behavior. What I see in the man in the White House is someone who is fueled by fear and controlled by comparison. He can hardly speak about what he has done without claiming it is the best ever. He was tweeting insults at the mayor of Dayton even as he was flying there to visit the people who were injured in the shooting. I could go on. My point is not to name his wrongdoings as much as to see where they are coming from. He is a frightened, insecure man. The actions that come from his emotions are destructive, so we need to speak up, yet we would do well to understand when we strike back we just drive him deeper into his fear.

That’s one of the reasons i do my best to speak to his words, actions, and policies and stay away from any personal attacks. The truth is I don’t know much about the man other than what is publicly available, which does not give a complete picture of anyone. I am working to give him the same benefit I wish others gave me when they decide who I am based on one or two things I have written or posted. To spend time talking about how unpresidential he is falls into comparison–he’s not like the others–and that’s not the real problem.

The question I want to address is what does it say about us as a nation that we would elect an insecure fear monger as president? He ran before and couldn’t get any traction. He was a joke when he kept after Obama with the birther stuff. He is not the problem. He is emblematic of the problem.

As a nation, we are a divided, frightened people.

Those of us who are naming the fear we see in Trump and others who appear to care little about the common good have fears of our own to deal with. It is frightening to me to think of what a second term for him could mean, or, for that matter, another term for Mitch McConnell. The work, for me, is to get beyond my fear and act in faith and hope that what we are living through is not the last word.

As I heard my friend Hugh say, in the end love wins; if love isn’t winning it’s not the end.

If I do any comparison that is helpful, it is in looking at how I looked at our nation when Obama was president. I didn’t know much about immigration policies. I wanted him to close Guantanamo, but I didn’t go to any protests. I think he did a lot of good things, particularly where health care is concerned (since I have a pre-existing condition), but I was not as well informed as I am now.

William Barber says the issues are not about “left” and “right,” but about a moral agenda that makes room for everyone. I am not speaking up because I vote Democrat, or because I am a “progressive,” but because at the heart of my faith is the call to care for those who cannot care for themselves, for whatever reason. Part of that call is to figure out what a compassionate response is to those who are fearful of inclusion, because they need to be included too.

I would love to tell you I know what that looks like, but I’m still working on it . . .

Peace,
Milton

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finding the words

21

I feel stuck today.

I have work to do, manuscripts to edit filled with words by authors who have done their best to make meaning out of faith and life in these days, and I feel like I am treading molasses, doing all I can to keep from drowning.

Toni Morrison died yesterday. She did things with the English language no one else had done or, perhaps, could do. Madeleine L’Engle said our vocabulary shrinks during wartime. Since we appear to be a nation who has chosen to be perpetually at war, we run the risk of losing words that matter the way we are losing species due to climate change; now we have lost one of our vocabulary generators—one of our peacemakers. In the wake of three mass shootings in a week, her death highlights my struggle to find words of my own.

I have been silent in this space since Lent ended. I suppose another way to say that is since Easter, but any sense of resurrection is hard to come by. I have posted poems and articles on Facebook and watched as some of those have flamed up as people have made assumptions beyond my words, or quickly divided into us and them. The volume level of the vitriol makes me feel like I trapped between floors in an elevator blasting death metal.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached using the lectionary texts for the day, which told of Abraham’s bargaining with God over finding a few good people in Sodom and Jesus’ parable of the friend at midnight. The Genesis account says God was fed up with the sins of Sodom. One Jewish commentator explains:

The prophet’s description combined with what the Torah reveals to us gives us the following picture: the people of Sodom insisted on preserving their high quality of living to such an extent that they established a principle not to let the poor and homeless reside in their city. Consequently, when a destitute person would come seeking help, they would revoke his right to any welfare–-public or private! By doing this they figured they would preserve an elite upper class community who would monopolize the profits that the bountiful land offers without having to distribute any revenues to a “lower class” of people.

It sounds way too familiar. Abraham started by asking if God would see the city as redeemable if he could find fifty people who were seeking justice. Almost as soon as he had asked, Abraham started renegotiating, and kept at it until his plea with God was that even five righteous people in the city of Sodom made it redeemable and was enough reason to have hope that things could change. God agreed.

I’m not sure I can think of a time in human history when the forces of justice appeared to be in the majority, and yet justice rolls down like water—like a tenacious river.

In the parable, Jesus describes someone who is surprised by a traveler and goes to a friend’s house to ask for food. It’s the middle of the night. The whole neighborhood is asleep. He bangs on the door and the friend refuses to get up, but the man is unrelenting. Most translations say he was persistent, but a better word is shameless. He didn’t care how he looked. He had someone to feed, he needed food to meet that need, and he knew who had food to share. Reputation or appearances didn’t matter.

I’ve mostly heard this story presented as an analogy, but it is as parable. It is not as simple as saying we keep knocking until God answers—which is also problematic theologically. The story has come alive for me in these days if I see God as the shameless one who is crying, “Sleeper awake!” And I am the sleeper.

The living of these days calls us all to examine what we have to offer a relentlessly compassionate God and a hurting world. The answers are multiple and disquieting. We have to be willing to look at changing how we speak, spend, and share. We have to let the common good matter more than individual privilege, comfort, or—dare I say it—rights.

Before I break into too much of a sermon, I want to get back to my purpose in this post. One of the things I have to offer is my writing. In the early years of this blog, my goal was to write every day. I wanted to feel like a writer. I wanted to be a writer. A writer writes. The reasons why I have not been as consistent are layered; I have mostly kept my promise to myself to write daily during Advent and Lent, as a spiritual practice. My sense of stagnation calls me to do what I know will wake my heart, and that is to write daily.

I will push beyond the debilitating cacophony of the culture. I will push beyond my sense that what I have to say is only heard by a handful. I will write something every day, as both my way of waking up to God’s tenacious abandon and to also join in God’s shameless knocking.

As I try to figure out how to end this post, an old lyric of mine comes to mind.

will you find me?

will you find me in the dying of the day
and remind me what I have to keep and what to throw away
the words that I can lean on when there’s nothing left to say
will you find me in the dying of the day

will you find me in the darkness and the doubt
and remind me what I have to hold as I feel tossed about
show me what flickers in the shadows that never will go out
won’t you find me in the darkness and the doubt

lord have mercy
christ have mercy
can we still sing if hope is ground to dust
lord have mercy
christ have mercy
I’m not looking for dead certain
I only need to trust

that you’ll find me when the battle has been lost
and remind me I am on your side no matter what the cost
stoke the fire that burns inside my heart to stand the killing frost
will you find me when the battle has been lost

oh, will you find me . . .

Peace,
Milton

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go tell the others

4

tell the others

on a hillside of tombs
only one stone was moved
life surrounded by death
which is how it feels

this morning with news
of “coordinated bombings”
(should that be a phrase)
christ is risen, yes

and we are dying
both things are true
we have to live with that
we have to live with death

mary saw the empty tomb
and was not relieved
until she saw the one
who called her by name

here among the ruins you call
my name and I’ll call yours
in coordinated compassion
(that’s a phrase we can live with)

death is sure christ is risen
we are named by a love
stronger than death and bombs
that will have to do

Peace,
Milton

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