Inauguration – January 20, 2017

Today I sent poetry books to reviewers across the continent. I gave thanks that I’ve finally found a home in the world of nonprofit literary publishing. I felt honored to serve our poets and readers—to be the loom that holds the warp and the woof of our community together. Today I took comfort in words of power, wisdom, and joy.

Today I threw back a shot of whiskey with the bearded, beefy bartender at a gay bar. He’d spent his whole life in this city, while I am still a stranger, yet he welcomed me with a drink and a hand of friendship. Today I took pride in my brotherhood of mutants and weirdos.

Today I ate a cupcake named after the Devil, which I bought for the sole purpose of pissing off the Vice President. In another place, in another time, it would have been called a “red velvet,” yet here and now, it has been renamed to take ownership of our grievous faults. Today I feel no guilt for this delicious, red-velvety goodness.

Today I sent messages of love and support to my loved ones near and far. Our bonds are stronger than the miles between us; our friendship deeper than those who would revile us. We are young; we are not as young as we once were. We are financially secure; we are barely scraping by. We are male; we are female; we do not believe in binaries. We are people of all faiths and unfaiths. We are immigrants and emigrants. Today I reaffirmed that we all belong here.

Today I made breakfast and took out the trash. I did the dishes and balanced my budget. I scheduled an eye doctor appointment and responded to emails. I checked the mailbox and swept the floor. I brushed my teeth and added items to my grocery list. I drank more than two cups of tea. I continued to do what needed to be done.

Today I sought out new communities and ways to get involved. I beefed up my cyber-security and brushed up on my Constitution. I read up on ACT UP! and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I reminded myself that patriotism means never settling for an imperfect union, and that justice is not justice until it serves all.

Today I read a powerful theological statement by #DecolonizeLuheranism, written in the tradition of the 95 Theses, defending my faith from those who would sell out Christianity to a false doctrine of hatred. I reminded myself that the Gospel’s message is Love and service and Light for all people, and that anyone who preaches different does not know Christ.

Today I gave thanks for the earth that provides for us, for the arts that feed our soul, for the journalists who keep us informed, for the teachers who keep us thinking for ourselves, for the doctors who keep us healthy, for the soldiers who have sworn to keep us safe, for the officers who protect our communities, and for the protesters who hold them accountable. Today I gave thanks for all the blessings and joys in my life.

And I will do all of these things again in four years. No matter what happens, no matter how the winds may blow, I promise myself here and now that on January 20, 2021, I will have as boring and mundane a day as I did today. I will not let history destroy the seeds I am planting today.

My life in four years will not look the same as it did today: no two moments can ever be the same. But I will continue to love and create, to share and pray, to lift up and fight back, and above all give thanks.

“Everyone has their own pain—their own suffering to bear”

For a month now, I’ve followed news of every shooting, every bombing, every massacre since Orlando. In total, hundreds of people are dead. Hundreds more have been injured. People are dying all over the world.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t have any grand insights. I can’t wave a magic wand and make all of this go away.

This week, I’ve been rereading Tokyo Babylon by the Japanese mangaka (a group of writers and artists who create Japanese comic) CLAMP. It’s a series that found me at just the right age of adolescence, and it’s shaped me in more ways than I’d care to admit.

At the heart of this story is the idea that no one can ever truly understand another person’s pain: that every single one of us is human, that to be human is to have our hearts broken, and that each of us experiences the world—and our pain—in our own way. Even if our circumstances are similar, our pain is our own.

And yet…

And yet because we each carry our own pain, we can share empathy with others. We can support them in their struggles and offer comfort in their pain. We may never truly understand how they feel, but we can hold them in loving-kindness.

As usual, words fail me. If I were one for slogans, I’d offer a string of hashtags like “queer lives matter,” “trans lives matter,” “Latinx lives matter,” “Arab/Syrian/Iraqi/Turkish/Indian/Kashmiri/South Sudanese lives matter,” and of course, Black Lives Matter. All of these slogans are true.

And I guess why I can’t share my friends’ outrage at the phrase “all lives matter” is that, while I agree it misses the point (my favorite takedown of this is the meme that says, “Yes, all lives matter, but we’re focused on the black ones right now, OK? Because it is very apparent that our justice system doesn’t know that.” [I won’t pull statistics here, but the raw data does back up that statement]), I can understand—and empathize with—the desire to scream “All lives matter! Human lives matter! Too many people have died.”

Especially this summer.

Because a lot of people are hurting right now.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says to the crowd gathered at the mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Now, Jesus was speaking to a particular context, but the point stands: no one is perfect. We’ve all fallen short at one time or another. We all have our own shortcomings, our own regrets, our own shame. We all have our own pain to bear.

Even if you’re not religious or if you’re religious but not Christian, there is wisdom here. Who are you to judge someone else? Who are you to condemn them for their pain? Who are you to say that your pain is deeper and that they should just get over it? For that way lies the Oppression Olympics: the endless competition to garner the most pity for oneself or one’s group. And that’s a game that no one can win.

I guess what I’m getting at is that a lot of people are hurting right now. A lot of people are looking for answers. Or justice. Or change. Or hope. And there just aren’t very many clear answers out there right now. There aren’t ways to heal the world overnight.

And it’s not just minority groups or victims of violence: every single person on this planet has felt loss or sadness or fear or depression or anxiety or grief or injury (or if they haven’t yet, they will). We all have our own scars. We all feel our own pain.

So if you take nothing else from this post, if you take nothing else from the endless march of bad news this summer, let it be this: treat your neighbors with kindness. Treat strangers with kindness. Treat even the people who oppose you with kindness.

Because you can never truly understand the pain they may feel.

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(Image © CLAMP, TOKYOPOP, Dark Horse, and whichever Japanese publisher holds the rights to Tokyo Babylon. Read panels right to left)

 

A Prayer for Summer

O God, life-giver, pain bearer, river from whom all things flow . . .

Forgive us for our grievous sins. For all that we have done. For all that we have left undone. Have mercy on us.

I pray for the loved ones of those who have died. For the families, friends, and partners of the victims in Orlando, in Istanbul, in Dhaka, in Baghdad, in Medina, in Syria, in Fallujah, and in all communities torn apart by bloodshed. Grant them peace. Grant them love. Grant them strength to go on.

I pray for the families of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, and for all victims of racial injustice. Give us courage to accept our faults as an imperfect union. Give us wisdom to listen to those who are hurting and to learn from their suffering. Give us strength to mend our broken systems. Help us to heal the brokenness in our communities and to learn to love each other as your beloved community.

I pray for Michael Volz, Goddess Diamond, Amos Beede, Mercedes Successful, and for all transgender folk who have suffered violence, sexual violence, and murder because of who they are. Help us to acknowledge that you work in ways that we can never understand. Help us to see your light in the eyes of our siblings who do not conform to our gender norms. I pray that all efforts to legally discriminate against our transgender kin fail, that unjust laws be overturned, and that the fear of what we do not understand may evaporate like the mist in the mid-July sun.

I pray for the poor. For the homeless in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and everywhere.  For the unemployed. For the underemployed. For those who have little and those who have nothing. Help us to see these people in our midst. Help us learn to recognize your spirit within them. Teach us, O God, to help them. Just as you yourself once taught us to care for the hungry, the poor, and the outcast.

O God, I pray for my queer and trans kinfolk who suffered anxiety, anger, fear, and despair in these weeks following Orlando. I pray for queer and trans folks of color—especially those who are Latinx, black, and Muslim—who face violence and injustice every day. I pray for the folks who came out because of Orlando and for those who suffered because they were true to themselves. Help us to heal and to find strength through each other. Help us nurture a stronger, more inclusive, intersectional community. May our pain carry us forward and reignite our fires of righteous activism. May we learn from our forefathers and mothers who rose up at Stonewall and acted up to fight AIDS. May we continue their struggle until all of us—until all people everywhere—live in a world free from discrimination, hatred, and bigotry.

O God, you have taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.

Help me to love my enemies.

Help me to pray for those who have persecuted my kindred.

God, I pray for Omar Mateen and for those he left behind. I pray for his family, for his father, for his wife, for his son. Take my anger. Take my sadness. Grant me the strength and the courage to forgive this man for his sins.

God, I pray for police forces everywhere. I pray that they may unlearn their biases and relearn how to nurture goodwill within the communities that they have sworn to protect. Give us the patience to work with those in power, the strength to carry out reforms throughout the criminal justice system, and the compassion to nurture relationships between those who serve us, between our neighbors, and between ourselves.

God, I pray for the followers of ISIS. I do not understand them. I do not forgive them. (God, help me to forgive them.) I do not know how to stop them—that is, I do not know how to protect their victims from further harm. This war is beyond me, O God: I do not know how to counter their worldview. All I can ask is that you forgive them. That you guide us. And that somehow, someday, this fissure between us may be healed.

God, I pray for the straight folks who let us suffer in silence after the shooting in Orlando. I pray for the politicians who co-opted this massacre to further their own agendas. I pray for the friends who did not comfort us and the media that did not acknowledge us. I pray for all those who silenced us: by their actions, by their denials, by their inaction, through their silence. Help us to forgive them. Help them to learn from this: to unlearn their bigotry and their callousness. Help them to recognize all that they take for granted. Help them to see your light in our eyes.

O God, I pray for all who live in fear or anger or hatred or bigotry. I pray for those who cry out for vengeance and those who cry out to be heard. I pray for all of us whose hearts are broken. I pray for all who are suffering—for all of us are wounded. Help us to see the brokenness within each others’ hearts.

And for myself, I pray for compassion. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. O God, this summer has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed. My heart breaks and breaks only to be broken once again the next day.

Yet let it not be my will, but thy will that is done.

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Photo © the author

“Suffering and tragedy and folly will not disappear in a purified world. They are part of humanity. That is why. Even in a world of suffering, there can be joy and shining light.” -Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

God, I pray that my heart keeps on breaking—again and again and again.

Because if my heart did not break each time their was pain in this world, then this life would not be worth living.

Amen.

To everything there is a season

“Waiting is never a moment from nothing to something, but a moment from something to something.” –Henri Nouwen

For two weeks now, I’ve been struggling to write a reflection for Advent. First, I tried to write about Hope, but my thoughts were clouded by memories of disappointments, rejections, and dreams long deferred. Next, I tried to write about Peace, but my ideals seemed to fall apart in the wake of terrorism, hatred, and fear. “How can one sow seeds of peace against such disregard for human life?” I asked myself. “How can I keep holding onto hope when time and again hope has lead me to getting hurt?”

I don’t have answers yet. I’m still waiting.

Advent is a time of waiting. It’s like an antidote to secular Christmas: instead of a frantic month of holiday parties, crowded stores, and greed, Advent is a quiet season of reflection, relationships, and gratitude. It’s my favorite season of the church year, and yet that theme of waiting continues to challenge me year after year.

In the four years since I graduated from college, it seems like I have been waiting for my life to begin. Waiting for a job that can pay me a livable wage. For a career I feel passionate about. For the right guy. For a place to call Home. Four years, and I still feel like I’m waiting.

Not from nothing to something, but something to something.

And yet, amidst all the disappointment and pain and rejection of the past four years, I have memories that shine like the stars. Quiet moments with friends and family. My first paycheck as a freelance editor. A first kiss that was worth waiting twenty-seven years for. Sunsets on the Isle of Skye. These memories are not nothing, and I hold fast to them as I sail from moment to moment, like the ancient sailors who once held fast to the constellations amidst the darkness of the sea and the sky. Perhaps then, if the stars keep shining in the quiet moments and little triumphs, there is still room for Hope in my life after all.

A moment from something to something.

We often think of peace as the absence of war: a moment of tranquility after the battle, like the Christmas truce of 1914 or the days immediately following the breakup of the Soviet Union. But I think it’s more complicated than that. I don’t think peace is as simple as the absence of war.

In the 1998 Japanese animated film Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, an insurrection threatens to destroy the fragile peace that humankind has settled into after a long and bloody war. In the climax of the film, Relena Darlian, a lifelong pacifist and former figurehead in the previous conflict, admits to herself that she has been running from the truth. She calls on the people of Earth to resist the insurrection and to defend the peace her companions fought so hard to win. “What’s needed now is not a principle or assertion,” she tells the leader of the insurrection, “but the hearts that hope for peace.” Relena realizes that soldiers may have won the war, but without a nation of people willing to lay down their lives to preserve the peace, all the sacrifices of the past will have been for nothing.

The citizens of Earth respond to Relena’s call and rise up in nonviolent protest against the insurrection. As the film ends, it is people—everyday citizens, not soldiers—who save the day. Peace, then, is an obligation for every person to uphold, not a prize to be won at the end of a war.

In Creating True Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh writes how peace between nations is impossible so long as individuals choose to nurture the seeds of hatred and fear in their heart. Hanh writes: “The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love, and understanding.” In other words, peace is a choice that one must make every day of one’s life. Only by acting with kindness, sympathy, appreciation, and love can hatred be quenched and fear conquered.

Peace, then, is a verb, not a noun—it’s something we do, not something we hope to obtain.

But how can this worldview of nonviolence and compassion hope to stand up against a group like ISIS, which does not in any way seem to value human life? How can one talk of love and understanding when politicians shout from their soapboxes about building walls and going to battle? What actions can be taken to sow seeds of peace when prayers alone are not enough?

I don’t have an answer. Not yet. I’m still waiting.

But in that waiting, there is something.

My ideals of peace seem insufficient, if not downright laughable in the face of our world’s current crises. Yet still, I cling to them. And I wait.

Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, but my peace I give to you.

God’s peace is not our peace. It is neither the truce won by soldiers nor the peace done in our actions. And as Mary sang so long ago, “You have cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble of heart.” God has done these things. O Wisdom, O Master, O Root of Jessie, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O Ruler of Nations, O God Who is with Us, I have faith that thou shalt do these things yet again.

In Peace, I shall wait. With Hope, I shall wait. And as we enter the Third Week of Advent, as we move into the season of Joy, I shall sail by the light in the darkness.

A light shines in the darkness. And the darkness cannot comprehend it.

~~
References:

Living in Hope: Advent Meditations from the writings of Henri Nouwen

Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz

Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

“The Magnificat” from Holden Evening Prayer by Marty Haugen

John 14:27