Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Be Not Afraid

Playful in the crypts below Lima, Peru's cathedral. January, 2012.
There's nothing to fear but fear itself.

Don't be a scaredy-cat.

Over and over throughout the Bible, we're told to fear not.  (Except when God's pissed off. Then yeah, be fearful.)

All this courage and fearlessness is thrust upon us. We're supposed to have a strong spine, a stiff upper lip.

And yet. in many ways, it's a tough sell for me. We do have fears. Some carry angst over monsters, others clowns and dolls, some over violence in our streets, and still others criminals. Apparently, many fear even people of a different ethnicity or culture, walking on the other side of the street. That's fear. That's real.

And even the Biblical exhortation to be not afraid can be rough. Don't be afraid? It's not easy when you watch the news. And even if you're faithful, don't be fearful ... unless God's mad? It's like a menacing parent who says they love you but won't hesitate to whip you silly if you don't fall in line. That fear is intrinsically mixed in with love, and frankly it's hard to find that sort of relationship anywhere close to being unconditional love. You see that more in horror movies involving kidnappers. A simple understanding of Biblical courage might be unpersuasive.

Besides, humans as a rule don't like to be genuinely afraid, so we don't need to be reminded to be courageous. Instead, avoid fear, transform fear, deflect fear. We act out in anger and aggression in order to avoid situations and feelings of fear. True fear debilitates and we, in our fight or flight reactions, show that we will do whatever it takes to reduce these terrible feelings. And when we can't evade the horrors of life, anxiety and/or depression settles in to offset the enormous negative energy. Counterproductive as it might seem, but negative emotions are sometimes the only way to counteract other negative emotions.

And then there's Halloween.

It's a holiday that, when I was a kid, was surrounded by mirth and mild fear. Increasingly, it became one of terror, where haunted houses migrated from the corny to bloodbaths. This holiday is now worth 8-10 billion dollars each year in the USA. Thanksgiving is worth less than 3 billion, not including travel. The numbers alone might cause the blood to drain from your face.

By definition, the word Halloween comes from the phrase All Hallow's Eve (All Holy's Eve). All Saints Day is November 1 and All Souls Day (for those who haven't quite made it to sainthood) follows on November 2. The night before, or Eve of, All Saints Day, like the Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, is a time to begin celebrations. The concept of Halloween shifted from focus on Saints and Souls in all their holiness to the dead. More than that, it's moved to the terrifying.

Why do we do this? What is the joy in creating fear in others? The mild stimulation certainly can raise adrenaline. There's also the merriment associated with giving someone a playful fright, a "boo!" moment. Some enjoy gory movies and entertainment, and Halloween provides a date as a focal point for such diversions. Looking around me, I think we can agree that this is the most common situation.

In contrast, we have some who feel that all this is utterly satanic in every respect. They assert that any enjoyment of the dead, the monsters, the blood, and the costumes celebrate a pagan and demonic heritage. I'm not in agreement with these folks, as the history I've described clearly has ties to the remembrance of the saints and the dead.

I think that Halloween has become our subconscious effort to make light of death, to create opportunities for cathartic release, for us to admit our fears and release the rage that would otherwise become manifest if left unchecked.

We aren't calling up demons from other worlds. We're dispatching demons inside ourselves.

My Halloween costumes, when I dress up, have been one of three types: the victim, the maniacal, and the fictional or historical human character. The one exception to these tendencies is that I once dressed as the Grim Reaper. It might be boring, but I prefer to get a laugh or a wry smile out of my costume rather than a frightful chill.

Do I miss out on the catharsis? I'm not sure. I enjoy the efforts of others to induce the fear, but I don't feel the need to immerse in it. It's almost as though there's too much in the real world to create real fear. What subconscious-clearing monster must I confront that can top the horrors of today's news headlines?

Others though enjoy the fright. And I give them latitude in that delight. If that fright lessens the existential or all-to-present dread that permeates our every day life, then I'm in favor of it.

Biblical exhortations to be not afraid aren't meant to eliminate simplistic, superficial fears after all. I think they are intended to root out our real fears and our faith-killing monsters. The opposite of faith isn't doubt. Doubt is often a key indicator of an underlying and powerful faith.

No, the opposite of faith is fear. Real fear. Because when we are afraid, we cannot love. And when we cannot love, we cannot follow the one and only commandment given to us by Christ: to love one another.

So let's give ourselves a fun "boo!", a playful surprise, a well meaning monster. Or, if you're like me, dress up like Harry Potter, or a judge, or road kill. Let's be joyful, knowing that our reverence for the dead might be helped when we acknowledge, admit, and embrace that death and the unknown are indeed frightening.

And let's hold hands as we ask for love, blessings, and candy. We won't be afraid, if we walk hand in hand, knowing that we have each other's love for all eternity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Good Grief

We're surrounded by death. It's on the news every few minutes. It's so widespread and pervasive that we've even become desensitized to it. Look at the gun deaths out there on our streets every single day. We watch and we slowly turn the tv stations to sports, Netflix, or cooking shows. We pull up Facebook, register our sadness online, and scroll on.

The pain and suffering of those immersed in death feels unbearable and seems impossible to contain. So we let it slip by. Forget Andy Warhol's prediction that we'll each have our 15 minutes of fame. I think today we spend 15 minutes in grief before it's time to turn our attention to the next obsession, our celebrity-of-the-hour of our psychological Id.

We genuflect towards the plight of others and we move on. Is that resilience? Are we strong against what blights our souls? When we turn away from our emotional distress towards something more "productive"?

Or is that denial? Where we turn our backs on the fearful and look instead to alternative realities? When we fill our minds and lips with anything and everything but that which causes us such heartache?
Novodevichy Cemetery & Convent
Moscow, Russia, June 2012

Last year, we lost Stephen's gregarious brother Tim. He left us in a way that created enormous emotional upheaval. I last saw him 9 days before our wedding. He passed away one week exactly before we walked down the aisle at All Saints Pasadena. Our celebration, something we dreamed about because we never thought it could be possible, was forever tainted by the painful departure of someone we expected to be there in the pews with us. We wore buttons with his face to remember him, so he's in all our wedding photos, but it wasn't the same as having him laugh with us, sing with us, sigh with us.

The morning after the wedding, hours after our celebration ended, we collected the reception flower arrangements and brought them to Tim's memorial.

Life is like that. Grief works on us at times we can't control. Death has no on-off switch.

Then last week, we lost Stephen's Uncle Dave. His passing was quick, and his pain didn't get drawn out over months. But it also means that the opportunities to say goodbye weren't there either. Sure, we had a hilarious time filled with family, stories, and games while camping at Yosemite a couple months ago in August. So we at least saw him a few times since the wedding. But many of the family didn't get a chance to say a proper goodbye. The grief sits heavily when you can't find closure.

Grief sometimes smacks you like a sucker punch to the gut when you're looking the other way. You don't expect exactly when it hits, you're not sure how it will feel, you often are bewildered at the pain. It's not fun. I've never enjoyed it and don't enjoy watching others as they cope with it.

But I stand there with them, together, holding hands, holding heads, holding hearts, so that we can cope without feeling alone. No, I don't enjoy it when others grieve, but grieve they must.

I wish them a good grief.

Not a good grief like Charlie Brown often lamented. Not an exhortation of frustration of something that passes quickly. But a heartfelt, purging, cathartic grief that has no time limit and has no agenda. With a pain that brings us intimately in touch with the billions of people who came before us and will come after us.

For it's in feeling that pain that we reconnect with our humanity, the same humanity that we so fleetingly ignore or pass by because we have no time. Love and loss are time-churning, time-consuming, clock burners. There's no rush and yet the intensity sometimes makes us want to push ahead faster. We want to fall in love faster. We want to cope with loss faster.

And like love, loss cannot be rushed. Our souls are pruned, our hearts bandaged, our psyches mended. The vacuum created by the change may be enormous and may be miniscule, but that gap exists nonetheless.

How quickly we lament that gap. We cut back our rose bushes and see the barren twigs, urging new buds to appear. But life doesn't work that quickly. God not through with us in the timeframe we want. And we can't ignore forever the need to prune back that which is no longer alive in the garden of our lives.

I sometimes wish that my garden were nothing but succulents. They're hardy. They don't need pruning. They just grow. But it's a false expectation. Even cactus plants need pruning.... eventually. It just takes a lot longer to get there. No, the only thing that doesn't have a rejuvenating process are inanimate objects. Stones. Bricks. Pebbles.

They don't die back.

There's no pain of loss that accompanies life.

And there's no chance for life made new.

Amidst the pain of losing someone swirls the often unstated fear, the dread of facing our mortality. As we watch others move away from us to worlds we do not grasp or understand, we can't help but wonder at our own departure. Will we suffer? Will we have a chance to say goodbye?

Let me share with you some words from Mark Nepo. These are words that he writes out of his terror from his life threatening health conditions. But it strikes me as similar in feelings to how many cope with grief.
During this time, I was unable to find my bearings, had no sense of center, and was unsure about everything. But in the center of my terror, there was a small voice stirring, emanating, and building from under all my trouble. It didn't speak in words, and I was unaccustomed to listing for it or to it. I know now it came from the core of all life and all time and began to assert itself through the bottom of my personality, the way sunlight passes through a crack in a barn. This was my first feeling of the touchstone of grace that would grow and lessen my terror over time.
Mark Nepo, Inside the Miracle
Grief may not be what we seek but we still need it to get past loss. I don't wish you to cry over death very often in your life, but when you do find yourself in a time of grief, I pray that you let the process work in you. Let the pruning be a productive one, creating space in your heart, so that life and be fruitful once more, basking in the sunlight that you've allowed into your core.

May your pain be a good grief.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Beatitudes 2.0

Photo by Christina Honchell
Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber came to visit All Saints Pasadena once again, this time with her new book "Accidental Saints". I was working the photo booth but got especially excited when I was asked to lead the final hymn Amazing Grace, after her presentation finished.

It was the culmination of an hour of talks, filled with prayers and stories that touched all of us in the church. Theologically, there wasn't anything that differed markedly from what we at All Saints Pasadena usually hear from our pulpit. What felt different was her delivery.

She's direct and to the point. She doesn't shirk from swearing. Nadia sticks to being her authentic self. She did confide that she's had discussions in the past with her bishop about her communication style, but by being true to herself, she shows herself to be more honest and believable in her relationship with God.

That's not to say that those who don't swear have an untrue relationship. She just won't change herself superficially just to be polite.

One of the most moving moments was when Nadia shared her modern Beatitudes. I include them here for you.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard – for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved and never does. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people. Blessed are the burnt-out social workers and the over worked teachers and the pro-bono case takers. Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who delete hateful, homophobic comments off their friend’s Facebook page. Blessed are the ones who have received such real grace that they are no longer in the position of ever deciding who the “deserving poor” are. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it. Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it.

As you can see she took the original and expanded them with examples that may resonate more effectively to the modern ear, especially here in the USA. The original Beatitudes are from the Sermon on the Mount and are in Matthew 5:3-11.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

I can't stop thinking about this updated list. It's similar but it focuses on things that are more tangible, more direct. They arise from stories in the pews and in the streets. She didn't change the blessings. She painted real faces, faces awash in tears, of those who the blessings are poured upon.

So since her talk, I've been thinking about my own examples of the Beatitudes. Her examples are from her ministry. We all have different ministries and my will seem different from hers. After much reflection, I find the my list to be already formed in my head but, until now, not written down.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    the spiritual but not religious
    the seekers of their authentic selves
    the suffering who begin to doubt because the pain never seems to end
    the sick who fear their own bodies
    the stranger in our midst who needs a smile, a hug, a friend
    the child afraid to venture outside lest the bullying return
    the scared who fear coming home lest they return to a place of anger and judgment
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    the spouse who lost the person they've loved deeper than we can understand
    the lovers who no longer find the trust and joy in each other's arms and say goodbye
    the child who doesn't understand why her parent won't be coming home anymore
    the friends who viewed a couple as one, as was meant to be, but now just find hollow eyes
    the family shocked at the loss of someone taken too soon by gun violence
    the relatives whose loss is viewed by others as collateral damage
    the breaking hearts who did not even have a chance to say goodbye
    the silent who must watch dementia steal someone's memories away leaving just a body
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    the teenager who stays in the closet, fearing that the name of their love will be discovered
    the pained who turn to the bottle or to pills to give them strength and energy
    the thinker and artist that lacks the opportunity to share
    the pastors who heal others but wonder who will tend to them
    the friend who realizes that somehow their bodies and souls don't fit a M/F binary
    the nurse who washes our sores    
    the friend that listens to hear us, watches to see us, and grabs our hands to hold us
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    the foreigner who is told to leave and go to a place of fear and hunger
    the friends who cannot walk down the street in a hoodie or even complain about injustice
    the mother who just wants to get affordable medical care to plan a family
    the inmate facing the final judgment of Man and not our Creator
    the families torn apart because of arbitrary rules regarding homeland
    the kneeling who face violence because of their love for God, YHWH, Allah, Buddha, Shiva, ...
    the proud who won't let others impose their bigotries on them
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    the heros who take care of us behind our backs
    the friends that know all will benefit from roads, sanitation, health, protection, education
    the families who reach out and adopt and care for all children, not just those that look like them
    the older sibling, real or implied, who has our backs
    the comadre and compadre who listen to our problems without judging us
    the teacher who gives of their own time to care for that special child
    the mother and father, sister and brother, who just want you to be happy
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    the custodians at the church, homeless shelter, and hospital
    the teachers who want the most for your child
    the person at the grocery line who lets you cut in front of them
    the staff at the store and restaurant that share the bathroom even if you didn't or can't buy anything
    the ranger who tends to our land so that future generations can marvel at Creation
    the homeowner who sees you lost, gives you water, and guides you home
    the friend who gives you a ride, cares for a prisoner, plants flowers on a trail
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    the police and judiciary that understand that true safety starts in trust
    the people who unite us as a human family, rather than divide us like spoils of war
    the artists, writers, and musicians who inspire us to love and compassion
    the fire crew that calms the fearful neighborhood
    the military who put their lives on the line for our protection and not for their glory
    the unknown missionary who lies in a shallow grave for the civil rights of brothers and sisters
    the good Samaritan whose name we never knew, or whose face we've already forgotten
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    the ones who care for the Children of God
         ignoring false idols
         ignoring their own egos
         ignoring the sense of their own righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

May you find examples of the beatitudes in your own life and live out the meaning of God's blessings. I invite you to share them with me, for in sharing your views of blessing, you bless me with your insight and love.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Welcome Musings

When I travel I find myself seeking out museums, churches, and architecture. I marvel at well laid out streets and plazas, delight in local music, and try to learn about local poets and writers. I go to these places and then just walk around, soaking it in, slowly without a fast-paced agenda.
Picasso's Guernica in Madrid, 2015

This is not the stuff that cruise ship tours do as deeply as I prefer.

I just did possibly my most whirlwind trip ever with my parents in Spain, France, Andorra, and Portugal. The trip moved from city to city because they really aren't as into art and music as much as I am. Mom certainly enjoys visiting churches. Dad enjoys the churches and plazas. But all the other stuff, well, they're more practical than I am I suppose.

But is an appreciation for the works of the muse impractical? The classical muses were the writer, the poet, the historian, the musician, the song writer, the astronomer, the dramatic actor, the comedy actor (and architect), the dancer, and the sacred poet. The sacred poet one has always been the hardest to define for me. She's also into agriculture and pantomime which are about as related as string theory is to string cheese. But these goddesses are there, with their side musings, in the pantheon of Greek and Roman (who borrowed liberally) mythology. And they inspire us to see and hear and think outside of our normal cloistered minds.

They are known for devoting themselves to their crafts. Through the ages, most people have an appreciation for the way these arts influence our emotions and thoughts. They inspire in positive and negative ways. And we feel civilized when we find ourselves surrounded by them.

Civilized by our muses. It seems odd to me that we can have our animal or rougher edges softened by the creative arts. How can cerebral arts bring us to pause and marvel? And yet it affects most of us in ways that are hard to pinpoint, connecting our daily lives to something distant and ever-present, something timeless and true. We grow and become more complete when exposed to the muses.

Although my parents may not want to spend all day amongst all the muses, they most certainly enjoy their preferred ones. The buildings and hymns in churches most certainly were represented. And they certainly found ways to become instant friends with strangers whenever they met other Filipinos. They could share stories and histories. It's like the muses, but more intimate, transient, fleeting.

Curiously, painting and sculpture was held in low regard by the ancient Westerners, and did not have a muse. They were the result of manual labor. This surprises me because I so value the inspiration that I draw from these arts. I think today's artists are held in greater regard because we realize that their hands are guided by as inspired a mind as any of the other muses.

Whether respected or not, the muses sing to us, speak us, enter our beings in ways that are unexpected and tangible. We can block them out, ears covered and eyes shut, but we're not immune to their effects.

I think that happens because most of the time we're not trying to cram them into our beings. Instead, we make ourselves open and receptive to them, and in doing so, we let their magic work us over and make us feel more complete. And by welcoming them in, we invite them to create more and inspire us further.

Isn't that similar to many of the relationships in our lives? Our friendships? Our loves? Our congregations? Rather than overtly trying to hard to bring them in, we just open ourselves up and serendipitously discover the ways they tug on the strings of our heart. And together we grow together in mutual affection and appreciation. So that we can laugh together. Cry together. Sing together. Pray together.

May we welcome the new and creative forces all around us and discover the creation from within.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Blessings over Fear

A visit to Lourdes - Sep 2015
I took my parents on a trip to Spain (and France, Portugal, and Andorra) last month. It's the third time I've taken them to Europe. Each time has been one where I gave a gift out of love and gratitude. They paid for my study abroad back when I was an undergraduate. We didn't have much and certainly this just added to their debts at the time.

My time at Oxford was transformative. It was as though my eyes were opened to beauty and possibilities I hadn't expected. True the food was terrible beyond the pale. I exaggerate not. I didn't know vegetables could be boiled so thoroughly that they could look whiter than beyond pale. But the museums, art, people, and opportunity to experience a different culture affected me deeply and I cherish what I learned and continue to learn on every trip I take to this day.

So I thank them with these trips. This one was their first trip to Spain, a particularly meaningful one because our ancestors came to the Philippines from Spain.

I blog this because as with any time you put parents and with their post-adolescent children together, you have an opportunity for conflict. Much as I try to be a caring child, it's human nature to have disagreements with someone who raised you with firm advice. Much as I cherished the time and valued the blessings and opportunity to spend three weeks with my parents, there were moments when I felt as though I were 14 years old again. I'm sure I was a pill then and I definitely could be tough to swallow when I'm petulant or angry now.

The feelings are worsened when mortality is brought into the mix. None of us live forever. Much as I want my parents to be around, I know at some point I must say goodbye to them. Or, far worse, they have to say goodbye to me. Statistically and from family health history, there's much to make me feel that I need to gird myself for the inevitable. Hence, the trip was a great way to learn more about ourselves and to share in our time.

But I said that's how feelings are made worse. I for one may intellectually accept what will some day come, but emotionally it's not easy. And whenever I saw evidence that my parents were slowing down, or not are more forgetful than in the past, or are ignoring dietary proscriptions by their physicians, I experience the role reversal that often accompanies caring for aging parents. I heard myself scolding for bad eating and getting frustrated by forgetfulness. I've learned to accept the physical slowing down, but then get overly cautious when we aren't slowing down enough.

My mom is the most formidable woman I know. Whenever we moved, she started with entry level jobs yet always rose to be a leader. She finally retired as the Executive Director of the non-education parts of Stanford and Cal State LA. Dad started his professional career as an attorney and became a banker. Even after he retired, and returned to work as a part time teller to keep stave off boredom, he sometimes sold more new accounts than full time staff, winning trips for his successes. And yet he's still strong in his 80s, wanting to carry luggage when I could be doing so for him. Both of them worked all their lives, 2-3 jobs each, just to get us our education here in the USA.

So it bothers me to watch them slow down from the peaks of their careers. And I didn't understand why I was frustrated and angry during the first week of the trip. It took that week to realize that I was getting angry because I was masking my real feelings.

I was frightened.

Fearful of the signs of aging they were showing.

Afraid of someday saying goodbye to them.

And like most men, I resist fear and transform it into other emotions. The fear became anger and frustration.

Once I realized what I was doing, it became easier to accept my feelings. I was, after all, on this trip to enjoy my time with them and share with them the land of our ancestors. What I feared can not be avoided. So stories were told, memories shared, and we were able to experience a trip with the power of healing and transformation that we all wanted to have.

I watched Mom and Dad at Lourdes. They watched others in wheelchairs, on crutches, in arms of others as they processed into several masses for blessings. They did not want to be among those who seemed more needy, as if their needs were any less than the next person. But I understood. They've always deferred to those more needy and this was no different.

I waded into the stream of Lourdes and let my fears flow out of me into the waters. Some view blessing as the transmittal of a prayer or God's grace to someone. But on that day, on this trip, I realized that to be filled with grace and love, I needed to make room in my soul for that love.

The fear had to be released.

An opening needed to be created.

My mind and heart had to wade into the thin space.

And in the darkened void I created but feared, from that willful purgation into the stream at Lourdes, I made room for grace. I stepped out of myself and found fresh air. And with my parents on this trip, I felt the blessing come into me.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Another Day, Another Horror Story

Why must we march through life accepting hellish conditions? (photo July, 2015)
Another day another mass murder in the US. We've become sadly immune at times to listen to run of the mill mass murders of only 3 people. It takes something on the scale of Roseberg, Oregon's campus shooting to grab our attention. Or the church shooting in South Carolina. Or dozens of tiny children at Newtown.

That's why yesterday, a day when everyone was focused on the revolting news arising from Oregon, we didn't even hear about other mass murders that were unfolding. In Florida, a man shot his wife, her boyfriend, and a Good Samaritan trying to intervene and help, before committing suicide. The boyfriend is hanging on to his life but the others have died. This did not make the headlines, probably because unlike Oregon, it's become too common and two of the victims knew the assailant.

That's right. It's not worthy of news, of our attention, because it happens too often. These poor souls don't get the opportunity for our grieving and for our prayers because their deaths were pedestrian. Just average gun deaths.

A painful malaise has gripped us in the face of all this gun violence. I was wondering what snapped in me yesterday though. I immediately posted a comment "No no no... Prayers for the families of Oregon" (Facebook). But it wasn't enough. I felt that the passive acceptance was no longer tenable.

And I was actually confused by my reaction. I wasn't just sad. I was angry. Angry at the system, yes, but also our acceptance of Sheol, of hellish conditions on earth, of living in a burning rubbish pit. I didn't understand why I felt differently, and not happily doing my prayers.

I noticed a comment online from a former employee who wrote "Forget peace and comfort in Oregon. I am praying for angry, world-changing grief. ‪#‎UCCShooting‬" . That was it. That's what I was feeling. I was tired of praying for after the fact consolation of grieving and the dead. Not that I wouldn't, but that I felt it insufficient. I wanted more.

So I wrote online "Praying for resilience and world-changing grief so that prayers for victims and families will no longer be necessary. Praying for a quiet love that is more powerful than the clanging cymbal. Praying that our eyes and ears grown desensitized to these daily horrors can guide our hands and feet and hearts to still the red-tinged waters of the land." (Facebook)

And I felt empowered by this. I think we all can feel empowered. Remember when personal computers were becoming common place but were a mystery to most people? And Apple computer, during the 1984 Superbowl, unveiled an ad that said that the unveiling of the Macintosh computer will show why 1984 (the year) will not be like 1984 (the book). Catch the ad on YouTube. It was memorable because it promised hope that we did not have to accept the doubleplus goodspeak being fed to us.

I felt like we needed to throw our hammers at the military industrial complex that perpetuates this circle of horror. I saw my culpability as unacceptable any more. And I wondered if others felt the same way, though I didn't want that to stop me from doing something about it.

And I saw more posts from others. More comments of resolve. And by evening, there was a statement by the USA President Obama. And a statement by Rector Ed Bacon of All Saints Church in Pasadena. The feeling of exasperation was palpable last night. (Ed Bacon's statement)

Do I expect things to change? Will the National Rifle Association once again be able to convince us that we need to sit down, pray, grieve respectfully, and look at this as a mental health problem not a gun problem, well after the fact. And then watch as the NRA finances politicians who defund health care at the local through national level. Or as they finance politicians who defund health care and benefits to military veterans, people who actually know how to use these weapons, but are now left sick, untreated, frustrated, scared, angry, and armed. Or as they throw out arguments that it's pointless to ban weapons because bans don't work, but then finance politicians who support bans on drugs, abortions, minority voting access, or marriage equality.

I don't personally support gun bans, just like I don't support these other bans. I think that personal responsibility must be taken. We need licensing, certification, and regular training requirements, across the board from the local level on up. The gun industry must be made accountable for the development of dangerous products, just like the auto and other industries. And even though the relationship is not causal in any way, we have to address the popular scapegoat. If it's mental that's being blamed, we need real mental health financing with information that influences the licensing of gun ownership. We don't license the blind to drive; we shouldn't license unfit gun owners. Australia reformed their gun laws in 1996 in the wake of their worst mass murder incident. They haven't had a repeat in the two decades since.

We need accountability not complicity from law enforcement. Umpqua Community College's local Sheriff John Hanlin had once sent a letter to President Obama stating that he would never comply with gun ordinances from the national level. Is that treason or another Kim Davis situation where the government official needs to be removed from office for not upholding the laws? Either way, he's still sheriff, and in my opinion has some blood on his hands.
As do we all. When we sit idly by, spectators in the bloodbath of this Colosseum arena, we abet the continuation of this travesty. That's why my prayer today is different. 
Feeling gratitude that many are no longer willing to stand in prayer and then stand aside, that instead of standing in a circle of passivity and defensiveness, we stand together marching forward. My prayers for grief AND action yesterday have been echoed by many.
I today pray for forgiveness for not doing enough to create a safe place for all made in Her image, for allowing an idolatrous love to flourish unchallenged, for living in a house of fear rather than the house of love we want to call home.

Please stand with me and with others who want to part the red-tinged waters that threaten to drown us. Let's confront the irrational biases against any form of sensible reform. Let's hold hands and say that rather than waiting for someone to feed us, we should learn to fish and feed ourselves. We don't have to sit idly by, praying, accepting the temptation of easy resignation. We can walk through the valley of peace together.