That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question. Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.
-Martin Luther King, Jr. (from "I have Been to the Mountaintop").

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

7,426 Words

A week into National Novel Writing month and I already have a very rough outline of the story that I want to develop. I’ve taken a different approach to writing this story as compared to my last attempted novel, forming three characters deeply and letting them drive the action until the story revealed itself to me. I’ve also had the advantage this time around of having read James Scott Bell’s excellent book Plot and Structure and am currently working on Ray Bradbury’s essay collection Zen in the Art of Writing.

This time around I have written every day and have not revised any of it. There are huge chunks of writing that are crap, and small nuggets of brilliance hidden deep in run-on sentences and misspelled words. Bukowski once wrote a poem that included the phrase “Sifting through the madness for the word, the line the way.” Tonight I plan, like a 49er, to dip my pan into the cyber sediment collecting in the recesses of my computer and begin to craft a story from the madness that I’ve chronicled.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Betting on the Muse

After talking to an old friend and sharing some of my new work I decided to take the plunge. November is National Novel Writing month, and, after one failed attempt under my belt I feel like I have a shot at at least making 50,000 words. November has become a new beginning for me, marking an array of changes that I didn't originally foresee. Life has an exciting prospect to it these days and I see characters everywhere--a blonde woman in high heels pushing an elderly man out of the way on the metro during rush hour, a well dressed gentleman sitting on the green bench in front of the fountain smoking a cigar worth more than my wristwatch, men walking around with bike helmets attached to their bags, women in yoga gear sitting in a full lotus--the possibilities are endless and life is a miracle I have not glanced before. Not to mention the occupiers, diplomats, presidential motorcades, homeless men hawking newspapers and waxing philosophical on the end of capitalism in america. It's all there for anyone willing to, as Bruce Springsteen penned, "case the promised land." I am grateful today for all of these things. Now off to the page.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Of Christian Hope and Action

The teleological end of Christianity is salvation but the path is to become gift given for others. It is not enough to give our gift, or to minister out of our talents. We must fully become gift and then give ourselves to a wounded world freely trusting that God will let us be received with joy, love and safety and will let us receive the gift of others in that same love and freedom.

Free will exists not so that we can live lives of pleasure at the expense of the poorest of society but so that we can use our free will to abandon our comfortable positions and become one with people who struggle to live day in and day out. No one can uproot the racism, greed and violence in themselves completely, but we can begin to do this, and in our beginning receive the grace of God’s love.

While we carry our addictions, desires, petty wants, fear hatred and despair as our cross, and though we fall victim to our sinfulness, it is not in the falling but the rising back up to meet the struggle and befriending our own Simon of Cyrene’s that Christian hope is to be found. When we begin to master ourselves, we can begin to change the world. When a group of us begin, a ripple effect of love begins to make its way through the darkness and a revolution of peace, joy and forgiveness manifests in the world.

While we are present day concerned we are also other kingdom oriented. No matter our gifts struggles successes and heartbreaks we are all waiting to come into the true presence of the one whose name is greater than every other name.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thoughts on Thursday

I have walked your streets and I have lost and laughed. I have been formed and I am tired and the world still is. No matter what I think it keeps on issing anyway. The wind seen shaking green tree branches a man in a tie, no coat walking with his hands in his pockets, head down end of a day, end of a life, in the end he will die to everything and everyone he loves in this world, not only himself. Five-o-seven is the witching hour and it’s time to go but I have not finished writing what I cannot say because the more trips I make around the sun the more I realize that we’re all sham artists who never see the sun, the trees, the world in fullness living. We are united to it, and we wage war against it. If we truly saw we would have to change our ways and our mediocrity would not be enough to get us through the day anymore. The antidepressants wouldn’t work, we wouldn’t have to create protector gods, the addictions would drop in the light of the truth that we are alive and it is magnificent.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dirt, Dollars, Destruction and Dreams: Dispatches from the Losing End

Growing up in Appalachia, it’s hard to say when I first became aware for the need for environmental justice. It could have been when I was 12 and took a trip with my mother and father through the West Virginia coalfields to McDowell County and saw mountaintop removal for the first time. Or it could have been even earlier, when chemical pollution from the nearby Ashland Oil Refinery began making cars rust prematurely in my grandmother’s town of Kenova, WV.

Three years ago I moved to the Washington, DC, and in many ways it’s easier here. I don’t have to think about the mountains being blown up in southern West Virginia and the people whose water has been poisoned by toxic coal sludge leaking into the water table.

Instead of driving an hour to recycle glass, I have recycling at my fingertips. I can literally touch the bin at work without moving my chair. When I’m feeling the need to support sustainable food options, I can go to the Yes! Organic Market and feel good about making a responsible choice. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the massage," and in countless ways, the massage of the city feels good.

But what about the forgotten places of the world like my home, where environmental destruction, a lack of job and educational opportunities, rapid depopulation and high disease rates breed a palpable hopelessness that manifests itself in everything from rampant drug use to the thieving and illegal recycling of copper telephone wire.

As Christians, we are called out by God to refuse to accept the status quo. It is not enough to pray, pay and obey in the pews, just as it is not enough to insulate oneself financially and become a self-congratulatory liberal or conservative. It is not enough to feel sorry for the poor, or even to walk with the poor. We have to recognize that since 1978, when real wages in America began declining, we are poor and getting poorer.

Lasting change rarely comes from changing systems. The forty hour work week, pension funds and health benefits, which were all 20th century victories for the labor movement have largely been reduced and repealed as American corporations filed for bankruptcy, took manufacturing overseas and turned the U.S. economy into an unsustainable service-based system. Some would claim the pinnacle of the Civil Rights movement came when Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first African American president. Obama, however, has been curiously silent on issues linking race, poverty and oppression such as high incarceration rates among young African American males.

As the early Church fathers tell us, lasting change comes not from changing systems but from a conversion of the heart. The challenge is to take up the mantle of righteousness while not becoming discouraged by hopelessness when working for social change.

We must remember the words of John 15:19-20, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

We follow a God who spent his last hours before death being cursed, beaten, tortured, spat upon, mocked and publicly humiliated by religious and state authorities. As the earth becomes increasingly uninhabitable and worldwide economic depression looms, is it really so hard to understand that Jesus is for losers?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Give and Take and Give Again

The sign was white with blue lettering, and had a dove with an olive branch flying away on the lower left hand corner. “War is not the Answer,” it proclaimed, hanging on the side of the porch railing, inconspicuous behind a small tree in the postage stamp row house yard.

Inside are old friends, and some new ones, which I hope will become old friends one day. Outside is the car, filled with clothes, knickknacks, books and other items that seem to depreciate in their value every time I move. Walking up the steps I think back to the previous month and a half, the journey from there to here is only a forty minute walk, but it seems worlds away. So does my brief jaunt to West Virginia and the countless clackity miles on the MARC reading and dozing. The constant weight of my backpack felt like stones, weighing me down and holding me back, tying me to a life no longer mine.

I have shed the backpack and the old attitudes, the laborious commute and loneliness of being in transit. I have been reborn into something new. The May greenery is lush with possibility and the gentle impression sandals make on the grass seem to tell me life is give and take, and give again. I am sure many challenges await but as walk in the door smiles and hugs remind me that I have arrived at life’s most paradoxical freedom: home.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Counting My Blessings

“The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves.” – Saint Augustine

So I broke down and did it. After nearly a month of resistance I went to noon mass at the shrine. As a Catholic who spent three years in seminary, I’m not really sure what I’ve been fighting by refusing to go to daily mass. Is it a lack of willingness or merely laziness? Is it wanting to go back to a life I lived before? Because I’ve crossed that Rubicon and will never be able to revert to being a secular Catholic again. I’ve seen too much.

Msgr. Rossi gave a nice, practical homily that seemed to reflect Augustine’s thoughts from the Office of Readings this morning. The office really spoke to me as I dozed more than usual. I also discovered that the newer, split level train cars have a bathroom (score!), which I found just before I decided to get out at Rockville and find a grassy knoll. Both Augustine and the Letter to the Hebrews were all about perseverance and gratefulness. This Lent has definitely been one of perseverance. Continuing to commit to the truth of Christ has been at times very difficult. I want to throw this pearl of great price down the drain, or maybe just put it in a safety deposit for a while, and go out and have fun.

Even still, I know from experience that only deeper loneliness lies at the heart of the hedonistic life. Like my mother always told me, in times of doubt I have to count my blessings. My book is in a good place, I’m healthy and have a job. Now if I could only find my glasses life would be complete.