Thursday, March 03, 2016

Warfare

Being a poet, or rather a former poet, I have known of Audre Lorde for some time now, a black, feminist talent especially celebrated among well-versed literary types. But I can't say that I had ever read any of her work. She died in 1992, a victim of breast cancer that spread to her liver, yet some years after her diagnosis, in 1988 what would be her second-to-last book was released. In A Burst of Light: Essays this one line of hers stood out to me: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Although not universally, adequately caring for oneself is something many of us wrestle with. How you define and actualize self-care in your life probably looks a world different than what is normative for me. Both couch potatoes and fitness enthusiasts have an interpretation of self-care that feels as valid to them as any other, and while extremism on any issue rarely leads to health, that doesn't stop us from sometimes believing that a pure, proper version of care is truly at the root of why we do what we do. Odd though it may sound, there are those who believe that smoking cigarettes is self-care. It's quite a sight, I can tell you though, to see someone vigorously running on the treadmill at the gym one moment, only to be taking long drags on a cigarette in the parking lot moments after. As a dutiful employee, working oneself to the bone can equate to self-care for one person whereas for somebody else a full measure of sleep every day or a monthly overnight trip to a hotel or monastery fits their bill. Left in a room together, I'm sure that all of us could debate whether self-care primarily speaks to quantity or quality, or both? Is it a measurable endeavor or more about individual preference devoid of any universal guidelines?

Christianity is not a playroom for dogmatism, so it's appropriate that a holy degree of grace and diversity should be promoted here, but Audre Lord's statement, surrendered to what I know about God, in Scripture, feels most instructive. Self-care is that which brings about life that's capable of sprouting forth to teleport us from who we is (poor English, I know) to who we ought be. And that type of approach to life clearly is "an act of political warfare." There's no getting around that. Our politics begin at home, privately, not on the public campaign trail with a robust elocution of our views, so to neglect the proper caring of oneself is ultimately to feel unworthy or unimportant. Albeit not due to exhaustion, on the seventh day of creation even God chose to rest (Genesis 2). To turn the spotlight inward, that we might care for ourselves in order to then take better care of others is an essential theme of Christian discipleship often neglected today. God doesn't need more busybodies. God desires daughters and sons who will define themselves by and in him, choosing to live in light of his transcendent example.

Self-care, at least the kind with a biblical refrain, cannot be about losing yourself in elixirs that alter your state of mind no more than it can flippantly involved toying with risky behavior. And I doubt that working overtime qualifies as self-care either. "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you," Paul once asked believers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:16), but the question awaits an answer from us today as well. It defies societal logic to live as though you are a precious treasure set-apart for sacred work, and not a commodity to be manipulated and farmed out. It's dangerous to tell the world, through action and deed, that with citizenship in another land over the rainbow somewhere way up high, your heart doesn't beat to their drum. It can be an isolating experience to live in such a way that you esteem God and are also esteemed by God, and so have clear boundaries about how you live, work, and play. It's easy to feel misunderstood or shunned by your contemporaries, I know.

However, we can't sit by idly while a moratorium is placed on restraint, routine maintenance, and an investment in the soul. After all, we are flesh and blood created in the image of God, not an assortment of plastic Leggo pieces purposed to erect a multi-colored tower symbolic of the misconception that we can be gods. We and God are not the same, this much is clear, and that is good news.

There's nothing wrong with a hefty dose of self-preservation each day to keep the willies away, so long as it's rooted in knowing your worth in Christ. To care for yourself, to take that endowed responsibility seriously, is to open yourself to ridicule though, you must know. Because of it you may lose money or a reputation for being the perfect picture of productivity. You may receive stares and snide remarks, but it is all worth it in order to be better equipped for God's use. You and I do not have superpowers, but we do, in God, have a friend who is the "super power" who is the best leader there is.

It's been said, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." (Psalm 24:1) That means us. We belong to God. And part of that belonging necessitates doing battle with whatever seeks to oppose or distort our super power. Whatever gifts we have to offer anyone will never be as fully realized as they could or should be if we reject God's call to take good, godly, unashamed care of the mind, body, and spirit that we've been given. Some of the specifics of what kinds of self-care rhythms or activities that float your particular boat will vary from what feels best for me. That comes with the territory of the human experience. But whatever we do needs to glorify God and thereby help increase our capacity to absorb or develop faith, hope, and love, in order that we will be all the more equipped to share God's light with whoever we come in contact with.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Present with the Lord

On the morning of my birthday a dear sister-in-Christ and awesome member of my church, Eunah, went home to be with the Lord, losing her 16-month battle with Stage IV stomach cancer at the age of 49. She passed away peacefully at home surrounded by her family. Unfortunately, she leaves behind her husband of 10 years, and two boys: 8 and 19. Eunah was petite in stature, but mighty in the Lord. Through numerous dangers, toils, and snares, she continued to praise God and think of others even in the midst of her own immense suffering. I will be leading her memorial service in another week where undoubtedly lots of tears will be shed. That comes with the territory of death. But even in the midst of weeping, I can bear witness that Eunah's living was not in vain. She encouraged me to continue fearing only God, not people, and to remember that each day from God is a precious miracle that we dare not take for granted.

Amen.

A Better Way

I am all for the rights of people to bear arms in an effort to protect themselves, and hunt, skeet shoot, and whatever other "lawful" activities avail themselves. I have never held or shot a gun, but I do hope to at least take a gun safety class someday and can actually see myself at some point owning a firearm. I say this in the interest of full disclosure.

But there has to be a way to stop yahoos (who come in all forms, I might say) from having such easy access to guns, not to mention the automatic kind that allow someone to indiscriminately fire off rounds at rapids rates. I imagine that it is hard to regulate morality in this sense, deciphering who is and who is not disgruntled, racist, bigoted, or otherwise "off kilter" enough to take the life of innocent people who are simply minding their own business. Nevertheless, something must change.

Whether it is this situation in South Carolina, Sandy Hook, or some of the clear instances of police misconduct regarding them discharging their weapons in a criminal/unjustified manner, something must change. Whether it is the often forgotten numbers of black and brown youngsters who shoot themselves and others in largely urban corridors of our nation, the news of which rarely rises to the level of being perceived as a national crisis, something must change. Whether legally or illegally, black or white, powerful or powerless, poor or rich, in some small "yeehaw" town or an overcrowded metropolis like our nation’s capital where I receive police blotter reports of shootings in my e-mail every single day; I don't care what someone looks like or what their background may be, this foolishness of gun violence must end.

The depths to which we live in an unapologetically godless society is absolutely sickening. And yet people inevitably find time to characterize those of faith as being weak-minded, insignificant, or both -- that is, often until tragedy strikes. I don't mean to be negative or discouraging, but we can't reside in La-La Land our entire life. Increasingly, God's words in the Book of Jude have felt more sobering, as we become like the boys in the "Lord of the Flies," given over to the worst parts of ourselves.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Highlighting normative industry practices as well as historical and modern rituals about dying and death more than the average layman probably wants to know, there is no avoiding the gruesome nature of Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. But what should you expect from a book about lessons learned from working in a crematory. You can't say that she didn't properly warn you. Beyond the gory details and tales of various rituals associated with the subject, all of this business about the end-of-life is sobering. Surely, it isn't exciting to ponder not being around any longer, but we who dodge the inevitable do so at our own peril and with neglect to our loved ones. Doughty is introspective, thoughtful, and witty in this work, but without sugarcoating the nuanced complexities of what those who work in crematoriums and the mortuary field regularly see, smell, do, and wrestle with. She writes, "It is never too early to start thinking about your own death and the deaths of those you love. I don't mean thinking about death in obsessive loops, fretting that your husband has been crushed in a horrific car accident, or that your plane will catch fire and plummet from the sky. But rational interaction..." How our bodies are treated upon death (i.e., cremation, burial with or without chemical preservation, etc.) is awkwardly interesting, I must admit, but I find that people from Doughty's camp often drown in its minutia. Whether someone wants to be cremated or not, to have their body washed at home by their spouse or processed full of preservative fluids in a sterile funeral home, it doesn't factor heavily in my eschatology. Christianity articulates that when "absent from the body," in death, we are "present with the Lord." It is an easy escape to be overly concerned with what will happen to one's body once it has been rendered lifeless than to live now the full life that God has provided. Death is scary, but it can't compare to everyday life wherein we are held hostage by monotony, injustice, hardship, and evil. This clearly isn't the aim of Doughty's work, so if you hold a similar perspective you are forced to fill-in the blanks, which is actually probably a good exercise anyway. That process will definitely force you to consider practical implications of your death that you may have not thought of before, but it will also bring you face-to-face with questions about what you value most.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Unrest in Baltimore

I am tired of all of this mess. I understand how layer upon layer of unaddressed injustice over time can make people frustrated enough to behave irrationally. Sustained neglect to this degree is easier to dismiss or keep on the periphery of life than to address head-on openly and honestly, no matter one's skin color. I can appreciate that for some people rioting and looting in Baltimore, they are trying to assert that Freddie Gray's death won't be in vain, that they are upset, bewildered, and disappointed. I get it...

Read the rest of this commentary at EthicsDaily.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs is easy one of the best books that I have come across in recent years. A sobering tale of a young man overflowing with potential yet haunted by a past that was never subdued, I found myself struck by what was indeed a "short and tragic life." As is the case with so many of us, Robert's life was riddled with paradox and even more, a spectacular intelligence juxtaposed with self-destructive thoughts and actions. All of this was often masked as necessary coping mechanisms or survival techniques during times of trouble, which is an easy albeit popular scapegoat. There is no escaping that Robert was a product of his environment. Although a living, breathing statistic, he possessed the rare ability to morph into an overachieving, positive anomaly whenever he willed himself to. Unfortunately, through various stops and starts, obstacles overcome and other obstacles created, he was unable to shake the dusty tracks of his upbringing. His native neighborhood taught him that consequences and rules don't matter that much, especially if you don't get caught. By the title alone you know from the beginning that Robert's dreams ultimately didn't materialize, but that doesn't make it any easier to read the well-written account of his demise. Like his father before him, he was taken away too soon from those who loved him. The truth of the matter, however, is that despite their brilliant minds and driven ethics, they succumbed to the allure of easy money and cheap morals that imprison so many, no matter whether they matriculate in the Ivy League or Newarks of our society.