bylogan

Show Up

"Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor, Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek, And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing In the trees in the silence of the fisherman And the heron, and the trees that keep the land They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die." – Wendell Berry

Perhaps the most damning mark against Millennials—especially younger Millennials—is our reputation for flaking out on commitments. Multiple factors contribute to the general truth that when you’re making plans with a Millennial, there’s a good chance that they’ll fail to show up whether they’ve made a commitment or not. Included in these factors are FOMO (fear of missing out), economic anxiety, overwork and difficult to anticipate work schedules, and the ephemeral nature of plans made via text message or a Facebook invite, among others. Whatever the case may be, Millennials have a problem with showing up.

Christians are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, who we call 'Lord.' If that's true then the question is, how do we expect to be formed as Disciples?

This is the first rule of Christian Discipleship: show up.

It is probably obvious that the words disciple and discipline are related. In order to become disciples we have to have discipline. More than that, we have to be disciplined.

Progressive Evangelical forms of Christianity in America, seeking to avoid the gravity of the word "discipline" have invented the neologism "discipled," as in, "I was discipled at The Radical Non-denominational Satellite Church of the New Covenant." But this cute trick of language misses the true relationship that must be developed in community if we are to be formed as Disciples of Christ.

Referring to discipline here, I'm not talking about harsh treatment or some kind of overly strict regimen which coerces someone into behavior they otherwise wouldn't engage in. Like grace, discipleship isn't the outcome of a formula. I'm talking about showing up: in community, in relationship, in service.

In community, showing up means acting like you belong to the place you meet your neighbors. Belonging means recognizing that a place may not be set up to give you anything, but it will form something new in you if you show up. Showing up means that being a mere spectator falls short of the demand of your place. Showing up means acknowledging that your place belongs to you as much as you belong to it.

In relationship, showing up means recognizing people who have traveled down the road a bit further than you and asking them to tell you what lies ahead. Showing up means looking over your shoulder and beckoning toward people on the path behind. Showing up means walking arm-in-arm, supporting people on the path with you. Showing up in relationship means living into the truth that two people have a claim on one another—they belong to one another.

In Christian mission showing up means arriving for service not just when it's convenient, not just once in awhile, but over and over again. Showing up means coming together with those who serve and those who are served to make a place together. Showing up regularly and sharing space with others is what transforms a space into a place and forms people as friends. A place, once made, forms the community that shows up there.

Discipleship flows naturally out of the disciplined practice of regularly sharing space, breaking bread, and giving ourselves to place. But first we have to show up.

Infinity

For a couple of weeks I've been trying to get the bat of my shoulder to comment about the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative being put up for a vote here in Denver. I haven't had the guts to swing, I guess because the terms of discourse are so narrow as to be utterly useless to anyone trying to make sense of the issue.

Together Denver, the campaign organization backed by real estate developers and the downtown business district, has framed the issue like this: they argue it's cruel to pass a law which allows people to live on the street but offers no way out of homelessness. In all of Together Denver's campaign literature, in their TV ads, in their mailers, in their online material, they claim to have the best interests of "the homeless" in mind. Vote no, they say, for the true moral stance is not to make it more comfortable to live on the streets. No, the true moral stance is to craft policy that helps people get off the street.

This false piety is so smart it makes me sick.

For someone who supports the Right to Survive, the reasoned response within this framing is to point out that making life on the streets more humane, on one hand, and offering resources that help people get off the streets, on the other, are not mutually exclusive.

But I'm tired of the reasonable response.

The unreasonable response is this: there are people living on the streets right now who will never get off the street. There are people living on the streets right now who will die on the street. There are people who are not yet living on the streets who will die on the street.

Here's the thing. Right now, there are people living on the streets for whom LIVING IN PUBLIC IS THE BEST POSSIBLE OPTION. It isn't the wrong option. It isn't a bad choice. It isn't a choice that shouldn't be possible. It's the best. possible. option. for the day-to-day survival and overall spiritual health of many individuals who live on the street.

Homelessness is such a fraught issue for our country because it is an axe that smashes the frozen sea covering so many of our cultural sins.

The fact of homelessness in our society implicates many things: it implicates our economy, our healthcare system, our ideas about what's possible in government, our education system, our understanding of public and private space, our churches and other religious bodies, and our existential wellbeing (or lack thereof).

That homelessness itself is so dangerous to the people caught up in it and that it is so controversial to those who view it from the outside reveals our lack of imagination about the way a human life ought to be lived.

We may be able to develop the capacity to really reckon with ourselves as a society. But not by voting 'no' on the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative.

A 'yes' vote on the initiative is a vote for possibility: the possibility that someone living on the street right now might live another day, the possibility that someone may feel encouraged to seek out resources available to her to get off the street, the possibility that as a society we might really see what it takes to survive on the street and to investigate why someone might need to make that choice in the first place.

But more than all that, a 'yes' vote on the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative is a choice for the possibility of surprise. A 'no' vote doubles down on the poverty of the unexamined present. If we only had the courage to look, we would find that the present is pregnant with future possibilities, but a 'no' vote forecloses on the possibility of the future available to us at every moment.

To vote 'yes' is to vote not only for the defeat of Together Denver. To vote 'yes' is to choose that there might be more choices available, not only to our homeless friends but to all of us, unfolding into infinity.

Martyreo Aletheia

November 25th was Christ the King Sunday on the church calendar, which is one of those funny irksome titles Jesus ends up with after he's dead and gone and back again. The people who put the Revised Common Lectionary together (Lectioneers) gave us John 18:33-37 for the week.

Roman Law

What we see in the passage is Pilate's interaction with Jesus. Just before we get there, though, we overhear Pilate outside his headquarters interacting with the Jewish authorities who have brought Jesus to be judged.

As a Prefect, Pilate had some limited judicial authority in Judea. Keep in mind, Rome would rather have their provinces govern themselves to a degree than to dictate everything that went on in a province. The whole colonial system works better if an illusion of self-governance is maintained. So as a good bureaucrat, Pilate asks, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" and, "Why not take Jesus yourselves and judge him by your own law."

But the authorities who apprehended Jesus maintain that they would have him judged by a different law, so Pilate has to go back into his headquarters to question Jesus.

Interesting to note that often the crucifixion of Jesus is seen as a miscarriage of justice. If Pilate had been braver or the Jewish authorities had been more faithful or if the crowd had seen that it was Barabas, not Jesus, who deserved death (if it had never been left up to the crowd at all...) then Jesus might have lived.

In fact, if the wheels of Roman justice and the Jewish authorities had been working more efficiently, Jesus would have been put to death much sooner. In this case the gears of human justice moved imperfectly and so Jesus lives longer than he would have.

Anyway, Pilate asks Jesus straight out: "Are you the king of the Jews?" And instead of answering, Jesus asks this funny question: "Where'd you hear that from?" Like, is that your idea or someone else's? Pilate is a little bemused. He says, "Look, you're a Jew, not me. Your people handed you over to me, so what did you do?"

Now Jesus seems to answer the first question. He speaks about his kingdom. Not a kingdom of this world but a kingdom from somewhere else. Maybe a kingdom that is coming or is only now entering the world. Jesus' kingdom is unexpected, it intrudes in this circle of reality and upsets it. And importantly, it doesn't function the way the powers of this circle of reality expect a kingdom to function.

Kingdom

So the question is, how do we expect a kingdom to function? How does a king or a queen actually behave? I bet when most of us think of kings and queens we think of the British Royal family. “Wasn’t Megan Markle’s wedding dress beautiful?” and “Isn’t Prince George cute in his little prince outfits??” So, basically we think of glorified celebrities that only go away when they die.

But when we think of a kingdom, we should really think of somewhere more like Saudi Arabia. Think of a person or a family who controls all the wealth of a nation just because they said it should be so. Think of a man who, if you cross him, will send 15 men to murder you, cut your body in to pieces, and dissolve you in acid. This is how kings rule: through force.

How then are we to think of Jesus as a king?

I’m not satisfied by the line of thinking that Jesus is the best possible king, a king who is a servant to his people, a king who rules with love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. All of this is merely a reaction against the concept of kingdom we already know. As a reaction it will always be defined by the thing it's reacting against. If we understand Jesus to be a king on the world’s terms, but a really really good one, then he is by definition limited by those terms.

But Jesus says something different. To the question, “Are you a king?” he answers, “My kingdom isn’t limited to the terms of this world, people won’t fight and die over it, I won’t force it upon anyone.” Jesus never claims to be a king, and when he speaks of the kingdom, he suggests a reign of god unburdened by the baggage of the old ways of doing things.

Anyway, Pilate doesn't get it. He wants an answer that conforms to his understanding of the world, he wants to hear something that means something to him, that fits into his scheme for the way the world works. He says, "So are you a king or not?" Jesus answers in verse 37, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Our Lectioneers let the passage end there. But the passage actually ends with verse 38. Pilate responds to Jesus: "What is truth?" Jesus doesn't get a chance to answer, but we witness the Empire's answer soon.

Empire

The clearest definition of the truth of empire that I’ve read comes from a quote by Karl Rove (President George W. Bush's campaign manager and Republican political operative). When he was questioned by a NYT reporter about he nature of truth he said the following:

“America is an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

He means truth under empire is defined by empire. Empire is the ultimate subject of history and when the empire acts it creates new worlds, new truths, new realities. We can see, I think, that this is true. As I said before, even those who would fashion a different reality than empire still do so in reaction to empire, the ultimate truth maker.

"Martyreo Aletheia," Witness to Unconcealedness

We quickly turn from Pilate’s cynical question about the nature of truth to Chapter 19 where Pilate takes Jesus and has him flogged. Pilate activates the truth making machine of empire. The power of empire is now visited upon Jesus body. He is stripped. He is whipped. He is mocked. Thorns are forced upon his head. He carries the instrument of his death to the site of his execution and there he is murdered by the Roman state. Finally the wheel of justice turns freely as Jesus breathes his last breath.

Yet, in this death, Christians claim, Jesus has borne witness to all truth.

I'd like to suggest that this truth is, on one hand, an entirely new thing and, on the other, also the only thing—the only true thing, the radical truth at the root of existence. What is that truth?

Advent

I want to suggest our answer is in Advent.

Advent is a period of dark expectation. I don’t know about you but I feel an expectation for something new to come. I feel hope that I almost wish wasn’t there. As the days grow shorter and colder, I feel that they mirror the character of my own imagination for what’s possible.

Still, as this year ends, I look toward the four themes of Advent: hope, joy, peace, and love. And I look toward the generativity of the Spirit at work in the world, to the simple hope of a new baby and his mother’s love, to all the possibilities contained within the life of a single child.

Kings and Emperors seek to contain these generative forces. They work to cover difference, and to manage new possibilities so that they might achieve stability. Of course, stability often turns to stagnation, and Empire will always leave a few on the margins (the poor, the weak, the lame) as it pulls powers and resources to its center.

Between Jesus and empire there isn't some third synthesis that gives us a unified vision of both. There’s a shift not just in paradigms or cultural lenses but in circles of reality. I want to suggest that Christ is something new–the embodiment of an in-breaking reality: the embodiment of the end of one world and the beginning of another—another way of being, not stagnant, but open to the creative, loving existence of the presence of God.

If that’s all true, I don’t know exactly what to do. I had a friend once who told me if he believed in God nothing would stop him from running down the middle of the street completely naked. Maybe if I really believed all of this that’s what I’d do too…

But for the time being I look forward to quietly preparing myself, not for a glorious king, but for a poor baby and the love of his mother.

Discomfort and Enclosure

The Seattle Times recently ran an article about the kind of mundane racism that seems to be a matter of course for people of color in our country.

Air Force veteran Byron Ragland was doing his job as a court-appointed special advocate and visitation supervisor, sitting at a table at Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop supervising an outing between a mother and her 12-year-old son. As he was working, two police officers approached him, checked his ID and asked him to leave.

It turns out two employees at the store were uncomfortable with Ragland because he hadn't purchased anything. The employees complained to their boss—an Asian-American man—who called the police. Though Ragland explained he was working and accompanied the mother and son, the trio ended up leaving the store.

The Seattle Police department has since apologized to Ragland for asking him to leave.

A topic that goes unmentioned in the article is the ongoing enclosure of public spaces in this country. More and more, any indoor space has a required price of admission. Practically the only free, public, indoor space available is the library. Even outdoor spaces are increasingly enclosed, regulated, fenced, and patrolled. If you can't pay the fee or don't fit the profile of someone allowed to exist in public, you're asked to move along. People of color feel the effects of this enclosure more frequently than whites and with greater consequences.

It is also highly concerning that the employees either did not feel comfortable asking Ragland what was going on, in which case he could have explained his presence at the shop, or were not empowered to do so.

This story reveals an increasing breakdown in our ability to relate to each other on a basic level. If we cannot have a preliminary interpersonal encounter without involving the police, then frankly we don't have much of a society. If the way we relate to each other in this diminished society is primarily with fear, then I cannot see how we begin the work to rebuild it.