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.

Circuit Rider

My boss, Ryan Taylor, and I had an opportunity to contribute to this quarter’s issue of Circuit Rider, which takes on the theme of preaching and serving from the margins. In a piece called “Becomming Poor and Finding Friendship on the Margins,” we write about what it means to offer hospitality to our homeless friends at Network Coffee House.

To an outsider, the work of extending hospitality at Network Coffee House may appear to be no work at all. That is not to say, it looks easy. Instead, it may literally appear to an outsider that social justice work among marginalized individuals is not taking place. The hospitality that we create together with our guests at Network cannot be painted on a canvas, captured on video, or advertised on social media.

Going Back to 127

Sunday on our way to church my almost five-year-old daughter said to me, "Dad now that I'm in 123 I feel all broked up." I said, "What do you mean broken up, sweetie?" She replied, "I feel broken up and switched around. I feel switched." When I pressed her again she went into a longer explanation.

She moved into a new room recently and while a lot of her friends from her old room (127) also moved to new rooms, a few still remain. So she has a new room, a new teacher, and new kids to get to know. She admitted that sometimes when her class is outside she'll peek in the windows of her old class, even though they're not supposed to. She said she can see her friends in there, and she rattled off four or five names. As a dad this is a bit heartbreaking.

Because I'm an idiot, I asked her, "What do you think you need to feel wholeness?" I mean, I'm seriously an idiot. She loves me, though, and she's only 5 so she just asked, "What's wholeness?"

Good question.

As adults we know what it's like to feel broked up. Something is missing. Something feels uncomfortable. Something is incomplete. Or maybe we feel like something used to be there and now it's gone. It's not always so easy to put our finger on what the feeling is or where it comes from. Certainly the cause of this feeling isn't usually as obvious to us as moving into a new classroom.

We talked about the new friends Nora has in 123 and then I asked, "Don't you think if you went back to 127 you would miss the girls we just talked about?" Matter-a-factly she said, "No." Like, duh, dad. But I suspect she would, in fact, miss them and her new teacher and their activities.

Wholeness isn't available to us as a return. As much as we would like to be able to go home again, to be embraced as a child by mom, to return to old friends and familiar places, we know deeply that they can't embrace us as they once did. We also know that in our attempted return we will leave behind things that have become familiar, and that by returning we again leave behind a part of ourselves.

Wholeness—whatever we mean by wholeness—can only be found where we stand now. More than that, I feel wholeness is only ever something that visits us—we do not visit it nor attain it by an action of the will. We may cultivate an awareness of the presence of wholeness in our lives, interact with it, even develop an intimate relationship with wholeness as we do with a friend or a lover, so that wholeness becomes an integral part of who we are and how we act in the world.

But we cannot go back to 127.

We Would Like to Work with the Poor

To: loganrobertson@poors.org
From: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
Subject: Volunteering
Date: May 24, 2018 2:14pm

Dear Logan,

I’m part of a local church group that is looking to do some volunteering. We’ve heard Poors Incorporated is doing great work in the city and we’re excited to connect. Our group would like to work directly with poor people, and we understand that you serve them. Since all of us work regular jobs we are looking to volunteer at your organization every other second Saturday starting in four and a half months. We’re planning ahead because we have a trip to help poor people in Honduras at the end of next month and the beginning of the next and the month after that we’re doing something in LA! :-)

We’re excited to work with your poor people. Looking forward to hearing back.

Sincerely,
Chryle Lorbers

To: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
From: loganrobertson@poors.org
Subject: Re: Volunteering
Date: May 24, 2018 2:38pm

Chryle,

I’m glad your group is looking to get involved in our city. You’re in luck, our organization has a whole group of poors here ready for you to help them. Before we schedule your group I’d like to get a little bit more information. What would you like to work on with our poor people? Do you have a sense for how long your group would like to be involved with the poor people at Poors Incorporated? How many people are in your group?

All the best,
Logan

To: loganrobertson@poors.org
From: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
Subject: Re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 25, 2018 9:17am

Hi Logan,

I guess I’m not really sure that we have something specific in mind to work on with the poor people at Poors Incorporated. We were thinking if there’s a program or something already in place where most of the work is already done, maybe you could plug us into that or whatever. We’re up for anything but we’d like to have direct contact with poor people. In the past, some organizations have had us come do filing, and we’re not really into that so much. There are 24 people in our group. We’re hoping all of us can volunteer together at the same time every other second Saturday of each month as I said below.

Can’t wait to get started five months from now.

Peace,
Chryle

To: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
From: loganrobertson@poors.org
Subject: Re: re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 25, 2018 10:43am

Chryle,

Thanks for the info. Unfortunately all of the volunteer positions where you can walk in the front door and work on a predetermined task for 2 hours before going out for lunch with your group are filled up! I was excited when you said you wanted to work with poor people, because I thought maybe you wanted to work with them on, like, coding CSS, HTML, and JavaScript or fixing cars or something like that. But never fear! we do have an intake process. Let me explain it before we go further.

Before you come on as a regular volunteer, we require that you spend 4 hours once a week, every week for a full calendar year at Poors Incorporated. During that time you should get to know the names of at least five poor people. Also, in that period of time the following events must occur for you to be considered as a regular volunteer: the police must be called once, an ambulance must be called at least twice, a fight must break out between two or more poor people during your shift involving a weapon of some kind—bonus points for a knife or steel pipe. Cleaning up blood, vomit, or other bodily fluids may be substituted for any one of these events. If you haven’t burned out before a year is up we’d be happy to take you on as a regular volunteer.

We can accommodate two people from your group.

Cheers,
Logan

To: loganrobertson@poors.org
From: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
Subject: Re: re: re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 27, 2018 9:22pm

It sounds like maybe Poors Incorporated won’t be such a good fit for our group.

To: beagoodperson77@jcisafriendtome.net
From: loganrobertson@poors.org
Subject: Re: re: re: re: re: Volunteering
Date: May 28, 2018 1:06am

No kidding.

Where All Things Are Permissible

It is difficult for Americans to imagine South Dakota as a place. People from east of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers or west of the Rocky Mountains, when meeting someone from South Dakota, express shock that a person would be from such a place. Perhaps only Wyoming rivals North and South Dakota as a blank void in the imagination of America. Yet even Wyoming has her jewel: Yellowstone National Park.

It is no surprise that 210,000 gallons of oil have leaked into the soil of South Dakota, for South Dakota is exactly the kind of place Americans expect oil to be spilled. For viewers in New York and California, the ocean is a less remote and more tragic place for oil to spill than South Dakota, about which they know nothing.

That the oil leaked into ground adjacent to an Indian reservation removes it even more from the imaginative grasp of millions of Americans.

The very rational, pragmatic concerns of Reasonable People are much easier to imagine for the average American, though they are less concrete. Oil powers the global economy, after all, and the American economy. It influences the price of milk. Oil must remain cheap for all to thrive. The safest way to transport crude oil to refineries is by pipeline. Trucks and trains pose too many risks. Surely one wouldn’t argue that a land ought to remain unspoiled in the face of the needs of millions for the lifeblood of the earth which has accrued to humanity. Shouldn’t we strive to strike a balance between environmental concerns and the needs of our human economy?

Never mind that these commenters know nothing about the place they would balance their scales.

As for the Indians, their tribal representatives negotiated passage of the pipeline through reservation lands. Who else were the oil companies to negotiate with? That the tribal councils are notoriously corrupt wouldn’t occur to such a Reasonable Person, but before they saw the news of the spill on their Facebook feed they never had a thought about South Dakota or remaining tribal lands.

Anyway, according to environmental officials, though the leak was large, the location is “very rural, which is very positive,” and “the location of this is not in a sensitive area.” Very positive indeed.

Author and Essayist Marilynne Robinson writes, “Wilderness is where things can be done that would be intolerable in a populous landscape.”[^1] In this sense, everything is permissible in South Dakota. The vast, empty, horizon embracing flatness of the place allows us to deceive ourselves. Such a place absorbs any amount of oil along with the silenced thought that such a disaster reveals the fundamental sin of our present age—our failure to imagine our neighbor. In our hurry to balance the scales, we fail to imagine a South Dakotan, an Indian, or the earth as our neighbor.

[^1]: The Death of Adam, 247

Prodigal

Ezra was there the day Hosea left. He'd overheard the month's worth of conversations between Hosea and Father leading up to Hosea's exodus. He'd been the one to draft the bill selling Hosea's share of Father's land, making them all poorer—though they were nowhere near poor. Hosea hadn't spoken to Ezra about it. They didn't talk. Not really. Not without arguing.

The day Hosea left, Ezra sat at the long, blackwalnut dining room table surrounded by papers. Three hours of numbers to be typed methodically into Quickbooks, then checked, then bills and reports emailed, printed, faxed, payments made, orders placed. The day Hosea left—just before he left—Father paced the house: dining room, kitchen, sitting room, front room, foyer, sun room, dining room, kitchen. On and on he went.

Surrounded by his work, Ezra watched from the dining room through two doorways to the foyer where Hosea stood with Father in front of the old oak door. The Grandfather Clock ticked out its measure to Ezra's right. Father looked up at Hosea, at his hazel eyes, his shoulder length brown hair poking out of his baseball cap. Evening light spilled through the stained glass transom window and lay on the pair thickly like globs of paint. Maybe the paint would dry and they would freeze there, thought Ezra. He would have to clean them up after he finished working.

They murmured at each other mostly. Then Father gripped Hosea by the shoulders and said loudly, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, Dad. I am," said Hosea smiling.

"I love you."

"I love you too, Dad."

Hosea hefted his pack onto his thin shoulders, turned to the door and opened it. He turned back and looked at Ezra, then looked down at the table, then back again to his brother. He nodded and Ezra nodded back. Then Hosea stepped outside.

Father closed the door. Pressed his palms against it for several seconds. Ezra went back to the numbers. He heard ice clink into a glass and a few moments later the sound of Father lowering himself into his chair in the sitting room. He would be staring out the big picture window now, Ezra knew, and would fall asleep there.

Hosea had left. Ezra had stayed. He'd stayed through Mother's failing health, her dementia. He'd managed in-home caregivers, woke up all hours of the night to usher her back to bed, like she was an infant, like he was her father. She couldn't remember Ezra's name, though she asked about Hosea often. "He's fine, Mother," Ezra would say not looking at her.

Ezra had stayed through Father's drinking. His worrying. His pacing. He'd found a way to keep everyone on who worked for their family. To keep paying them even without the acres sold for Hosea. He'd found a way to keep the lights on for all of them.

They heard from Hosea at first. Not regularly but often enough. After they'd talked, Father would sit clutching the kitchen phone, the plastic creaking like he was trying to hold on to his son, to embrace him.

He was traveling, he'd said. He was meeting people and seeing things, the world, the real world.

"All these people Ezra, they're incredible, they're beautiful."

"The world is real enough here," Ezra had replied, "Joshua's wife is pregnant."

"Great! That's great," Hosea replied. He sounded pleased.

One more person to keep the lights on for, thought Ezra, as he stared out Father's picture window.

Then they'd heard from him less. And still less. Then it said his number was disconnected. Ezra had checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for clues. He checked couch surfing websites that hadn't been updated since they were created in the 1990s. There was no sign. No sure sign. Maybe he'd died, Ezra thought, ashamed of himself. It had been years.

Ezra was gray now; well gray-er. And balder. And fatter. Joshua's daughter was 10. Mother was dead. Father was... old, older than the years that had passed, older than the good, oak barrel aged bourbon melting the ice in his glass.

And now here was Hosea on a Sunday morning. Ezra was sitting down at the dining room table and the oak door swung open and there stood Hosea in the frame, looking at him.

The leather of Father's chair creaked and Ezra heard footsteps pad toward the tall, shaggy man. Father appeared in the foyer in his dark blue robe and his red slippers and grasped at Hosea like he was trying to draw fog or mist to himself. He plucked at Hosea's ratty clothes, green, brown, tan, and gray, at his scraggly beard, at his matted hair. Father gripped Hosea's shoulders and Ezra could hear the plastic of the kitchen phone creak in his mind.

“What the fuck," Ezra whispered. Ezra noticed himself breathing faster, like he was ready to run, like he was ready to fight. Then his father turned to him. Father's face was radiant, thought Ezra, alive, on fire.

"Call everyone," Father's croaked. Then more clearly, "Call everyone here, Ezra. Invite everyone. Invite Joshua's family, invite everyone's family! Call the caterer or, or order something, order, I don’t know, chicken, whatever." The words tumbled out of Father's mouth as Ezra stared, motionless.

"What are you doing, Ezra?" Father asked.

Ezra scratched his forehead and looked down at the ever-present spread of papers on the dining room table. Ezra hadn’t noticed he had stood up. He adjusted his glasses, sitting back down and began signing checks.

Hosea’s smell proceeded him into the room. He smelled like a pig, Ezra thought, except pigs were clean. Hosea sat down across from Ezra at the table and looked at him, his eyes brimming with tears. “What can I do, Ezra?” he asked shaking his head just a little.

Ezra set his jaw and stared at his brother. Hating him. Loving him. “Nothing,” he replied.

And then to himself, “Nothing.”

Faithless

With the election of Donald John Trump to the office of the President of the United States, liberals are rightly concerned about the future of the Republic. Trump’s inflammatory campaign largely played on the basest aspects of human nature: misogyny, racism, jingoism, xenophobia, islamophobia. Many of his policies and promises are not very different than any Republican who ran in the primary leading up to the general election. But the tone and rhetoric Trump used throughout his campaign strayed into demagoguery and flirted with fascism.

For this reason among others, a movement has arisen among liberals to convince members of the Electoral College pledged to vote for Donald Trump to become “faithless electors,” to cast their vote for someone else or to abstain, and thus to block his victory. The argument goes that this is exactly what the Electoral College was designed for, to block the popular will of the people, whipped into a democratic fervor, from casting a figure into the executive branch who is a threat to the stability and functioning of the federal government. We are told that Electoral College voters should throw themselves between the people of the United States and fascism.

The problem I see with this is that, as I understand it, the Electoral College played the role people say it was designed to play—where electors weighed their conscience against the will of the people—for less than a decade after it was established. This is a historical fact. For practically the entire history of the republic, Electoral College voters have cast their vote based on the popular vote total in their state. The fact the term “faithless elector” even exists tells us how rare it is for someone to break their pledge. For 37 members of the Electoral College to subvert the will of the people they represent would not only be a coup, it would break with two centuries of tradition.

This is important. A nation is not merely made up of enumerated laws and established structures, it is also made up of mores and folkways, culture and tradition, silent and spoken agreements. In fact, a nation like the United Kingdom has no constitution. Their entire system of government is one big tacit agreement. It is a tradition of government rather than a system of government. The United States does have a constitution of course, but it too consists of traditions of governance, one of which is the functioning of the Electoral College. Liberals can talk until they're blue in the face about what the Electoral College was "designed" to do. But that does not describe what it is nor what it has been.

Okay, but if Donald Trump is the threat to the nation liberals claim, perhaps this break with tradition is warranted. Except arguing for the Electoral College to function in this way is equally threatening. This change would open up an entirely new and untested arena of American political gamesmanship. We already have practically unending Presidential campaigns. Are we willing to extend the campaign beyond the point where the people have cast their votes? Imagine the Electoral College opened up to lobbying, to political favors, to private and corporate donations. Does no one see how ripe for corruption an Electoral College would be that is not restrained either by law or the bounds of tradition? Liberals, Democrats, should be the first to see the potential subversion of democracy this represents.

A change in the way members of the Electoral College cast their vote is necessary. Votes should be tied to the democratic will of the entire nation, not based on the will of the people in each state. But then let us build the power and make the argument toward that change, not subvert our institutions for short-term political gain and open them up to the possibility of tremendous abuse in the future.

Donald Trump's Truth

“America is already great.”

From the incumbent party in the White house, this is the refrain we’ve heard again and again in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention and at the DNC itself. In politics, I guess you take whatever opening your opponent gives you.

Except the reality for tens of millions of Americans is that the United States is not great. They are left out and left behind. They turn on the news and talk to their friends and don’t recognize the world they live in. The economic recovery of the last eight years has been a recovery for everyone but them. Their life expectancy has dropped for the first time in American history. Their children will do worse than they have done, not better. Their rates of incarceration are rising year after year. The family, formerly one of the most stable units of social cohesion, is in tatters largely due to economic unrest. The church offers them nothing. Their wages are flat, their healthcare is expensive, and their jobs are drudgery. On one side of the political divide they’re called idiots and on the other they’re spoon-fed a constant diet of fear.

Donald Trump is vile. He’s a cartoon character, a melodrama villain, a charlatan, an incarnation of cynical political gamesmanship, and very likely a fascist who would be an epic disaster for the United States and the world. But he has tapped into a truth that speaks to a huge segment of the American population: America is not great for everybody. This is a truth liberals should recognize (and do when it suits them). But here they do not. Why?

Because liberals lack the basic empathetic imagination to recognize this, blinded as they are by their own ideology of inclusion. The pain felt by people who support Trump expresses itself as racist, nationalist, jingoistic, misogynistic bullshit, and so it is dismissed by liberals. But of course it takes that shape! People are using the only language they have been offered to voice their frustrations.

Liturgy defines a space in which participants may grope and gesture toward truth. “Make America Great Again” is a counter-liturgy offered by a fascist demagogue to a public looking for any meaning, any answer outside the status quo offered by technocratic, neoliberal priest/politicians bowing and supplicating themselves before the vengeful god of The Market. The truth Trump’s liturgy points toward is this: “Our country does not feel 'great already' to the millions of wonderful people living in poverty, violence and despair.” Yes, it’s true this counter-liturgy is chanted by a death cult, but I guess the bad tan and worse hair are too distracting for people to notice.

It is vitally important that the social and economic pain identified by Trump be met with real solutions (something Trump and the Republican Party are incapable of). But Liberals think they're exempt from understanding Trump's appeal to hurting people because they hate Trump and everything he represents. So they have offered no compelling alternative to business as usual, which is exactly what Hillary Clinton represents.

Look, Hillary Clinton will win this election because she’s tough as nails. Her campaign is a juggernaut and Donald Trump is a joke. She’ll get things done. Republicans are terrified of her because of her political acumen. She will govern effectively and stand as an important symbol for woman and girls for decades to come.

But mark my words, over the next eight years there will be another economic downturn. Liberals will still have offered no voice to people whipping in the winds of abstract, inhumane domestic and international economic policies which primarily seek the ever-increasing accumulation of capital and the enrichment of faceless corporations at the expense of masses of under-educated, economically depressed people.

The situation will get worse, not only for current Trump supporters but for Clinton voters as well. And Democrats will be left holding the bag this time, not Republicans as in 2008. Then a real politician will rise to take advantage of the liturgy first chanted by Donald Trump.

The Absent Church

Last week at Network Coffeehouse I spoke to a man who had been released from DOC (Department of Corrections—aka prison) the week before. He was released with all his earthly possessions in a backpack, a list of services around Denver, and a voucher for clothes. After he was released, he hooked up with a woman who quickly disappeared with everything he owned.

My impression was that he knew no one, had no real connections in Denver, and wasn't sure what he would do next except check in with his parole officer.

Two things occurred to me while speaking to him.

First, the irony of his experience. For many people living in homelessness, the major factor contributing to their condition is an inability to connect and attach to other people. Ironic, then, that this man had trusted someone who immediately contributed to making his condition worse.

Second, except for his short time at Network the night we spoke, the Church was absent from his life. He didn't indicate how long he spent under the tutelage of the state and I didn't ask. But I wonder, if he had had a relationship with a church while he was behind bars, would he have found himself in the predicament he did a week ago? Perhaps he still would have found himself on the street. But with a community to turn to, maybe a lost backpack would not have been such a concern.

To visit the prisoner, the stranger, and the poor is called righteousness by Jesus. According to the author of Matthew, to fail to visit these is to invite eternal fire (Matthew 25:31-46). And yet, the church is largely absent from the people and places Jesus calls it to be.

Of course, some efforts to visit the poor do exist. Network Coffeehouse is one. United Methodist Committee on Relief works worldwide to ease the suffering of people experiencing disaster. Denver itself is host to several efforts by churches to feed the hungry and clothe those in need. But these groups serve to highlight the absence of individual Christians and organized ecclesial bodies in the public sphere, witnessing, encountering, and bearing up under suffering.

Where the Church is clearly called by Jesus Christ to be, there instead exists a sucking vacuum. Into this conspicuous absence the most vulnerable people in our society are pulled. There, they are preyed on by demonic forces: drug dealers and cartels pushing meth, crack, and heroine, sex traffickers enslaving adults and children alike, pay day loan organizations and their capricious usury, day labor centers doling out work without appropriate wages, jails that increasingly charge fees for the most basic amenities. And then there's my friend at Network who simply needs a pair of pants. Standing against this force we have burned-out case managers, parole officers, a few people compelled by religion to serve their neighbor, and the odd person here or there who cannot help but find themselves among the poor and suffering. It is not enough.

The bulk of the Church, the living body of Christ, Jesus' hands and feet supposedly animated by the Spirit of God? A barely audible whisper at best. Unaccounted for, unseen, and unheard. Absent.

The Incredibly Stupid Lightness of Being

The last few weeks or months I’ve been having this conversation with myself, with friends, with my therapist about how I would like to find some “lightness,” some way to experience things with a little less gravity. I wish I didn’t take everything so seriously. That’s what I’ve been saying, at least.

I think that’s all bullshit.

I’m trying to like myself. Even love myself. And right now, tonight, one thing I accept about myself is that I am not graced with “lightness.” I don’t take things lightly. Most things seem stupid to me. A room doesn’t brighten when I enter it. I like dark comedy, inappropriate jokes, depressing fiction, journalism and documentaries that reckon with the profound brokenness of the world. I love my friends and everyone else can take me or not.

Lightness may visit me if it will. I do not plan to struggle to seek it out.

It occurred to me that people like me. Not everyone, but many people do. And I don’t think they like some version of me who carries a particular lightness out into the world, because I never met him. I don’t think that ever occurred to me before, that people have encountered me as I actually am, and they have accepted me.

Time for me to accept myself, too.

Two

Hi, Beardos. Trying figure a way to reconfigure life so I might continue involvement in the Beard. I'm not sure how to do this with a wife, two kids under three years old, two jobs, the ordination process, and various other family commitments. Doesn't seem possible, frankly. At least it doesn't seem possible to me.

If you have any advice or encouragement or just want to let us know you'd like to see this thing continue, I'd love to hear it. Check the About page for contact info.

Best, Logan

Eucharist

I was thinking about the Eucharist today. Did you know "eucharist" comes from the Greek word for "thanks?" That's pretty cool. The central ritual of Christian practice over the millennia is to say "thanks."

It has probably been said a thousand times before and more eloquently than I am capable of, but this stands in stark contrast with the global system of capitalism which dictates the rhythm of our lives.

Capitalism's primary animating value is scarcity. This logic, that there isn't enough, pulls every other human value into its matrix of scarcity. Time, money, natural resources, love, companionship, beauty—all these and more are stripped of their ultimate value and defined instead by fear, anxiety, and the will to power. How ironic that capitalism generates so much waste, a surplus so tremendous that no one in an earlier age could possibly imagine it, while so many go hungry. Capitalism's excess and the gap between rich and poor reifies its own myth of scarcity.

Eucharist, on the other hand, is a symbol not just of gratitude for the fundamental fact that everything that is worthwhile in life is an unmerited gift, but it is an expression of abundance. Through this ritual Christians gesture toward the meal saying, "We exist there, in the wheat and grapes, in the broken body of Christ given for us," and we respond "Thanks," content that this will be more than enough—enough to share.

Our Thanks

Ever since I first heard about the Internet, I knew it was important and that I wanted to create something on it. I didn't want to just consume what other peope were doing but to make something and put it out there. The Internet is a great leveler. The ability to self-publish and have people read my stuff is still incredibily compelling to me. It would be compelling to me even if it was only a few of my friends reading my stuff and sending me a nice note now and then.

But with Disembodied Beard, people are supporting us in ways that I'm still baffled by. This probably comes across as a marketing post. I guess it kind of is. But I also just want to say a sincere thanks to everyone who reads the site, shares our stuff, subscribes to the RSS feed, listens to the podcast, buys Mark's original art (our comics) in the store, and supports us on Patreon.

We ran a sale in the store recently and people bought seven peices of art. We're supported to the tune of $37 per month on Patreon. People bought art on the Internet. Like... whaaa? And Patreon? What an incedible show of support for our work. It means so much to Mark and me that you're behind us the way you are.

Thank you.

Ramsey 19:16-30

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, how many campuses does my church need for me to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about church metrics? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, buy his books and seminars.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “the Show; The Legacy Journey; Smart Money Smart Kids; Generation Change; Junior’s Adventures; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, sign up your church for Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for his church didn’t have the budget for that.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, middle-class existence shall be much easier in the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is middle-class to feel satisfied.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved!?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for Ramsey all things are possible.”

Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. But we don’t have any of his books. What then do we have?" Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man has paid down his student loan debt, you who have followed me will also be debt free, pitying other people under the yoke of late-stage global capitalism. And everyone who has houses or credit cards or a car payment or children, will receive a stern talking-to about budgeting, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first, so buy Dave Ramsey’s books today."

I Am Not a Progressive Christian

Nadia Bolz-Weber (NBW), Lutheran Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints here in Denver, CO was a guest on Fresh Air about a month ago. As a friend pointed out after seeing her speak recently, the theological tradition out of which she forms her ministry is nothing particularly revolutionary. Mainline American Protestant Christianity has preached a flavor of her message since the late 1950s. Her genius is how she says what she says, and that she takes this tradition seriously enough to preach it to people the church has overlooked for decades.

Terry Gross assumes in her line of questioning that NBW must be coming out of a younger theological tradition which has been variously dubbed “Progressive” or “liberal” Christianity. Gross hints at this when she asks,

TG: Are you more concerned about people’s actions than their beliefs.

NBW: I’m not even really concerned about their actions, no.

TG: That wasn’t the answer I was expecting.

Gross wasn’t expecting this, because she assumes NBW, as a tattooed, female, swearing pastor preaching to a largely LGBTQ congregation, must also therefore preach about being “radical” and changing the world. But NBW responds:

I don’t monitor people’s behavior, let’s put it that way. So much of Christianity has become about like sort of monitoring behavior and so far it has failed to work as a strategy for making people better… On some level Christianity became about monitoring people’s behavior… like a sin management program. And that almost always fails and often backfires.

To anyone paying attention to American culture, language about sin management systems will bring to mind conservative Christian moralism, especially as it relates to control over what people choose to do with their genitals. NBW speaks to this. But hidden here is also the flip side of the same coin: Progressive Christianity.

Much of Progressive Christianity has defined itself in narrow terms largely interested in the behavior of it's participants. In order to be a "Jesus Follower," and not a mere "religious Christian" (see my posts on the Rohr meme going around 1 and 2) adherents must, for instance: buy local, buy organic, vote Democrat, support full LGBT inclusion, and buy into a community supported agriculture co-op. Personally I'm not against any of these. Indeed, I support them. But I do not support them as prerequisites for full inclusion in the body of Christ.

The Body of Christ—the Church universal and eternal—is a rocketship propelled by the fire of the Holy Spirit. While it may hold a few people inside it, saints and giants of the faith, the fire that springs forth from it is all-consuming, gathering all people, conservative and progressive, all creation, organic and inorganic toward it as it streaks toward heaven. It claims everything for itself, it is irresistible and uncontrollable. As NBW puts it:

My job is to point to Christ and preach the gospel and to remind people that they are absolutely loved and that their identity is based in something other than the categories of late stage capitalism, for instance. That they are named and claimed by god and that this is an identity is more foundational than any of the others and that their completely forgiven and all of their mess ups are not more powerful than gods mercy and God’s ability to redeem us and bring good out of bad… I think when people hear this over and over they become free.

The job of a pastor, of our individual churches, is to appear before everyone and point to the rocketship and stand in awe and exclaim with joy, "Look!"

Christianity Beyond Memes

I’ve been thinking about this post of mine recently. Mostly because that Richard Rohr meme continues to show up in my social feed.

It occurs to me that both “options,” or ways of doing and being Church offered by this meme, potentially leave out a group of people for whom Jesus would seek to show care and concern. Here I'm thinking of people who experience severe developmental delays and disabilities. Usually these folks need a high level of care from those around them whether they be parents, family members, or specially-trained healthcare workers.

Such people usually exist on the margins of the Church. Our churches do a poor job including anyone in worship, service, liturgy, missions, and outreach who does not conform to the narrow parameters of body and ability that most of us exist within. This is a failure of underlying ecclesiologies (theology about the Church) which demand “belonging and believing” on one hand or “following the way of Jesus” on the other.

The Way

“Following the way of Jesus” is especially problematic in its privileged assumptions. It flirts with the notion that one must first attain knowledge about how to live, and then have the ability to live within the narrow constraints of that knowledge. It is a kind of gnosticism: one has special knowledge that leads to salvation. It should be obvious how limiting this is for people with cognitive disabilities.

Belonging and Believing

“Belonging and believing” has problems of its own. Believing is an especially fraught requirement for those whose with impaired cognitive abilities. What does it take to “believe” a certain set of precepts? What does it mean to live those precepts out?

However, "Belonging” offers a wider frame. With very few restrictions, one may belong to the body of Christ. This is a community that makes an universal offer to all: come and reside with us, with Christ. This kind of community can and does encompass an incredibly wide variety of ways of being human. In this case, those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord comprise the body of Christ alongside those who may not have the capacity to overtly confess as such. As saints, they share a common belonging within the metaphysical ship we call Church.

Individualism

Which brings me to my final point about the popular meme that is the occasion for these two posts: it falls into the post-Enlightenment, American Protestant trap of foregrounding completely the work, knowledge, faith, and being of the individual person. Even the side it seeks to negate (“belonging and believing”) falls almost completely on the action of the individual.

What of Christ’s being? That is what ecclesiology really is: applied Christology. In becoming part of the Church, or by seeking to follow Jesus, the focus really ought to be on joining Christ’s being, Christ’s life, Christ’s teaching, Christ’s work, Christ’s crucifixion, death, resurrection, and Christ’s faith. It is the work of God in Christ and the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit that hold all things together—even stupid memes.