I Love Darkness

I cherish darkness. I yearn, I ache, to be out in nature without lights invading from “civilization” reducing the darkness of nighttime, hiding glittering stars above. 

And of course I fear darkness (and light), too. I fear what I hide in darkness—the memories that are too painful to experience again, the ache from losing a friend over an angry exchange, the truth that my days of active sexuality are changing, the times I have made a serious mistake that no one else saw and I want to keep it that way—all that stuff I don’t want to think about or share with others. You might call it my darkness closet. 

That darkness lurks over my shoulder, in my unquiet mind, in my awareness and anxiety that I am not fully the wonderful person I want to believe I am, that I want the world to see.  

So, I move in darkness quite a bit—not just when I go out at night or pre-dawn mornings to walk—because I carry it with and within me. There always is darkness in my day, not ruining my day but helping me be as fully aware as possible of who I am, what I am doing, whom I am with, my desires and goals, etc.

But there is more. I know that the world is keeping lots of beings locked away in dark places that the dominant culture (the culture of White supremacy and privilege) of this nation does not want us to think about. That includes

  • devaluing BIPoC people, people of darker skin hues; 
  • devaluing women and gender non-conforming persons of all hues;
  • devaluing nature, disregarding the wisdom of indigenous people who respect and treasure nature, not just as something pretty or interesting but as a source of wisdom for our living; 
  • putting profit ahead of an equitable society; 
  • heavily focuses on militarism and the use of force to control other people at home and abroad.

I, and all of us, move through humanly created darkness every day. Some days, maybe most days for many of us, this can feel like trying to move through mud, or climbing an endless hill, trudge, trudge, trudge, with no end in sight. 

Don’t get me wrong: I have hope, too. And I am committed to doing what I can to change things, and to help others to do that, too. 

But let me clear: I draw that hope as much from the darkness as the light. In my view, both are gifts from God and they work together in concert with God’s desire for wholeness for all beings. 

Addendum to “Chanukah: Reminder to Resist”

During the Chanukah celebration with my Jewish Voice for Peace Metro DC Chapter yesterday (mentioned in the prior post), we shared in this blessing by Rabbi Rosen as the menorah candles were lighted. I find it moving, evocative of the deep spirit and drive for peace and justice in the world. I am thinking I will borrow it to use on other occasions when lighting candles (such as my 75th birthday next year), reminding myself and others of our shared desire for wholeness in the world.

We Light these Lights

by Rabbi Brant Rosen

We light these lights
for the instigators and the refusers
the obstinate and unyielding
for the ones who kept marching
the ones who tended the fires
the ones who would not bow down.

We light these lights
for the sparks that guide us on
through the gentle night
for the darkness that swaddles us
in its soft embrace until the moment
we inevitably emerge
into life renewed.

We light these lights
for the spirit of resilience that remains
after our strength has ebbed away
for the steadfast knowledge even as
the bullets echo repeatedly
off bodies lying in the streets
that the impunity of the powerful
cannot last forever.

These lights we light tonight
will never be used for any other purpose
but to proclaim the miracle
of this truth:
it is not by might nor by cruelty
but by a love that burns relentlessly
that this broken world
will be redeemed.

Chanukah: A Reminder to Resist

Chanukah began last evening at our house with the lighting of the first candle and the singing of

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights.

Tonight is Shabbat, and Jonathan and I will sing the above as well as 

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the light of Shabbat.

Every other evening we pray before dinner in the kitchen–first with our beloved Standard Poodle, Cocoa—prayers for the world and our loved ones, giving thanks, whatever we feel called to share—and then on non-Shabbat nights we conclude that by singing 

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

You will notice that the root of each prayer is identical. I really appreciate that, because each time I am reminded of the centrality of God in my life, indeed all life (at least as I believe). 

I am a lifelong Christian, a queer theologian guided by my ever-evolving sense of what being a follower of Jesus calls me to be and to do, AND I am also blessed to be connected to the ancient and contemporary Jewish roots of that faith. Let me be clear, I can’t help but come to Judaism with my Christian heritage and life, but I also come to this beautiful faith for its own truth and wisdom. To put it simply, I am doubly blessed. 

Actually, the blessing is rooted in my 23-year marriage to the love of my life, Jonathan, a Jewish man who helped and helps me engage with Judaism more than simply coming to love what was called in my childhood, and even in seminary, the Old Testament, the text truly known as the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. He has helped me appreciate Jewish ritual and music and worship and values so now I want to participate more and more in it. I also am educated about the many Jewish spiritual texts by our rabbi and Jewish writers and scholars, which enriches my understanding and appreciation and grows and deepens my faith. 

Another way to appreciate this shift is that I am repeatedly reminded that God, the God of my understanding, is larger than any one faith, any one religious or spiritual system. So blessings abound. 

Tonight, at 6 p.m., Jonathan and I will join our community and Rabbi Joseph Berman online at the New Synagogue Project (newsynagogueproject.org) for lighting the Shabbat candles and the candles for the second night of Chanukah. I am honored to be a member along with Jonathan. 

Then, on Sunday, I will join my community at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. (mccdc.com) for worship at 11 a.m. The pastor, Rev. Dwayne Johnson will be preaching on “The Gift of Wilderness.” That congregation and our pastors are a huge blessing in my life, too. 

Then, at 3 p.m. that same day, I will join online the local community of Jewish Voice for Peace (https://jvpdc.org/jvp-dc)for a Chanukah party/celebration. Our special guest will be a young, gifted writer, Massoud Hayoun, author of When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History. It is a splendid book of story and cultural/religious insight. 

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national organization working for justice and liberation for the people of Palestine. Both Jonathan and I are members. Most members are Jewish, but I am far from the only Christian involved. It is a wonderful movement. We began our involvement with the cause while still living in Richmond, VA (where I pastored the local MCC church) through Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine. When we moved to the D.C. area in 2015, we joined JVP Metro DC. 

I connect all this to Chanukah because, although it is not a High Holy time like Passover, Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur—and is often thought of as more for kids than adults (many view the contemporary focus on Chanukah as primarily a response to the dominance of Christmas in our culture)—I also understand Chanukah as a symbol and encouragement of resistance, resistance to oppression, injustice, and the failure to care for each other and the world.

I want to quote extensively from Rabbi Brent Rosen’s recent piece about Chanukah [the name of his blog, Shalom Rav, refers to an evening blessing of Abundant Peace]. He writes, 

Chanukah, of course, is based upon the story of the Maccabees, the small group of Jews who successfully liberated themselves from the oppressive reign of the Seleucid Empire in 167 BCE. The legacy of this story, however, is a complex one because the Jewish struggle against religious persecution took place within the context of a bloody and destructive Jewish civil war. In contemporary times, the meaning of Chanukah has become even more complicated given its proximity to Christmas, subjecting it to the uniquely American religion of unmitigated commercialism.

Beyond all these complications, I’d argue that the essence of Chanukah is the theme of resistance. At its core, the Chanukah story commemorates the victorious resistance of the people over the power and might of empire. On a deeper level, we might say that the festival celebrates the spiritual strength of our resistance to an often harsh and unyielding world.

You can read his entire article, which focuses on how we can resist Covid-19 through mutual aid, at https://rabbibrant.com/2020/12/10/Chanukah-is-about-resistance-lets-resist-this-covid-spike-through-mutual-aid/. Whatever your faith or lack thereof, I encourage you to read it and ponder your own ways of resistance, not only to Covid-19 but also to the other viruses infecting our world (including White supremacy/racism, militarism, the climate crisis, inequality and inequities of all sorts, and rampant capitalist exploitation). 

It may be the season to be jolly and joyous, as we are told—and it is also the season to resist, to work together to create the world God (however you understand God or the Universe or what/whomever) really means for us to have and be, not just you and me but every single body, human and non-human. 

So I say, “Chag Sameach” (pronounced “hahg sah-mae’-ahk) and/or “Chanukah Sameach”, or simply Happy Holidays or Happy Chanukah! 

And may the resistance be strong, resilient, and joyous.  

 

The Continuing War Against Trans Women, Especially Women of Color

I came across this article, and want to post it here, to keep this crisis in front of us. You can read it in its original site here

Skye Mockabee Is At Least the Third Black Trans Woman Murdered In July, 17th Trans Person This Year

Time for Khalil, and Renaissance in Baltimore!

. . .even in these troubled, even desolate, places, sprouts of life spring up . . .

It’s been way too long since I wrote here. I still believe in the power of love to build community, but I need to remember the love has to be active. I express much of that love through writing.

And its not that I have not been writing–every week a new poem at faithfulpoetics.net and a new post by Malachi Grennell and I at sexbodiesspirit.net, often about, at least indirectly about building community. But there are other topics near and dear to me–racial justice, undermining white privilege, justice for Palestine and true security for both Israel and Palestine, caring for our physical world, sharing theological visions and thoughts outside poetry.

hope sproutToday, I want to focus on the story of one young man in Baltimore–a story I encountered in the Washington Post recently, and which has renewed my hope and my desire for change in our marginalized urban communities, the places where hope seems impossible and where violence becomes a way of life. But even in these troubled, even desolate, places, sprouts of life spring up and somehow, by the grace of God and some good people, they are not destroyed. Indeed, they are nurtured and we see yet again that it is possible to make a way out of what seems to be no way.

I can’t recount the entire story of this young man, Khalil Bridge, but you can find the story, “Coming of Age in a City Coming Apart” here. The basic story is that he has grown up in a troubled part of Baltimore, with a lot of street violence and drugs, that his father is long gone, that his mother has so many ailments he has been raising her (and now she is in a care facility), and that he has led a checkered life–but thanks to some grit in himself, and some amazing educators and social workers he has graduated from high school, and is headed, thanks to a GoFundMe campaign to community college. The money and support really came about because of the article, linked above, by Theresa Vargas of the Washington Post.

iel.com
Khalil Bridge iel.com

In addition to the report about Khalil Bridge personally, Vargas makes a powerful point about the presence of violence in the community served by the school from which Khalil just graduated, Renaissance Academy High School and Booker T. Washington Middle School (housed in the same building). In a survey by Promise Heights, a support program run through the University of Maryland School of Social Work, 41% of students surveyed reported knowing someone younger than 19 who was a victim of violence. In addition, 23% of the total sample reported being a victim of violence themselves, and 40% reported knowing someone who has a gun.

How students can succeed in such circumstances is pretty much a mystery to me. That is what makes Khalil Bridge’s story so remarkable. I really hope you read all three-plus pages from the Post.

I contributed a small amount to the GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $38,000 on a goal of $30,000. Thus, I am now going to support an organization started by the principal of Renaissance High, Nikkia Rowe, called “Seeds of Promise: Transforming Black Boys into Men,” which aims to provide support in the school for mentors and others to help some of the young men who show real promise. I think that is a wise investment, as does Rick Barth, the Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. You can link to that funding page here.

It’s simple really. We’re never going to break the endless cycle of inner city violence and despair if we don’t begin to make special investments in at least some of the most promising, and simultaneously improve public infrastructure in those same communities.

Khalil Bridge and Antwon Cooper gofundme.com
Khalil Bridge and Antwon Cooper
gofundme.com

Just because its simple, does not mean it is easy. But I am quite sure that my investment in Khalil, modest though it is, matched with those of hundreds of others, will help him go all the way to a brilliant career doing something important and a beautiful life he otherwise had no reason to expect or hope for.

And I am also sure that Antwon Cooper, the mentor who was one of the first four hired by Rowe in the Seeds of Promise program and who supported and challenged  Khalil Bridge, can do more good, and could, with his three colleagues, do even more if they had more co-workers in the program. That’s where we and others come in.

I have lived in Maryland for just shy of one year, and I can now see that Baltimore is one of the most dis-eased cities in our nation. I was born in Michigan, 40 miles northwest of Detroit, and that place has barely survived some of the worst social storms endured by any people, They are on the way back, I am told. I had thought I would try to find a way to invest in Detroit, but I think I will do this closer to my home. Real work by not only government and schools, but also private citizens taking initiative is required if we are turn to this beautiful place around. Again, click the program name here for the link to support “Seeds of Promise: Transforming Black Boys into Men.”

I hope you can help.  Give if you can and pray, and even if you can’t give, pray for Khalil and his brothers–those who yet live and those already struck down–in Baltimore.

 

Why Do So Many People Want God to Be So Small?

After Thanksgrieving (see post on November 25, if this does not make sense to you), I am aware we are heading further into “Holiday Time.”

And I mean deliberately to use “the H Word,” because this is not the time of Christmas only–not a time for Christians only. Happy Holidays!!!

There, I said it. Now strike me dead, Jesus.

Except that of course he will do no such thing.

Starbucks_Holiday_Cups-lowres
The dreaded Starbucks holiday cups  news.starbucks.com

The defensiveness, the insecurity of so many Christians–and not only about holiday cups at Starbucks and well-meaning greetings at Walmart and many other retail outlets–belies the confidence and centeredness of the one we profess to follow. I believe it is this same sort of defensiveness and insecurity that causes so many U.S. citizens/residents to fly the national flag everywhere they can.

America love it or leave it
ancientrails.com

Why is that so many US folks feel such an acute need to repeat how great our nation is? Is it because they do not, deep down, really believe the claim?Do they secretly harbor the fear that we are not perfect (which many of the rest of already know and admit)?

It reminds me of the cynicism among gay men and lesbians when people have a need to broadcast how “straight” they are, and how ugly and awful same-gender-loving people are. Not all homophobes are deep closet cases, but there are enough of them (clergy and legislators and “ex-gays” caught having same-sex sex, e.g.) to keep the cynicism alive.

Certainly, psychologists and others knowledgeable about human behavior, have shown us how we often engage in outward defense against that which we fear, or even know, lurks inside us.

love of God and peace passes all understanding
crosscardscom.tumblr.com

I am not perfect follower of Jesus, my meditation and prayer life is uneven at best, I fail to love others as we are loved by God, etc., but I do rest in the confidence, the blessed assurance, that God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, or any of the other ways people know and address the Divine, that no matter what I am loved. . . . and so is everyone else.

Which of course brings us to ISIL, and many other religious fundamentalists in the United States and around the globe, who persist in believing, and acting, on the belief that their way is the only way, that their understanding of God is God.

This makes God very small indeed.

golden calf worship
wikipedia.com

I suspect God must be used to this by now–the entire sweep of recorded human history is full of people making God in their own image–so I can only imagine the level of rejoicing among the angels when someone, any one, gives that up fantasy and chooses to accept the Big God, the God without limits, the God who encompasses all religions and belief systems, the God who can be, and is, found by many paths.

That is why I am quite comfortable saying “Happy Holidays!” and even wishing others a Happy Hannukah or Kwanzaa and other days, too. If I only proclaim my holiday, I am leaving out part of God. I don’t want to do that.

I love all of God as I know God loves all of me, and all of us and all parts of us. Thank you, God!

And Happy Holidays to You, too!

 

 

 

 

A History of Inspiration?

Except When He Forgets

What does it mean that the boy creates a fantasy world
where he is living only among other boys of his desire
and at other times he is the leader of the nation
with all the other leaders circling about him
could he be gay or lonely or just well
a little crazy in the head?
Or maybe even then he was supposed to write
word upon word for a new world
but that was too scary fantasy easier
no human trusted to share his secrets
God locked up office hours Sundays only.

Maybe the fantasies were gifts from God
keeping his soul alive
for a latter day when the saint in him
could claim it all?
Stop resisting and start flowing
blowing like wind free and easy or hard
water seeking its own level
not controlled by the damn others construct
in their anxious angry botherings to contain
the percolating of their souls
terrorized by what they see in the glass
afraid others will see it too
strike first at the other even if it is really you.

Now he knows to trust what bubbles
up from springs of sacred wisdom
knocking him off his perch of contentment
into the wild waters of life.

Except when he forgets.

Today Is National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day

New age of Know Nothings is upon us
Curiosity upon curiosity
Odd over odd yet weirder still
elected officials claim religious exemptions to avoid doing their jobs
presidential candidates claim constitutional provisions unAmerican
say stuff happens can’t stop gun deaths
Wall will stop immigrants
Russian bombs for Syria end up in Iran
House Republicans kill off another Speaker due to his weak Right wing

We need some poetry rhyme or no rhyme bad meter or good beat
to lift us from the morass of ego upon endless ego
masking helium-filled lives pretending to be full of more than gas
truth with capital T poking pretense upending lies
some say its only for sissies but some of the toughest folks are that way
poets a tough breed who can tell you off without your knowing
see things that do not exist until the word gives them life
prick a wounded psyche and make it sing
Send in the poets Let us breathe again

Thank You, Marvin Lebolt!

Eighteen years ago today, Jonathan Lebolt and I sat in the living room of his Chelsea (New York City) studio apartment, with his parents, Gladys and Marvin. We four had been out to dinner together, and then we came back so he could show them his new apartment.

I knew what was on my mind, but I did not know it was so obvious to others.

Marvin Lebolt
Jonathan’s father, Marvin, holding his first grandchild, Anna (daughter of Amy, Jonathan’s sister, and her husband, Michael)

Marvin knew, though, and he said, “Gladdy, we have to go now.” She said, “But Jonathan is making us some tea. We just got here.”

“Yes, I know, dear,” he said, “I’m just saying we will drink our tea quickly. They, Robin for sure, have things other than entertaining us on the agenda tonight.” With that, he looked at me, and winked.

So he knew, too! And after winking again, and making sure Gladys saw it, too, she understood as well. “Oh, okay,” she said, with her big smile.

Robin & Jonathan Sept 2015It was unlike my father-in-law (now dead 14 years) to be so assertive, but this time he played his part to the hilt. For once, he ran the show.

So, although I dedicate this day, September 21, to the great love of my life, I also give special thanks to a wonderful man, Marvin Lebolt, who knew love when he saw it. Thanks, Dad!

And most of all, thank you, Jonathan, for 18 wonderful years . . . here’s to many more!