In 1951 Issac Asimov explained why heading off the effects wrought by global climate change is so difficult.
I want to be furious at the governor for sweeping a big homeless encampment in front of the Capitol building today but while it was happening I was managing chaos at the service provider I work for and being told I’m a fucking cop while I asked the most chaotic individuals to take a walk. I’m not saying this to justify the actions of the Governor, which are foolish and counter productive, but in general I think the discourse/imagination about this issue is totally shallow and reifies the structures of meaning and power that leads us here in the first place.
I need a grace I cannot even ask for from the individuals who I personally denied access to the resources Network has to offer today. In my experience they eventually do extend this grace to me, if they remember our encounter. We probably cannot extend grace to Governor Polis without it being cheap. But I wonder if we can imagine a world without need for a Governor, without widespread enclosure of public space, without deprivation and degradation of all kinds.
I think if we hold up certain individuals as the enemy that our imaginative capacity will be too limited for us to move toward a world where the flourishing of all is possible.
Mr. President felt himself pressed into the generous seat of the black Secret Service special order 2020 GMC Yukon Denali with its head-turning three-dimensional grille, HID projector beam headlamps and distinctive chrome accents. During the short drive he looked out the tinted windows of the vehicle, tugged on his blue tie and readjusted his suit jacket around himself. He pulled the seatbelt away from his torso and let it embrace him. The smell of sweat and aftershave of the Secret Service detail assigned to keep him, the leader of the free world, safe mingled with the smell of the perforated leather-appointed seats which featured a unique Fractal stitching.
The country needed him he knew. He was told that he needed to show the country leadership in this trying time. From his study of Fox News over the years, Mr. President knew that religion was important to the people who elected him. So he told his staff he would go to the nearest church and give a short speech about what was going on and how he would respond.
Mr. President didn’t quite know what people did in a church, though he had been to churches, stood with pastors and had them pray for him and for the country. But he wasn’t very comfortable with it. Whatever it was it had something to do with something much bigger than him and he had trouble with that. He liked to be in control of what was around him and even in churches full of his fans there was something out beyond him that he couldn’t describe.
Still, Mr. President would go to the church. He was glad he had a Bible with him and he absently leafed through it now. His supporters talked about the Bible and how important it was a lot. He felt they would like to see it now. He would be standing outside of a church after all. The two things went together. The GMC Yukon Denali rolled to a stop on 22-inch bright-machined aluminum wheels with painted accents. He tugged his tie and adjusted his jacket. Waited for the go-ahead from his Secret Service detail to exit the vehicle.
Mr. President held a Bible in his right hand and felt its weight as he approached the place that was prepared for him in front of a sign reading, “SUNDAY SERVICES ONLINE ALL ARE WELCOME.” The June day was hot and muggy and the leather binding of the book in his hand was moist and slippery. No matter how he moved his fingers to get a better grip on it, the book slipped and shifted in his grasp. As he waited for the signal to begin from his staff he inspected the book. Does this thing have a front, he wondered. There was no title. Shouldn’t it say “Bible?”
He quietly held the book aloft, near his head, in his hand and showed it to the people who were allowed to be there. Look, see. I have a Bible here in front of this church.
A woman shouted, “Is that your Bible?”
“It’s a Bible,” he said.
“What are your thoughts right now,” asked another person in the gathered press.
As he composed his thoughts and took a breath to speak, suddenly his breath caught. He thought it was strange. He felt the need to cough or to clear his throat. He tried but couldn’t quite catch his breath. What’s happening, he wondered. Just be calm, it will pass.
He coughed a little and dropped the Bible at his feet. Mr. President looked down at the book open where it had tumbled to the ground. He glanced back up to check the reaction of the press and was shocked.
Suddenly, there before him was a gigantic woman. Like the Statue of Liberty, he thought, except she was dressed in a white robe and a sky blue shawl, like his tie. He craned his neck to look up at her. Her head was covered and her deep brown skin glowed. The sky darkened as light seemed to gather around her. His vision narrowed until all he could see was her hugeness before him. She tilted her enormous head at him and raised her eyebrows, considering him standing there before the church sign. She made a pained face and Mr. President felt he would like to know her better, to ask her what it was like to be so big. Then she quietly lifted her calloused, sandaled foot and stepped on him.
There’s no upside to this thing.
COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the US and I don’t see resurrection in it. You’re free to look at your life however you wish but most of what I hear and read from religious people and spiritual but not religious people is look-on-the-bright-side-thinking disguised as mindfulness or contemplation and it rings hollow to me.
Have you cried and gnashed your teeth over the senselessness of it? Have you cast around for meaning and found none? Have you mourned the death and wide disparities again revealed to exist between the poor and rich, black and white, between material scarcity and abundance? Have you shouted and cursed in a Zoom meeting and said, “To hell with it all and to hell with all of you and this goddamn sonofabitch bastard virus?”
I haven’t. Not really.
But I should. I ought to. We all ought to cast aside our pathetic search for meaning and cloying positive thinking. We ought to dig our fingernails into our scalps and scream; “What the fuck is going on!?” until we can’t scream anymore.
Then we might make space for a question about what we owe to each other now and after and what we always owed each other before. We might ask how we could do better next time if we could get a measure of grace. We might dream about a time and a place where we don’t fear death, where we freely bear each other’s burdens and feel each other’s pain, and where when a beast stalks us we turn to each other first with mercy and the confidence that when the complete comes the partial shall come to an end.
This morning I am reminded of the homeless service providers and government agencies that came out against the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative—aka 300—last year. The initiative would have confirmed the human right of people experiencing homelessness to seek shelter and stability, even when that effort looks very different from those of us with white picket fences. At the time, these providers argued that we couldn’t know the unintended consequences of passing the initiative and that we could “do better” than leaving people to shelter in public.
Today, the city and aforementioned service providers are doing their best to provide shelter under extraordinary circumstances, for which they should be commended. Of course, social distancing is impossible in an emergency shelter, so we might rightly expect many individuals to instead find their own shelter, to the best of their ability, in public. And yet, today homeless folks on the streets of Denver are being subjected to police sweeps, their encampments broken up, the “social distance” they had established destroyed by city policy.
The emergency we’re all experiencing is doubly impacting our homeless neighbors but because of the nature of the virus, this impact will be felt by us all.
Small service providers, like the one I work for, focus on relationship, connection, and learning the stories of people who find shelter in public spaces. Because we learn these stories, we know that homeless folks use their agency to the best of their ability to stay safe, to support each other, to work for the health of their community. Because of these relationships, small providers unanimously supported the Right to Survive Ballot Initiative.
It seems to me that one of the unintended consequences of failing to pass 300 is that, now, people’s ability to act responsibly in this crisis has been removed along with their agency. All of us will bear the cost of this failure of imagination.
I’m not all for sharing every sermon I preach. This one is pretty good though, I think. Includes some very questionable, loosey-goosey translation work. networkcoffeehouse.org/urbanmerc…
One of the most trying things about adulthood is how intentional you have to be about every little thing to avoid things you care about dissolving into mist.
Take friendship, for instance. When you’re young everyone is just kinda knocking around and bumping along and you find friends. You accidentally end up in the same places and find sacred time to share joys, hopes, and fears with each other.
As an adult in our society if you luck into meeting someone you might want to be friends with, you better pursue that person like a lover or you’ll never make a meaningful connection with them. The thing is, this missed connection is a tragedy. Really all we’re meant for is to connect with others and share ourselves with each other. That’s the whole ballgame. But our culture is aggressively arrayed against spending the time required to deeply encounter another person.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way but I worry about coming across as a cloying, needy burden to people around me. I set a meeting for coffee w/ someone and they show up 15 minutes late and I’m like, what’s the point? I want you for an hour or more! I want time to spin out around us and flower into one hundred possibilities for us knowing each other.
All I want from life is to hear people’s stories, their desires, their hopes and fears. I want to hear about what someone hates, the people they can’t stand, the thing their parents do that gives them grief. But we let these relationships slip through our fingers and collectively we’ve decided it’s no big deal. It’s just one of those things. It’s part of being 30, you know, we’re busy? We skim across the surface of our lives together. We’re off to the next meeting, or the next errand. We’re “just in the middle of something,” we’ll “get right back to you,” but we never do, and we barely remember that we missed out on a dozen such connections throughout our day.
Too busy to be human.
Wikipedia ❤️ www.wired.com/story/wik…
Friends, it’s time to abandon your self-care regimen. This is especially true of those of you in helping professions but frankly it extends to everyone. The suffering you feel is largely self-imposed because you’ve caught yourself in a wish. I wish a man hadn’t burst into flame on my shift (apologies to Ryan), I wish that man didn’t hit that other man in the face three times three feet in front of me (that one is in my lane), I wish the world wasn’t hurtling inexorably toward climatic catastrophe and mass extinction.
You’re addicted to your wish about the way you think things should be because it creates meaning for you. The secret you keep from yourself is that if your wish ever came true the meaning you create would collapse. Your wish is crushing you and your feeble efforts at bandaging the wound are failing (by design).
Change is necessary, justice ought to be done but the question for you is, what can be done within the capacity of your own will? Probably very little! But with a firm handle on your will you have a chance to see what might be done inside your sphere of influence. If your sphere doesn’t extend very far, well you’re going to need a few friends aren’t you?
Doting after our precious self is getting us nowhere. Time to come to terms with our own poverty, get real about our very limited personal capacity, build power and coalitions more broadly, and face the world optimistically about what is set before us.
A few things published in 2019 that I’m proud of:
Last week I had lunch with a Catholic missionary and an Episcopal Friar. They were talking about church polity and doctrine. Kind of comparing notes I guess. It was interesting because they’re both quite convicted/convinced re the rightness and importance of doing things in the right way based on the correct interpretation of doctrine, scripture, and tradition.
There is something quite attractive about conviction in an age primarily characterized, as it is, by doubt. Many post-liberal-post-modern-post-post-irony so-called “Progressive” Protestant Christians (like me) want to chalk up this general inability to come down strongly on any particular claim about truth as something to do with divine mystery. But really we have to say that doubt about what’s true—doubt that something can be true—dominates the culture from top to bottom. So when someone appears to be confidently convicted about something it’s a bit of a surprise.
This is different than stridency, which is so widespread, especially in our politics, and which is a reaction against the age of doubt we’re living through. Stridency screeches because it’s filled with doubt while conviction quietly stands on ground it is confident will not shift under its feet.
So, I’m like this vaguely Wesleyan lapsed Methodist guy. My view is chronically infected with doubt and I often feel myself resisting the rising spring of stridency struggling to fill the void. Now, obviously there are Methodists out there who can go toe to toe with anyone on polity and doctrine and all that but I found that I was sitting there thinking, all I really care about is mercy. If anything gets in the way of that I’m just really ready to toss it in the bin.
Perhaps that is my conviction: that anything getting in the way of communicating grace to the person in front of me ought to be left in the dust, including—paradoxically—my own conviction that mercy is all that matters. I’m happy to affirm someone’s deeply held conviction that communion ought to be carried out in just a certain way if that conviction is what they need to experience grace, even though I think the whole song and dance gets a little bit too heavy for the ritualization of a simple meal to bear.
When I explained all this to a friend he replied that utility is a deeply held Wesleyan value, so it may be that this is no surprise. Do my doubts loom larger than they actually are? Are my theological convictions more solidly supported by tradition than I know? These things are really only borne out in practice, which is one reason why I continue to show up in spaces where marginalized people gather—to see what it really takes to communicate grace to people who need it most, and to see what it means to accept grace from them in turn.
These are books I technically finished in 2019 insofar as I read every word on the page. But what is “reading a book?” In grad school I learned to “break” a book: that is, not to read it but to systematically break it down into introductions, conclusions, chapters, headings, main points, thesis statements, and themes. Is that really reading or is it some kind of brute force data extraction?
So I have a long list of nonfiction books in my “reading” category but some part of me feels I haven’t “finished” reading them. I’m still breaking them. Or maybe I go break a piece off now and then when I need some data.
Fiction doens’t really work like that though—not for me. So the fiction list here is longer.
In part, it is so long becuase over the summer I accomplished my goal of reading the entire Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Except for a one novella I couldn’t find in the library and a couple of short stories, I finished every book. The whole series is dying for a breezy TV adaptation.
Here’s my ideologically motivated historical gloss on the divide between establishment Democrats and the Bernie wing of the party:
There was almost a European socialist revolution in 1848 but the (GUESS WHO!?) liberals sided with the conservatives and all the socialists got thrown out of Germany. The only people left in power were blood and steel conservative Otto Van Bismark dickheads. Fast forward 66 years and Europe is throwing its entire male population into the meat grinder.
Meanwhile those German socialists came to America, fought for the Union in the Civil War, started making cheese and sausage in Wisconsin and got a bunch of unions going.
So I guess vote for Biden at your own risk.
Until last year the space this building is on was 20 parking spaces. Now it’s 60 one bedroom units of Permanent Supportive Housing for chronically homeless individuals. The Epsicopalian Cathedral across the street gave the land and helped finance construction.
please follow my new project @mywifesdirtyknife link in bio instagram.com/mywifesdi…
If you want one of these ridiculous cookies, you gotta brave the snow and come hang at @networkcoffeehouse tonight. 6pm 1402 Pearl St