Psalm 58- Drugs and Justice and Equity

Hand holding cigarette

 

1 Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge people with equity?
2 No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.

3 Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
4 Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
5 that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be.

6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
7 Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
8 May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.

9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.[c]
10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

– Psalm 58, NIV

 

Between seven and two today everyone is restless. It’s the End of the year- the summer sky and beach are so close that we can feel the hot sand beneath our feet. We’re at the lip of it, tense and tilting toward the clock.

 

It’s been a long hard year. We’ve had babies born to babies, calls to the police, parents showing up in their doped-up state, and several, several students fail. Some of my best and brightest have gone missing for days and when they came back, I found out they spent a few nights in jail.

 

We’re all barely standing, graceless in our grouchiness. The kids have turned on each other. The staff are sniping at one another. And with all the small fires starting around me, the very last thing I wanted to do was write about God and his “stillborn” punishment.

 

Last week, when I reflected on this passage, I thought, shit- this will be another skip.

 

I thought about how through each of these psalms, God’s face feels a little more distant and dark. I hear him cackling from a crow’s nest, sniper rifle cocked.

 

But then, something shifted for me, at least a little bit.

 

At lunch I was sitting with the kid that I wrote about in my Psalm 56 reflection. There is a woman that shuffles over to us and it happens every day. She’s the mother of one of the students and she cleans the cafeteria. She’s not the easiest person to speak with. She’s pretty stubborn. Pretty angry at her pothead kid. Pretty pissed at us for setting boundaries for her home life and her work life. But what else are we to do? She keeps making things worse and worse.

 

She comes in and sits at our table, rubber gloves and soapy bucket at her side. The kid I am sitting with is best friends with her son, who just graduated last week. It seems her must for mothering has found its purpose in his friends, and as she begins to talk, I twiddle my thumbs, because I’m sure she’ll start with her usual scold and wagging finger.

 

But, to my surprise, she doesn’t.

 

“He’s getting help y’know. He’s going to counseling and he’s looking for work!” and she puckered up proud in a That’s my boy! way and the kid smiled back.

 

He wasn’t crying, but it felt like he was on his way. It was several stages before a choking voice and tears, but there was this faint, faint tremble in the back of his throat. And maybe I’m the only one that heard it.

 

“I’ve been thinking about getting clean too-” and he paused, shaking his head. ”Probably need therapy and helluva lot of more money than I’m making though!” And he laughed, but I still heard the tremble.

 

As I sat there, silently, I felt myself torn between really loving this woman and wanting to kick her out. Here she had prayed for years for her boy to get help and he finally was, but still… it was like she was throwing it in his best friends face.

 

Without diving into too many details, the kid’s folks are undocumented, leaving him screwed for any government services that might assist in this sort of thing.

 

In other words, it’s his hand getting slapped away for the hundred thousandth time.

 

And isn’t that the way this bullshit world works?

 

Kid born into poverty. The very bottom of poverty because of a cruel clause. He grows up facing the backside of the world and when he tries to dull the despair, he gets bound down by an abducting addiction. One with many ways out but no way to pay for them-

 

And these are the moments I question the pledge of freedom and justice for All.

And these are the moments I question God’s goodness for All.

 

I looked over at the mom. A devote Christian woman, but the Bible thumper type. The kind that growls. The kind that isn’t always kind to kids like this.

 

But as if a light bulb flicked on, she popped open her eyes and said,

 

“Come to church with me on Sunday! We got the Minnesota Teen Challenge choir singing and they’ll be talking about the help that you might want. It’s a really great thing y’know, you don’t have to pay a dime, they have different programs to clean you out.”

 

Notably, she did not throw scripture in his face or give a quick evangelical cliché. She did what we do every day with these kids. She gave him options.

 

And there was a slight lighten of his face. It wasn’t so much hope as it was curiosity. Possibility. Free help. Freedom.

 

And isn’t that the way God works? Isn’t he more angry about the fallout of injustice than the broken twisted souls of oppressors? Isn’t he ready to step in, speak to, speak through the most imperfect of people? Can I equate the cold world with He who stepped into our boots and kicked temple tables over? He who loves the least and promises that their day will come?

 

This psalm is graphic, but in the end its about injustice and a God that hates injustice. A God that falls to the floor breaking over this screwed up world that turns its back on kids like this, keeping them out in the cold. And it’s about a God that steps into it. Really deep into this dump, curling up with us until we’re ready.

 

RR

A Love Letter to You- Dr. Trista Carr [Love Letter Series]

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I first knew of Dr. Trista Carr when my beloved Marin Foundation invited her to speak at LITT gathering. A friend of a friend, turned into a friend of my own after we connected over twitter and blogs, and I have been blessed by her insight ever since. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and has thrown herself into the LGBT community as a member and a powerful voice. I am indebted to her for her writing and her career and most importantly, her friendship.

Listen to the love people. And be sure to check out Dr. Carr’s blog here.

 

Orange slice in the shape of a heart

Image credit

 

My Twitter friend, Registered Runaway asked me a while back to write an open letter to sexual minorities—the LGBTQIA community. I was honored to be asked. It was a crazy busy time for me, so I told him that I would be able to get to it until the later part of April…well, it’s now May and I’m just now getting to this project. You see, writing is not something that comes easily to me. I dread it really. It takes someone relying on me for something for anything to get done. And sometimes I procrastinate too long because of the anxiety I have attached to writing. I can be a bit of a perfectionist—as much as I try not to be. And reading and writing are some of those things that take me so long to do well that it’s much easier to just put them off.

 

But something I hope I do well that doesn’t take as much effort for me is loving on people. And that is what I would like to do right now.

 

I would like to love on you.

 

I would like to let you know that no matter what; no matter how you call yourself; no matter what you do; no matter the color or style of your hair; no matter how many tattoos you have or don’t have; no matter the color of your skin; no matter the object of your affections; You. Are. Loved.

 

You are loved.

 

I love you—though I don’t know you, most likely, I still “agape” you. And I can safely assume that you have at least some, even if it seems like only just a few, friends and family members that truly love you too—even if they have difficulty showing it. But even better than that, God loves you.

 

You are loved. You. Are. Loved.

 

And you were loved from the time of the creation of this beautiful, broken, messed-up world in which we live. Ephesians 1:4-5 (NIV) tells us that “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

 

It pleases God to choose you. To love you. To adopt you as his child. It pleases him. It is his will.

I love this!

It makes God happy to call me his daughter!

It makes God happy to call YOU his son or daughter!

 

Do you read anything in there about him being pleased to call you a son or daughter only if you have your act together? Or what about if you have same-sex attractions? Or what about if you’ve had same-sex sexual relationships or encounters? Does it say anything in there about him only calling his straight and narrow human creations his sons and daughters?

 

NO! No! No. A thousand times, no.

 

Regardless of what you do in this life, Jesus did not come into this world to conduct sexual reorientation therapy on you. He came to reorient your heart. To orient it towards himself.

 

There are plenty of other places where you can hear the behavioral mandates and requests that God makes of people. But in all honesty, none of those behaviors matter if your heart isn’t oriented correctly. You can act however you want and it makes no difference—not one iota. Your heart is what matters most. Your affections. Your desires—for God. For Jesus.

 

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)

 

Out of a broken and contrite heart—out of a heart of love—your actions will speak for themselves. You will want to do things that please the object of your affections. We all do it.

 

But how can you love God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit if you do not know how much you are loved?

 

Isn’t it when we feel loved that we are more prone to love in return? Are we not more likely to feel loved when we believe we are loved? Don’t we feel more like loving when we decide to act in loving ways?

 

Yes. Yes. And, yes.

 

All of the above are true.

 

We have to believe that we are loved in order to feel like we are loved. We have to feel as though someone loves us in order to be more apt to love that person back. We have to do things that demonstrate our love for someone in order to increase our feelings of love.

 

And sometimes, it is hard to believe it. It’s hard to feel it. And it’s hard to do anything to show it.

 

This is where trust comes in. This is when you need to know that God is not a God who lies. He cannot. He is not a person like you and me. He is completely Other. His love has no bounds. His love doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t fit our economy.

 

So there comes a point in time when we just have to simply say, “Ok. I accept it. I receive it, even if I don’t feel it.”

 

I bet once you do that, you’ll eventually start to feel it. When you sincerely, with all your heart, willingly acknowledge the love that God has for you in his Son, Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will begin to know some of the extent to which you are loved.

 

And no one, and I mean NO ONE, can take that away from you!

 

You. Are. Loved.

 

You are chosen. You are beloved. You are called sons and daughters. You are blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing. You are holy and blameless in Christ. You are redeemed. You are predestined. You are for his praise and glory. You are included. You are God’s special possession. (see Eph 1:3-14)

 

I don’t care what anyone else tells you about God’s love for you. If it is anything less than the truth of what I have shared above—what the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians—then it is a lie.

 

You. Are. Loved. God loves you, and I love you. Many blessings on you in you quest for love.

 

In Christ’s love and mine…

Dr. Trista L. Carr

Creativity and Elizabeth Gilbert

“Send in the artists, mystics, and clowns. Their fertile imagination pours the new wine of the gospel into fresh wineskins. With fresh language, poetic vision, and striking symbols, they express God’s inexpressible Word in artistic forms that are charged with the power of God, engaging our minds and stirring our hearts as they flame and flare.” Brennan Manning – from Ruthless Trust

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I spent an entire Spring day sitting in the basement of my college house making my masterpiece. It was the end of the year and the final day of submissions for the school’s art competition and normally, I could care less about it, but for whatever reason, that morning I was eating cereal and looking out the window at my stretching emerald lawn and decided that this was what I would do today. I would paint.

 

Truth is, I had been painting for several months. I had been throwing myself to the canvas daily because I desperately wanted to be Great and also, I tend toward OCD with new hobbies and also… my therapist thought it a good idea.

 

I confined myself to my room all day and only left for slews of cigarettes and vitamin D and finally, to watch the dazzling setting of the sun.

 

We had until midnight to submit.

 

At some point in that long day of surge and then swell, of frenzy and then form, of plastering white over wrong colors and then intensifying the exquisite ones, I fell into a tempo, a rhythm, a sudden honing in on what beauty was and who I was and what I wanted to create.  I felt what many artists describe as flow. That river of creativity and craftsmanship that you can’t really find, until, at some point, you’re just there.

 

It was intoxicating.

 

The grooves of the tiled floor were streaming with crimson and cobalt and evergreen, meeting at the room’s lowest levels and turning murky brown. Dirt-dry paint coated my fingers and face and all over my clothes. If one were to walk in and see this tie-dye uproar they’d be vexed by it. Even more so, if they looked over at me leaning back in my chair, raising a glass of red to my toothy grin, zappy eyes, lunatic sprayed in raving colors, they’d be downright concerned.

 

But maybe, after a moment, they would’ve known. They would’ve watched the light fall down in the middle of the madness. They would’ve tumbled into a chair beside me and stared in nodding agreement at the best thing I had ever done.

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[Its based on this photo by Peter Przybille (thanks Jessica!]

I didn’t win the competition, but I didn’t really care. I was transfixed by this beauty because I had endured many many uglies. And I started to wonder if maybe I picked the wrong major. If maybe I should be an artist. If maybe I was born to paint.

 

And then I tried to do it again. I tried painting bears and owls, I tried landscape and macro, I tried everything, but I fell far, far short.

 

And it bummed me out.

 

This is when I started thinking things like beginner’s luck. And wondered, will I never be able to do anything like THAT again?

 

And then I got really bummed out.

 

This same gloomy awareness has fogged in around me whenever I write a really good, well-received post, and then, fail to form a single non-clunky sentence on the next one. I was talking with Steph Spencer several weeks ago and she said, “the hardest post to write is the one following your best.” And it’s true.

 

And that’s how we often approach this work. Too often, we strap ourselves to it and fly with our balloons and drown with our anchors. We get big-headed and we get bummed out.

 

I went on a TED Talk binge the other night and I came across something really good. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, was talking about how her book had become this freakish success, how it had become a movie and a-months-on-end NYT Bestseller, and how now, everywhere she goes, people worry about her.

 

“People treat me like I’m doomed.” She said, and she’s talking about the hard truth that no matter what she writes for the rest of her life, she won’t ever top Eat Pray Love.

 

She went on to suggest that these pedestrian merchants of death are on to something. That with art comes suffering and a constant feeling of not measuring up. Of not being good enough. And that all we need to do is look down the history of 20th Century art and see all the casualties of it.

 

And this bothered her, like I’m sure it has bothered every other artist. Why is this? Why this constant coupling of the two? Why must we feel psychologically tormented? Better yet, why have we accepted such a reality?

 

So she went on a search:

 

I’ve been sort of looking across time, and I’ve been trying to find other societies to see if they might have had better and saner ideas than we have about how to help creative people, sort of manage the inherent emotional risks of creativity.

And that search has led me to ancient Greece and ancient Rome. So stay with me, because it does circle around and back. But, ancient Greece and ancient Rome — people did not happen to believe that creativity came from human beings back then, O.K.? People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity “daemons.” Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar. The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. Which is great, because the Romans did not actually think that a genius was a particularly clever individual. They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.

So brilliant — there it is, right there, that distance that I’m talking about — that psychological construct to protect you from the results of your work. And everyone knew that this is how it functioned, right? So the ancient artist was protected from certain things, like, for example, too much narcissism, right? If your work was brilliant you couldn’t take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame. And this is how people thought about creativity in the West for a really long time.

And then the Renaissance came and everything changed, and we had this big idea, and the big idea was let’s put the individual human being at the center of the universe above all gods and mysteries, and there’s no more room for mystical creatures who take dictation from the divine. And it’s the beginning of rational humanism, and people started to believe that creativity came completely from the self of the individual. And for the first time in history, you start to hear people referring to this or that artist as being a genius rather than having a genius.

And I got to tell you, I think that was a huge error. You know, I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.

 

And the talk goes on and it’s absolutely brilliant, you should go check it out. But I wanted to stop here and think about what this means for how we, in career or in hobby, approach creativity. Are we the source? Are we particularly built to produce some smidgeon of beauty into this world? Or is this there something greater? Something more? Some sort of interaction? Something whispering behind us?

 

When I think about painting the perfect picture, writing the perfect post, seeing things clearly for the first time, I also think about the accolades received. About the admiration. About the STATS. About thankful eyes gazing at what I’ve done. And I don’t necessarily think that’s wrong.

 

But the mistake happens when we hook compliments around our sense of self. It feels like being buttered up, and when you believe it’s because you’re great, it really feels good. But what we fail to see is our versatile selves tangling our feelers in the achievement of it. We fail to see how we lean in and, in a way, lose ourselves.

 

And what happens is our sense of worth becomes knotted so tightly to our creativity that, when we inevitably flop, we go sinking down with the tossed out work into the pile of perishables, and in a weird way we believe we deserve the drop, because we shouldn’t ever started writing in the first place and we’re just wasting away what little time we have here and I am surprised I have friends at all….

 

Stop.

 

I’m putting an end to that. No longer will I overanalyze why something I worked so hard on resonated so little with readers. No longer will I pat myself on the back 1,000 times for the well-received work because really if I am to believe that I was created, I am also to believe that this is a cooperative effort now. That it is not just me thinking, diving deep, tapping away at the keys, but there is something bigger, One who sometimes shows and sometimes does not.

 

And the point is to always show up. You never know when something beautiful will tip toe in through the window and chances are, if you commit yourself to just showing up, sitting at the desk, typing out imperfect amateur words, brushing in awful colors, you will catch it. And it will be Great. But it won’t just be you.

 

RR