Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

A Prayer for Peace

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent
Your blessed son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who
Are near; grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you;
Bring the nations into your fold; pour out your spirit upon all flesh; and
Hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.

A Confession of Sin

Most merciful god,
We confess that we have sinned against you
In thought, word, and deed,
By what we have done,
And by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your son jesus christ,
Have mercy on us and forgive us;
That we may delight in your will,
And walk in your ways,
To the glory of your name.
Amen.

Black Lives Matter

I’m not here to be a teacher. I’m here to show how I’m learning to be a student.

For one reason or another, this particular BLM moment has woken me up to the realities of the systematic dehumanizing of black people of color and systemic injustice. Of course, this is not the first time these things are surfacing. My eyes are just opening now to the realities that I’ve been blind to and what I’ve been privileged to never consider.

I grew up in as good a situation as can be imagined. Middle class family living in the suburbs or in the country. I’m white. I’m male. I’m cisgender hetero. I was born an American citizen. I can check every box down the page to put me in the fully privileged camp. And honestly, up until a few weeks ago, I was deaf to any call to help me realize it.

I thought life could be this easy for everyone.
I thought life should be this easy for everyone.
I thought life would be this easy for everyone.

I like to subscribe to a full metaphysic of libertarianism, of individualism, of a truly free market of things and ideas. I believe that free will is our reality and that we have a responsibility to do work we love while providing value in excess of what we charge for our time and effort. The romance of “the American dream” is deep down in my bones. And until recently, I would have written off this whole movement in the culture. Even now, it’s hard for me to pay attention to systemic issues, when the Individual is so attractive to me.

What’s been teaching me slowly to see things in terms of systems and societal forces is Rob Bell’s spectacular talk on YouTube, Everything is Spiritual. In the talk, Bell shows how the evolution and unfolding of our universe gives rise to new phenomena when components are combined at previous levels. Quarks combine to atoms. Atoms combine to molecules. Molecules combine to cells. Cells combine to bodies. And when bodies, human beings with thoughts and personalities combine, what emerges? Civilization. Society. Systems. This is what Christians through the ages have called “the Body of Christ”. This unification of individuals gives rise to a new thing, a collective consciousness with it’s own pain, joy, orders of operation and modality. Like I said, if this is all obvious to you thus far, I’m the student here. And I’m working through my lessons. So this is the birth of social systems. Then…

There is a concept being talked about now called White Fragility. Many have taught the concept. Many have fumbled with a rebranding of it. I will not attempt to work with it besides acknowledging that it is very real. As a white man, I’ve been insulated from race-based stress my entire life, so when it comes to the forefront of the culture and I’m told by black people of color that this has been a reality for them their entire lives and that I have work to do to deconstruct implicit and unconscious racist forces and beliefs within myself, I can easily start feeling attacked. I can sense in my body a visceral, lizard-brain response that starts screaming “FIGHT or FLY”! That, my friends, is what I now know to be white fragility. That impulse to instantly defend. That impulse to fire back with #AllLivesMatter! That impulse to claim that there’s not a racist bone in my body or that I have POC friends. That is what I’m learning to pay attention to. Because precisely where my hackles stand up while my heart drops into a steady race, my hands start to sweat, and I begin tripping over my tongue, that’s where I need to learn to sit with the uncomfortable truth of my privileged position. No one said this was easy or fun. We must learn to be uncomfortable if we are ever to arrive in a world of equitable justice, fair and safe police training and practice, and true unity in our diversity.

To my white brothers and sisters and siblings: If we are indeed ready to see that a group of individuals combine to create society and systems, then we must be ready to collectively work on that thing that arises in our midst. If we can see our collective-ness in this hyper-connected world as a Body, maybe even the Body of the Christ, then we must be ready to heal that limb, that organ, that operation that has been wounded.

We’re being called to listen to the part of our Body that is hurt. When the leg is sending blinding pain signals to the brain, alerting the Body to a broken femur, the healthy arm does not refuse to help, claiming that #ArmLivesMatter. Instead the arm joins the rest of the body in stabilizing the fracture, picking up the extra weight of the Body that the leg is no longer prepared to bear, and works to join in the healing work. A doctor tending to the broken leg bone would not prescribed a shoulder sling. The injured leg must be allowed it’s due attention.

So when we hear Black Lives Matter, it is simply not helpful, even harmful, to respond with All Lives Matter. The real, living experience of our black POC friends is that they matter less than their white neighbors. So until they matter as much as the rest of us, without a second thought or question, then we say Black Lives Matter. It is our work to educate ourselves on our national history, identify biases and implicit beliefs within ourselves, and offer an open hand of allyship. History does not get rewritten unless the history writers pick up the pen. And like it or not, acknowledge it or not, white men are the history writers in this country. So learn how to write. Learn how to speak up, speak out, and speak against that which would degrade the dignity of our black brothers and sisters. Learn the difference between simply not being racist and being anti-racist. I’m right there with you. Let’s be students together. I do not know the systemic fixes and won’t claim to be an expert in policy. So I will begin with me, the individual. I’m here for an education. As Brene Brown says, “I’m here to get it right, not to be right.”

“The work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human to other humans.” – Austin Channing Brown


Here is a list of podcasts, books, videos, Instagrams, music, and prayers that I’ve been paying attention to in my education process. This is in no way comprehensive. Let these take you in your own direction. (Please feel free to contact me with feedback, comments, and questions)

Podcasts

Books (full disclosure: these are books on my wish list, I have not read them yet)

Videos

Miscellaneous

  • My friend Ashley @papergram put together this great series of graphics that served as a major introduction to me. Check it out here.
  • The music of William Matthews’ record, KOSMOS

Prayers

 

This Is Not A Vacation

It has been a few months of what feels like an accidental vacation. First off, I cringe at and fully acknowledge the privilege dripping off those words, so let’s just let that be. As we all hunkered into COVID-19 lockdown mode, I was harboring personal opinions, along the lines of “this is overkill.” I honestly thought the whole thing, especially in Montana, would blow over in a week or two. Almost three full months later, I can see how my initial attitude set me up for where I am today.
 
For the last three years, I’ve been building a long note full of audacious, moonshot dreams as I imagine my life in the future, according to my values and my desires. One such dream is to work from home full time and be trusted with the autonomy that comes with it. But settling into lockdown after the first few weeks of excitement and novelty, I let all the discipline, the alarms, the systems and habits, all fall one by one by the wayside. I slowly and sleepily descended into the accidental vacation. I had grand visions of the corana age being a time for personal reinvention, but alas, it may have been in the wrong direction.
 
But it’s time to take extreme ownership (thanks, Jocko) of what I’ve let slip and slide. It’s time for me to get off the couch, turn off the TV, set down the popcorn, and return to life. Maybe not the life that was considered normal before all this, but the life that I want to craft and have wanted to craft from the beginning. I’m done being sorry for myself and disappointed in the ways I don’t live up to my own standards. I want a life much like this as a dream goal, so I need to start working and playing like it’s a dream and refuse to drift into the version where it becomes a nightmare. Old systems are coming back, new systems are joining the team. This is not happening to me, I’m happening to this. This is not a drill.
 
This is not a vacation.
 
 

A Walk Through the Complex

I took a walk around my apartment complex tonight.

I left my phone behind on the book stand. My headphones resting on the desk. No input, besides what was offered to me outside.

Though we’ve had a couple false starts to spring this year in Montana, with a fair few inches of snow in April, a smell in the air convinced me spring is here in full bloom. The warm envelope of direct sunlight brought me directly into a deep present awareness of my body. I felt keenly aware of every cooling breeze over my arms and neck. I tuned into the loud silence of the empty streets, accompanied only by the soft buzzing of my new bee friends and the song of a bird perched on the neon bar sign across the street. I could smell the burning off irrigation ditches as local farmers prepared into the new planting season.

Something about my presence to the moment and the quiet intimacy of what was happening around me made me feel like an intruding guest. Like I was boisterously walking into the room where Nature herself was napping on the couch. This walk demanded as silent a contemplation as I could offer. It was politely asking to be a sacred moment of silence. Of reverence, of grief, of ineffable joy. Maybe all three?

There’s something in the air, as if the earth itself is sighing with sadness, aching upon her own hospital bed, in recovery. In a podcast I recorded entitled, It’s All Part of It, I did my best to walk through the history of the Jewish people in ancient Israel and when they were exiled to Babylon when they didn’t respect the Sabbath for the necessary, yet inconvenient time to allow the earth “to lie fallow”. I get the sense that the coronavirus is serving the earth today, in that humanity is forced to slow down, socially distance, and take stock and thought in their locality. I can’t help but see photos of the Chinese or Los Angeles air qualities and think there will be other unintended goods coming from what seems to be only bad for us, our economy, and our livelihoods. It’s like the earth is finally getting it’s time to rest up, heal up, grow up while we are deep in our own exile. She’s feeling the joy of a deep, uninterrupted nap, yet the grief of her human children suffering. Where joy and grief meet, holy reverence must dance the space between, and that was what I was invited into on this plain, holy, spring evening. Here, simplicity and complexity get to coexist.

Again, I was taking a walk through my apartment complex. This physical location has been my sanctuary at my best and my fallout bunker at my worst, during this pandemic experience. Besides the seldom errand to the grocery store, I haven’t strayed from my few hundred square feet of rented space. This space can feel like a penitentiary at times or a monetary. And walking about these neatly manicured streets, past open windows and the doors of my neighbors, I found that some were like prisoners, others like parishioners. Like me, some find their cell to be a place of stifling house arrest. Others, like me, find their cell to be a place of serene contemplation.

I made room on the sidewalk for a small child riding his bike with his father, showing off his jumps off the curb. I smiled and waved to a mother walking her German Shepherd with one hand and pushing a stroller with the other. I passed open doors and windows of families audibly enjoying board games together, making music together, grilling divinely inspired red meats together. I listened to a young couple train their labradoodle puppy on a blanket laid out on the soft grass. These were the light, airy spaces of a monkish cell.

But I also heard a child’s cry after he crashed his bike on a loose patch of gravel. I heard parents struggling to soothe a sobbing baby. I saw a father on a balcony, video chatting with his son, beginning to cry when the boy said “I wish I could give you a hug, daddy.” I overheard an uncomfortable fight about who’s turn it was to take the dog out for a bathroom break. These were the tight, stifled spaces of a jail cell.

As the grief and joy of our present moment arrive, there’s that tension between simplicity and complexity. This is the same apartment it was yesterday, last week, last month, last year. But yesterday it was a prison, today it’s a monetary, tomorrow a prison again. The complex nature of what we’re going through is not a problem to be solved, but a beautiful tension to be managed. I’d even say we could learn to transform it from tugging ropes in two different directions to dancing in all directions.

Maybe you’re enjoying your quarantine in certain ways?

Maybe you’re gripped with terror, anxiety, and worry in other ways?

And maybe, it’s possible to be both?

Finally, I know deep in my bones the meaning of Dicken’s legendary opening to his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities,

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

While I took a walk around my apartment complex tonight, I took a walk through the complex.

Normal

When most everything feels so abnormal and foreign to us right now, it’s okay to feel it and at least to normalize the feelings. We’ve never been here before, collectively. The adrenaline of new information and new risk is wearing off as we settle into our shelter-in-place lifestyles. The novelty of using Zoom, Discord, FaceTime, and any video calling service is wearing off. And our bodies are finally starting to catch up with our racing minds.

For two or three weeks now, all we hear about, all we think about, maybe all we talk about is the coronavirus and what impact it will have on us. And our bodies didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. Personally, I’m experiencing greater levels of fatigue and sleepiness throughout my days than I ever have before in my former, office-working life. My body is teaching me what it’s like to mitigate risk by running marathons, not sprints.

So if you’re starting to feel the adrenaline buzz wear off, the novelty is just not so novel anymore, and you’re missing the old life, it’s normal to feel that. We all lost something, albeit temporarily, so abruptly that we went into fight-flight-freeze mode to get through the immediate danger, and now we’re realizing that the enemy moves much slower, but can run much longer too. We are feeling the adjustment as we shift into road trip mode instead of drag strip mode. Allow yourself all the grace you need and know that it’s normal.

We’ve never been here before. It’s totally normal to feel anxious and worried.

Some of us have never been homeschool parents. It’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and stretched thin.

Some of us have never worked from home. It’s totally normal to struggle with focus and feel like your work and home are too close.

Some of us have never been without work. It’s totally normal to feel angry and afraid of how you will provide for yourself and family.

Some of us have never stayed in one place for so long. It’s totally normal to feel restless and confined.

Some of us have never been alone for so long. It’s totally normal to feel a need for human touch and affection.

It’s totally normal to feel exactly what you are feeling.

Yes, beloved, it’s totally normal and I hope you can rest in that. Thank your body for taking care of you so well.

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Social

While we all physically distance into our homes for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what tools and systems are available to us to maintain our connected common life together.  Now, more than ever, is the time to increase our connectivity and positivity, given what we know about the effects of isolation.

Maybe this is when we figure out how to transcend the digital marketing media and political sideshow that Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become and actually learn to use these meeting places for enriching social purposes?  What would it look like for social media to actually be social?  Now is the time to get creative.

I for one will be using Discord to play DnD with my friends.  FaceTime to call loved ones in Washington state.  Facebook to launch conversations and start a podcast group.  Instagram Live for some experimental bonus K(no)w Normal People episodes.  Twitter will be a place for positivity and laughs.  Pinterest to find recipes that I want to try with Dixie.

 These apps and sites don’t have to be just another placating balm to distract us from the “real life” out there in the scare world of viruses and hospitals. We don’t need to fall asleep to the world with pacifiers like Netflix and Hulu; we need to foster connection with in the most creative ways we have available and invent even new methods to use this technology available to us.

I wonder, too, what effect this COVID-19, social distancing experience will have our on shared life together after there are developed ways of handling the virus? Remember when we used to sit at the same table at the restaurant, and all be swiping the moment by with our thumbs on the screen and our minds in other worlds? Now, we swap phones or stack them in the middle of the table, relishing our plate of nachos and enjoying a rich conversation with the people we invited out to dinner. Remember when we used to glance around on the bus or the train and notice that we’re one of the only people who don’t have their necks bent and headphones crammed in their ears? Now we smile and greet each other as we hop on the bus, maybe chat with your new neighbor, or just stare out the window and remember what it was like to self-quarantine for weeks on end.

It is perfectly normal to feel the anxiety. It is perfectly normal to be afraid. So when you’re ready, I invite you to consider how this could teach you about the meaningful connections you have. I invite you to consider what you were taking advantage of until the moment it was taken away from you. We have the tools to stay truly connected, so use them. We have the connections to keep us grounded, so foster them. How can you be more social, even in social distancing?

Anakephalaiossathai. Grace and peace, my friends.

Bonnie

This is the toughest thing I’ve ever sat down to write. A couple weeks ago, my wife Dixie and I were crushed by a sudden and unexpected miscarriage. This post will be a combination of writings and voices. We will briefly share the news. Dixie and I will each have a section of our own writing. Then, we will close in the prayer we’ve been grieving through for the past couple weeks.

We have been trying to start our family for the last three years. For various reasons, this has proven difficult and leaves us with no luck, even with medical interventions. To spare much of the medical detail, Dixie has PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which makes getting pregnant very difficult. This involves her body getting off her cyclical patterns and making it very hard to tell when different moments of a typical cycle are happening. What we thought was a “normal” (again, normal for Dixie, not medically typical) late cycle blindsided us as a very early miscarriage.

Here’s a bit of an email Stephen sent out to our closest friends last week:

“We had no idea or indication that we were pregnant until the miscarriage started. By the looks of everything, we were about 4 weeks along the process.

Right now, we’re both in emotional shock with sudden strong waves of grief. It’s not lost on us that we are able to get pregnant, as our health improves and as we continue to pray for the beginning to our family. So there’s an odd nugget of hope in the midst of the huge loss. But I speak for both Dixie and I that we feel stunned, incredibly sad, hurt, robbed, sick, cheated, and betrayed by the body. We are swinging between being furious and angry with God to weeping prayer with Him being our only comfort. Neither of us are sleeping very well at all. Food doesn’t really taste right now. I am finding it very hard to focus at work.
This is very new and very raw for us now, but we needed to let our closest loved ones know. We’re sorry to bring you down into the grief with us, but we don’t know how to do this alone. Thank you, and know that we love each of you dearly. Thank you for loving us.

Grace and peace,”

Following the news going out initially, our family and closest friends continue to bring us tremendous amounts of comfort by their presence and love. We know being in the same circles as grieving people can be uncomfortable and awkward, but a strong hug, a crying shoulder or just a quiet movie night is enough for us to know we’re loved and prayed for. We’re thankful for these who don’t feel like they need to tiptoe around us. We’re also thankful for these who know that we can talk about other things, even play games and have fun.

The grief process here is a new one. The sudden strong waves of sadness and loss rise and fall as they have from the beginning. But the in-betweens feel so normal, really like life just keeps going. I (Stephen) expected grief like this to cripple me and confine me to dark rooms and boxes of tissues. Yet life just keeps going. It really is a weird thing to come to terms with as we talk and pray through what our hearts, bodies, and minds are experiencing.

After much prayer and thought and the tender advice of loved ones who have walked this path, we’ve decided to name our Little One. We were so early in the process when things started breaking down that there was really no way to know the sex of our baby, but Dixie has that deep, momma sense that it was a girl. A sweet baby girl, that both wounded us with love and sparked hope for our future. The beautiful answer to our prayer for the last few years: that we could get pregnant one day. So after the Celtic word for Beautiful Good, we’ve named our little girl, Bonnie. We continue to pray and live as though we will meet our sweet Bonnie one day in heaven paradise. We have the faith to believe we will then and there, where “our hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflow, and our joy is like swords, and we pass in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” (Paraphrase, The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien).

 

Dixie

I didn’t even know I was pregnant until the pregnancy was over. It was so shocking. I was so numb and didn’t even know what to feel. I don’t think I felt anything until about a week after everything happened. I was so confused. I still am. I was torn between grieving the loss of this baby and simultaneously feeling content knowing that we can actually get pregnant.

Finally, after years of prayer, doctors, needles, pills, and trying, we did it. I got pregnant. But by the time I realized what was going on it was already over. She was already gone.

I am grieving the loss of our precious girl. I know she is in her heavenly Father’s arms. She was the physical manifestation of all those quiet prayers and bitter tears. She is the very answer to our prayers. She is a representation of God’s promise to me and Stephen. I will grieve the loss of my Bonnie girl and rejoice in what she really meant to us and what this promise means for our future. We can get pregnant.

“Thus up from the garden to the Gardener, from the sword to the Smith. To the life-giving Life and the Beauty that makes beautiful.” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis).

 

Stephen

This is a letter I wrote to my daughter in my journal over the last few days.

Bonnie, my dear,

I wish I could have watched you grow in mommy’s belly and spoken to you while you were still growing within her. I wish I could have heard the moment of your first breath and cry. I wish I could have held your little body to my chest. I wish I could have watched you nurse and grow with your mother and witness that sacred bond between you two. I wish I could have held you close and kept you warm during your first winter. I wish I could see your bewildered face when I blow softly on your nose or raspberry your tummy. I wish I could deal with the sleepless nights and endless diapers like I’ve heard so much about. I wish I could listen to your first words. I wish I could teach you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I wish I could feel the terror of dropping you off for your first day of school. I wish I could watch you grow slowly and quickly into a woman before my eyes. I wish I could take you on ice cream dates. I wish I could teach you my favorite video games and board games. I wish I could go to your bad middle school choir or band concerts. I wish I could cheer you on while you played soccer. I wish I could dance with you while you practice for your first prom. I wish I could cry at your high school graduation. I wish I could help guide you through college. I wish I could give your hand in marriage to the man who dares to love you. I wish you could meet your grandmas and grandpas, your aunts and uncles, your cousins.

I wish you could meet your mother. Dixie loves you so much, far beyond what I could say in words. She’s much cooler than I am. She’s brave, strong, smart, kind, generous, hilarious, beautiful, passionate, considerate, patient, firm, powerful, creative, and above all, she is loving. She brings so much color and imagination into our home. She would probably sit and watch you and me play for hours, joining our giggles and laughter. She taught me what beauty can really be like, and so do you.

I miss you, my love. It’s so hard to miss you like this. But I know Jesus is holding your hand and teaching you the names of colors and shapes and animals and plants and people. I know he’s as in love with you as I am and is taking the best care of my precious baby. Please give him a kiss for me and wait for me there, love. Daddy loves you so much.

 

Together

Lord, into your gentle open hands, we commit our baby girl to your care and your love. We don’t understand what is happening. We’re mad at you and we’re desperate for you. We want Bonnie with us now, and hold on to the hope that we will all one day meet where our tears are the very wine of blessedness. Kiss our baby girl tonight and tell her all about us. In the meantime, let us love her how we can from here and teach us to glorify you to the end of our days. Amen.