“You Already Know Enough…”

I was texting with Sister Reverend Gina and Brother Reverend Eddie, rehashing details of an upcoming meal we’d have. In my calendar, these sacred and eucharistic occasions pop us as the Black Brilliance Gathering.

We got off that subject and into a query I posed to them about qualifying examinations, the exams I’m preparing to take around May and through August. I have four of them: psychology, psychology of religion, theology, and pastoral theology. Incidentally, if you think of any of those words, any combinations of those phrases between now and August, whisper words of prayerful intent for me!

Gina and Eddie, partners of mine in these doctoral streets, took their exams at the end of the summer. Their wisdom, as in all prior moments, was worth having. They were taking me to text school, answering my stated questions and answering the other ones that were abiding in my spirit. 

They were affirming me, teaching me, calming me. Somewhere after Gina had broken down the most concise truth about the exams, Eddie wrote, “You already know enough to pass.” 

After I experienced an immediate critique from all the ways and directions graduate school had trained into us at to that point, I breathed over his comment. It was what I needed even if I hadn’t asked. 

Now, I still was studying–and still am until May or June according to my timeline and plan. I am attending to a list of nearly 200 sources of books, articles, and chapters in all the times I’m not working my good job, exercising, fathering, and dating. I always have a book or two. Actually, I’m reading during some of that dating at this point in my great relationship.

I always have an document on my laptop collecting my collections from all these materials. I’m in preparation mode. And yet, Eddie’s words pull me into a depth with what I know, with what I have, with what I’m prepared with as I am. 

Now, he was addressing me and qualifying exams. But can’t you take his comment in your own directions? You already know enough to pass. You already know enough to…   

Trauma, Disparities, & the Exercise of Needed Distrust

I’m thinking about Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician who recently died after battling for her own quality medical care and against Covid 19. And I’m thinking about a mother named Mary from a long time ago who was unmarried and who spoke sonnets about her experience of getting impregnated and carrying a baby whose existence was misunderstood from mystical beginnings.

Trauma, a word coming out of an early surgical model for discussing injury, has come to encompass a full set of pains. Trauma is an injury, a bewildering injury or set of injuries.

A trauma can occur to a person or a people. A lot of people from many disciplines are talking about trauma these days, how it happens, what it means to be trauma-informed, etc. From anthropologists to neuro-scientists, chaplains and therapists, and social workers and teachers, lots of folk are discussing and working to respond to traumas in people.

There is language in these discourses about how a trauma is a discrete event in many cases. It happens; it ends. There is a healthy discussion on when and if that’s always true. Some traumas do end. Some are protracted and are, in a real sense, unending. I won’t get so much into that but I want to write a little about the way trauma can return.

After occurring and “ending,” it/they can revisit persons in seen and unseen ways, through known and recognized forms, as well as through insidious and unacknowledged means. Sometimes we see the re-visitation coming. We anticipate it. When we do, we can prepare and draw upon resources to help through the revisited pains. When we don’t see them coming, we are likely more reactive, doing anything in response to the unexpected-but-somehow-still-known.

Disparities in healthcare and medical treatment can be a means of trauma recurrence. Unfairness and mistreatment become a mechanism whereby trauma returns. Now, you’d have to accept a cultural transmission of trauma to appreciate this reality where earlier experiences are translated and handed over to subsequent persons related to those who have experienced trauma. In other words, what happened in prior times affects these times. There is another post somewhere in this direction that combines cultural trauma (at least that type of trauma) with attachment theory to explain this transmission and the patterns and connections making this possible.

Still, interacting with a disparity in the emotional neighborhood of a prior trauma is an uneasy psychological experience. I’m thinking about healthcare but this is true in other places. Whenever a person meets the reminders of prior pain, the body recalls and sends all its resources to preserve life. Emotional life. Spiritual life. Physical life. You don’t want to be hurt. You never do. So if you’ve been hurt, if your people have been hurt, you consciously or unconsciously respond to the disparity, the trauma, at least because of deep memory.

This is evidence of what, in The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman called a “strange quality of renewal.” The response to the disparity is to, in some way, resist it as a means of death. Resistance is a sign, a strange one perhaps, of life. Thurman says, “this is the way of life.” When you’ve experienced traumas and bruising pains, and when those are revisited among you, your reactions are little signs that life is present.

The exercise of distrust by Black people, then, is a needed one. It is needed because that distrust is evidentiary of a different trust, a trust in life. I call it everlasting life. Black distrust of the traumatic opens the world to the actual agitating presence of the God of life, the Source of life. Distrust of one system illuminates abiding trust in another. Distrust of medical science or research practices, say, points toward the life bonds elsewhere. Isn’t the question, “how do I find the life here?” Or “What does trust look like then?”

Take it from there. Look for the next sign of life. But name that life force. Relish the presence of Spirit. Moving against the brokenness and the flagrant disregard of life is a spiritual resistance that itself is being visited in the world through your own act of resistance.

Listen to the Spirit. Act with the Spirit to preserve life, to vanquish non-life. Do what will counter the forces of death and what will make right – or righter – what was wrong the first place.

Pedestrian Crossings

Illinois law requires drivers to stop at pedestrian crossings, sometimes hardly noticed lines in the street that are designated as safe places to cross. These crossings aren’t marked by stop signs. There is no stop light. There’s only a set of lines. In more resourced neighborhoods, those lines are accompanied by stand out posts with a kind of stick figure. Words are printed that tell you something about the law, words that are, if you’re unfamiliar with them, a distraction or an annoyance.

The truth is, these crossings aren’t always safe places. For drivers or pedestrians. It takes patience for a pedestrian – perhaps one on the phone – who is standing near a crossing to wait. It takes effort to gesture that you’re waiting to cross and not being ambiguous about your intent. These crossings are sometimes located near actual stops or lights, and since pedestrians may not be ready to cross, interpretation takes work. Designated places can be dangerous places.

Pedestrians dart out or jog out or walk in dark clothing at night, expecting drivers to yield. Drivers are distracted, have slower reaction time, or under the best circumstances, sometimes fail to notice and stop. The crossings themselves aren’t always clear since lines can be hard to see, covered in sand or snow. They can be so neglected by municipal services that they are invisible from wear, from walking, from untending.

These crossings are there. They invite us, or require us, to slow down, a whole related issue. Why walk or drive in a manner that you can’t slow down to stop? What are we doing that we can’t notice the speed of the other? Why are we so unempathic? What makes us assume that the other will pace for us when we won’t pace for them?

These crossings are there and they bring questions, queries for the head, heart, and hands. One of my theologian teachers, Nancy Bedford, said once that people drive for themselves, that they don’t drive for others. She said this in a way that she’s said much of her theological brilliance, when speaking about embodied matters. It was an “offhand” comment, inasmuch as Dr. Bedford makes those. She wasn’t talking about Christology (necessarily) but she was. She is, in a way, always talking Christologically.

Those crossings are there, worth seeing, worth responding to, worth thinking about. The pedestrians and drivers are there. All things worth noticing. 

Roots of Nonconformity

Photo Thanks to Julia Caesar

Photo Thanks to Julia Caesar

James Loder wrote that “we all have a root of nonconformity, an urge to break away from the common practice of our everyday world.” James Loder was brilliant in his summary of the developmental stage he was writing about.

We all want to break away from the common. We don’t necessarily want to reject the known. We aren’t necessarily exhausted by the everyday world. But we have a root in us to extend beyond it.

I think that’s true for a lot of life. We’re made for the paradox. We’re here for the commitment, the comfortable, and the common. And we’re here for the edge.

I hope that you have the room to appreciate the common and to push against it. I’m not the best at giving you that room, but I know you need it. I know you need that constructive, creative space to water those roots of nonconformity.

It’s hard to raise you in a world that wants to wipe those roots out. It’s hard to know you need to conform enough to be safe; to conform enough to have options for freedom. It’s hard to know that balance. Of course, it’s a part of my walk of faith. I’m called to believe in the balance or in the paradox and the beauty beneath all those roots.

A Pope’s Parade, A Teenager’s Funeral

Photo Thanks to Krzysztof Puszczynski

Photo Thanks to Krzysztof Puszczynski

Last weekend the pope visited the United States, and I’m glad that he came. He surprised and taught people by his unsettling edging toward the unseen even while speaking with politicians and other leaders.

Among my other reasons for gladness was the post-papal reflective moment I had when I read something about our propensity for godmaking. The article said we are compulsive in our godmaking. And I thought that we are also compulsive in our ability to leave the least mentioned and the unfairly mentioned least and unfairly mentioned.

A compulsion is a behavior that a person repeats without considering that behavior. It’s a repetitive unconscious gesture. We are compulsive in our godmaking, where we raise people and things to ultimate status. And we are, on the other hand, compulsive in our predilection for maintaining disinherited people at bottoms and edges of society.

There is a strange juxtaposition between the constant coverage of the pontiff and the unending stream of violence in Chicago. When I read that article, I thought just for a moment about how my friend and pastoral colleague was attending a funeral of a 14-year-old boy in the neighborhood while the pope was parading down East Coast streets. I thought about the terrible sounds of tears muffling used to be joy for a mother and a father whose child was dead before he understood how to open his high school locker with speed or how to drive or how to kiss his girlfriend or how to write a poem with that precise phrase.

TyJuan will never attend a college class, publish a memoir, see the pride on his mother’s face when he introduces her to his spouse or to his firstborn. And there will be no parades when he visits a city, no pictures when he meets a head of state, no tears shed when he blesses. Those tears at his funeral weren’t his mother’s last tears, but neither will nations get to weep because of splendid gifts he offers to the world. His brightness is dimmed.

Who, What, How Deeply Black Men Love

The Root published one letter here–which will become a series–as a testament and reminder of “who, what, and how deeply black men love.” It’s to all our sons! The first letter:

Dear Sekou,

Simply saying I love you isn’t enough to express how I feel about being your father. However, it’s exactly how I feel. I grew in love with you from the moment I found out you were in your mother’s womb. I grew in love because I knew that you would be a great addition to the world we live in. I knew that inside of you was something special, even magical.

As your fingers and toes formed inside your mother’s belly, a new space was being created inside my heart, just for you. It’s a sacred space from which comes the deepest, most pure love: a father’s love.

Not only do I love you as my son, but I love you as the divine gift and human being you are. You are the purest part of me and your mother wrapped in beautiful brown skin, a dazzling smile and a golden spirit that draws people near.

Sekou, I love your musical laughter, your inherent intelligence and your amazing sense of humor. The moments we spend together are priceless, and no matter where I am in the world, a simple thought of you causes me to smile from deep within.

Son, love is one of the most powerful emotions we have because it inspires us to give our all and sacrifice everything for those we care about. Love is sacred because it comes from the most authentic space inside of us—our heart.

As males, we are often taught that love is a weak emotion, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A tremendous amount of courage is required to love someone because to love is to trust and believe in the greater good.

The world we live in today doesn’t always look like love, but trust me, love is there. There are so many wonderful and caring people in the world, and you are truly one of them.

As your father, I promise to do three things for the rest of your life: I will love you absolutely to the best of my human capabilities. I will always have your back and be a guiding source of wisdom upon whom you can rely, and I will be here to encourage you through my actions and deeds because they speak louder than words.

Son, not only are you the future, but you are also the present, and your place on earth right now, right here, in this very moment, is more important than anything else to me. You are a reflection of the many sons throughout the world who are making it a better place.

Thank you for bringing me so much laughter and light. Thank you for inspiring me to work harder to ensure your future is secured. Thank you for allowing me to fully be the father and man I am destined to be.

Love always,

Daddy

An Amazing Birthday

I was thinking over it the way I think of it at least once a week. The space of emptiness, the hunger that never quite ends. It is not nothingness because something is there. But it is insufficient.

It is more like emptiness since emptiness in me still has scraps or stains of your presence on the walls of my soul. I go into my fleeting memory and I get irritated immediately–I have to remind myself of all the things I have to be grateful for–but the irritations rise by grieving reflex.

I think of the hollowness that is a reminder of the mild surplus which was once. The laugh that was slight, hardly ever full, but that always made me laugh too. And I’ll never hear that laugh with these ears.

I’ll have to burrow into my recesses. I’ll have to sleep hard and pray for that dream that may still come. I have to mimic and try to be like you, in my laughter. I have to watch my brother’s face and see the muscles laying and stretching into the splendid image of you. I have to wait.

In a real way, I’ll hold that laugh for you. I’ll share other ones with other people at other moments, but there’s a laugh that’s just for you. I hope with all my imaginative, creative abilities that you’re spreading that meek joyfulness in eternity, amusing heaven and brightening angels’ eyes. I hope you’re having an amazing birthday.

Week In Review

I should have written this one week ago because it’s a memory worth keeping. I told Dawn about it when it happened. I’m logging it here as a way of keeping my memory, of preserving it.

We were heading out in the morning. It was either Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday since the boy was in his blazer. Bryce was at the door and I was grabbing a bag.

He said to me, “I’m great daddy.” I looked at him to listen again to what I’d just heard. Sometimes he says things that are completely surprising, and I’ve learned how I shouldn’t be surprised when he does this even though I am. He repeated himself. “I’m great daddy.”

I told him that he was great. He had been on a roll lately. And I said so. I told him that he had been making good choices and that he could keep being great.

“I am. I’m going to stay great.” Of course you are, I thought. You’re exactly right.

About Playing

Dear Bryce,

I want you to know that you’ve been doing a great job at life. Watching you grow this year has been a lesson to me. You love to play. Your mother said once that you lived to play. That still fits.

But you are such a good student. You do all your homework and usually finish it quickly so that you can play. Your teachers and we your parents have some difficulty keeping you from all that play when nobody else is ready to play. Even with those, there’s part of me that never wants you to stop playing. I want you to find a way to keep playing, to live playfully.

Part of me wants to say, when we’re at the table about to eat, before we pray, that we must be reverent. And part of me wants to edit myself and find a way to explain to you that all of prayer is playful. That the two in the eyes of the Divine are the same. I want to tell you that if you can balance living and playing, then you’ve lived well. I want to tell you to be as responsible as possible, to be as strong and generous as possible, and to do all of those without compromising play. I want you to be able to consistently revile in life, to be about playing, and to do so without compromising all those other important things.

It is a succinct picture of Sabbath. It is a simple way of expressing joy. It is pure and honest and descriptive of your personality. It is, in a sense, who you are. That is both frightening for the stark clarity that is you and enlivening because it is a kind of complete integrity on display.

I want you to play. In some ways, son, that’s all I want you to do. Perhaps the best thing I can tell you is to find a way to always play. To get the other stuff done. To do the homework. To clean your room. To get all those things “out of the way” so that you can do what you love, do what you live to do.

Perhaps it’ll take me a few years to fine tune my message, to figure out how to present that lesson to you well. Right now, you’ve got the playing thing down. I hope you never lose it. I hope in my efforts to father you that I don’t hamper it. And I hope you keep teaching me this year and that I learn a bit more about play.

 

Among Many Tasks

The fall will bring a slightly different schedule for me.  The whole thing holds together and will open me to new ways of deepening my vocation and the little works which make up my vocation.  I’ll be doing a lot, and I’m looking forward to it.

Perhaps it seems inappropriate to hold this poem on this blog, but it seems a striking reminder for me as a parent.  In the end, as I see it and believe it and imagine it, all our small works turn to one task of continued self-surrender, continued dying.

That dying sits at the bottom of my faith, though that bottom would quickly, almost too effortlessly, be named as living.  That eternal life only comes after one has regularly and daily passed through the gates of death.  Life comes from death, says the One we follow.  May this poet’s words be a reminder of these things to me:

Among Many Tasks

Among many tasks

very urgent

I’ve forgotten that

it’s also necessary

to be dying

frivolous

I have neglected this obligation

or have been fulfilling it

superficially

beginning tomorrow

everything will change

I will start dying assiduously

wisely optimistically

without wasting time

Tadeusz Rozewicz (From The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry)

Gratitude

You don’t have an income or a bedroom that belongs to you.  You don’t have clothes that haven’t been given to you.  So, beautiful son of ours, remember to be thankful because your entire life is still so early and so young that it’s all a gift.

Walking into your room, which I still say is my home office, you are surrounded by gifts, things given, including the words painted on your walls which were done by Auntie Sheila and Uncle Alan.  When you’re able to read those words, they too will remind you that you come from some where, that your life was given to you and given to us.

Everything around you, unearned by you and really unearned by us, is a bold or implicit sign to be grateful.

Intimate Partners, Violence, and Other Related Things

There is a misconception that abuse is limited to physicality (or heterosexual relationships) but it’s not.  I believe emotional, psychic and psychological abuse is also unacceptable and just as damaging.

There is so much worth rehearsing in our heads, pushing into our ways of being, and practicing in our relationships in those words and in the post below.  I’ve been encountering more conversations about intimate partner violence, relational abuse, domestic violence, whichever brand you’re familiar with.  And among the many things I question and consider, I come back to how I’ll raise my son to live in the world.

But I’m a pastor and a teacher, and I always (and almost immediately) question what I’m saying and showing and putting forward for the people who are a part of my spheres of ministry and influence.  I hope the men especially that I know are doing the same things as they listen to the news, watch television, and engage in barbershop talk.

The sinister evil of abuse is in its pervading, serpent-like ability to creep and dance and stand in culture as if it belongs, as if the world is as it should be when people harm one another.  Of course, it is a part of my faith structure, my theology, my talk about God-in-relation-to-God’s-stuff to say that the world is not exactly the way it should be and that such violence is only a grand, bold, and startling show of how bad the world is in these instances.

Relational violence is a narrow version of violence, and violence in its broadest sense is wrong and misdirected and worth our being troubled over and changed by.  But this type of violence, this violence that happens between people who supposedly love each other, people who are related to each other, is so destructive.

I tell couples in my church who are preparing for marriage that marriage is so potentially and actually effective, for good or bad, because marriage is one of those mystical vehicles that God uses to initiate, enrich, or nurture grace in our lives.  Of course, I can say about other vehicles and not marriage alone, but my point is to say that the impact of marriage is in its strong placement in our lives.  We do marriage daily, and when we give ourselves to certain practices daily, those practices–loving practices, misshapen practices, and so forth–eventually because the ways we get whatever we perceive God has for us.

Further, or in other words, marriage specifically and loving relationships more broadly construct how we understand, accept, and exhibit love.  Those relationships influence and shape us.  So when those relationships are inherently and historically violent, we attach all types of meanings to that violence in the context of a relationship, right?

We think that relationships are supposed to be violent and that when violence isn’t present, the relationship is off.  We believe worse things, too, like our prospects for better love or different love are low.  We set ourselves into a theological or psychological framework to judge our love and our promise-keeping by our settling with abuse.  We believe our faith demands that loyalty and commitment be expressed through the daily submission of our whole selves to the foolish presentation of hatred through words and gestures and the lack of good words and good gestures.

I’m grateful for all the good teachers and tutors who help me walk through the conversations (hushed though they may be) happening in the media these days.  This post–and perhaps all the posts over at the Crunk Feminist Collective–needs to make its rounds.  Read the full post here.  And share it.