The Lamenting Echoes of Lutra lutra whitely, Conuropsis carolinensis, and Incilius periglenes

Do you hear the echoes?
The echoes of what we used to be,
Before humans grew too many and took over,
before the biomes of the world grew imbalanced,
before imbalance became the norm.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Lutra lutra whitely,
the Japanese River Otter.
I thrived in the rivers of Japan,
I swam, and created dens,
I mated, passing my genes along,
never imagining that you would kill me
for what you call my pelt.
Now all you can hear are my echoes.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Conuropsis carolinensis,
the Carolina Parakeet,
I would travel in groups with hundreds of my friends,
when we were still alive.
I ate the same fruits that you eat today,
I had beautiful green and yellow plummage,
but that was my downfall because you wanted my feathers,
for your decorations and hats.
And then you wanted the trees that I nested in,
for your barns, and houses, and then your fires.
Now all you can hear are the echoes of what I used to be.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Incilius periglenes
the Golden Toad,
I used to jump in the forests of Costa Rica,
my skin would glow as golden as the sun that hit it,
I needed water for breeding,
but also for my survival
because my porous skin needed moisture in the air,
when the climate warmed, the forest became dryer,
and my skin could not breathe the dry air.
And now I am no more.
Do you hear the echoes of my jumps?

When will you give others the space to exist?
How many more cries will have to turn to echoes?
Creator, why did you create a species which had so much power?
Did you ever ask them to care?
Do they remember the names of those they have killed?
When did exploitation become permissible?

Give our echoes voice again, O Creator.
Remind homo sapiens of their place in the web,
Bring connection, again,
for you are the Originator of connection,
and we need You desperately.

We need richness back in our ecosystems,
We need our coral reefs back,
and our rivers, and our feathers, and our pelts.

We will praise you with our songs of renewal,
with our cries for remembrance,
with our laments of pain,

For you are the Restorer of rhythm,
You are the God of the Moon,
and the God of the Sun,
our Mother, the Creator.

*************************************************

The three species mentioned here (exempting homo sapiens, of course) are all extinct.

I Want God: Entering Into the Lenten Journey

I am most grateful today for the ice storm which brought forced rest into my life this week. This rest allowed time for reflection, which seems like the most appropriate way to honor Shrove Tuesday as I prepare to enter into Lent. You may wonder why someone who is so very Baptist might observe a liturgical season such as Lent. However, it is my very autonomy as a Baptist which allows me the latitude to explore seasons that would more typically be observed by higher churches, like The Episcopal Church or the Catholic Church.IMG_5751

Lent looks pretty different for the diversity of folks who observe it. Some folks are more comfortable adding something to their routines/ lives to focus on God, while other folks remove routine items/ practices so that they may better focus on God. Either way, the idea is to prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically for the high Holy day of Easter, the day of celebration of the resurrection of the Christ. This is the day, which I believe theologically, that the Creator God gave a finality to Death (read: evil, sin, and greed) insofar as saying “Death does not win.”

Practically, Lent can be a structured time (six weeks) that one brings a level of discipline to one’s life which, oddly enough, creates liberation. I use liberation here to mean a time where one is freed from the rat race that one’s life can snowball into in pursuit of the completion of the eternal to-do list, the pursuit of self-affirmation through external sources (especially other people), or even the pursuit of service to others. In naming these things, it is easy to see that though they may not necessarily be harmful, however, the pursuit of them necessarily detracts from the pursuit of their opposites (ie. stillness; self-affirmation through internal/ spiritual means; self-care). These lists may not be entirely fair, but I suspect they are plausible enough that they sound familiar.

So alas, here is my impetus to observe the Holy Lenten season. Most simply put:

I want God.

I want to prepare myself (as much as possible in my feebleness) for the observance of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Eternal Word, the Son, the second person of the Triune God, Christ Jesus. I want to slow myself so that I may open myself to the mystery of grace, mercy, and love that the Creator God, the first person of the Triune, gifted creation with in the act of the Incarnation. Because of this act, God, Emmanuel is with us. This is a gift that I must seriously consider in the next six weeks.

To find a starting point for my Lent practice, I dwell on the words of an Anglican systematic theologian, Sarah Coakley. For Coakley, contemplation (which she classifies as an ascetic discipline) must be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. She defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. This makes much sense to me; when one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst performing a series of tasks.

I foresee this practice of contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude me from contemplation), as being a dear companion through the journey of Lent. I want God. I want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for me. My prayer is that this season would be as meaningful for you as I hope it will be for me. May we sustain ourselves through this Lenten season with the richness of God’s mercy, God’s justice-making, and God’s Love.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a last quote from Coakley, which can be easily re-written into a prayer:

Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.1

May it ever be so.

1) Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity‘ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 340-344.

The End of a Semester…

The end of the semester.
It usually brings an enormous flood of un-interrogated emotions. The closest, most pernicious emotion is exhaustion, followed closely by analysis of all the mistakes of the semester. The rat-race that is graduate school technically provides a 3 week reprieve from due dates on holiday break, but I always wonder how we are supposed to push so hard during a semester (and finals week) and then are supposed to be able to turn off a switch so that we may rest. I have not yet begun to mention the flood of holiday activities and catching up with folks that I need to do.
The physical, emotional, and mental toll of graduate school, particularly programs that focus on justice-making, is very difficult to understand until one has gone through it. The limited budget, the individuation of self, the constant realization of how much you don’t actually know and that we’ll never know is taxing.
The constant desire to learn is something I would not trade for all the world. It keeps humility and curiosity as constant companions; however, it also means that I do not rest well and boundary-making is a difficult feat. It also means that I set higher goals for myself, which are not always well understood by others.
I have been waiting to post until I had a positive word to write. But after a semester of police brutality, archaic state laws, protesting, writing, listening, and trying to keep some semblance of emotional/ mental stability, I do not have much positive to write.
But even in this exhaustion, I can find gratitude for the opportunity to be exhausted alongside some of the most incredible ministers/ faculty/ activists there ever were.
Thanks be to God.

To Our Round and Borderless God (A prayer)

Designer, Creator, most provident God,
As we gather today,
When the days may seem a little too hard,
The grace seems to wane and exhaustion takes over,
When uncertainty is the best we can do,

O Lord, in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We ask for strength for our community as we are aware of illness, lament, anxiety, uncertainty, and loss.
We ask for the relentlessness to keep showing up.
We ask for reprieve from scarcity.
We ask for rest and for healing.

O Lord, in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For folks living in Nashville food deserts,
For those who are imprisoned and on death row,
For those who are racially profiled,
For those who labor for unlivable wages.

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For those living in the immanence of violence,
For those who know little of peace,
For those who are losing their culture to globalization,

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For our tired and nearly depleted earth,
For species which will become extinct today,
For the wild space that we will never know.

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Show us, O Lord, how we may return the blessings that you have given us by caring for ourselves, for each other, for our earth.

For your mercy is round and it is borderless.

In this mercy, Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen.

Regarding Wisdom: A Pastoral Prayer

O God, we find ourselves, along with all of creation, made in your image.
We are made in your likeness; image-bearers of the divine.

Knowing this is deeply meaningful and ministerial.

But even with this knowledge, sometimes in the midst of loss, or fear, or especially political, personal, communal, and spiritual uncertainties,

It is easy to forget this image-bearing business.

It is easy to forget that we are not only made in Your image but that You, the source of Wisdom, dwell among, intimately near.

So today, O God,
we ask that wisdom, in all its forms, would not be elusive,
but that it would be readily found. 
We know that it can sometimes be tough to have the wisdom to stop trying or to keep trying.
It can be tough to know when self-care is a must,
It can be tough to know which words would be harmful and which would be helpful.
It can be tough to know one’s worth amongst feelings of inadequacy and shame.
It can be tough to sort out God’s promises among many competing voices.
It can be tough to know how to love someone because love is imperfect.

Oh God of whom, we are image-bearers,
It can be tough to know when to help a neighbor,
It can be tough to know how to give radical hospitality,
It can be tough to know how to stay at the table we’ve gathered around.
It can be tough to know how to care for all of creation,
It can be tough to know how we can make a difference.

Uncertainty and doubt, O God, are more frequent visitors that we would like.
They can be powerful and convincing.
And as much as we want to rush forth with an answer, a solution, a revelation,
perhaps the wait time, the time of parenthesis,
is where we find wisdom.
Wisdom to remember, Oh God,
that we, along with all of creation, are made and held in Your image.

Amen.

Prayer for All Saints Day (Baptist Style)

Oh God, whom we live and move and have our being,
Gather us in as we worship together on this day to remember the Saints.

This, All Saints Day, is full of memories,
Memories that comfort us, memories that inspire us,
and perhaps memories that still hurt a little bit.

With gratitude and awe, we remember today Saints of the Church
who are here in this great cloud of witnesses.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola,
Saint Francis of Assisi,
Saint Mother Teresa,
Saint Oscar Romero
Saint Martin Luther King Jr.,

And what about our Baptist saints,
Thomas Helwys and John Smyth,
Roger Williams,
Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong,
Will Campbell.

Today, we remember and give thanks to you for these saints.
We also remember today the saints in our lives who have gone before us.
These folks who loved us and were dearly loved by many,
These folks who shared their lives with us, and left impressions of love that we remember and honor today.

We celebrate them as we miss them.

Oh God, whom we live and move and have our being.
Dwell with us in this community,
We ask for comfort especially as we miss our loved ones,
But also for comfort during hard days when our bodies are weary,
when our backs ache, and hands are blistered.
May we give each other salve and a good chair to sit in.

As we dwell in you, O God,
we give thanks for this church community of folks who bear each others joys, burdens and pains.

We give thanks for pastors who hands work with love and persistence.
We give thanks for the faithfulness of members of this community,
who give of themselves around this table.

Oh God, whom we live and move and have our being,
thank you for this communion of saints today and for this
communion of faithful and loving folks who gather today to remember those saints.

Amen.

“The Ghost of Tom Joad”

Sometimes, I am certain of little, but one thing that I do know is that folk music tells stories far better than I ever could. Singers like Woodie Gutherie, Pete Seeger, Ani Difranco, Joan Baez and so many more give music to the people by telling their stories of injustice, of struggle, of triumph. In the face of great odds against institutional racism, sexism, violence against bodies, heteronormativity, classism, agism, they have sung in protest. It’s the music that keeps me going because I am reminded that I am not alone, but I am rather in the company of a great cloud of witnesses. For me, protest music is as sacred and sometimes more sacred than hymns. For me, it is holy music.

For that reason, tonight, I wish to share the story of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” written by the great Bruce Springsteen in the mid 90s. He says that it “was an attempt to regain my own moorings” and contains as its final verse the beautiful speech that Tom Joad whispers to his mother at the end of The Grapes of Wrath. He says that “the singer in my song is in search of the ghost of Tom Joad, the spirit that has the guts and the toughness to carry forth and live their ideals.”

I first heard this song when Bruce sang it at Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday party (see above link)… he called Pete Seeger the ghost of Tom Joad and spoke of many of the ways that Pete sung the People’s Music.

So I’d like to read this social justice ballad, this song of lament, this song of protest tonight. And in doing so, I remember and honor all the folks who have sung in protest for freedom.

Here it is:

”The Ghost Of Tom Joad”

by Bruce Springsteen, 1995, Columbia Records

Men walkin’ ‘long the railroad tracks
Goin’ someplace there’s no goin’ back
Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge

Hot soup on a campfire under the bridge
Shelter line stretchin’ ’round the corner
Welcome to the new world order
Families sleepin’ in their cars in the Southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Searchin’ for the ghost of Tom Joad

He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass
Got a one-way ticket to the promised land
You got a hole in your belly and gun in your hand
Sleeping on a pillow of solid rock
Bathin’ in the city aqueduct

The highway is alive tonight
Where it’s headed everybody knows
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
Waitin’ on the ghost of Tom Joad

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Well the highway is alive tonight
But nobody’s kiddin’ nobody about where it goes
I’m sittin’ down here in the campfire light
With the ghost of old Tom Joad