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Raging at the Darkness and Reaching for the Light

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001.tree

I want to write about light and hope and sparkly Christmas ornaments, but that’s difficult because the first anniversary of my brother’s death is looming, plus America’s legal system seems to be OK with black people being murdered in the streets. These two facts may seem unrelated to you, but they’ve become intertwined in my mind.

Together they form a tangled mental mess that causes me to walk around the house kicking crap on the floor and mumbling “God damn it, God damn it.” Let the record show, this is highly unusual (my mumbled curses, not the crap on the floor).

I’ve been in a rage lately. I’m angry that my brother died, angry at the way he died, and angry at injustice in the world. I’m angry at God because I strongly disapprove of the way the world works at times. I’m angry at evil and abhor the dark stains on the human soul. I’m angry at death and mental illness.

In theory, my anger fits nicely into Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grieving, but I’m angry at her, too, for suggesting that anger can be neatly boxed up and understood. Grief does not progress in an A, then B, then C fashion.

Fear of the Dark

My anger stems from the unwelcome fact that I am powerless over the darkness in the world. In the scheme of things, I can do nothing about illness and death and injustice. I can flail and rant and wave protest signs and stamp my feet and cry and spew angry blogs. I can kick crap around the floor. But in the end, I must accept being powerless and relinquish my treasured illusion of control if I’m to avoid depression and anxiety and find a measure of peace in this life.

Being powerless makes me afraid. My lack of control over my brother’s dreadful death and the fact that African-American men and boys are dying at the hands of authorities in (at best) questionable circumstances makes me feel unsafe.

Yes, I could ignore or deny the injustice against blacks — being white, I don’t live in fear for my own family’s safety. Still, when they announced the Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to charge the officer who strangled Eric Garner, let alone the ones who stood around and watched Eric expire, I felt exactly the way I did on September 11, 2001. And in 2000 when the Supreme Court told the state of Florida to simply stop counting votes in the presidential election. Didn’t we want to know who got the most votes? Apparently we did not.

The world is not supposed to work this way. Massive skyscrapers aren’t supposed to crumble. The Supreme Court isn’t supposed to be political. Officers of the law aren’t supposed to strangle people.

Wrong. I keep rediscovering that the people and systems that I thought had our backs do not. There are no failsafes; our systems are not just; the world is not fair.

Seeing the Light

Despite my best efforts at denial, I think I’m finally coming to accept that this is how the world is.

When my brother died, I had to accept that I can’t escape the ugliness and darkness in the world. Nor should I try. As a praying person, I feel some responsibility to be a witness to injustice and pain and to wail with the world. To stand with the oppressed the way Jesus always stood with the oppressed. To ask questions. He didn’t throw stones at an angry mob of oppressors, instead he stood with a woman about to be stoned and said, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” The mob went away.

You see, Jesus brought God’s light into the darkness. He didn’t respond out of fear, he responded out of love and compassion. That’s why followers of Jesus celebrate Christmas, because we believe there is hope in the darkness. We’re still following that star.

star of bethlehem

Of course a society that’s based on consumerism (greed) and power (injustice is inevitable) has trouble seeing this light. The light can’t be measured by scientists or owned by corporations or controlled by fear-mongering politicians or manipulated by statisticians. For many people these days, the light simply does not compute.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it,” wrote Jesus’s friend John.

Light into Darkness

Light into Darkness

Living in the Light

Don’t ask me why (it’s another part of God’s plan that seems crazy to me) but one of the best ways to see God’s light in the world is through individuals — flawed and broken people. Every one of us carries God’s light, but we aren’t required to tend it. We can choose the darkness instead.

According to the Bible, the result of focusing on the light instead of the darkness is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” That’s why I pray and meditate, because I want all that. I want to connect with the light and the love. I’ll probably always struggle to accept the darkness along with the light. Last month, I gave an entire sermon about finding hope in grief and loss, yet here I am again. Fear is a powerful motivator. But perfect love drives out fear.

So as I enter Christmas week — and the week that marks my brother’s death — I’m dealing with anger. That’s OK. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, and he trashed the tables of the powerful oppressors who were ripping off the poor in Jerusalem. He got sad and he got mad. And I imagine God is pretty pissed about the way the world is today, too.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

Civil rights leader Baynard Rustin said, “Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.” Easier said than done, but a worthy goal.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I pray for you a light and love-filled holiday season.

Gone But Not Forgotten: A Photograph of Love

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This is Ginnie, probably one of the most well-loved women I know, and for good reason. When you’re with Ginnie, you feel like everything is going to be OK. She has faith like a rock, yet her spirit is light and effervescent. She seems unshakeable. She smiles all the time, and you know that she loves you unconditionally.

Picnic w/ Ginnie

Ginnie and I had a picnic this summer, just a few days after her husband Ian’s memorial service. She and Ian were married more than sixty years. They raised the guy who introduced me to Jesus – the real Jesus, the loving one, not the one who judges and hates and condemns. Because Brian McLaren inherited his mother’s unsinkable spirit, he has introduced thousands to God’s love through his writing and speaking.

This particular July day, Ginnie and I sat for four hours at a picnic table on the grounds of the church that Brian founded. A vase of garden phlox on the table smelled sweet in the warm sunshine, and the bees buzzed around the magenta blossoms.

Ginnie and I shared sandwiches and lemonade and stories. We spoke of many things, but mostly of our mutual journey through grief. We shared the things we would never forget about our departed loved ones, and we talked about where we had found God in the midst of our losses.

Her husband Ian and my brother Biff: gone in 2014, but not forgotten because our love keeps them alive.

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is on the topic of Gone But Not Forgotten. This warm summer day is long gone, Ginnie has returned to her home in Florida, and Ian and Biff have moved on — each gone but not forgotten.

Related articles:

http://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/in-memoriam-ian-d-mclaren.html

Wake Up, White People

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“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

– Benjamin Franklin

It is time, white people. It is well past time. We can pretend that we are “unaffected” by police violence against people of color in America, or we can be outraged. Those are the only two options I see. Because you can’t watch the video of the police swarming all over Eric Garner in Staten Island and see it as anything other than homicide.

There are no questions, no conflicting accounts as there were in Ferguson; it’s all on video. As is the aftermath where six or seven officers, presumably trained in CPR, stand around watching Eric die on the sidewalk. One goes through his pockets. Another pats his shoulder and gives him the encouraging advice to “Breathe in, breathe out.” How sweet.

Parallel Universe

When I heard that the Staten Island grand jury would bring no charges, I felt as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me — like I was the one pleading, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” And I don’t have brown or black kids. I have a lot of friends who do, though, and I can’t imagine how they must feel every time their child walks out the door.

Meanwhile, my white Facebook friends are “outraged” at the latest changes in Facebook privacy policies, or else super-excited because Safeway has whole shopping carts full of candy bars for only a buck. I look around to see if I’ve crossed into a parallel universe. Haven’t they heard the news? I don’t even have a TV, and I heard the news.

But no, life in the white world goes on as before.

But not entirely.

Signs of Humanity

One white girlfriend calls in tears, partly hopeful because there are people demonstrating in the streets all over the country, and partly distraught because of “what has happened to our country.” She has made a sign for her window that says simply, ERIC.

Another white friend who teaches at an elite private school struggles “to justify teaching the structure of a sonnet when there seems to be no structure in the world —or when it seems that the structures that do exist appall and offend you.” I wish more people had his soft heart, where “simply falling asleep in secure comfort feels viciously calloused, knowing there are people dying wrongfully at the hands of others while the world looks on and declares No harm, No foul.”

A Facebook friend asks, “Where is the fierce urgency of now among my fellow white liberal base? The cultural state of the country feels more dire than at any time in my lifetime.” (I might add, where is the conservative base that’s supposed to care about individual rights? Oh, that’s right, they are too busy creating cartoons of our black president’s head coming out of a dog’s butt to notice people being gunned down and strangled in the streets.)

So, Mr. Benjamin Franklin, white Americans may be slow to wake up and slow to outrage. I know that I feel powerless over all this, and it’s easier to be in denial. But there are signs of an awakening. And this is a democracy — or at least it used to be. I think it’s possible that perhaps, just perhaps, these African-American men and boys will not have died completely in vain. Perhaps justice will one day be served in this country when White America recognizes that there is no one “unaffected” by racial oppression.

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“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Niemoller

Related posts:

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Abdicating-my-soapbox-but-still-mourning-trayvon

Seriously? This is Your Thanksgiving Post? Again?

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melanielynngriffin:

OK – I guess this is going to be my annual Thanksgiving post. Lazy? Maybe. But I want to go hang out with my friends and eat lots of carbs and drink good wine. So enjoy your day, whatever you eat. Here is some food for thought:

Originally posted on melanielynngriffin:

Thanksgiving Turkey

Thanksgiving Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Are you still a vegetarian?” people ask me from time to time, which I find odd. As if I might respond: “No, actually, I used to think it was unethical to murder animals and eat their flesh, but now I think it’s OK.” So yes, I am still a vegetarian, and since this post was so popular last Thanksgiving (surprisingly), and I have several thousand more readers this year (will wonders never cease), I will re-share my thoughts for Thanksgiving Day 2013. I wish you gratitude, whatever you eat.

Enjoy:

The last time I ate meat was Thanksgiving of 1978. Once each year, I would forsake vegetarianism to make my mother happy. But after I told her I could no longer partake, she always made a huge bowl of special stuffing with no meat juices, and I would obligingly eat the whole thing…

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How Not to Write a Sermon

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How Not to Write a Sermon:

I have no holy credentials. Well, I have a certificate from Cathedral College declaring that I’m an official Spiritual Companion, but aren’t we all spiritual companions in our own ways? And a few years ago I took seminary classes on spiritual formation, but never finished the certificate because I got chicken pox. A sign that I was not meant to pastor?

Anyway, only an unaffiliated rag-tag group of Jesus followers like the ones at my church would allow me to preach a sermon. It didn’t start out as a sermon, it was supposed to be a “story,” one in a series about hope. Initially our pastor (who also did not graduate from seminary, by the way) asked me to talk for ten or fifteen minutes about finding hope in grief and loss. No problem, I thought, I’ve blogged about that. Then I was told that it was to be an entire thirty-five to forty minute sermon.

So that’s where my head’s been the past few weeks, and why I haven’t been blogging. Sorry about that. I hope you’ve been managing OK without my brilliant insights. I’m afraid I have none for you today, either, but I’m trying to avoid writing this sermon, so here I am.

Attention Deficit, Depression, and a Drum

In typical ADD fashion, I began in hyper-focus mode, completely re-living my mother’s death, my brother’s death, and even my dear friend’s head-on with a tractor trailer that resulted in a nine-month coma and then death. I sat at the computer from 9 a.m. till the sun went down two days in a row, writing about hospitals and death.

Then, of course, I plunged into depression and stopped writing completely.

I became terrified by the whole project. How am I stuck writing a sermon about a trifling matter like finding hope in death? I’m not even a pastor. But maybe that’s a good thing, because a pastor might be tempted to rely on Bible verses about angels and resurrection and the afterlife, and I don’t even know how to find those verses. (I love the Bible, I just never remember chapter and verse.)

Heaven and eternal life are good, but I want to help the people sitting in chairs on Sunday morning to cope with the very real, very present, very today challenge of grieving life’s losses. “Everything will be OK once you’re dead, and not before,” is not comforting to me, and I don’t believe it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here, now, among us, at hand. But how does that help us grieve? Where does one find hope?

I’ve now pulled out of “the sads,” and my ADD has flipped from fierce focus to bouncing puppy mode. I sit surrounded by dozens of pages of unconnected scrawls and phrases like: Mom-Beth-orange slices; Willie, Uncle Rolphe, winged creatures; MVA letter, gym, miracle; and, I bought a drum. They meant something when I scribbled them.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am. My deadline looms. Today is the day I must pull  it together or be in serious trouble. Which is why I decided to write a blog post instead. Please pray for me!

winter 2012-13 continued 009

Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please Stop

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Regarding Renee Zellweger: Please stop.

No offense intended, but what the hell is wrong with you people? And by “you people,” I mean approximately 99%  of the humans currently living in the United States of America.

Two days ago, I did not know who Renee Zellweger was. Now I do, of course. She’s an actress. Big whoop. And apparently she has “had work done.” Bigger whoop.

I didn’t know who she was because I don’t watch television, and I don’t watch television precisely because this is the kind of drivel they serve up. I do hover around Facebook, however, and Renee started to show up there a few days ago, as you undoubtedly know.

Perhaps your friends posted her picture  — a surprising number of otherwise quite intelligent people did. Anyway, I clicked on the photos to see what the fuss was about, didn’t see much difference between before and after, and went about my business.

But it didn’t stop there — no, by the afternoon, there were comment threads a mile long about this outrage, this abomination, this insult, this . . . well, you probably read them.

Excuse me, but who cares? Who cares if she had plastic surgery? Don’t most Hollywood types? Does it make an actual difference to anything at all?

By the second day, the “serious” journalists and bloggers had jumped on it. But rather than just admit that they like mean-spirited gossip as much as the next plebeian, they had to find an angle to turn this non-story into a socially redeeming or educational moment. Oh, they went on and on about sexism and ageism, and examples for our young girls, and — of course — their favorite subject, themselves: how are WE responding to this major world event?

Please. Just please.

Then, a friend of mine pointed out that Renee’s looks were the top story on every national news show and the local news as well. What? Surely you jest.

Nope – no joke. Top of the news. I guess professional journalists now think they are missing “news” if there’s Tweeting going on that they haven’t covered.

America, here is a news flash: Celebrity gossip is not important. The more you fill your head with crap like that, the less room there is for important or meaningful things. There’s an election coming up in a few weeks that could directly affect life-and-death issues like your healthcare, progress on climate change, and who we bomb next. Google that.

Please stop this silliness.

You’re cluttering up my Facebook page, and I’m having trouble finding the cute kitten videos.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."    The Bible

Beauty

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  

The Bible

Refracted Light and Life

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Light as a metaphor for life — man, has that been done to death! So today I won’t inflict that upon you; instead, I’ll allow a picture to speak a thousand words.

This week’s WordPress photo challenge asks bloggers to show refraction, which (as we all remember from physics class) is the way waves — like light and sound — are deflected and change direction when they pass through mediums of varying densities.

I’ve forgotten most of this stuff (hey, I only took Physics for Non-Math Majors) and had to look it up. Turns out, this change in direction is a result of the wave “traveling at different speeds at different points along the wave front.”

Which may explain why, when I step out onto my porch in the mornings, my body receives a clear message to slow down. Could it be beams of light communicating to my psyche? We are stepping into a different medium now, change course, take a detour, and slow down.

Grab your journal, grab your tea, and refract your life into this world for a time.

Bent Light as Life

Bent Light as Life

p.s. – As I’ve said, I’m not into physics. It’s hard. If you must, you may correct what I’ve said in the comments, but it isn’t necessary. I’ll just forget anyway.

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