Terrible Signs

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Luke 21:25-26

 In Cleveland this past winter, in the middle of February, we enjoyed a full week of spring-like temperatures in the 60s.

In the western region of the Pacific, small islands are gradually disappearing under rising ocean waters.

So far in 2018 in the US, more school children have died by gunfire than military personnel have died in the line of duty (according to The Washington Post).

There are plenty of signs, terrible signs, all around us in the earth and the seas, in the stars and in the sun, in the news and in our communities. We are not lacking for signs.

The question is: how do we interpret them, and to what end?

Do we proclaim the signs of global warning to incite fear or to rally creativity?

Do we point to signs of violence to cast judgment or to join in lament?

Do we perceive heaven’s quaking as a call to humility or as an excuse for self-indulgence?

There are plenty of signs, terrible signs, and Jesus doesn’t promise their easy resolution but only: “the realm of God is near” and “my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:31-33).

Let signs come and go; Christ is near.

Let stars fall and heavens shake; we will watch and work together in the confidence of God Everlasting.

When I am afraid and troubled, be near to me, O Christ. When I would prefer to hide my head under a pillow or in the sand, help me draw near to others for the sake of your realm. Amen.

posted originally with Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

Unprepared

I would like, at least,
a roll of bread,
a flaky croissant,
a donut with a cup of coffee.

I would like, at least,
a tote bag,
a wallet with cash,
car keys if I need to change direction.

I would like, at least,
a clean shirt,
a change of clothes,
some comfy sweats & a pillow.

I would like, at least,
to be ready,
to have my supplies,
to know the landscape ahead of me.

Please don’t laugh, God.
I would like, at least,
to know what will be available
along this way, in case You are not.

on Mark 6:7-9

About Goliath

We pray to the LORD,
by whom life’s cornerstone was laid,
for whom the heavens shout, and
in whom justice is promised.

For the overwhelmed to know hope,
for the cowardly to know culpability,
for the threatened to know sanctuary,
we pray to the LORD.

For those deemed weak
to loose the bonds imposed
by those deemed powerful,
we pray to the LORD.

For relief from false defenses
and armor that does not fit love,
for the wisdom not to fear giants,
we pray to the LORD.

For deliverance from evil,
and for the strength to resist
until such deliverance comes,
we pray to the LORD.

For a song of courage
that boasts in God’s faithfulness
and marches in community,
we pray to the LORD.

For wide open hearts
to rebuke the torrential storms
and live at peace with all people,
we pray to the LORD.

We pray to the LORD
by whom the giants fall,
for whom the stars swoon,
in whom the wicked are exposed.

We pray to the LORD, amen.

cross-posted from RevGalBlogPals

Theodicy & PTSD

For the RevGalBlogPals’ “Faith and Illness” column this week, I expounded upon my experiences of faith through the lens of PTSD, which I first wrote about in a chapter of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice. Here’s the column:

There is no safe space in the world.

Not your neighborhood. Not your home. Neither the middle of the forest nor the middle of the city. Not your favorite vacation spot. Not your beloved church. No place — familiar or foreign — is absolutely guaranteed to be safe.

(There aren’t really safe people either. “For all have sinned and fallen short” is a fancy religious way of saying that anyone can hurt you.)

Almost ten years of traumatic experiences & gaslighting changed my mind about safety.

Literally. Changed my mind.

Changed my brain.

The brain that, in my youth, saw the world as her oyster and laughed in the face of challenges, in my adulthood has spent nearly twenty years running on the adrenaline of fight or flight or freeze. It looks at the world through lenses that see only echoes of trauma — trauma and not joy, trauma and not hope, trauma and not Good News — and the pain that it sees, to be clear, is not delusional but experienced. It’s a veil of injury that I cannot escape, that I am ashamed to name, that my entire body-mind-spirit are constantly keyed up to identify & resist.

And the problem that results from my brain’s synapses constantly rehearsing, re-firing, repeating their best defenses against worst case scenarios is that they biologically & spiritually allow little room to believe in restoration … little room to believe in grace … little room to believe that God is anything but responsible.

“But look at all you’ve done,” some people say, as though it’s as simple as handing me their rose-colored glasses to rewire my brain.

“But there’s nothing to fear here,” some people say, as though their own sense of security is more authoritative than my lived experience.

“You exaggerate your stress,” others say, as though they’d prefer that I disguise my symptoms better … or is it that I disguise my symptoms so well they don’t believe I have an illness?

PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, is an illness in which the brain, body, and spirit fail to reconcile an experience of trauma into the past, unable to recognize safety & recovery in the present. While many people experience trauma, not everyone with an experience of trauma has PTSD. PTSD is more likely to develop for those who suffer trauma over time or at a young age, who are shut down by others unwilling to acknowledge the injury, and/or who do not have a support system with whom to process the injury. Unable to “close” the story of trauma, mind-body-spirit are overloaded as they try to manage the ongoing flood of trauma information alongside the day-to-day responsibilities of life. Studies of PTSD treatment methods — and studies of the disorder itself — are still new enough that medical & psychological opinions differ as to best practices. Some who live with PTSD are aided by medicine, some by exercise & body movement, some by neurological exercises, some by relationships, and most with some type of therapy.

And, of course, everyone with PTSD is different in their response to the disorder and to treatment, and in their intersection of faith with PTSD.

So I can only speak for myself when I offer the following requests to my clergy colleagues and to the Church about PTSD awareness & hospitality to those who live with it:

  • Practice making room — in your own faith, in your sacred spaces, in your congregation — for pain that doesn’t have easy answers. I have no tolerance for Good News that hasn’t wrestled candidly with bad news or that needs a pretty bow of theological tidiness. Pain does not need placation; it needs presence. 
  • It’s possible to be mad at God and still be in the Church. If you really need your God to be always good & always faithful & always above questioning, that’s fine, but my God and I have a pretty contentious relationship owing to the overwhelming evidence that God has abandoned a lot of people to the sinful horrors of this world. We just passed the third anniversary of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church, for example, and maybe you’ve noticed the global humanitarian crisis of hatred & inhospitality toward migrants and refugees. One way or another, every church and person of faith needs to take seriously the problem of theodicy; for better or for worse, those of us who live with PTSD have a pretty good handle on that theological quandary.
  • Please don’t treat me as a hero for surviving trauma … or as a victim for experiencing an ongoing illness. I’m not your metaphor for what God can do, and I’m certainly not your case study for coping (although I’m terribly skilled at denial, if you’ve read my new book with Martha Spong). Please welcome me and those like me who live with PTSD into your church as a whole person — with pains and flaws, with dreams and gifts, just like every other sinner & saint.

It remains true that I’d rather avoid sharing details of my “dirty laundry” — including details of my health — in public forums, yet I know I’m not alone in needing a Church that is unafraid to acknowledge pain & trauma and to be present without solutions for the work of healing. Our faith communities fail to testify to the wounded & resurrected Body of Christ if they lack a theology that takes Katie Cannon seriously when she notes, “Our bodies are the texts that carry the memories and therefore remembering is no less than reincarnation” (as quoted in The Body Keeps the Score).

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

Love & Mercy

God of all love and mercy,
forgive us.

We have failed one another — we have failed
your image in each person and all creation.

God of all love and mercy,
surprise us.

With mustard seeds, with wild dreams, with grace,
replace our self-assurance with childlike wonder.

God of all love and mercy,
restore us.

Our well-being is in the hands of our neighbors,
both despised & beloved, friends & strangers both.

God of all love and mercy,
delight us.

Make of terror a fool, make of devastation a song,
make of our meager lives a story of your miracle.

God of all love and mercy,
amen.

cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals