Fire and Brimstone

On the wicked, God will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous. (Psalm 11:6-7, NRSV)

Is God still righteous if the wicked thrive?

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are children weeping in the streets because their parents have been taken from them–by immigration officials, by gun violence, by war.

Maybe you’ve noticed that there are people raging around the world because the systems that should support their lives have undermined them: governments spend money more readily on teargas than on education, corporations prioritize profit over community, religions love orthodoxy more than understanding.

Maybe you’ve noticed your own spirit, listless and wondering “How long?”: how long will hearts bleed, how long will discouragement weigh down souls, how long until hope is realized.

But still wars are waged and walls are built. Still wealth inequality skyrockets and gun sales surge.

Fire and brimstone aren’t raining down to engulf AK-47s.

Coals are not being stoked by the breath of God to incinerate white nationalism.

Is God still righteous?

One of the most essential classes of my seminary years focused on the problem of theodicy–the question of whether God can be good when evil still exists. Our class texts were the novels of Toni Morrison. The answers to theodicy that we found in Morrison’s novels, if they could be called answers, were complicated and sometimes discouraging. Perhaps God’s righteousness can’t be defended in the face of evil. Perhaps God’s goodness can only be found in part and in fleeting moments.

But finding answers wasn’t really the point. The point was to do the work of seeking them: to gaze honestly at trauma and evil, to look hard for hope, and to dig deep for love and life.

I don’t know if God is still good. I suspect God’s righteousness is tarnished, at the very least. But we’re called to keep searching for it–and searching for one another–through the fire and brimstone.

Sweet Jesus, the world is a mess. The wicked thrive, and violence multiplies. Find within us what we long to find within you: goodness, mercy, and love.

Written for the UCC Daily Devotional

Praying for Presidents

On Christmas morning, as my two teenagers began to open a shared present, I told them that the gift needed several caveats.

“First,” I said, “remember that we believe in the work of peace more than the work of war.”

“Second, world domination is a terrible business; remember that the manifestations of colonialism continue to impact and undermine peoples around the world.”

“And third,” I admittedly sheepishly, “I’ve played this game since I was a kid, but I can never manage the strategy to win it.”

With a synchronized roll of their eyes, my son and daughter finished opening the present: the board game Risk, which challenges players to conquer the world region by region. Risk posits each player as a conqueror, a global leader of sorts—or at least, a global contender.

And in the contentious world of global leadership, not only in a board game but in real life, might often rules the day. Might of military. Might of voice. Might of money. Might of influence. Might of ego.

Which is why we pray—with renewed discipline in this new year—for our worldly rulers to be guided by righteousness more than mightiness. To defend the cause of the poor more than the cause of the rich. To strive for peace in such a way that all people will have enough.

We pray for rulers and royalty, for presidents and parliaments, that those in leadership might love the work of peace more than the work of war.

on Psalm 72, written for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

Interrupting Power

“When King Ahasuerus was merry with wine, he commanded Queen Vashti to appear before him, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty—for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused.” – Esther 1:10-12

During the 180 days of King Ahasuerus’ big bash, Queen Vashti was throwing her own party. While he wined and dined the officials, ministers, governors, generals, and nobles of the Persian Empire—from India to Ethiopia—Queen Vashti hosted a banquet for their wives, mistresses, baronesses, countesses, and noble women.

For 180 days, the international assembly of women ate and drank, rested and played, and politicked. In the midst of it all, Queen Vashti was the gracious diplomat … until the king interrupted with a command: “Stop what you’re doing, and come look pretty for these drunk men.”

An interruption of her work.

A reduction of her diplomatic authority.

A power play against her bodily autonomy.

This is what power is. This is what power does. It interrupts and asserts its own agenda. “Come entertain us. Come work to make our lives easier. Stay quiet so we won’t feel challenged. Comply with our expectations so we can show you off.”

Queen Vashti assessed the king’s interruption, his power, and used her own: “No.”

It was an interruption like a scream made public 35 years after it was stifled.

Power is interruption: Violence interrupting life. Protest interrupting injustice. Silence interrupting healing. Hashtags interrupting lies. We all interrupt and are interrupted, with assorted and rarely pure agendas, although not with equal systemic power and impact.

But one Power interrupts us all. The holy and eternal Interrupter persists in disruption: asserting breath in the midst of chaos, interjecting promise in the midst of floods, providing welcome in the midst of hostility, interrupting injustice for the cause of life.

God grant me the wisdom to recognize my power and to interrupt for the sake of your reign.

written for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

 

Love Supreme

O Love Supreme,
our foundation and our irritation,
our comfort and our chastisement:

The earth quakes with the marching of racism
(in every generation, new boots carry the same hatred)
but we who know Love Supreme will not be shaken.

The air blisters and scorches with words of hatred
(old words, dusty words, dead words to spark torches)
but we who know Love Supreme will not give up life’s zeal.

The demons burn with the consuming madness of fear
(delusions of supremacy, rationalized and normalized)
but we who know Love Supreme will not be afraid.

The waters rage and teem with threats of war
(vanity & selfishness multiplied by megaphone & weaponry)
but we who know Love Supreme will not surrender peace.

O Love Supreme,
our strength and our humility,
our direction and our deliverance:

Let the peace of your lips
be the confession of our hearts
and the fierce joy of our lives so that no one
is threatened or isolated by the accomplices of evil.

Let the glory of your name
be the rebuke of every prejudice
and the mercy of every hand so that no one
is degraded or violated by the mechanisms of sin.

Let the promise of your word
be the measure of your faithfulness
and the tattletale against death so that no one
suffers in this world without your attention and relief.

O Love Supreme,
our defiance and our determination,
our broken and tortured and resurrected one:

We seek your healing love for Charlottesville.
We seek your unfailing love for those afflicted by bigotry.
We seek your abiding love for the mourning.
We seek your convicting love for the rich and powerful.
We seek your redeeming love for the Church.
We seek your impatient love for white folks.
We seek your supreme love and your transformative presence
always always always.

O Love Supreme,
our hope and our dance,
our sass and our satisfaction. Amen.

“Love Supreme” as an honorific for God
is borrowed 
directly from John Coltrane’s
album A Love Supreme, which I commend
for your spirit’s comfort & groundedness.

Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

30,000 Feet (Lent 31)

From 30,000 feet in the air, you do not look like an image of God. You barely look like the landscape, and the landscape is just a background to the video game of drone warfare. 

From 30,000 feet in the air, your tears are only a poster image to convict my prayers. Tomorrow it will be another’s suffering that reminds me to ask God what can be done before I spend the day doing nothing.

From 30,000 feet in the air, your laughter cannot teach me God’s joy and your hands cannot reach out to me with God’s peace. I have stained glass rituals, long walks in the park, and book groups for that.

From 30,000 feet in the air, your song cannot be heard for its praise or its protest. I can only interpret a war cry across the distortions of power and bias and segregated experience, but I don’t have time to invest in my own translation.

From 30,000 feet in the air, you do not look like an image of God, and my faith is self-righteously safe from the questions you might ask of it.

on Matthew 17:12