Wisdom From the 12 Steps: “things I do not miss”

twenty four hours a dayJune 1–A.A. Thought for the Day

Some things I do not miss since becoming dry: that overall awful feeling physically, including the shakes, a splitting headache, pains in my arms and legs, bleary eyes, fluttering stomach, droopy shoulders, weak knees, a three-day beard, and a flushed complexion. Also, facing my loved one at breakfast. Also, composing the alibi and sticking to it. Also, trying to shave or put on make-up with a shaky hand. Also, opening up my wallet to find it empty. I don’t miss these things, do I?

My grandpa Walsh gave me this little AA book back in 1998 when I had a known problem with drugs and alcohol. At that time, I still felt fairly invincible. While in Lima, Peru recently, I had an epiphany. I realized that the things an alcoholic (or drug addict) does not miss about getting high can easily be translated into the things I do not miss about seeking privilege. In an effort to remind myself of what I want to avoid, I constructed my own list:

  • I do not miss measuring myself with neighbors, friends, co-workers–all in secret–about who has the best possessions, job, social standing, etc.
  • I do not miss moving at the speed of machines and feeling dizzy with my anxiety, always trying to keep up.
  • I do not miss working harder and harder to plan for benefits, respect, and money.
  • I do not miss living in denial about all this and justifying myself with soft lies.
  • I do not miss churches and sermons that could only apply to people like me with way too much privilege.
  • I do not miss feeling disgusted with my options (yet responsible for my choices) and powerless to make a change.
  • I do not miss taking advantage of people in poverty for their willingness to go above and beyond.
  • Also, I do not miss grabbing more than my fair share.
  • Also, I do not miss my detached interest in “the lives of the poor” or “the developing world.”

No, I do not miss these things. I’m haunted by them almost daily. I’m afraid that I’ll be up to my neck in these privileges. Yet the proof of God in my life happens when these burdens are lifted and the chains are cut.   

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Pilgrimage with Jay

My oldest friend, Jay, took me up on an adventure to walk from Chico to Red Bluff (about 40 miles) right before New Years 2017. We decided to take the railroad track for most of the journey. It became a way for us to “clear the cobwebs,” talk with each other, and hear God’s will. It was so meaningful; truly, a pilgrimage that I will never forget. I’m grateful in more ways than I can say for all the yearnings that we expressed and all the lovingkindness given.

Thank you, Jay, and all our traveling angels (especially Joana and Joann!).

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Good Friday Meditation

The killing of Desmond Phillips exactly one month ago has been on my mind in a special way today. His brutal death reveals a community tension around black lives, law enforcement, and mental health disability in Chico. Even while the District Attorney officially announced that the officers were “justified” in shooting Desmond, I find no comfort in their verdict. Desmond had no trial, yet he was sentenced to death in less than 30 minutes. On this Good Friday, theologian James Cone would have us remember that these “crucified bodies in our midst” are “the real scandal of the cross.”

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Signs of Hope in Lent: The Power of Telling Our Story, Part 3

I’ll conclude with these reflections from an interview with Wendell Berry after Donald Trump was elected. Berry said,

“Happiness is a great mental faculty. It happens. One of the best things I know about happiness is that some days I’m happy. I’m happy! I didn’t try to be happy. I don’t have anything in particular to be happy about or happier than I was yesterday. But I’m happy…Well, what a great thing that is! How it undermines—suppose you’re just freely happy for five minutes—that just destroys everybody who’s tried to sell you something to make you happy. How subversive! It’s possible. Let me tell you young people, it’s possible sometimes to go for a whole day and be happy and not buy a thing! We have all these people telling us that what we’ve got is not any good: our house, our wife, our husband, our car; whatever it is, is not as good as a person of our stature and standing ought to have. And we ought to be very unhappy because we don’t have it…” (approx. 44-47 min.)

Then he goes on to describe his experience of civil disobedience at the governor’s office:

“I want you to understand. The score between the conservationists and the coal industry is 100 to nothing. We’ve been totally defeated. We haven’t got a chance. But that was one of the best weekends I ever spent in my life. We had the happiest time. And people sent us food and bedding and some people even came in and gave us a massage. So I think that’s the way you get on. You’re up against it, you’re hard up against it, you do what you can. And you have a good time. You love your allies, the people you’re doing it with. There was a great love in that governor’s office.” (approx. 52-54 min.)

In closing, please follow along with the handout called “A Litany of Resistance.” May this “work of the people” remind us of our hope-filled story. Especially in this season of Lent and the current presidency, I pray that God will fling us out into the harvest as laborers because the fields are ripe!

A Litany of Resistance 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
Free us from the bondage of sin and death
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world
Hear our prayer. Grant us peace.

For the victims of war
Have mercy
Women, men and children
Have mercy
The maimed and the crippled
Have mercy
The abandoned and the homeless
Have mercy
the imprisoned and the tortured
Have mercy
The widowed and the orphaned
Have mercy
The bleeding and the dying
Have mercy
The weary and the desperate
Have mercy
The lost and the forsaken
Have mercy

O God — Have mercy on us sinners
Forgive us for we know not what we do
For our scorched and blackened earth
Forgive us
For the scandal of billions wasted in war
Forgive us
For our arms makers and arms dealers
Forgive us
One: For our Caesars and Herods
Forgive us
For the violence that is rooted in our hearts
Forgive us
For the times we turn others into enemies
Forgive us

Deliver us, O God
Guide our feet into the way of peace
Hear our prayer.
Grant us peace.

From the arrogance of power
Deliver us
From the myth of redemptive violence
Deliver us
From the tyranny of greed
Deliver us
From the ugliness of racism
Deliver us
From the cancer of hatred
Deliver us
From the seduction of wealth
Deliver us
From the addiction of control
Deliver us
From the idolatry of nationalism
Deliver us
From the paralysis of cynicism
Deliver us
From the violence of apathy
Deliver us
From the ghettos of poverty
Deliver us
From the ghettos of wealth
Deliver us
From a lack of imagination
Deliver us

Deliver us, O God
Guide our feet into the way of peace
We will not conform to the patterns of this world
Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds
With the help of God’s grace
Let us resist evil wherever we find it

With the waging of war
We will not comply
With the legalization of murder
We will not comply
With the slaughter of innocents
We will not comply
With laws that betray human life
We will not comply
With the destruction of community
We will not comply
With the pointing finger and malicious talk
We will not comply
With the idea that happiness must be purchased
We will not comply
With the ravaging of the earth
We will not comply
With principalities and powers that oppress
We will not comply
With the destruction of peoples
We will not comply
With the raping of women
We will not comply
With governments that kill
We will not comply
With the theology of empire
We will not comply
With the business of militarism
We will not comply
With the hoarding of riches
We will not comply
With the dissemination of fear
We will not comply

Today we pledge our ultimate allegiance… to the Kingdom of God
We pledge allegiance
To a peace that is not like Rome’s
We pledge allegiance
To the Gospel of enemy love
We pledge allegiance
To the Kingdom of the poor and broken
We pledge allegiance
To a King that loves his enemies so much he died for them
We pledge allegiance
To the least of these, with whom Christ dwells
We pledge allegiance
To the transnational Church that transcends the artificial borders of nations
We pledge allegiance
To the refugee of Nazareth
We pledge allegiance
To the homeless rabbi who had no place to lay his head
We pledge allegiance
To the cross rather than the sword
We pledge allegiance
To the banner of love above any flag
We pledge allegiance
To the one who rules with a towel rather than an iron fist
We pledge allegiance
To the one who rides a donkey rather than a war-horse
We pledge allegiance
To the revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free
We pledge allegiance
To the Way that leads to life
We pledge allegiance
To the Slaughtered Lamb
We pledge allegiance

And together we proclaim his praises, from the margins of the empire to the centres of wealth and power
Long Live the Slaughtered Lamb
Long Live the Slaughtered Lamb
Long Live the Slaughtered Lamb

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Signs of Hope in Lent: The Power of Telling Our Story, Part 2

I remember the day Pete (one of the eldest gang leaders, not his real name) sat on top of me, pinned my arms with his knees, the crotch of his nylon basketball shorts within inches of my face. He shouted out to the other gang members loitering in the living room, “Should I rip one?!?,” meaning let gas fly in my face. Everyone immediately burst out laughing. Pete was a huge man, not cuddly or cute, but a generally mean person who probably weighed over 300 lbs at about 6 feet 5 inches tall. He had a sick sense of humor. We understood him sort of like a “shot caller” for us young gang recruits. We all looked up to him and, between each other, vied for his approval. But when I found myself beneath him, laying powerless on the floor, I just wanted to go back to my privileged cocoon in White suburbia.

I told myself to look serious and unfazed coming into his apartment that day, “Don’t say anything stupid. Just be quiet. Look people in the eye and laugh at what Pete says.” But all this surface-level self-talk was a complete facade. I almost immediately felt panic begin to rise in me. On entering his sparse apartment, Pete first wanted us to see his thick wad of $100s bills, probably from casino tips and drugs he sold. He then brandished a semi-automatic assault rifle. In spite of my best attempts to project a fearless persona, I probably could have jumped out of my shoes if anyone poked me. I could feel the stress chemicals coming out of my skin like little air bubbles exhaling the message to others: here’s a weak person to toss around and entertain yourself with.

I now know this is what fear looks like. It’s like a Big Man passing gas in my face. It’s me struggling to get up, but having no strength compared to this giant on top of me. It’s like having guys who I call friends revel and laugh at my weakness and humiliation.

Fear seems to have two biologically imbedded responses: fight or flight. Despite my attempts to look tough, I mostly tried to retreat inside, to not let the emotions show. Instead, I silently imagined my growing anger giving me super powers to fight like Jet Lee or the meanest version of Tony Montana. But, when it came to the gang, I never managed to challenge my bullies. I was happy that my old friends outside of the gang now saw me as powerful just because I hung out with them, so I told myself maybe it would get better over time if I laid low and held on. Of course it didn’t get any better, but much, much worse.

The truth is, I love Pete. He is a wounded man. I can feel that today more than ever. He did things to me and other victims that were just messed up. Even now my anger can well up. But I also see him as he is, the waywardness and all. I look into his life and somehow find a humble man. Whether it is truly Pete or not, I don’t know for sure. And yet I want my victims to see me that way too, to show me the same mercy. In fact, isn’t this reversal how the rulers are brought down low? Isn’t this hand of grace how the rich get sent away empty? Isn’t this complete release of vengeance how the hungry are fed?

Ironically, my secret fault was that I needed a friend. I was too afraid to admit that to myself, much less to Pete and a half dozen other gangster youth. Perhaps I wouldn’t have known what to do if I had actually found someone I could lean on. But it strikes me as a worthy secret to tell everyone now, something I would have never thought of back then.     

Each person’s story has the power to offer liberation for someone else: Mary’s song, Jesus’ lament, Burley’s vision of community, even my own retelling of life beyond my bullies. These stories speak about God’s strong arm reaching into the world and turning things upside down. By telling the public what happened—in real honesty with hope—the Spirit gently aims us all back to God, the only One whose “judgments…are true and righteous altogether.” Yes, we know that some may try to discredit our hope, but others will finally imagine it for themselves: if it can happen for her, it can happen for me. Those who resist the call to bear witness and repent very often have no idea who will save them. They feel a deep alienation from the King whose ear is curved to answer the cries of the poor, the afflicted, the insignificant, the excluded and left out.    

What secret faults do you want cleansed? What stories do you need to tell? What can make a person truly happy even if the world is falling apart?

Continued…

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Signs of Hope in Lent: The Power of Telling Our Story, Part 1

Scriptures:

Luke 13:34-35

Psalm 19:7-14

Song:

“We Fall Down”
By Donnie McClurkin

“This is what it means to be penitent: to face ourselves honestly and with hope. Truth — the kind of truth that sets us free — is hopeful honesty. It makes change possible. There is, of course, a way of being honest that is less than truthful, an honesty that is lacking in hope.”

Tim Keel

By a lot of accounts, this is an embarrassing time to be associated with Jesus. Many of our worst ideas and fears about God are pegged on Jesus. A quick glance through church history seems to reveal that most denominations have accepted, in one variation or another, that Jesus will someday come back to account for all the wayward things people have said and done. For some, this teaching may evoke the image of an exacting, unforgiving, even bloodthirsty Judge who desires vengeance. Not surprisingly, it’s easy for me to reject this kind of “savior” who is so unlike Jesus!

But I feel doubly troubled by the absence of justice in a world where death-dealing powers are ostensibly in charge. I feel frustrated with stock phrases like, “God is love” or “Be the change you want to see.” Although this language is intended to focus on inclusivity and personal agency, it often results in the preacher taking a nap. Spirituality of this kind seems to unwittingly pacify the vulnerable and grieving with promises of unity based on self-sacrifice and unreality. Rather than inviting us to a radical call of nonviolent liberation and holy disruption, this form of inclusivity seems focused on avoiding conflicts and, strikingly, still leaves the work of righting wrongs in human hands. Indeed, no one from the Christian left seems to know how God himself will accomplish justice or end evil in the human story. Yet Mary, our matron, saw this narrative burst wide open as she experienced justice from God’s own powerful hand:

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

    and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:53).

She indeed rejoiced because of this “good news.” I also joyfully welcome a strong God who makes good on his promises. Of course, I’d be lying to myself (and you my friends) if I just left it like that, as if faith in those promises were as simple as believing certain things. So let me complicate my longing for God’s powerful intervention by admitting to some real doubt—not theoretical doubt—but doubt that began in my own weaknesses, in particular times and places.

In the season of Lent we try to make space to single-mindedly focus on God. It is a needed moment in our yearly rhythm to clear away the dusty and cluttered grip we often can’t seem to loosen so that God’s Spirit begins to possess us in a new way. I’ve chosen to focus on the role of honesty on this second Sunday of Lent, which seems fitting because so much of what needs to be cleared out and swept away are the lies we tell ourselves. The second half of Psalm 19 points us truth-seekers precisely on that path:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

In a world of “alternative facts” and governmental secrecy, combined with those of us who live in quiet desperation, we must not allow ourselves to compartmentalize the truth. We must see ourselves as members, one to another. We must see ourselves in a coherence with the world, which includes all the good and all the ugly. No separation.

Burley Coulter, an iconic character in Wendell Berry’s fictional Port William membership, says to a world he knows is coming to an end:

“What is done is done forever. I know that. I’m saying that the ones who have been here have been the way they were, and the ones of us who are here now are the way we are and to know that is the only chance we’ve got, dead and living, to be here together. I ain’t saying we don’t have to know what we ought to have been and ought to be, but we oughtn’t to let that stand between us. That ain’t the way we are. The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don’t. What has been here, not what ought to have been, is what I have to claim. I have to be what I’ve been and own up to it, no secret faults. Because before long I’m going to have to look the Old Marster in the face, and when He says, ‘Burley Coulter?’ I hope to say ‘Yes, Sir. Such as I am, that’s me.’” (p. 136-137)

Or perhaps Jesus puts it better,

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

“See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Luke 13:34-35)

Continued…

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Bethel AME Choir

Wow. This choir. This song. Pretty amazing.

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On November 9th, 2016

I needed these reminders today:

  1. I’m reminded to look outside of (white) evangelical Christianity for a truthful witness about the USA.
  2. I’m reminded that loving my neighbor often requires a broken heart.
  3. I’m reminded that none of America’s electoral accomplishments satisfy deep justice.
  4. Most importantly, I’m reminded that the time of fulfillment has come (Luke 4:16-21).

What has helped you make sense of this election?

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An Open Letter to (White) Evangelicals on Voting

Dear sisters and brothers,

Although it’s sometimes difficult for me to know where I belong these days, I thank you for always including me and being such warm mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers in the faith. We have shared one another’s tables and sat in each other’s living rooms. We’ve had unforgettable times of worship and communion over the years. So many embraces of joy, laughter, and healing. I treasure your wisdom and feel pride for all of the gifts I’ve received from so many of you who would drop everything to help a friend. And yet today I have something kind of challenging to communicate–it’s about your support for Donald Trump.

Just to be clear, I’m not going to suggest that you vote for Hillary Clinton or that anyone should act against their conscience. In fact, that’s my main objection to folks like us participating in this circus. Yes, a vote for Trump (or your favorite candidate) may offer certain Christians some political power. But God hasn’t called us to rule the United States or any other form of government. Frankly, my wish for us Christians is that we would abstain from the polls altogether. How cool would it be if we expressed our allegiance to God’s kingdom alone rather than leading others to vote for someone who is personally indefensible.

I’ve chosen to focus on Donald Trump’s candidacy since many leaders in the white Evangelical family have gone public with their support (Wayne Grudem, Dutch Sheets, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell Jr., etc.), not to mention recent data indicating that “nearly seven in ten (69%) white evangelical Protestant likely voters” express support for Donald Trump. I suppose many of my arguments could also apply in a broad way to progressive-leaning Christians who will vote for Hillary Clinton, but that’s for another time and a different audience. Here I have chosen to write about what is familiar to me in my personal upbringing and church tradition.

One of the most annoying things about this whole election is the friction it causes between personal relationships we treasure. As I read comments and have had conversations about highly politicized positions (more than I can remember), I’m struck by the difficulty of moving beyond our own perceptions. Someone who I disagree with may write about God or their favorite candidate with amazing gusto and patriotism, meanwhile I only tend to hear their ideas as suspect. Likewise, I may share some of my sincere convictions about God or peacemaking only to find that these same words unwittingly shut down our conversation. So it seems, during this election especially, we have turned away from Christ and “put our trust in princes” to persuade those we oppose (Psalm 146:3). It really should not be this way for Christians who follow a crucified messiah.

Jesus could have done many things to alter the course of Jewish or Roman politics, but to the surprise of almost everyone he allowed himself to be executed as a criminal. He refused the people’s call to be their King and taught his disciples to serve instead of rule over one another. Ultimately, he gave up popular opinion for a path toward forgiveness that was almost universally rejected. His was a “kingdom of nobodies”. The scary part is that Jesus began calling regular folks like you and me to a similar cross-shaped future. Nobody then (or now) votes for a national leader like him.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating passivity. Silence does not equal peace. Neither do polite words. Each one of us are called by faith to comfort and accompany our travailing world through its birth pains. So I continue to resist the society that causes God’s beloved creation to groan (which is another way of being political). And yet I still worry about how things will turn out. It’s hard not to feel confused and sad for our loss of witness and integrity.

Contrary to campaign slogans, these political movements have no time for our stories. They simply want our votes. Indeed, each party promises security and prosperity in exchange for my vote. And every candidate claims their messiah-like plan is the best one around. Yet wishing for some powerful leader to “make us great again” is in direct conflict with the peace of God. The scriptures call it idolatry. Governments obviously matter and their decisions will affect you and me. Yet our votes do not somehow increase God’s willingness to protect and care for those who are most vulnerable among us. His kindness and upside-down justice have already “brought down the powerful from their thrones” and “filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). Instead of paying my tribute to a wrathful executive office, I pray we honor the Human One who handed over his power to forgive both the terrorist and imperial soldier without condition. No election is necessary to begin this work. And no election is worth giving up such an amazing story.

I’ll admit that sometimes it’s hard to be honest with you. And it’s clear we have a tendency to fight about politics. So I really didn’t want to spoil the mood by commenting too much on your candidate. But then I reconsidered my reluctance because Donald Trump has insulted my friends and family members. I cannot ignore, for example, his scapegoating of “illegals” or his contempt for women and still be a Christian. Is it naïve to think that we might have this conversation in a peaceful way? Either way, please take this letter as my invitation to discuss things out in the open. I leave you with my sadness and grief, but also my joy and these reflections on how we can be in step with God’s kingdom.

May our lives continue to bless all our neighbors, both enemies and friends, in Jesus’ name.

Peace,
Jason Winton

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“This is the way they will survive”

Another great quote from Jayber Crow:

“As the [Branch] boys grew older, they made do with old cars and old farm equipment as they earlier had made do with old bicycles and outboard motors. This is the way they will survive–by being marginal, using what nobody else wants, doing well the work that nobody else will do. If they aren’t destroyed by some scientific solution to all our problems, they will go on though dynasties pass.” (p. 313)

 

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