Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Lament for the Dead" Project

I was asked to be a part of a project called, “Lament for the Dead.” The underlying thrust of the project is that all life is precious, and should be mourned despite (and beyond even) our prejudices of the person’s role as police or criminal.

As the website states, “[t]his project asks us to seek the humanity in all people, even when we have committed terrible crimes. At heart, it asks whether we hope someone might offer grace to us, at our ugliest or most difficult moments.”
If you know me, you know me; if you have read me then you know that I have been calling for change within the current discussion going on within my world. I feel “Lament for the Dead,” in a much larger context than merely my own oikos, is a brave step in that direction. The “Lament” project does so by reminding us of the intractable value of life, and the depth of the narratives constituting each life and death. In a sense, “Lament for the Dead” illumines a reason for why we must speak circumspectly, humbly (as I have called for repeatedly).

At first I elected to do the project because it allowed me an opportunity to be (what I thought would be) a unique voice within the dialectic. I wanted to be a voice of a LEO spouse showing the sort of compassion and humanity that will not be seen portrayed through informational narratives, and maybe by that, be a bridging voice. Well, whatever propels one to action or gets you somewhere, right?

What was (is) going on with me, emotionally and existentially at the time, was (and still is) a desire for understanding, a desire to love righteously beyond my personal understanding of “rightness”.  I wanted to be “in” Truth -- love-infused, merciful, just, and humble Truth, and to be and to act out of that place.

As with most things in Life, there was a release-in-dying, a letting go of that of which I was sure to then seek, to find myself  “in” Truth. As in marriage, this was a letting go of being in control of getting my needs met, and trusting that I was loved enough to be cared for (in this case by Truth, by Love itself, by God the Savior and our Lord Jesus) while I sought out “being in Truth”. Let go of the side; swim out into the pool; trust swimming and the water to keep you afloat.

I am fairly certain there is no other way to be humane  (to be merciful and just and circumspect and humble) than to do just that, letting go of one’s “right place,” and then going deeper and deeper into being humane.

The Lament Project randomly assigns the writers a date, and gives them the name of someone who died (officer, or died by an officer’s involvement) from the previous day. Thus it was I was “assigned” the person for whom I must lament -- a man the likes of who, in a different context, might one day be the cause for someone else writing a lament for my wife. Being “in” Truth, speaking humanely, yeah, “it asks of you” an immersion which very well promises only the two exclusive certainties: drowning, and joy and Life in “swimming”. As I have found through this project, the hope for connection with my greater community is found only in “swimming” in humane thought.

In perhaps a sad, quiet way there was little reporting on the character or history of this deceased, 60 year old white male. No reference to his job, his marriage status, his family, his background; at least not in the first 48 hours of news reporting. I had to base my picture of him on what many of his generation have told me of their experience. In this I painted a general picture of a man and of an ethos of a certain age touching every man of that generation. In the absence of his words I painted the regrets of a husband and a man as I knew them, assuming he was no worse than I.

Thus my efforts at humanity and being humane were entirely predicated firstly on the depth of my own humane thinking, and then the choice and efforts to see as much of him as I could, irrespective of his actions, what I thought of them. His actions did not make him (for me) who he is said to be; who he is is his narrative, as best can be known.

My bi-fold point is this: Firstly, when I call for mercy and circumspection in this greater discussion of Life, and in the particular discussion of Law Enforcement, I know the costs (the effort, the risks, the pain potential and real) of that for which I make my call, knowing only therein is Truth, Life, humanity, and value of life found. Such will not be found in angry rhetoric, sophism, antagonism, vitriol, nor even opinionated “rightness”. I will make the bold claim that, not even in causes themselves will humanity be found, but only in humane causes humanely pursued. Secondly, as I hope my efforts show (as they have shown me), the discussion is one of humanity, and not one of causes; is one of social injustice and not political ideologies against guns nor presumed matters of heart for a whole collective society. The discussion is one of social injustice, classism, poverty and selfishness and lying narratives devoid of humanity.

Speak not to me of evils until you too have lamented the dead, all dead.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Telling Good Stories, or, "In the Gym, After Boulder"

In the Gym, after Boulder

I was feeling dangerous, or, perhaps better put, at least needing to feel the feeling of feeling dangerous. In that very particular and specific phrasing is painted quite a lot of my emotional landscape. “Feeling Dangerous,” however, is a nuanced thing, for me, especially, and can’t just be taken at face value.

I had gone to the gym this morning knowing it was a morning I was going to pray for someone. See, I do this thing: I love praying for people, especially for their families. Just blessing them, building them up, supporting them, seeking God for good things because I know He loves and is good sort of prayer.

Against all better judgement I was going heavy with my lifting this morning -- heavy poundage, intense, which is not always good for 41 year old and only growing older joints. I was pumping “Corrosion of Conformity” through my headphones, my go to band for that sort of thing, next to Living Sacrifice. At one point early in the workout I felt the Lord rather pointedly remind me of the verse, “In weakness is my strength made perfect.” Those who know, know: you don’t go to the gym to be weak.

In the moment I thought it was a redress of my attitude, but a gentle redress. In retrospect in this moment I wonder if it were not also both a reminder of my need to walk dependently on Him as to be led to whom to pray for, and also maybe something more, an encouraging acknowledgement of my heart and the purpose into which I was leaning.

See, there are two verses of which I am almost moment to moment (if not, then daily) “reminded of”, verses which contextualize what seems my life (and maybe the whole of that life, not just its current, trying season): in weakness is His strength made perfect; and, Lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways trust in the Lord and He will make your paths straight.

Being weak, and living in ways which almost always feel “outside the box” to what makes sense to me, who already think and live outside just about everyone’s box , yeah, not a comfortable place ever.

So i am trying to be ready fro when one of my gym friends come in -- folks for whom I have been allowed to pray before: the prenant (now new) mom, the older Catholic lady and her husband (I call her C.), the protestant evangelical dad (I call Gee); the tatted-up ex-cop I call H. None were coming in. But I knew, in that little place, I was going to pray for someone this day. I hit a point in my workout where I felt it was “now or never,” and did the horrifying: I looked around for a stranger who, at the sight of them, I would feel that little, “calf leaping” sense of joy. Joy is pretty much entirely outside the box.

I see a young, high school aged kid, and the calf leaped in my heart. I walk up to him, and open the insanely awkward social interaction with a lie: have I seen you at a youth event. No? Me, yes, well I go to Hope Chapel; and you, do you go to church, which church. A Catholic church, oh that’s great...oh thats really really great you just went through confirmation, good for you… and that was my “in” for the scary request I would then make: yeah, hey, I go to a Catholic-Protestant Artist Retreat where we pray for reconciliation within the greater church, and in the spirit of reconciliation can I pray for you, maybe pray for your family because I love love love families and who can’t use pray for family right? i won’t make it too awkward or be charismaniacal… ((There was a lot more openly admitting I was being socially awkward and than you for being so receptive sorts of statements in all the exchange, made by me of course -- always best to hide out in the open, I say.))

All I could pray for was just proud sentiments for his confirmation, excitement and blessing over it poured out.

At the end he looked up from off the bench at me and, in an earnestness which i can’t even imagine ever being native to my own heart or effort expressed how he wish he could be like me, able to approach people and talk about Jesus. Judging from his facial reactions I didn’t receive the comment well, but I had tried to. I will do so next time I see him. The point is that he floored me, floored me with a blessing back at me, in a way I needed desperately to hear. A young man spoke identity to me, confirmation to me.

In that moment a deep craving need in my heart was met not just be the intimacy of seeing God’s face and hand in someone’s life, but then by the earnest words of this young man.

No sooner had I turned around from saying thank you, and that I would see him again, and thanking him for his pledge to be praying for me, then do I see my other friend Gee. Gee and I caught up, talking about the vacation from which I had just returned and the one upon which he was just about to embark. I asked if I could pray for him.

I’ve prayed for Gee a few times, each time as I felt the Lord lead, which sometimes is not always what for which he was asking prayer. We have a rapport, and some shared moments of laughter, bonding as fathers. So, when he looked down, and thought for a moment, and then looked back and earnestly, from the heart with no hiding of his need and emotions asked me to pray for his trip I was floored, for the second time. How he had opened up and honored me with this honest, emotional sincerity share with me.

So I prayed, and prayed as I felt I could. I prayed that he could not just see the opportunities and teaching moments which he sought but that his gaze could be captured by God and that Gee would see God fathering Gee’s children through him.

Gee looked up, noticeably touched, but being an ex-marine, manager, and a big guy not saying openly what I wear on my sleeve -- it was a good moment, a good interaction.

The point of all this? I don’t know, it was a good story to tell. I was honored, literally honored twice and I needed that, and they deserve mention for the honoring. I am sure a more pedantic fellow would draw out some 3 point message from all this, but I don’t feel the need (to be pedantic). I was hurting. Life is SEEMINGLY hard, uncomfortable always -- i am supposed to be childlike and enjoy the adventure FATHER takes me upon, and that is stretching in the very least, but really hard normally because I don’t believe, can’t ever feel  I have any worth or value or meaning. I don’t see myself, who I am. I am lonely, feeling no one knows the deep issues going on in my heart, the feelings of being unled and uninvested in.

And yet, in these moments when I am allowed to pray, I find a life and a life more abundant. I understand, despite the shame of being weak, the shame-eclipsing beauty of His strength being made perfect. I find I don’t care about the discomfort of what is outside the box, if for those moments I can find that atoll of connection in the sea of pain, confusion, loneliness, meaninglessness, forgotteness.

There was one more compliment I received in the brief 39 hours since getting home. A new friend I made in Boulder, though she is not from Boulder, told me I was a safe place for people to be real, a fathering presence, with the maturity to know when to be immature, and how this had blessed her in a moment of need. It strikes me as I write this the potential for either the reader to perceive self-aggrandizement, and/or a call or need to respond to my flagging ego. No, not at all. Quite the opposite.

I am blessed. I am touched. And I need to sing these praises at the gates of others hearts. Life is so … rocks-shedding-tears hard that good things like this need saying. We need to tell good stories, and stories of goodness. And we need to hear them, firstly in our own ears from out our own mouths. I see this as a story of the goodness of both her and (more importantly) of God, and I want her to know how awesomely valuable she is, the good thing she did when she didn’t know it was good: to have spoken kindness into what she didn’t know was a decimated heart (at least I feel decimation).

So, if there is any point, it is this: tell good stories. Tell good stories, frequently.