Beyonce and her Superbowl performance, her new video, are in my newsfeed tonight. I just watched the video, listened to the music, and while I found it underwhelming, the end was devastating. A little boy, in a hoodie, dancing in front of police in riot gear, and he throws up his hands, but the police do too, and the writing on the wall says “stop shooting us”.
All of the comments I’ve read, the threads I’ve scrolled through, seem to see this only as a black message, not as a message from white police in riot gear too, not as a message from college students on campus and little children in elementary school– all people; a deeper message on gun violence in our United States. I can’t be inside Beyonce’s head, or the producers of the video, but this is how I interpreted it.
Beyonce sank, at the end of the video, into the floodwaters of Katrina, but the cop car she was laying on did too, and I think the message is bigger than black and white, I think the message is about a society that seems to be unraveling at the seams, pulling apart into organized and angry little factions who shout at each other across their fences. We are not acting like a society that cares for any sort of greater good, but only about furthering our own little group.
And maybe I am that way too. Maybe I am so sure of my ideals, so sure of my need to have less, so sure of your need for more, maybe I am blinded and biased. I’ve never been a more, I have nothing to fight for than my own little inch, my own little house and family, an internet connection and a computer – a legal pad and a pen if worse comes to worse and times get tight. There is always a contingency plan when you live this way, always.
Today 178 people visited our rail, we had to add leaf after leaf to the table, place setting after place setting, we dragged our dusty folding chairs circa 1970 out of their cobwebs in the basement and we sat closer to each other than Episcopalians would like. Today we decorated tables with cut flowers in polished silver coffee pots, and I think the woman we were singing down the path would have enjoyed it, the bright flowers and softly glowing silver, the Mad Hatter’s tea party look, this room full of her people and all talking to each other and being nice. There was a lot of love.
Yesterday we bid farewell to Alleluia, we buried it as we bury our pride and our own wants (notice I didn’t say needs), as we walk the red road with a Jewish preacher and general rabble rouser whom we somehow forget will rise again in 40 days to triumphant organ fanfare and new fire kindled the garden that holds the ashes of those who loved their community so much that they wanted to feed the bushes and the flowers in that garden with their very bodies. I’m not sure our own un-messiah service can extend much farther, than to be the very food that provides nourishment in a place where children will laugh and play, where the community will gather all together once a year and light new fire, the better to see the way the forward.
The way forward is hard to see, and I tell you this because we have promised to be honest with each other. I am so tired, and I know you are too. I am filled with the things that I want, the things that I think I deserve, the dreams that I have; and I know that you are too. And so we meet up here and we sort of eye each other warily because we are telling the truth and sometimes the truth is really hard to hear, and harder still to say.
I’ve decided (because I am sure I was created to make sure decisions, ha!) that heaven isn’t just a campground, and it isn’t just the world we are called to bring into being here; where all people are reconciled to each other and to God. Heaven is a journey, a long trek through the woods, a hike, where our feet get muddy and wet, and we can’t remember why we struck out on this journey in the first place.
We took Hospice Dog and his girls to the state park last Sunday. We were confounded by the closed gates, by how difficult it was to see the water. We went instead into the wood, up steep hills, along the ridge line along the top of the steep hills. I clutched my gas station coffee (because even though I love church all those people make me tired, and that’s ok, it is just how I am, not your fault) and tried not to slip on the crusty snow. We squatted down and marveled at green moss littered with brown acorns, surely the remains of some epic squirrel party, where they all remembered where they’d hidden their trove of food and gorged themselves.
We noted dead trees (like the one that decided to almost crush the Ave, so suddenly and unexpectedly did it fall, the kid has cat like reflexes), we constantly whistled and called to Hospice Dog, who has a tendency to forget who he is with or where he should be going; to whom he belongs.
His noble nose would catch a scent, chest heaving, going into a half point, and off he would go, much to our chagrin. A stealth group doing our American Indian ancestors proud we were not. We crashed and shouted, we whistled and laughed, there was DADDY LOOK AT THIS! DAKOTA COME BACK! CASE! GIVE ME A HAND UP!
When we finally slip slid down the steep hill to the road we were red cheeked and cold, the only one who wanted to keep going was the one who held this ironic place, trotting and happy in a sleeping and misty wood, looking for a clearing, a place to cross over. I am sure that he was.
I wish I could dump a bucket of holy water on the dog, I wish I could smudge his head with ash, because rather than saving things, redemptive things, I think these ashes, that water that we longed to see, leave an imprint on us, a map, a reminder of the direction we should go, a reminder of how to find home: always left, straight on til morning.
Soon I will come to the rail and be reminded of my mortality, I will be reminded that days like today, when I didn’t have to work my normal job, when I was able to do the things that make my heart sing, those are the days I am working slowly toward. Surely that heavenly campground has a dining hall, and silver to polish (I’ll have to learn how) and coffee to be made, sandwiches to be put out. Surely there are services that require the use of a choir.
Soon I will be reminded that sitting next to my brother for several hours and half way bickering over what photos should go in the parish directory, and where headings should be placed, all while the beloved Cindi moves around doing the things that she does to keep the parish moving – these are days that I am not sure come again.
So, I know I’ve gone off track and sideways. But I think that Beyonce is speaking to a larger societal issue, I think she is calling out how we are broken. And I think that while we long for days spent bickering over directory photos and drinking coffee and greeting old friends…there is work to do.
And our ashes remind us of this. We cannot reconcile the kingdom safe in our little churches, our little towns or our big cities. It takes more voices and more action than one music video can give. It takes all of us.
We can divide into our little factions, close our doors and shout over fences. But I promise you that our doors will not lock, they just are closed because we are on a hill and the wind off the water is cold. And I will shout over the fence. I will ask you to borrow a stick of butter, tell you about a lovely piece of music we are singing next week and ask you to come, hand over a flower from those left on the altar today.
We bury our alleluia, but not for long. It is cold and broken, but not forever.
I love you still, though the damp mist swirls about me and the sun has set long ago. I cannot stop, I cannot rest, I must keep moving.
I’m listening for the sound of your voices in the red tent calling me back to myself, for the way a very old woman prays aloud when I bring her communion, for the laughter of children and the sound of my husband crashing through the brush. I don’t want to be so very lost, and am never sure how I arrive here, in this non place. Rest assured you will sing me back, as I have done for you a thousand times before.
I wish you a holy lent, if you think of me, shine your light out from your campsite and into the dark, maybe I’ll see it and know where you are, how to find you.
I’ll have a tribe with me, be ready.