I remember writing to you about how we have to be careful that we don’t walk off the edge of the world as we seek to bring hope to humanity. How we must take care to follow some sort of map, be it the lovely production of a cartographer, a sailor’s star chart, or just the crumpled up map we keep inside us; the one with roads where we’ve doubled back, with the dead ends and the happy places and the coffee marks.
I just listened to Donald go on and on about how we’ve forgotten the middle class, and I would like to know what the starting wage is for a housekeeper in one his hotels, what he pays the bartenders and the front desk staff. I listened to him talk about how he will cut CUT CUT taxes for the middle class and how we will rebuild, yes, REBUILD, our military. How we will be so big and so bad that no one will mess with us, how we will be a SUPER POWER; how the world can’t live without us and our influence and our bible thumping boots on the ground rhetoric.
I saw it then, in my head, the way we look from space, full of light, seemingly a peaceful place to the alien who doesn’t know better. In my day dream I saw all the lights that shine so brightly, that light up space they are so bright, I saw them wink out. It was like some scene in an apocalyptic movie (I know we have talked about the misuse of that word, but it is so entrenched, I don’t know how else to describe the genre I am referring to), where the happy family is watching a movie they somehow all agreed on in a house that is very clean and stylish and the lights just.. go out.
I think some of the world would mourn for us, this new country, who thought they knew it all, who stomped their boots on the faces of so many in the hot work that is building an empire. They might miss the food we provide, but I’m not honestly sure we produce much more for the greater world than Hershey’s chocolate (when the rest of the world prefers Cadbury or something high brow) and Lays chips and Budweiser; and without the obesity of our nation to drag down the food supply I’m sure the world would find a way.
The world might miss Facebook and Google but they have the basic idea to recreate them. The world doesn’t need us, it really doesn’t, not to convert and to baptize, not to rape and pillage, not to occupy. We aren’t that great, its sort of a humbling thing.
So while our nation is glued to the TV watching the mask Ted Cruz wears over his wolf snout slip, while we listen to Donald bluster and say A LOT (and I know, I just know somehow that he spells it like this: alot), while the evangelicals are polled and the delegates separated and sorted in red and blue baskets refugees in Calais were evicted today with tear gas as their shelters were burned.
I wrote to you about a mitten, one that a little child would wear and that she would drop, and how it would lay abandoned on a refugee trail, a new trail of tears, how that little girl would have a cold hand. Can you see her now? Can you see her as she chokes and gags on tear gas in the coat my daughter wore? The coat that traveled from a little seminary to an Islamic Center and then across the sea to a camp where a little girl took in the clean pink puffiness of the coat, how she put it on and smelled our laundry soap and our love? Can you see the fog of the gas and hear the screams, can you hear the way the meager belongings burn in the hot flame? Where is her mother? Where are we?
We spent some time at our little seminary this weekend with a man who is so tired. He works rehousing the homeless in Detroit, he told stories about church groups who are well meaning but difficult, he told us about young mental health workers who suffer secondary trauma because of what they are exposed to every single day. About how their one single mission is to house people without putting restrictions on their race, or their sobriety.
There are men under bridges tonight in Detroit and in Grand Rapids, in Traverse City and all across this nation that people like the Donald would say is going to be so great. There are cars parked, windows fogged with the breath of the sleeping children and a parent who will not admit, not under pain of death, to being homeless because she will not lose her children; because it is so cold and she doesn’t know where dinner will come from tomorrow, but lunch is taken care of at school, and look, they are so warm; and look, they are all together. And so many of us are THIS CLOSE to that parked car, to those warm blankets taken from a house we can’t go back to.
This is why the world would not care if we stopped existing, if our deserts and our lakes and our mountains ran together and became a great void.
Because all we seem to talk about is taxes and the military and this obscure idea of the middle class.
No matter who wins my job does not change.
No matter what happens my call is the same, and yours too.
We are all baptized into the same call, into the same justice, into the same heart rending work that is moving the world into reconciliation. No one gets a free pass.
We learned this weekend about some of the many forms a sermon can take, how choosing a form can help when writing a sermon, not only the person tasked with writing it but the ones who will hear it.
I wonder sometimes, rather ashamedly, if I am sometimes writing sermons without meaning to.
One of my teachers this weekend told me that so often what I write is in code. And I know that it is, because I am writing love letters, love letters sprinkled with code words and phrases and I am hoping you will understand.
Another teacher said that what people hear when she preaches is what they need to hear, that is how the spirit works. And so are my letters, you will see what you need to see, the code will clarify and coalesce suddenly or it will not.
There is a little girl tonight who is wearing a pink coat that smells like my house and she is missing a mitten. It is 46 tonight in Calais, the stuffed animal she has dragged thousands of miles from her bedroom in the house where she one time lived is gone. The few photos her mother carried are too and they have no blankets and no food, and they have nowhere to go.
And we are talking about rebuilding our military and democratic socialists.
And we are believing that it matters.
We are believing that it matters to people who are lost and hungry, people who are displaced and alone.
There’s this saying, that God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips those who are called. And the people who are called tremble and they moan, they forget to take off their birkenstocks before the burning bush, but somehow, they always go.
They go in spite of politicians, in spite of a Christ crucified on a cross in an angry city filled with Roman soldiers, they go in spite of what the world thinks of itself and what it should do, in spite of how large or small the military is; and they keep going. And I am not perfect, there are so many things about me that I wish I could change, but I am becoming equipped, many times against my will, I am becoming equipped, dressed for battle, to lead you out.
We must GO.
The rest of this doesn’t matter. It is the posturing of people who could disappear and, while the world may mark the passing, the suffering and greater need of the planet would not cease.
The world wasn’t created, according to Genesis, out of nothing, it was created out of chaos. And then we were loved so much that we were given a will, given clothes, this small first gesture that models how we are to care for each other.
We must go.
Here is my valediction, my complimentary close:
I remain: your sister, your mother and your wife and your friend, I am begging you to follow me out. I am begging you to help me fix this. I love you forever,
See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ‘ere such love and sorrow meet? Or thorns compose so rich a crown?