The Right Way to Grieve

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When you lose someone you love, good people do what good people do—they try and help.

They see you in the deepest despair and they want desperately to pull you out, to rescue you, to stop the bleeding. There’s a helplessness that comes watching someone they care for suffer, and in their urgency to alleviate that suffering, they will do something that is rarely helpful: they will use words.

They will speak the simple platitudes they have heard others speak to those who grieve. 
They will attempt to neatly wrap up the existential questions that death brings so that it all make sense.
They will try and comfort you with thoughts of better places and gained angels. 
They will offer you advice on how to grieve and hopefully helpful corrections when you’re doing it wrong. 

Having walked the Grief Valley after my father’s sudden passing three years ago, I learned how little value words actually held, how little they helped, how hopelessly brittle and fragile they were beneath the crushing weight of a sorrow that words will never properly contain. 

And so the irony of me offering you any words right now at all is not lost on me, but here they are:

You’re grieving the right way.

Wherever you are in your journey, however horribly you believe you’re handling it, however badly you believe you’re responding—you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, so give yourself grace.

The greatest tragedy right now would be for you to try and carry everything you’re carrying and to pile upon it all, any guilt for the way you’re mourning or the time it’s taking or the progress you think you aren’t making. It’s enough of a burden to bear your loss without judging your performance. 

There are millions of people far wiser and far more educated in these matters than I am, and they will give you strategies and plans and schedules, and objectively describe the process of grieving, and though you may find some solace or encouragement or understanding in these things, they too will fall short.

Because only you are you, and only you have lost the one you’ve lost. The singularity of that relationship means that your specific grief is unprecedented. It has never existed in the history of the planet. It will not look or feel like any grief before it and it will not behave according to plan or on any schedule:

You will have it all together, and then it will all hit the fan.
You will think that you’re well healed, and without warning the wounds will reopen.
You’ll feel as though you’ve reached a stable clearing, and the ground will give way.
You’ll feel quite able and strong, and then you’ll get sucker punched and collapse to the ground.

And this is all okay. It is normal. It really is. You’re not losing your mind, you’re just holding your sorrow.

Yes, there are responses to losing people we love that are not particularly healthy that we try to avoid. There are coping mechanisms that we can utilize that can help, and leaning on others can surely lighten the load to a point.

But the bottom line, is that grief just sucks.

There are no magic words to fix this.
There is no shelf life to loss. 
There are some questions that will remain unanswered in this life.
There is occasional Hell you’re just going to have to walk through and this is all okay.

You’re going to break down and freak out and fall apart, and it’s going to happen over and over and over. So break down and freak out and fall apart, and when you can, get up and keep going.

But friend, refuse to carry any guilt right now. However you are grieving in this moment, it is the right way—because it is the only way that you can grieve.

Be encouraged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultivating the Activist Heart of Jesus

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I’m sorry to break it to you, Internet trolls—but Jesus was a social justice warrior.

He could also probably come across as a real jerk sometimes, too.

Most Christians paint in their minds a highly selective picture of Christ, one that usually makes him a placid, stoic, passive presence; little more than a silent and smiling spectator who was above all things perpetually—nice. We like this tame, well-mannered, benign Jesus. We especially prefer this version of him when we don’t like what we’re hearing from other Christians. The moment anyone claiming faith becomes the least bit loud or unruly or uncomfortable, we suggest that they are somehow betraying their namesake. We try and shame them into behaving themselves.

“I can’t believe you call yourself and Christian and…”

The implication is that if you’re angry or offensive or abrasive, then you aren’t accurately reflecting Jesus.

Bull.

Jesus was not a pacifist, he was a peacemaker, and these are very different things. One implies inaction, the other engagement. At the center of Jesus’ life and ministry was the idea of making peace, of creating Shalom for another human being; enabling them to have the same access to wholeness, sustenance, justice, and joy as anyone else. It was not merely some internal understanding about the intrinsic value of all people he held in his heart, but the tangible response in the world that affirmed this understanding whenever that value was disregarded.

Jesus was an activist in a myriad of ways:

When he turned the tables over and drove the money lenders out of the temple.
When he claimed God to be sovereign and solely worthy of worship, in a culture that declared Caesar was.
When he touched the hand of a leper instead of expelling him for his moral filth.
When he publicly called the powerful religious elite a “brood of vipers”.
When he healed on the Sabbath when work was forbidden.
When he spoke to a Samaritan woman in public in the middle of the day to discuss faith with her.
When he declared the poor and the oppressed to be his very purpose for being.

And it was this bold, unapologetic, activist heart of Jesus that caused him the greatest pushback and ultimately his execution, because it troubled the waters of the powerful and the religious who weren’t used to such turbulence. This is always the work of the Christian: to be a disruptive voice for the voiceless even if it sometimes means shouting down those used to being heard, and drawing their wrath. To quote journalist Finley Peter Dunne, the follower of Jesus it is to “comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

This is the beautiful and complex heart of the Gospel; the specific tension of being an extremist, but an extremist for Love.

Most people think that Jesus was a shepherd but this was only a half-truth. Yes, to the sheep he was shepherd. To the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the invisible he was protector and healer and the mender of wounds. To them he was safety and softness; gentle caregiver and quiet reassurance.

But not to the wolves. To the wolves he was something else. To them he was the holy fury of an outraged God who refused to tolerate the mistreatment of those made in God’s image. To the wolves he was as fierce and fiery and offensive as they come. To the wolves Jesus was a terror.

In Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus repeatedly tears into the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and for their abuse of those in their care and under their influence. His words were brutal and bold and direct, and one can imagine the Pharisees right feeling attacked, even offended by them. But that was not reason enough for him to be silent. Their hurt feelings were not the priority, the defense of those being victimized was.

Jesus’ scathing words were true and righteous and redemptive, and he sacrificed none of his Jesus-ness to deliver them without softening or apology. It didn’t alter a sub-atomic particle of his goodness to say those words and to be that forceful. His unrelenting activism was the overflow of his compassionate heart for those who were hurting, and it has to be ours if we are to make any legitimate claim to his name.

It is not enough to simply have a burden, we must have a burden that moves us to respond, even at the risk of being offensive to those that response places us in direct opposition to. Despite what some Christians claim, outrage and benevolence can inhabit the same space. The former does not have to leave so that the latter can come. In fact, it is when they are allowed to exist simultaneously that transformation happens within us and around us, These are the dual engines of redemptive justice. When we are faithfully replicating the fully expansive heart of Jesus, we will be both minister and activist, servant and warrior, sheep protector and wolf chaser. We will yield both gentleness and audacity equally.

When injustice takes place, one group is being damaged while the other is doing the damaging, and the Christian needs to respond to both parties with equal vigor. To only do the one is to perpetuate a lop-sided Christ that doesn’t honor him or to the work we are called to do of making Shalom for all people, not just for some.

Christians should never sacrifice passion and conviction on the altar of decorum and hurt feelings. 

It is not a betrayal of Jesus to live as an activist, it is in fact an embracing of his very heart.

There is much to be outraged about in these days, so let yourself be outraged and let that outrage be catalytic. Yes, cultivate compassion and respect for all people. Go care for the sheep as gently as you can and with as much kindness as you are able. But when you need to, bravely face an offensive world and risk offending it.

In the face of extreme hatred, be an extremist of love who will not be silenced.

In the name of Jesus, go forth and piss off the wolves wherever they show up; in your home, your school, the streets, the church, in City Hall—or in the White House.

 

 

How the Trump Stole America

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In a land where the states are united, they claim,
in a sky-scraping tower adorned with his name,
lived a terrible, horrible, devious chump,
the bright orange miscreant known as the Trump.

This Trump he was mean, such a mean little man,
with the tiniest heart and two tinier hands,
and a thin set of lips etched in permanent curl,
and a sneer and a scowl and contempt for the world.

He looked down from his perch and he grinned ear to ear,
and he thought, “I could steal the election this year!
It’d be rather simple, it’s so easily won,
I’ll just make them believe that their best days are done!
Yes, I’ll make them believe that it’s all gone to Hell,
and I’ll be Jerk Messiah and their souls they will sell.

And I’ll use lots of words disconnected from truth,
but I’ll say them with style so they won’t ask for proof.
I’ll speak random platitudes, phrases, and such,
They’re so raised on fake news that it won’t matter much!
They won’t question the how to, the what, why, or when,
I will make their America great once again!” 

The Trump told them to fear, they should fear he would say,
“They’ve all come for your jobs, they’ll all take them away.
You should fear every Muslim and Mexican too,
every brown, black, and tan one, everyone who votes blue.”

And he fooled all the Christians, he fooled them indeed,
He just trotted out Jesus, that’s all Jesus folk need.  
And celebrity preachers they crowned him as king,
Tripping over themselves just to kiss the Trump’s ring.

And he spoke only lies just as if they were true,
Until they believed all of those lies were true too.
He repeated and Tweeted and he blustered and spit,
And he mislead and fibbed—and he just made up sh*t.

And the media laughed but they printed each line,
thinking “He’ll never will win, in the end we’ll be fine.”
So they chased every headline, bold typed every claim,
‘Till the fake news and real news they looked just the same.

And the scared folk who listened, they devoured each word,
Yes, they ate it all up every word that they heard,
petrified that their freedom was under attack,
trusting Trump he would take their America back. 
from the gays and from ISIS, he’d take it all back,
Take it back from the Democrats, fat cats, and blacks.
And so hook, line, and sinker they all took the bait,
all his lies about making America great.

Now the Pantsuited One she was smart and prepared,
she was brilliant and steady but none of them cared,
no they cared not to see all the work that she’d done,
or the fact they the Trump had not yet done thing one.
They could only shout “Emails!”, yes “Emails!” they’d shout,
because Fox News had told them—and Fox News had clout. 
And the Pantsuited One she was slandered no end,
and a lie became truth she could never defend.
And the Trump watched it all go according to plan—
a strong woman eclipsed by an insecure man.

And November the 8th arrived, finally it came,
like a slow-moving storm but it came just the same.
And Tuesday became Wednesday as those days will do,
And the night turned to morning and the nightmare came true,
With millions of non-voters still in their beds,

Yes, the Trump he had done it, just like he had said.

And the Trumpers they trumped, how they trumped when he won,
All the racists and bigots; deplorable ones,
they crawled out from the woodwork, came out to raise Hell, 
they came out to be hateful and hurtful as well.
With slurs and with road signs, with spray paint and Tweets,

with death threats to neighbors and taunts on the street. 
And the grossest of grossness they hurled on their peers,
while the Trump he said zilch—for the first time in years.

But he Tweeted at Hamilton, he Tweeted the Times,
And he trolled Alec Baldwin a few hundred times,
and he pouted a pout like a petulant kid,
thinking this is what Presidents actually did,
thinking he could still be a perpetual jerk,
terrified to learn he had to actually work,
work for every American, not just for a few,
not just for the white ones—there was much more to do.
He now worked for the Muslims and Mexicans too,
for the brown, black, and tan ones, and the ones who vote blue.
They were all now his bosses, now they all had a say,
and those nasty pantsuited ones were here to stay.
And the Trump he soon realized that he didn’t win,
He had gotten the thing—and the thing now had him.

And it turned out the Trump was a little too late,
for America was already more than quite great,
not because of the sameness, the opposite’s true,
It’s greatness far more than just red, white, and blue,
It’s straight, gay, and female—it’s Gentile and Jew,
It’s Transgender and Christian and Atheist too.
It’s Asians, Caucasians of every kind,
The disabled and abled, the deaf and the blind,
It’s immigrants, Muslims, and brave refugees,
It’s Liberals with bleeding hearts fixed to their sleeves.
And we are all staying, we’re staying right here,

and we’ll be the great bane of the Trump for four years.
And we’ll be twice as loud as the loudness of hate,

be the greatness that makes our America great.
And the Trump’s loudest boasts they won’t ever obscure,
over two million more of us—voted for her.

 

I’m Waiting on a Personal Christmas

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Oh, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute….

Have you ever felt like something was off, something you couldn’t quite place but you were sure of just the same; a subtle but very profound not rightness?

Well, something is not right in me these days and I know it.

I’m not sure how to describe it, other than to say that lately there is something missing. 

I think it might be Hope.

I think I’m becoming starved of Hope.

It hasn’t happened overnight, but over time my soul’s gradually been so weighed down by suffering, so saturated by the sadness all around, that the expectancy’s been completely squeezed out, the possibility all but drained away.

I know the things I’m supposed to believe, the response I’m supposed to have, the joy I’m supposed to overflow with, but these are getting more and more difficult to muster in the face of all the horrible that’s happening around me. Death, hatred, bigotry, and violence are all on heavy rotation with seemingly no relief in sight. The number of people who care seems to be dwindling rapidly.

These are desperate days on the planet. 

They are desperate days in my heart.

Man, I need Christmas.

But I don’t need it on the calendar, I need it within me.

I need the birth of something beautiful, that thrill of hope I used to sing about as a child, to return again to my spirit.

I need the arrival of a great light into the deep, dark recesses of myself, where joy and wonder have all but vanished.

I need a newborn’s sweet softness deposited into the dank, frigid, empty manger that I have started to become.

I need new life to change the landscape and alter the temperature in the way only new life can.

The word Emmanuel means “God with us”, and Christmas is the promise of an imminent holy, healing presence, but frankly most days it feels like we’re on our own here. It feels cold and random and painful.

It seems like we’re fending for ourselves in this brutality, surrounded by so much that is wrong and damaging, and because of this the waiting is not the enjoyable kind of waiting. 

It is not the wide-eyed optimism that looks to the skies, fully certain that goodness is on the way and coming close.

It is not the temporary discomfort that endures, sure that life and rescue are soon coming.

It isn’t the giddy preparation in advance of a party.

It is not that delighting in ordinary moments now pregnant with possibility.

This is more a frightened, exhausting, painful in-between, that fears this might be the best we can expect.

It is a resignation to the darkness.

It is a funeral for the future.

I don’t want that.

I refuse to resign myself to such despair. 

I have just enough hope left in the reservoirs of my heart to believe that joy can still surprise, that hidden goodness is now preparing itself in secret, that love is close and on the way to mend and heal and lift.

So I will wait patiently for this internal Christmas to come; for that moment when I am again overwhelmed with wonder, helpless in the grip of all that right and good, certain of miracles in my midst.

For you who wait on these things along with me, be greatly encouraged.

May Christmas come to your hurting heart too and may your hope be born again.

Peace in the painful waiting.