Unity

You get a handfulla little kids from anywhere in the world and show them how to play the Keep The Balloon Off The Floor Game and they will fall all over themselves playing until they’re exhausted or the balloon pops, whichever comes first. It’s the best game. In addition to being really simple, it is entirely cooperative. I suppose some sick asshole could find a way to introduce competition into Keep The Balloon Off The Floor, but as it is generally understood, there is no competition, only cooperation. Little kids cooperate, and enjoy it, because they haven’t been taught not to.

Cooperation, unity, people working together in harmony – that is how God wants us to live. Competition, division, people squabbling and fighting over resources – that is the corruption of the Enemy. The Creation stories in Genesis differ dramatically, but they both present God creating a world in which all creatures get along and live in abundance, until the Evil One enters the scene and introduces conflict. Skipping ahead to the New Testament, we find Jesus, the new Adam, preaching unity, harmony, sharing and love. Yeah, Jesus said he wasn’t bringing peace (Matthew 10:34) but the only way to make sense of that within the context of everything else Jesus said, is to take it as referring to the split between the followers of Christ and those who prefer the world’s way. The two are kinda irreconcilable. The very little bit we’re told about Heaven seems to indicate that things are pretty calm there.

Of course, we’re in the world now. We have very little opportunity to live as Christ instructed us to live.

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Okay, so I wrote that far a few days ago and then got distracted by some something or other here at ye olde homeless shelter, and I’m not inclined to try to pick up the thread, which wasn’t all that ground-breaking anyhoo. Pretty typical for me, actually – resorting to Scripture to point out the most obvious observations – things would be better if people got along and shared shit. Capitalism is the devil’s wishbone, catbox, zoot suit, hot house. Meh. True, of course, but if saying it made a difference, that difference would’ve been made a long time ago.

More relevant to me in this, the year of our Lord, 2020, is how forgiven I am. If you go back to February, when I wasn’t really writing in this, I left the restaurant where I was a worker/owner and spiraled into a bog of depression. On Shrove Tuesday, I went over to the Shrove Tuesday All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Dinner at the church, and I was lookin’ around at the Lutherans and thinkin’ “These people are not cool at all, but I like them anyway”. And I realized that I hadn’t decided what to give up for Lent, which is tough one – I’m clean and sober, celibate and vegetarian. The obvious things for me to give up for Lent would be coffee and cigarettes and that’s a hard “no” followed by a hard “no”. Then I thought, “What if I just give up?” Like, give up, admit defeat, quit trying to do whatever it was I was trying to do, and I decided to do that, and went home with no plan and no ideas.

The depression went away. I got the job here at the shelter a few days later, basically the first job I ever had that gave me any kind of fulfillment on top of paying enough to live on. When the shelter closed for the summer, people offered me all the work I could show up for, and I had a bit of time to play in creeks, shoot guns, and really hone my laziness. Made a lotta art, went antiquing with dykes, completed a Bachelor’s degree program, got a new tattoo, was approved for seminary by the committee that does that. And all that without a return of the depression, which is real weird since I’m pecking this out in late November, when I’m normally about halfway down the spiral.

I just keep reminding myself that I gave up. I’m not trying. If something doesn’t just happen, I’m not gonna be bothered. It does come natural to me to show up to work, do the shit I gotta do to keep myself sober and on the beam, that kinda thing – I’m doing things, but I ain’t gettin’ het up about it. And I ain’t letting myself beat meself up over the raft of truly petty sins I commit every single fergin’ day. Because I’m forgiven and I can’t change that, so I don’t have to worry about it. Really – God knows what He’s doing. If He wanted to call somebody to ministry who made sense, He would’ve done that. Instead, He called me. And He loves me, so they say, and if God loves me, who am I to not love me? So I’m workin’ on gettin’ my head around that. And on living in the now. Because if I start thinking about the future, then I’ll start thinkin’ I know what God’s plan is and when I think I know that, I start fuckin’ shit up. I don’t know the plan. I’ve never known the plan. When I remember that I haven’t got the foggiest notion what’s going on, I’m pretty content.

Then I went outside to smoke and there’s a couple guys out there – can’t let ’em in because they weren’t here to be med-screened for covid which we have to do everyday. One of ’em’s passed out and the other is tweakin’ – he yammered at me for a few minutes about he was trained as a boxer by a Green Beret but he had to retire because he killed two opponents in consecutive fights with his lethal skills and everybody abuses him because he’s so kind – he actually said that he’s like Christ, giving to everyone and being hated for it – but no more because he ain’t putting up with that shit no more, man, and on and on, tweaker bullshit. I gave him some snacks and apple juice.

Now I’ma watch a Buster Keaton movie. I’m really into Buster Keaton right now.

Ecclesiastes

14 November, 2020, in the very wee hours. I’m a tad more’n halfway through a double shift here at the shelter, which was s’posed to work out so I was the sleeper during the second part, but somebody didn’t show up so one of our administrative staff came in on the condition that she got to sleep, so I’m awake. See, we gotta have two staff on duty, but only one has to be awake – the other is here just in case something happens which has only happened once since I been around. There’s an appreciable difference in pay rate for awake vs. sleeper, so while I would like to get some sleep, I can console meself with the fact that I’m bringing home the scrillas. I’m actually financially stable these days, which is crazy considering I got the house payment and utilities plus the occasional check toward my higher education – I make just enough payments that they don’t come and repossess.

‘S been a night so far. There was a bit of drama between various guests that centered on one old codger who apparently threatened to hit his lady friend with his cane which some other guys thought wasn’t okay which led to him threatening to hit them with his cane which then turned into him getting kicked out, but then she followed him outside and they were hollerin’ some more and then she smacked him upside the head and I’ll just spare ya all the details, but we had cops and EMT’s – codger claimed he was suicidal and that he broke his kneecap a few days ago because he’d rather go to the hospital than the drunk tank. We’re evicting her too, but she was barely able to walk for being drunk and it’s kinda cold, so we’re letting her stay tonight and her eviction starts tomorrow. Three-night eviction for both of ’em. Three nights is our usual eviction. We can evict people permanently, but for most cases, three nights is enough to get them to think a bit and make some kinda effort to act better. For a while, at least. And it ain’t like we got high standards here at the low-barrier shelter. Motherfuckers could literally walk in here and say “Hello, I’m wanted in four states for touching babies and I’m tweakin’ on meth.” and we’d say “Aight – you’re in bed #32.” I mean, we are the shelter that you go to when the Salvation Amy won’t have you. We’ve had cops show up and try to foist off people they didn’t want to deal with – and we would take ’em if we didn’t have to be stricter because of the whole covid thing. Last thing we need is covid sweeping through.

I’m drinking the cold dregs of the first urn of coffee and I got “Ray-O-Vac” by Royal Trux on repeat in my head – which is a nice change, actually. I had Die Antwoord’s “Cookie Thumper” going around in there earlier. At least I can understand the words to “Ray-O-Vac”.

So yeah, all that happened. And there was a mouse in the women’s area. First time we had a mouse. we recently moved into a new location – a closed grocery store. It’s a good move – solved a lotta problems – but we’re still getting used to it and figuring out how things’re gonna work here, and apparently mouses is a thing we gonna have to deal with. That’s not a bad night – not by a long sight.

We have some drunks. They’re easy. They stumble in, mumble some gibberish, eat dinner and pass out. the druggies mostly just stare off into space or talk to each other. I overheard a conversation between two burnouts earlier that was kind of amazing in a tragic way – they were yammering at each other two streams of stoner-consciousness that didn’t make a lick of sense, but they were totally groovin’. There’s one guy who comes in occasionally who’s usually coming off heroin, but sometimes coming off meth. He’s not a behavior problem, but sometimes we gotta call the EMT’s. The shit starts when a bunch of ’em get fuct up on K2, which is one bonehead drug as far as I can see. I mean, I did a buncha drugs, but even I don’t see the attraction for that one. I guess it makes ya feel really good before you start seizing up and vomiting. Pretty much when one person is smoking K2, a bunch are, and none are tonight.

Over the summer, I got to messin’ around on some dating websites. I haven’t been involved with anybody in eight years and I wasn’t really trying hard to start anything – more like I was bored and figured I might as well see who was out there. I had a couple interesting exchanges with ladies in Virginia before I got bored with the whole online dating thing and deleted my accounts. In both cases, when I told them that I work in a homeless shelter, they commended me on doing good work, and in both cases I said uh, thanks, and shifted the conversation to anything else.

I understand that people who don’t work in a homeless shelter think that it’s commendable. I assure you that it looks different from where I’m sitting. For one thing, it looks like my job. I’m here so I can pay my bills so I can keep my house. Yeah, it’s also part of what God has called me to do – this is the job that God has given me, I assume so I can make a living and get some knowledge and experience that I’ll need for whatever job He gives me when I finally get through seminary. Shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got assigned to a homeless shelter. Hey, maybe I’ll be the executive director of this homeless shelter. So far, the board of directors has been partial to Brethren pastors, but they might take a chance on a Lutheran with experience.

I’d rather do interfaith bridge-building. Or take LGBTQ teens on Christian retreats in the George Washington Nat’l Forest. I’m sure God will take my preferences into account when He sends me to work in a low-barrier homeless shelter in Nineveh.

I get along with all the guests. I think they find it a little easier to take direction from me than from some of the other staff. I’m a middle-aged, tattooed guy who smokes with them and generally seems to have been around a few blocks. The rest of the shelter managers are females in their twenties who don’t give off an air of having ever dumpstered dinner. There isn’t any obvious difference in how those girls get along with the guests most of the time, I guess. The guests know I’m in recovery and that I’m a Christian. I’ve had a couple conversation this week on those topics. I’m happy to tell somebody where and how I’ve gotten help with my alcoholism and mental illness, and to talk about what it means to try to follow Jesus in this post-modern Babylon. I found a guy a Bible yesterday – I gotta remember to pick up a few up next time I’m at a thrift store.

But I don’t honestly think a buncha commendations’re in order. I don’t feel like I’m some kinda saint just ’cause I keep showing up to walk around and make sure the local homeless ain’t smokin’ shit in the bathroom or whackin’ their lady friends with their canes. It ain’t a hard job or anything – especially now that it’s getting cold out. Real old nights do a lot toward making homeless people behave in the only place that’ll take ’em in. Of course, we are talking about a population that’s known for making bad choices, so I’m sure I’ll have to kick a few out into the cold, but whaddaya gonna do?

That old codger earlier was all “I ain’t got no place to go”, as if it was my fault. Is it commendable that I didn’t say “Well, maybe if you weren’t an abusive redneck asshole drunk you’d be able to get a fuckin’ job and pay some fuckin’ rent for a change?”, because that’s what I was thinking.

Or check this – a guy just asked me to refill the sugar shaker. Homeless people use a lotta fuggin’ sugar. This guy’s been sitting at a table all night drinking coffee with enough sugar to make it syrup, and he told me a bit ago he doesn’t know why he can’t sleep. Inside my head: “What the fuck is wrong with these idiots? Gotta build your rock on the Ray-O-Vac, gotta build your rock….”

So many people walk around with the expectation that they should be all fulfilled and happy all the furkin’ time and if they’re not then something must be wrong. I know a postal worker, a mail carrier, who picks up extra hours delivering for Amazon. He says he delivers to the same houses multiple times a week. “It’s these rich fuckers – they don’t need anything. They just buy more shit because they think it’ll make ’em happy.” My friend is low-income enough to refer to the middle-middleclass as “rich fuckers”. But that’s one of the fundamental premises of capitalism right there. Even people who know how bad Amazon is, who know the horrible working conditions in Amazon shops, will look ya right in the face and say “I know it’s wrong to get stuff from Amazon, but what can you do?” and I’m thinking “Well, you could not get shit from Amazon, ya fuckin’ dummy”, but I don’t say that because I don’t think it would do any good. There’s no difference between trying to fill the gaping hole in your soul with more stuff and with trying to fill it with K2. Well, K2 has less of a negative impact on the environment.

I don’t think that I should be happy and fulfilled all the time. I flat out reject the popular, white people paradigm that says I should have it all, go for the gusto, maximize my potential and do the Dew. I will not tweet, nor will I follow those who do. I will not craft fake images of my perfect family to post on Instagram, nor will I participate in the sucking hole of Facebook. I won’t get a smart phone, go to hot yoga, run when there’s no one chasing me, know anything about Tik Tok, drink 4 Loco, bang meth or smoke K2 and get myself kicked out of the low-barrier homeless shelter in November.

None of that works. None of that shit does anything but make you feel good for 8 seconds and then want more. Oh, hey – that’s exactly my experience with powder cocaine. And at the same time, I’m happier and more fulfilled than I ever been, so I’ma go ahead and assume that there’s some sorta relationship there and say that if ya wanna be happy for the rest of your life never make a pretty woman your wife, and also forget about being happy and start doing something that does anybody any good. If you can arrange to have God give you specific instructions, that might help, but in the absence of that, caring for the poor is always in alignment with God’s plan for humanity, so go do that. DO NOT expect thanks. My mom recently told me about some charitable donations she made and she was totally bummed out that those people didn’t say “thank you” or anything, and I was sitting there staring at her thinking “Shit – my mom’s one of them.” because I work in a place where people show up randomly to donate stuff we don’t want and then stand there like they should get a gold star or some shit. If you want to donate – donate cash. We don’t need your old clothes.

The poor are unfuckinglikely to thank you for caring for them. If you’re expecting that, you gonna be disappointed. Help the poor because it’s the right thing to do. Or get a job in a homeless shelter and do it because it’s the right thing to do and it’s how you pay your bills.

We aren’t designed to be self-centered. Homo sapiens sapiens has survived because a) God willed it, and b) people learned to care for each other. Individuality is all fine and good, but individualism, especially as it’s understood in the US of A, is a fuckin’ disaster. Be as individual as you want – shave yr fuggin’ eyebrows and look creepy like Yolandi Visser, for all I care – but let your individuality serve something bigger than you – God, your community, the environment, whatever floats yr boat. Put anything in the center except yourself. Me, personally, I’ma continue with this whole Christian Lutheran become-a-minister thing that I been doing, and the Daddy job, and I’ll keep showing up here at the old grocery store to stay up all night while bums either sleep or don’t. And I’ll keep on telling my cats they’re annoying, fat jerks, hanging out with lesbians, reading “Watership Down” to my purple-haired queer kid via Zoom and generally living the good life.

It is a good life. If ya don’t want a whole lot and if you don’t expect even that.

Recipe for Transzendentale

An article about Pauline Oliveros (https://www.autostraddle.com/staying-sane-while-staying-connected-with-pauline-oliveross-queer-lineage-of-deep-listening/) reminded me to listen. I’ve been binging Netflix, podcasts, Borbetomagus and the Petrol Girls, and forgot to sit with “silence” and hear all the sounds there – neighbor hammering, distant motors, truck backing up, wind, siren, car door, house settling, cat snoring in sunbeam, electric heat humming, cat eating crunchy food, my ankles cracking as I shift, refrigerator humming, my breathing, cats tussling on sofa, cat sneeze, cats grooming each other, cricket, unidentifiable clicking…

Deep listening is one way to meditate, which is a fine thing to do, no matter how rapidly the world is going to hell in a handbasket on any given day. I’m firmly convinced that we are all rooted in the Sacred, and we would be fully aware of that if we weren’t being constantly distracted by the collective screams of Babylon in our ears 24/7. I take the story in Genesis about Adam and Eve falling from grace and being kicked out of Eden as being more about the rise of “civilization” (aka “Babylon”) than about the tragic consequences of eating a magic apple (Elizabeth Reames has some interesting thoughts on that story – https://www.blessedarethefeminists.com/listen-now/episode-28-a-conversation-with-elizabeth-reames) Reconnecting with the Sacred (the etymology of “religion” is disputed, but some sources trace it to “re-“, Latin “again”, and “ligare”, Latin “connect”, hence “reconnection”), may take on many forms and involve many practices, but just sitting quietly is cheap, and is recommended by all religious traditions.

Note that I described just sitting as “cheap”. I almost said “cheap and easy” because I really like it when things are both of those, but I stopped myself because just sitting is actually not as easy as it should be – not at first, at least. It gets easier with practice. (Aside – I also like it when things are “quick and dirty”. One of the many phrases that I coined is “quick and dirty wins the race”.) Here’s another phrase that seems like it should be inserted here somewhere, even though I didn’t coin it – “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”, Blaise Pascal. Whenever I encounter big, blanket statements like that, I assume that they aren’t true, but may refer to some aspect of truth. In this case, the “all” is absolutely warranted.

Imagine a spiritually advanced person.

Most people, if they performed the above exercise, would think of a bearded sage on a mountain in the Himalayas. That is the automatic go-to for spiritually advanced people. What do those sages do? That’s right, they sit quietly.

We are told a little about Jesus’ prayers, but really just a little. He prayed at Gethsemane (Mark, 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46 and Matthew 26:36-56, though how the Gospel writers would know what Jesus said, when He was alone, is not explained), but He was apparently alone longer than it would take to speak the words attributed to Him, since Peter, James and John couldn’t stay awake while He was alone – He said “one hour” (in Matthew), but I don’t think that should be taken as a literal hour. I suspect that our Redeemer was just sitting quietly for some of that time, though not in a relaxed way – we’re told He prayed so hard the sweat stood out on His forehead like drops of blood (Luke). There’s also the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness (Matthew, Mark and Luke – you can look it up), during which He exchanged a few words with the Tempter, but otherwise, apparently, was just hanging out. There are many images of this scene, all of which portray Jesus just sitting there. Here’s one –

Raining Truth: JESUS PRAYED

I like this one because He looks contemplative, but not sad. Many of the other images that I found googling “jesus in the wilderness” had Jesus looking pretty morose, which prob’ly reflects the artist’s attitude about solitude more than anything else. I have to assume that Jesus was totally fine with being alone with God – and away from people – for a while, based on the fact that He was at one with God to the point of being God, and on His occasional expressions of annoyance with the people around Him. So, I picture Jesus in the wilderness about like this, calm, serene, relaxed, sitting quietly. (Though He most likely had a slightly darker complexion than that.)

Why, though? What is so great about sitting quietly? Why is this activity engaged in by spiritual seekers in all of the world’s faith traditions? (All that I know of – which is many, but there may be some that I’m shockingly ignorant of.) I’m gonna go right ahead and do that really annoying thing that religiosos do when they can’t explain something, which is fall back to the some-things-transcend-words position because it’s true. Also redundant – when something is described as “transcendent”, words are among the things that it transcends. (In my former career as a cook, I invented a meal which I titled “Transzendentale”: 2 eggs over easy, sauerkraut, siracha, between two buttermilk pancakes, topped with butter and maple syrup.) (You’re welcome.)

If you try sitting quietly, and I have no reason to suspect you will, the first thing that will happen is you will think of some reason why you should do something else. You, me and everyone we know has been conditioned to believe that we “should” be useful and productive every fuggin’ minute of every fuggin’ day, by people who did not have our best interests at heart. Certainly, one may benefit from engaging in activity from time to time, and more importantly, one may be of benefit to others, but being active all the time must needs result in pointless activity at best. We are driven by our conditioning to clean things that aren’t dirty, buy things we don’t want and come up with elaborate explanations for our lack of constant happiness. Beneath all that, there is the nasty little shit we call the “ego”, which wants to believe that it is important, that its actions have meaning, whether they do or not. Here, I can tell you one of the benefits of sitting quietly: you’ll figure out that nothing really changes when you aren’t involved. Seriously – you can sit there and do nothing for an hour and it won’t have any effect on the world whatsoever. Actually, the world didn’t even notice that you were not running around doing stuff for a little while.

There’s an election happening in a couple days, which a lotta people want us to believe is the most important election in our lifetimes. They say that every four years. The truth is that you can vote or not and it won’t matter at all. Your vote has absolutely zero effect on the outcome. You can literally sit quietly in a room instead of voting and it won’t change anything.

The realization that your actions are quite inconsequential is unbelievably liberating. I worked on that for twenty years and wasn’t able to fully grasp it until it was given to me by the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry that realizing how meaningless your actions are will lead to despair – despair is actually a form of frustration which is based on the belief that your actions should have some consequence, which is false. If you really get it, the result is a sense of limitless freedom.

Something exists which does have meaning. Up to here, I coulda been arguing for Buddhism, but I departed from the Tathagata when I asserted that meaning does exist. I am willing to make that assertion because there are things that are meaningful to me. What is the source – or Source – of that meaning? For me, the answer is the Source of meaning is the Source of all things, which I refer to as “God” and which I relate to in the style of the twenty-first century Evangelical Lutheran Church in America because that’s what I was instructed to do.

I did not choose to be an ELCA Christian – I was drafted. (John 15:16) I do not do anything, but things are done through me. (John 5:30) I got nothin’ to worry about. (Matthew 6:34) It’s a pretty sweet life.

I do stuff, of course, but I don’t have to attach any meaning to it. Other people seem to think that it’s somehow admirable that I work with the homeless. Piffle. I show up to work because it’s my job. That’s all there is to it. It’s the most meaningful job I ever had, and it pays my bills – including my mortgage, which is sorta like ironic – but it ain’t like I’m totally jazzed up everyday about working with homeless people, many of whom are right irritating. It’s the job I was given, so I do it.

I wish I could give other people what I’ve got. It would solve a lotta problems. But I can’t and that’s okay too because it ain’t my responsibility. But if you are interested, I suggest you start by sitting quietly for a while. You could think about some bit of verse -poetry, song or Bible, whatever – or focus on your breathing, or just listen to all the sounds that are in the “silence” – that’s the one I do. It really doesn’t matter what’s happening inside your head.

One more thing – many folks in various traditions had the idea that going to sleep while sitting quietly was a thing to be avoided. I wholeheartedly disagree.

No Two Kingdoms

Aight, so I’m totally Lutheran, all in. I was Lutheran before I knew I was Lutheran, okay? I’m all about it. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything Luther came up with, because I’m not and this’n’ll be about that, but first, I wanna reiterate that Luther was pretty cool. He had some pretty good ideas, none of which occur to me at this particular moment – oh wait, indulgences are bullshit. Everybody remembers that one. If you know nothing else about the Protestant Reformation, you know that Martin Luther was opposed to the selling of indulgences. I’m pretty sure that was in the 95 theses he nailed to the door of All Souls’ Church in Wittenberg, Deutschland, 31 Oct. 1519 – boom, that was from memory. Looks like I ain’t the most ignorant Lutheran in town after all. There was something in there about ecclesial poverty, some stuff about the separation of church and state – people give credit to Thomas J. but the idea that the church should be separate from the government was around for a long time before he picked it up – and clergy should be allowed to marry. Actually, the whole celibate clergy thing was a relatively recent move – I don’t know when exactly that rule was made, but it hadn’t been but a century or two. I’m on board with all of that stuff. Good job, Marty.

I also gotta acknowledge that Luther was pretty badass. He was excommunicated, fer fook’s sake, which is pretty serious shit for a medieval Catholic, and he didn’t back down. That’s tough.

But he got some shit wrong too, and that’s what I’m on about here. There was the really awful stuff he said about the Jews, which the ELCA has officially repudiated and renounced and rejected. Not many people know about the Peasants’ Revolt that happened in the 16th century in Germany – basically, a bunch of peasants got up their hoes and sickles and attempted to secure for themselves any kinda living wage and any kinda representation, as if that was gonna happen, which it didn’t, and they were brutally beat by the armies of the nobility, which wasn’t brutal by the standards of the day. Martin Luther was opposed to the cause of the Peasants, and spoke out quite forcefully, as was his wont, in favor of the swift and severe punishment of the revolting peasants. If I recall correctly, he was for hanging the leaders and giving everybody a generous flogging. In the now, the ELCA would feel obligated to take the side of the oppressed poor, because that’s what Jesus did and instructed His followers to do.

There’s a lotta Mennonites around here where I live – Anabaptists, after the tradition of Thomas Mennos (I could be wrong about the “Thomas”, but I haven’t looked anything up yet and I’d rather not.) Mennos was a contemporary of Luther who basically thought Luther didn’t go far enough. He wanted t strip off all the gimcracks and gew-gaws that had accumulated and return to first century Christianity. Luther disagreed and when Luther disagreed with somebody, he wrote about it and he had an annoying habit of being in favor of brutal repression and quite a bit of violence, so he wrote the same kinda stuff about the Anabaptists that he wrote about the Jews and revolting peasants. And the Mennonites haven’t forgotten. I was talking with one about general Christian stuff and he brought up Luther’s truly terrible statements about the Anabaptists and I was like “Yeah, we don’t wanna burn you guys anymore.”

Thank God, there weren’t any Black people in Wittenberg. We got enough problems without having to also apologize for whatever bullshit Luther would’ve written down and spread all around if any Black folks had moved into the neighborhood.

So far, I haven’t gone off the reservation. The 21st century Lutheran Church is fully on board with disagreeing with our beloved founder on all of these issues. I should specify that I mean the 21st century Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are other forms of Lutheran in the US and the world and I ain’t speaking for them. Obviously, I’m gonna say something that goes against the grain, or why would I be bothering with this? And that thing is: Martin Luther’s concept of “two kingdoms” is bullshit.

Here’s the Wiki link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_kingdoms_doctrine. Wikipedia changes, so the entry there might be a well-written explanation of the two kingdoms doctrine, but at this writing, it’s a mess. Honestly, I just included the link to show that there are worse writers than me.

What it comes down to is – according to Luther, God created two forms of rulership, or governance – the sacred and the secular. Hmm. I thought it was gonna be harder, but that’s really it. The “two kingdoms” are the governing power of God and the governing power of the government. This is still very much in effect as a doctrine – I first heard of it from my pastor. And it is also pure and utter poppycock.

Jesus talked about one kingdom – the Kingdom of God. He was all about that one Kingdom. He never mentioned any other kingdom. Off the top of my head, I can think of one place where Jesus acknowledges the existence of the government, which is when He says “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”, a statement which is as plain and simple as it is wide open to interpretation. Jesus was good at that.

There is exactly one Kingdom that a Christian has any reason to care about and that is the Kingdom of God. The only way to attain to that Kingdom is through faith in God’s grace. I’m a Lutheran, and we might disagree with Luther about many things, but ain’t no Lutherans I know, meself included, gonna argue about that. All that 16th century kerfuffle about indulgences was a subset of the bigger argument about whether souls were saved by faith or by works. Certainly, no Lutheran is gonna say that one shouldn’t try to do good things, but the good things one might do are the result of salvation, not the cause of it. Here’s an example – I’m sitting here right now, pecking this out, in the middle of the night at a homeless shelter where I am a monitor. I am playing a part in providing care for the poor, just as Christ instructed His followers to do. I am not doing this because I’m trying to suck up so I can get a place in Heaven. I’m already going to Heaven. And when I get there, I won’t have to put up with any homeless people. Not because the homeless won’t go to Heaven, but because they won’t be homeless when they get there – “in my Father’s house, they are many dwelling places”. That’s in John, I think. I am guaranteed to get into Heaven. Whatever good things I do are the result of God’s grace – I got this job because God placed me here. I’m just doing what He assigned me to do, and getting paid okay for it. I make more money than I spend and that’s not a problem.

I’m going to be attending a Lutheran seminary in the not too distant future and I’m not gonna be able to avoid getting educated about the two kingdoms thing. I’ll learn the basics well enough to get a passing grade on the test, but I won’t be shy about disagreeing with it because I am dead certain that it isn’t just incorrect, but also wrong. We, as Christians, following the example of Christ, should not hesitate to violate any law that contradicts Christ’s teaching. We should not be afraid of, or give any authority to, any government. That doesn’t mean we should run about willy-nilly breaking the law – that’d be stupid – but we should be willing to. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the first seminarian to take that position, and I have no fear that it’ll hold up my ordination or anything, but if it does, I’m okay with that. I’d be embarrassed if I got through seminary without causing some trouble.

It occurs to me that I haven’t come out to the candidacy committee about being one of the T in LGBTQ. I don’t think that’d be a problem – I’m plainly male-presenting and could easily not bring it up and they’d never know, but even if I was trying to present as female, or transitioning, it wouldn’t hold up the process. The ELCA ordains LGBTQ pastors and deacons. Actually, that certainly is part of it – I could just say nothing about it, so why should I? Why not just leave it out of the conversation?

Well, because I’ve been doing that for years and I don’t think it was the best thing I could’ve done. It seemed easier at one point and then it was just what I did. I’ve really just started to be out in some areas this year – scroll back far enough in this blog and you’ll find some entries that are me trying to figure it out. I’ve got my head around it now – and I’m out to some friends, but not to most folks. My parents don’t know – I don’t see any reason to have that conversation with either of ’em. I haven’t told my kid either – because I haven’t been able to hang out with her in person since I got it figured out – covid19 and all. We talk a few times a week online. She just got her first lesbian undercut. We’re reading Watership Down. I’ll tell her when we talk in person.

Coming out is a complicated process. The subject came up with the grrrl in connection with her new ‘do – she hasn’t told her Nana she’s queer yet, and she’s a little nervous about how that conversation is gonna go down, but not being out isn’t an option. She’s not willing to keep something so significant from someone she cares about, which is really weird to me. Nana is my mom and she doesn’t know shit about me. I don’t remember when I started keeping secrets from my parents.

I’m truly grateful that my kid is nothing like me.

But I will haveta come out to the church. No other option.

I didn’t know this post was gonna go that direction.

More Links Than Usual

I’m overnight shift at the shelter, listening to homeless people snore and reading queer stuff online and I stumbled across this article – http://gomag.com/article/11-dating-struggles-only-trans-lesbians-will-understand/ – which contains a couple things that I suspect are specific to the writer because I am unable to believe that craving salt and pickles are common among trans-lesbians. I’ve never actually “dated as a trans-lesbian” – well, I have because I’m trans-lesbian and I’ve dated, but I appear to most people to be a straight man, and I wasn’t able to fully and completely identify as a trans-lesbian until this year, so it wasn’t a thing that we talked about. Except for the one who explained to me that identity and orientation were not necessarily related, thus helping me to see that I was trans-lesbian, but she never accepted it or maybe she did, I dunno. She mentally and emotionally abused me for seven years, ending in 2003. I have no idea what she actually thought about anything. I have no reason to suspect that she did either.

Anyhow, I read the article and then accidentally looked at the comments which were the standard transphobic tripe that I’ve come to expect from lesbians who are determined to live down to the stereotype. I could have resisted temptation to stir the shit, but I didn’t. My comment ended with the phrase “fuck TERFs”. I am not sorry.

But I was thinking earlier today, that Jesus helped me accept that I am trans-lesbian. It occurred to me after I watched “Yes, God, Yes” on Netflix – it’s a movie about a teenage Catholic girl who is struggling with her sinful urges, goes to a Catholic retreat, and figures some things out. It was good, but also made me kinda uncomfortable because it got too close to my teen shame. And I wasn’t even Catholic – I was Anabaptist. I’ve seen several good things about teens on Netflix lately (there’s prob’ly good stuff on other streaming services, but Netflix is the only one that I have my kid’s mom’s password to) – “Teenage Bounty Hunters”, “Everything Sucks” and “Never Have I Ever” have teens dealing with sexual feelings, including same-sex attractions and actions. “Teenage Bounty Hunters” also has a Christian element – the title characters are Christian. The thing I really like about “Teenage Bounty Hunters” and “Yes, God, Yes” is that the Christian characters don’t reject Christianity. That is what a lot of people do, sure, but it’s also a typical move for a movie – like portraying pot smoking as a super cool, fun, liberating adventure. Those might be true for some people, but for others they’re not.

I digress. I was on about portrayals of teens dealing with their exploding sexual feelings within the context of Christianity and I really like that this new possibility is being presented where people figure out a way of having both. Because Christianity is liberating. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free”, said Martin Luther. “Richer, fuller, deeper, Jesus’ love is sweeter, sweeter as the years go by” goes an old hymn. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glnN0KAcKUw

As we live in Christ, as the awesome reality of that sinks in, we are liberated from sin, death, materialism, what other people think. We are able to realize that God loves us just as we are and that includes all of our shitty behavior, character defects, contradictions, insecurities, neuroses, perversions, quirks and whatthefuckever else ya got. Seriously, when y’re spiraling down the shame hole because you can’t believe what a horrible, disgusting, genuinely bad person you really are, that is the moment when you really oughta remind yourself that God isn’t waiting for you to finally get your shit together to love you. God, the Absolute, the Totality of All That Is and More, loves you exactly as you are, you wretched slug. If you can get your bonnet around that concept, it will change yr furkin’ life.

So then I realized that it wasn’t until after I became a Christian that I was able to think deeply, screw up my courage and fully accept that I am a woman, who is in a male body, and who is attracted to women, and I don’t have to fucking do anything about that. I don’t have to wear make-up or shave my armpits – if I was in a female body I wouldn’t do those things – or take hormones or get surgery or shave my beard or anything. (I don’t like my chin. That’s why I have the beard.) It’s true that I’m not actively engaged in any romantic endeavors at the moment, so I don’t have to deal with those complications, but if I was, I wouldn’t have to deal with the whole trans-lesbian dating a XX-chromosome lesbian and pissing off the TERFs bullshit because I present as male. I’m also just aggro enough that I ain’t gonna let anybody push me out of any “queer spaces” that I might wander into – not that that’s likely to happen unless you count the comments section of “Go Mag” or “Autostraddle”. I truly don’t want to fuck a lesbian who doesn’t want to be fucked by me – or a straight woman either. And I don’t think that lesbians who don’t want to fuck someone who has a dick are transphobic – I don’t want to fuck someone who has a dick and I’m not misandrist. I just ain’t into dicks. I also ain’t into playing victim, which is what I see in the whole TERFs vs. transbians kerfuffle – marginalized peoples totally playing victim and blaming other marginalized peoples. This Husker Du song isn’t about this particular topic, but I’ma plug it in here anyway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSqZGTNrPi8

Some TERF don’t like me? Fuck you, TERF. That’s all there is to that, and I’m out. As my friend Painter Dave used to say before he died of cancer, “I been called worse by better.” Painter Dave was a bit of a racist and a self-proclaimed “Jed-Clambett-lookin’, redneck motherfucker”. What I’m sayin’ is I believe it’s better to love than to be loved, to understand than to be understood, but I also believe that if y’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly bear. Maybe those are contradictory statements, but ya know what else is contradictory? Psalm 137 which starts out as a lament about being driven out of one’s homeland and ends with wanting to kill babies. That’s some troubling shit right there, which is why the Melodians left that bit out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSqZGTNrPi8

But that troubling shit is there for a reason. The Bible isn’t a rule book – it’s the Word of God as expressed by people, and people are complicated creatures. Sometimes we come up with sweet rocksteady vibes and sometimes we have really hateful thoughts and both of those have to be worked through if ya gonna get anywheres close to being a complete human being. It is flat out necessary for the Bible to include some difficult and frankly awful shit so that we can use it to deal with our own difficult and frankly awful shit. And I do mean deal with it.

Two typical ways people handle the Bible’s awful shit – a) throw out the Bible and become an insufferably self-righteous atheist; b) decide that it’s okay to engage in awful shit behavior, as long as you can quote the Bible about it. Both of those miss the mark.

The best way is to sit with it, pray over it and reconcile to it. That doesn’t mean deciding it’s okay to smash little ones on the rocks – remember what Jesus said about little ones, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2018%3A6&version=NRSV. We have awful thoughts and feelings and we do awful things. That’s reality. Sit with it, pray over it and reconcile to it. That’s the way to get to a better, less awful place. That’s the way to accept your own contradictions, quit playing the victim, stop fighting with other marginalized peoples, and start doing some fuckin’ good in the world.

Wow. This has been a ramble, with more links than usual. This is what happens when I’m up all night and I already read everything on “Autostraddle”. https://www.autostraddle.com/

16 October 2020

A friend of mine describes herself as a “Zen Lutheran”. I know what she means and I approve. I even considered jacking her phrase, but decided not to on account of a) I wanted to include other denominations, and b) I wanted to avoid the popular misunderstanding of the word “Zen”. I haven’t arrived at a catchphrase for what I’ma be on about here, but it’ll be something like “immediate Christianity”. First though, a quick primer on Zen:

The Buddha went to his reward around 500BC. Buddhism evolved for 1200 years or so, with a lot of local varieties, but with two main forms – Theravada and Mahayana. Theravada, “Ancient Teaching”, was the full-time, monastic form. Mahayana, “Great Vehicle”, was for everybody who wasn’t ready to quit the world. The general understanding in both forms was that one had to spend a long time – many incarnations – working up to Buddhahood. One was expected to spend numerous lifetimes in the Mahayana, lighting incense and contributing to the support of the local cloister, before one was reincarnated with the desire/ability to take on the rigors of the Theravada for many more incarnations, finally arriving at Buddhahood.

The fundamental premise of Zen was that all that waiting and reincarnating was unnecessary. One of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism is that everyone has Buddha-consciousness and just needs to realize the fact. So why wait? Realize it now. That’s what Zen is. Realizing, right now, your Buddha-consciousness.

Of course, that’s easier said, so Zen has monasteries of its own and a buncha monks and nuns sitting around with their legs asleep, working on koans and not yet realizing their Buddha-consciousness. But the point is – do it now.

It’s not completely incorrect to compare the founding of Zen Buddhism to the Protestant Reformation. In both cases, the religion in question had become rigid and stratified – the monks and nuns in one camp and the unwashed many in the other. The laity had little connection to the religion other than supporting the cloisters and participating in rituals led by specialists. No one had, or was expected to have, a direct, personal experience of the Infinite. Zen says “awaken now”. Protestantism says “have a personal relationship with God”. I would submit that these two messages are not dissimilar.

As with Zen, so with Protestants – many are unable or unwilling. The world is a very alluring illusion and dissolving entirely into the Absolute is a wee bit daunting. Even those who are really hepped up might be reluctant to go all the way in, especially when there’re some very nice institutions that allow a person to live quite comfortably in Heaven’s foyer – or Nibbana’s courtyard. The Messiah and the Tathagata were both homeless, wandering mendicants, after all, and who wants to do that?

So it’s pretty easy – and socially acceptable – to get real close and then stop. Take some classes, read some books, get a degree, put on the proper clothes and get busy feeding the local poor or writing about the various ways Scriptures can be interpreted. Maybe start a podcast. The danger is that one might become popular – I’ve long said that popular success = artistic failure, but I could just as easily say “spiritual failure” instead. You can serve God or mammon. Never both.

I’ma focus on Christianity now, ‘acause that’s where I live, and ‘acause I’ve made the point I was after with Zen. Buddhism has a lot of good to offer any Christian, but I’m not a Buddhist.

Immediate Christianity, then. The full, complete identification with Christ. The realization, here and now, that one is a Child of the Living God. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could peck out exactly how to achieve that? Jiminy Cricket, that’d sell a lotta books. Of course, I can’t and if I could, it wouldn’t do any good. Or maybe I already did, but it ain’t gonna do any good. Unless you get it, in which case you were about to anyway and I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. I will say that, within the Christian context, the action of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can make it happen. And I’ll go another step out on this limb and say that I’ve done it, which is just me repeating John 10:30.

“I and the Father are one.” Usually, I don’t supply the verse, but that one’s short. And pretty radical, really. That’s the statement that got Jesus nailed up. I don’t have to worry about that because I live in a society that is so secularized, nobody gives a tinker’s darn if I proclaim my personal identification with the Almighty. A friend of mine once went door-to-door telling people that he was the Second Coming of Christ, but he was having a psychotic break. I’m not. I’m not claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ – I’m just the first coming of me, but I am claiming identification with Him because, as I read it, that’s what we all s’posed to do.

I’m not going to put on sackcloth and go walkabout, begging and teaching. That is not my call, nor would that do any good. The modern Babylon has ways of neutralizing those who attempt a too-literal imitation of Christ. Christ is in me, just as Christ is in you and Christ is in everyone. It’s just a matter of realizing the fact.

The first step to realizing Christ is admitting the possibility. Being willing to imagine that one can fully become a Christ, now, is difficult because we’ve had it pounded into us that we cannot be Christ though we should try to follow Him and feel bad when we fail, but it can be done. It’s worth putting in a little effort. When one has imagined the possibility, there’s nothing else one can do. The Holy Spirit will fill in the rest when/if the Holy Spirit so does. After that, it becomes obvious.

How will the world respond? The way the world usually does – with apathy for as long as possible, then with destruction.

I’ma work on this concept, by which I mean I’ma do nothing and let the Father doeth the work. The Father and Christ are the same God in two aspects, you’ll recall, and the Holy Spirit is the third, so it’s correct for me to say “the Father” while also saying “the Holy Spirit”, meaning the One who moves and will move in me to peck things out here. More will follow, but I dunno when.

But first, ’tis nap time.

Helter Shelter

The homeless shelter re-opened for the cold months a few days ago. We have already lost two staffers. I dunno why. Maybe they had schedule conflicts or maybe the reality of working overnight at a homeless shelter was too much reality. In any case, we’re scrambling and I’m the dumbass who’s willing and able to work extras, so I’m doing a double – right now. I’m a few hours into a double, 6pm to 7am. It’s been a shitshow. We’re still figuring out where everything is and I’m training a newb even though I only sorta know how our systems work – our computer systems, I mean. I know exactly what to do when somebody who clearly ingested a shitpile of drugs today wanders off into the dark during smokebreak, which happened. Oh yeah, we’re currently operating out of a building at a church summer camp, so wandering off into the dark means wandering off into the woods, twenty miles from town, and we can’t have that. Homeless people on drugs stumbling around, lost in the woods, fumbling up in some farmer’s backyard is not gonna be good for our funding.

Last time, I reintroduced meself. This time I’ma recap some of my thoughts on Christianity and my place in it – nothing outrageous or even original. I’m 100% on board with the ELCA positions on all things that the ELCA has a position on, and have only three points that I consider central to whatever form my ministry will take when I someday have a ministry, which are these here:

  • Everything works out better when God is involved.
  • God wants individual relationships with individuals.
  • Help the poor.

I’ll expand a bit, but not in that order because the one I put in the middle seems like the one that wonts more expanding and therefore oughta be last.

Everything works out better when God is involved. Obviously, God can’t be excluded from anything against God’s will, but God frequently allows people to fuck shit up if they’re determined to so do. The Old Testament provides plenty of examples. On t’other hand, inviting God to be involved in any anything pretty much ensures that it’ll work out better. This does not mean that asking God to be involved in a convenience store robbery will result in a sack of cash and a clean getaway, because that is only “better” in the view of the robbers, who aren’t really inviting God to be involved so much as stupidly attempting to manipulate the Creator and Life-Force of the Universe. If you’ve invited God to be involved in your life, you ain’t likely robbing convenience stores. I say “ain’t likely” in the full awareness that the Holy Spirit lists where the Holy Spirit wilt. I am not ruling out any possibility. Inviting God to be involved in your life changes your life. Usually, it isn’t an instant change, but it could be. In any event, inviting God to be involved is a good idea.

Help the poor. Skeptics enjoy pointing out the inconsistencies in the Bible, a collection of writings which span approximately 2,500 years. Apparently, they think that anything should be consistent over that period of time and that the contradictions are indicative of God’s nonexistence, which is pure piffle. There are inconsistencies, but there are some things that are consistent from beginning to end and the admonishment to care for the poor and needy is one of ’em. If you ever find yo’seff wondering what God’s will is for you, go help some poor slob. That is always God’s will.

God wants individual relationships with individuals. People like to think that God loves people best of all His creatures. I’m not convinced. I tend to agree with some First Nation peoples – other creatures have their own relationships with God that we don’t know about because it ain’t our business. If squirrels and bone-eating bearded vultures don’t have rituals, it might be because they’re living closer to how God intended and don’t need ’em. P’raps we’re the only creatures God has an active interaction with because we’re the only creature that consistently and royally fucks everything up and needs instruction.

At any rate, we do seem to have greater diversity within our species than any other creatures. Squirrels tend to behave like other squirrels; squids like other squids. It’s only within our species that we can observe outrageous diversity. I submit that this is okay with God. I also submit that another thing that is consistent through the entirety of the Bible is God’s desire to have a relationship with people. No matter how bad people fuck shit up, God continues to want to have a relationship with us. God’s desire starts off with the House of Israel, then expands to include Gentiles. Through the history of Christianity, the relationship God desires has increasingly become understood to be a personal one. At this writing, all branches of Christianity emphasize this personal relationship with God.

It must then follow that all these personal relationships will be as different as the persons in them. God is the same, but the relationships She forms with individuals are different. The relationship God has with the Pastor at the church I would attend if we were having in-person church is different from the relationship She has with me. And the relationship God, who is beyond gender, has with a transgender person of color will be different from both.

God, I am quite certain, does want to have a relationship with transgendered people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and all the rest of the rainbow flag. And all of those relationships must needs be different. In the Gospels, Jesus gives different instructions to different people. We should assume He knew what He was doing – and we should assume that He is still giving different instructions to different people. (People often use “God” to refer to the “Father”; “Jesus” to refer to the “Son”. I’m conflating the two here because I’m referring to the “One” aspect of the “One-in three-Parts” of the Trinity. The Deity’s desire to have relationship with people is consistent in all of the Deity’s aspects.)

My Pastor was called to be a Pastor. I was called to be a Deacon. Different individuals, different instructions.

Who is willing to say that they know better than the Holy Spirit? Who is convinced that they know how their LGBTQ neighbor should live and they are better equipped to deliver the message than the third Person of the Trinity?

“Not I”, said the opossum who was raised by wolves.

I heard some podcast a year or so ago, interviews with women who were in very traditional religious traditions. One was a woman who was raised Roman Catholic. In college, she realized that she was a lesbian. For a few years, she was actively dating women. Then she hit a wall – she realized that being a lesbian was contradictory to her understanding of being a Roman Catholic. Knowing she couldn’t change her lesbiandom, she became celibate.

I have a couple friends, a pair of soft butch lesbians who are in love. They’re married. They’re both members of the ELCA. One of them, the short one, is beginning the discernment process with the intention of becoming a Pastor.

As far as I know, all them lesbians are following the instructions of the Holy Spirit. I have no problem at all with the idea that one lesbian might be celibate and another not and both be doing God’s will for them. And if any of thems grow into a different understanding over time, I won’t be surprised. Shizzle, my own understanding of God’s will for me has changed and changed again and again over the years. Why would anybody else’s not?

Speaking of lesbians, I am one. It’s pretty normal for women to find fault with their own bodies. Some undergo drastic measures to change their bodies. Others just say “Well, I guess I’ll just accept it.” I’m in the second group – I’m not entirely happy with the body I have, but I can live with it. The fact that I know myself to be a woman who is attracted to women and who lives in a male body is one of the details in my side of my relationship with God.

There are those who feel they are appointed to tell their neighbors what God’s will is for all people. I disagree with them, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

So – whatever ministry I have will include those points.

Get To Know Me

‘Allo. I write a blog under the nom de guerre Luther von Wolfen. I follow no schedule and I tend to digress, all the while employing various impromptu slang, inconsistent abbreviations, idioms in languages that I don’t speak, poorly constructed opinionations, and generally sloppy thinking. My theme, if there was one, would be my experiences as I stumble toward becoming a rostered pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is still something that I sometimes think is pretty fuggin’ weird, since I didn’t plan it and certainly didn’t expect it. My call experience is very much John 15:16 – I also tend to refer to chapter and verse and not give the quote because how hard is it for you to google it yerself?

I’m 51, white, male (though I identify as a trans-lesbian, since that’s a thing that people do now – I don’t have dysphoria, so I don’t feel compelled to transition, but I do count myself among the LGBTQ). I’m a recovering alcoholic (sober since 26 Feb, 1998) and I have chronic depressive disorder and major reoccurring depressive disorder with psychotic features which I treat with medication. I had a serious bout with depression earlier this year, after I left the restaurant where I was unhappy for six years – that’s worth a paragraph.

My unhappiness bled out into negative interactions with co-workers (including co-owners, since I was one of seven owners of the place), culminating in a meeting that ended with most of them stating they didn’t want me there and me deciding to quit. I went into a depression hole for a week or two. Pretty serious. Then Shrove Tuesday happened and I decided to give up for Lent – just give up. Give everything to God and let him fucking deal with it. The result was that the depression evaporated. Then covid hit. The homeless shelter that I volunteered at occasionally suddenly lost access to their volunteer pool and had to hire new people. I got hired, discovered that I love working with homeless people, and I’ve been pretty goshdarn okay since. Our shelter operates during the cold months because that’s when we have funding, so I’ve been laid off during the summer. I picked up some labor jobs and wasn’t worried.

A lot of people are suffering in the world, but I ain’t one of ’em. The very real problems that are racking the world right now are not affecting me. I am fully aware, but not dragged down. I’m also not surprised – though I’m not in a depression hole, I still have depression and I have fully embraced the phenomenon known as “depressive realism”. I don’t live in the usual delusion that things are okay, so I’m not surprised when it turns out they ain’t. I didn’t expect a global pandemic to happen this year, but I knew such a thing was possible. I’ve been paying attention to politics, so I’m not really shocked when Trump tells white supremacist militias to “stand by”. The riots this year make sense to me – actually, I don’t understand why people aren’t rioting a lot more often. I fully expect and I’m prepared for widespread violence after the election in November. I don’t mean “prepared” like I’ve got food and ammo in the basement. I mean psychologically prepared.

2020 looks like end times. Maybe it is, maybe not. I don’t believe any predictions about the end. Jesus said we wouldn’t know when it was gonna happen and I take Him at His word. Revelations is a great book, but it’s not a coded time-table. My job as a Christian is to proclaim the good news and alleviate the suffering whenever possible. Whatever happens will happen.

I live in Virginia. I have two cats. I’m buying a little house and I drive an old truck. I like hiking. I’m politically pretty progressive – lately, I’ve started thinking that democratic socialism is my jam. I’m single, not really looking. I have a daughter who goes to school in a sleepy little college town that got famous when a racist drove a car into a bunch of protesters, injuring several and killing one. I haven’t seen the girl in person for months because of covid, but we Zoom talk frequently. She’s of the LGBTQ also.

Here’s some podcasts I listen to – https://www.cafeteriachristian.club/, http://irenicast.com/, https://www.blessedarethefeminists.com/. This is also good – http://queergrace.com/. For music, I dig old time, pre-war country blues and gospel, free jazz, punk, noise rock, obscure psychedelia, klezmer, riot grrrl, queercore and other unpopular forms. I read nonfiction – history, theology, anthropology, science and anything related to pandemics, epidemics and disasters. Right now, I’m in Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa – one disaster we haven’t had in 2020 is a world-shaking volcanic eruption. There’s still time. Also, Finnegans Wake – I read that continuously, with intermissions for other stuff. I like movies that don’t insult my intelligence which are few and far between. I recently watched “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” and followed it with the movie about Hamilton, “Soul Surfer”, both of which were great. I do little watercolors, which I keep here – https://www.deviantart.com/luthervanwolfen/gallery. I’ve got a buncha recent stuff to upload when I get to a decent scanner. Banksy is the artist I’m most into right now. He does smart work.

This is the picture I use for all online activities –

It’s a creepy little opossum, praying. I love opossums.

Okay, then. I felt like I should re-introduce meself since I hain’t done that in a while. Now I’ve done it.

Yesterday, we loaded in and mostly set up gear for the shelter. We’ll be re-opening soon at a church camp out in the county – the homeless will ride school buses out to the camp. Today, I’ll be stripping and priming doors at a friend’s house in a different part of the county. My Savage .410/.22 over/under needs work, so I’ll take that and I have no doubt there will be shooting. The orange tabby is curled up with his tail over his nose. I don’t know where the mackerel tabby is.

God is with us. We are fully redeemed through Jesus. Death has no hold on us. We can rejoice.

No Win

In an earlier post, I flagged a point which I want to unpack a bit: having no good options. And the reason I want to dig into that is that’s how we live. We have no good choices. No matter what we do, we are in some way, contributing to the problem.

What problem? Pick one. (If you think there are no problems and everything is just peachy, please let me know what medication you are on.) Racism, climate change, rape culture, economic injustice, violence, political corruption… whatever you look at, it’s getting worse and we are all – you, me and everyone we know – making it worse.

I got on this because of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was faced with choosing between being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler or not. Conspiring to murder someone is a grave sin – doing nothing while people are being murdered is also a sin. Bonhoeffer made a choice – Gandhi might have made a different one – and then he followed through until the platform on the gallows dropped out. And that is the best we can do.

And that is enough.

I think about climate change. Actually, I think about the environment. Some libertarian I used to know asked me once if I really believed that climate change was caused by humans. I said yes, because I’m not an idiot, and added that I was an environmentalist before climate change became the massive issue it is. I don’t actually need climate change to be opposed to anything that damages the environment. But I am clearly, blatantly, obviously and knowingly doing things that harm the environment and contribute to climate change. I drive. My vehicle – ’92 GMC Sonoma – is not as bad as some machines, but it ain’t great. I have solar panels on my roof, but I’m also pulling from the grid. I shop as much as possible at thrift stores – which is a form of recycling – so I’m not actively contributing to the produce/consume paradigm, but I’m not totally free of it. The only way I can stop participating in the degradation of the environment is to go out to the Nat’l Forest, die and become compost – but then I’d be abdicating my responsibility to make things better, which as a Christian, I am instructed to do. No win.

When I was a kid, I thought I was supposed to be good. I thought my behavior was a significant factor in whether or not I would win God’s love and get a spot in Heaven. I was constantly appalled, ashamed and addled by anxiety about my absolute inability to maintain even the barest morality. I was shoplifting, smoking cigarettes, committing random vandalism and lying my ass off when I was in second grade – worse behavior came later. At sixteen, I just gave up. I couldn’t continue as I was and I couldn’t be good, so I just accepted that I was not going to go to Heaven and got shitfaced.

My understanding has changed. I’m sure that the Brethren church of my childhood taught grace, but I didn’t understand it. Now I’m a Lutheran, and the concept of grace is something I can get my head around. I’ve been clean and sober for 21+ years, and I know I didn’t earn that. I did some stuff to get sober and I do some stuff to stay sober, but I am very aware that I am not able to do it without help. My experience has shown me that the more I lean on God, the better my life gets. And the huge material improvements are the least important.

I watched a documentary about eccentrics – people who live different – and it covered some guy who stopped using money. For decades, this guy has lived in caves in Utah, scavenging and dumpstering, and not using money. He seemed pretty happy. I was thinking about doing it myself – though not in Utah. Virginia has plenty of Nat’l Forest and I’m not completely ignorant about scavenging and dumpstering. I’d definitely want to begin in the spring – to give myself a bit of time to get shit together – but I could do that. And it doesn’t seem horrible. I certainly have forest hermit on my list of retirement options. But not yet. At present, I do very much enjoy the house and the little red truck and the comforts of being a member of society.

I got a second cat. I wanted the first one – Orange Boy, Herr Katzekopf – to have a friend. The second one showed up yesterday, and they’ve been circling each other and snarling and acting like they’re almost ready to fight since. Eventually, they’ll settle down, and become playmates. My house is cold in the winter, because I don’t turn the heat up more than I have to – so they’ll prob’ly resort to cuddling to stay warm, and that’ll be totes adorbs. This paragraph is a digression, but it’s also an example of how I live, pretty happily, in my house while following a Savior who had no place to lay His head.

While I was out, picking up the new cat, I saw a bumpersticker:

God's Original Plan Bumper Sticker

I actually believe that. I actually believe all the stuff Jesus said about not having possessions, not planning for tomorrow, sharing everything and being cool with it. I actually believe that people in the Stone Age – which was 99% of human existence on this planet – were living as God intended people to live and that’s why He didn’t start giving instructions until the rise of civilization. Mull on that. God didn’t start interfering until people started living in cities with hierarchal structures because He didn’t see any reason to. (An atheist would say people didn’t invent the idea of God until leaders needed a means to control the masses, but fuck a buncha atheists.)

1 Samuel 10 – God told us not to have hierarchal societies. We didn’t listen, so Trump is president. Paul said to obey the government, but he just meant there’s little point in getting arrested if you can avoid it. Paul also disobeyed the government and got arrested, so he musta felt like there were situations in which that was the least wrong thing to do.

Conspiracy to commit murder might, in some situations, seem like the least wrong thing to do. Notice I’m circling back to Bonhoeffer. I think he was right – you commit to a course of action, trusting that God’s grace will cover you even if you’re flat out fucking wrong, and then you see it through. If you get your neck snapped in a Nazi prison camp, well, that’s that. We are, after all, following a homeless guy who got crucified. And He did tell us that we should take up our crosses.

I’m not trying to get hanged today. Shit, I’m not trying to get off the sofa today. I am one lazy son of a biscuit eater. But I do have that awareness. I do know, and I have accepted, that following Christ might mean that. It is my expectation that the shelter will open in a few weeks and I’ll go back to hanging out with meth addicts and drunks and calling that “work”. I’ll finish up the gen eds I lack for my Bachelors degree and start seminary next year. I’ll plod through until I get my Masters and the ELCA adds me to the roster and then I’ll do something ministerly – I don’t know what yet. And I will continue to do less than I could to make the world a better place. I’ll continue to commit sins, even when it isn’t necessary. Or maybe something else will happen.

In any event, I have nothing to worry about. Death can’t touch me. I’m not a slave to the sins I commit. By God’s grace, I can righteously fuck shit up, knowing that He won’t hold it against me. Heck, I can go around proclaiming the forgiveness of sins with the expectation that what I loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven. And I can own a Walther PPK, in case I need to Kill Hitler. Luther said “It is for freedom that Christ set us free”, though he said it in German, and I actually believe that, too. What else did Luther say? “Go forth and sin boldly, but more boldly still, trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ.” He also said some pretty awful shit about Jews and revolting peasants, but I ignore that.

Speaking of, I’ve been running a joke with a friend about starting an anti-capitalist Christian queercore band and Revolting Peasants would be a good name for that project.

We can’t avoid sin and we don’t have to. We must, if we’re going to even try to make any difference, be for some things and against others. We must engage in some sort of conflict. Even that guy living in the desert in Utah is working for some things and against others. How that plays out will depend on factors beyond our control and we don’t have to worry about it.

I wrote this for me. I wrote this because I do think the way we’re going can’t work. It sure does look like a lotta problems that have been simmering are coming to a boil. I do actually believe that the US of A is headed toward a change and it will most likely not be smooth and painless. I do actually agree with the Situationists that “un seul week-end non révolutionnaire est infiniment plus sanglant qu’un mois de révolution permanente”*. And I struggle with it. I need to remember that God’s grace covers my impure thoughts and minor deceptions – and that it will cover whatever illegal and potentially harmful revolutionary shenanigans I may get myself into.

We are in a catch-22. There will be riots no matter which doddering, rich, white, male wins the presidency next month. There will be poverty no matter how much or how little we take or give – capitalism demands that some be poor. There will be racism, sexism and LGBTQ-phobia no matter how woke we wake.

We have to be okay with it and oppose it. See Matthew 19:26.

*”A single nonrevolutionary weekend is infinitely more bloody than a month of permanent revolution.”

Deconstructing White Privilege

So, I was listening to this podcast that I listen to sometimes – http://irenicast.com/ – and they were talking about deconstructing white privilege, which I think is a fine thing to do, and somebody mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer and everybody agreed that he was a perfect example of a person in the Lutheran tradition who benefited from white privilege and therefore deserved a good deconstructing and the conversation moved on – except for me ’cause I was still going “What? Bonhoeffer? Y’all gonna be talkin’ shit on Bonhoeffer?” and then a week went by and I was still thinking about it and now I’m apparently goin’ on about it here. But I gotta give it some kinda context because not everybody knows nuthin’ about Bonhoeffer.

I should start off by acknowledging that Dietrich B was privileged as all get out, but it was more class privilege than white privilege because Deutschland in the early 20th century was pretty much all white. There might’ve been some Turks in the cities, but not a whole lot. The Bonhoeffers were rich and well-known and the kids certainly had access to the best education and social connections and all the perks that come with not being poor. They were also, by all accounts, a stable, loving family so Dietrich didn’t even have dysfunctional family shit to deal with. Privileged. Prob’ly the weirdest thing that happened in Haus von Bonhoeffer was when one of the twins decided to get all religious and become a pastor – that was Dietrich. The Bonhoeffers were Christian, but they were Christian in the way that prominent, intellectual families were at the time – they showed up occasionally, respected the Church and acknowledged its importance as a social institution, but they weren’t really serious about it. Dietrich’s siblings went for careers in medicine, science and academia – respectable, well-paying jobs. Dietrich’s intention to become a lowly parish pastor was surprising, but the family certainly supported him.

During a break from seminary, Dietrich traveled to the US and was appalled by the racial conditions. The segregation he witnessed disgusted him. He visited AME churches in New York and saw that they had a better understanding of the message of Christ than the white liberals who were hosting him. He spent as much time as possible among African-Americans during the rest of his time in the States.

Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer saw that the political situation was becoming problematic – the Nazis were in power and were amping up the antisemitism. They were also cracking down on Christians. A lot of people don’t know that the Nazis formed an “official” version of Christianity with an Aryan, antisemitic Jesus who proclaimed racial superiority. Bonhoeffer was having none of it. He spoke out publicly, denouncing the Nazis and opposing the growing tide of antisemitism. This got him in trouble. By 1939, he was clearly in danger. Through family connections, he was able to secure passage back to New York.

He was in NYC for a couple weeks. His conscience gnawed at him until he went back to Germany. He said that he would not be able to participate in building a new Germany if he did not endure the suffering. See, Bonhoeffer was sure that there would be another world war, and that Germany would be defeated again. He got a job at a civilian intelligence agency, working for the Nazis, and used his position to relay information to the German resistance. He also helped smuggle Jews out of Germany. Within the resistance, which included some high-ranking military officers, there were some who wanted to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer reluctantly became part of the plot.

I wanna flag this point because it’s a major thing for me. Bonhoeffer wasn’t exactly a pacifist, but he wasn’t keen on murder either. He knew that killing anybody, even Hitler, was a pretty big sin. But not killing Hitler meant the killing of Jews – people of color, homosexuals, people with mental illness, alcoholics &c – would continue. There was no option that wasn’t wrong.

Hitler survived the explosion in the cabinet meeting. If he had died, the conspirators would have initiated Operation Valkyrie – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Valkyrie – and ended WWII. (There’s a movie about it which is irredeemably marred by the presence of Tom Cruise.) The conspirators were found out, including Bonhoeffer.

All accounts of Bonhoeffer in prison represent him as a deeply compassionate and serene man. He ministered to his fellow prisoners and to the guards. He went to the gallows quietly, forgiving those who were about to kill him. He died two weeks before the prison camp was liberated.

So, let’s deconstruct that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a privileged individual who did everything he could to oppose racism and oppression. He spoke out publicly, rejected the opportunity to escape suffering that his position gave him, and died in service to the liberation of oppressed people.

I’m all for deconstructing white privilege if “deconstructing” means tearing it down. If, however, “deconstructing” means a buncha liberals sitting around talking about how much privilege somebody else had, I don’t see the point. We are not going to advance the cause of justice by yammering with our friends about how privileged other people are or were. Certainly, the problem must be understood, and some adjustments have to be made about how we think about historical figures, but trashing Bonhoeffer or Thomas Jefferson or Woodrow Wilson will never fix anything. Those dudes are dead.

The privilege we have to examine is our own. (Matthew 7:4-5). Whether it’s white privilege or class privilege or cis-het privilege or whatever. And after we acknowledge it, we have to get up and do something. Actively, physically, go out and do something. I’m not necessarily saying get in the middle of a riot and throw a brick through a Starbucks window, but that would be better than sitting around with some hipsters yammering about the white privilege of a dead dude. Do anything. (I started to talk about what I do, but then realized that I was very close to boasting, so I deleted it.)

Talk is not action. Examining figures like Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a fine thought experiment, but if ya really dig down, Bonhoeffer becomes one to emulate, not criticize. If all white folks were willing to hang for racial justice, we wouldn’t have to.

I have taken the Irenicast peeps to task here. I really like the podcast and encourage people to listen. They’re doing good stuff. This whole post was inspired by one comment about one dead Lutheran nerd – that’s what podcasts should do. Get people thinking. I will continue to listen to Irenicast – and I’ll send them this post.

Aight. I will write more about Bonhoeffer eventually. The point I flagged is a major one to me – the point of no good options. I wanna unpack that.

But now, I gotta go work. I’m helping a friend renovate his house. We only kinda know what we’re doing.