Praying the Lord’s Prayer in a Pandemic

Praying the Lord’s Prayer in a Pandemic
March 28, 2020 – David R. Weiss

Perhaps no prayer is more widely known among Christians than the prayer given to us by Jesus himself. Many have come to know it by heart simply by praying it again and again and again in weekly worship. It’s almost like Christian “comfort food.” Words we might recite to calm ourselves in a moment of crisis. Like now.

Yet this prayer has more than comfort in mind. Which is good, because while we surely long for comfort in this season of such uncertainty, we also need wisdom, conviction, and courage. This prayer is overflowing with the things we need right now. And Jesus not only offers it to us, he commands it of us.

I present it here as a prayerful meditation. I invite you to slowly read your way through it, phrase by phrase. Let the bits of insight I offer deepen the meaning of each phrase as it rests—or moves restlessly about—in your heart. You may never say this prayer the same way again. But right now there is a pandemic afoot in our world, so let us pray in this moment with Jesus.

Jesus said, Pray then in this way. The verb is imperative—an order: Pray! As though Jesus knew that discipleship—following in the way he set forth—required prayer. And “in this way.” This prayer offers us a way to align ourselves with Jesus, to tune our hearts to God. In a hospital ER or ICU when the doctor gives an instruction followed by the word, “stat!” it means “do it now!—immediately!” Today Jesus says, Pray then in this way. Stat!

Our Father/Mother who is in heaven. Before we even get to the gender question, note the very first word: Our. Even if I pray this prayer alone, that first word reminds me—commands me—to acknowledge that I am praying to our God. This prayer is no private act, it is political because it joins me to my fellow Christians who pray with me, even if their prayers rise at different hours and from different places. In this prayer we pray always together.

Father/Mother—yes, the Greek says “Father,” but we know the Aramaic word Jesus used to name God was Abba. And that word would be better rendered as “Papa” to capture the respect-saturated-with-affection that Abba hints at. From toddler to grown adult, one might call one’s father “Papa,” and thereby wrap the relationship in warmth and trust and love. Indeed, what is striking about the word Abba is not its gender but its emotive content. The sacred energy that swirls at the beginning (and ending) of all that is, is wholly beyond our finite notions of gender. But this prayer tells us that this Presence is worthy of our warmth and trust and love. Hence we say, not with formal distance, but with happy affection, Our Papa/Mama who is in heaven …

Hallowed be your name. Hallowed, as in “made holy”: set apart; beyond ordinary—that is, extraordinary; held in highest honor. But what name? YHWH, the tetragrammaton (literally, “the four letters”) that comprise the name of God. Our Jewish cousins hold it as too holy even to speak. It is, in a sense, God’s personal name. When Moses is being commissioned to lead the Exodus he says to the voice speaking from the burning bush, “Tell me your name.” On one level it’s like asking God for a business card. “If I’m going to tell the rest of my people to pack their things and follow me out of Egypt, I’m going to need to tell them on whose authority I’m speaking. Who are you?” But, more than this, it is Moses’ desperate plea to have a foothold in the relationship. “Look, this sounds like a suicide mission. Freedom? Bold idea. Maybe worth dying for … with a friend. So if we’re going to do this together, at least tell me who you are.”

To both of these question God says, YHWH, which means, “I will be who I will be.” In other words, “Whatever deeds must be done to set you free, I will do them. Whatever is needed to get you to a land flowing with milk and honey, I will provide.” “Oh, and the terms of trust between us? My name is liberation and freedom. I exist only—and always—to promote the flourishing of my creation, to undo oppression in any corner where it arises. Any label, box, or building you make for me will be too small. I will be at your side, Moses, but the sheer freedom of my being-for-liberation means that my nickname will always be “surprise’.” That’s the name we pray to hallow. May your name—your faithful longing for liberation and flourishing … and your capacity to surprise us—be made holy, held in highest honor by us.

Your kingdom come. Kingdom, as in God’s kingdom, is frequently on Jesus’ lips. More verb than noun, it names a dynamic: the ongoing, unfolding, disrupting, in-breaking activity of God-reigning-as-king. It is life echoing the liberating-flourishing name of God. I often say “kin-dom” of God, because we see clearly in Jesus’ ministry (and in the early church) that God’s “reign” happens not via top-down power relationships but via ever-widening circle of kinship. In a world hell-bent on division, the activity of God reigning as king is kin-making.

At all times, but especially in the face of a pandemic, to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom is to make our pledge of allegiance to any worldly flag or nation … conditional. Our true allegiance is to the kin-making activity of God … and to the kin we are joined to in God’s kin-dom. Which, to be eloquently blunt, is the whole of humanity and the entire web of creation. Nothing less. Thus, May the regal kinship we have with all persons—and all of creation—come to be known in our hearts and seen in our deeds.

Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Here it begins to get tricky. God’s name (liberation-flourishing-justice) and God’s in-breaking kingdom (kin-making activity) are God’s will. And, if you haven’t noticed, at least most human societies on earth have a different agenda. A different will. My advice is that you either pass over this petition in trepidation without saying it—or recognize that as these words move on your breath, passing from heart and lungs across your lips, you become a co-conspirator—literally one who breathes with Jesus—in facing down the claims of empire … including our own. I hope you say the words. But it matters that you know the stakes when you do. These are no words of easy comfort, as though God will take care of everything without disturbing anything. Not at all.

And during a pandemic, when there are pundits, politicians, and presidents who set an agenda decidedly against God’s will—to place profit above public health, to restart the economy at the expense of our least ones, to miscommunicate while catastrophe festers—in times like these … times like now, these are words of resistance and uprising. Those of us who dare, we pray Against those who mock your name, O God, and against those who dismiss your dawning kin-dom—we breathe with you, conspiring to birth your will now … here … on earth.

Give us this day our daily bread. Who knew such a mundane phrase as “daily bread” could curry such exegetical controversy? The Greek word behind “daily” appears only here in the New Testament and seemingly nowhere else. While “daily” has clearly won the day in the tradition we inherited, the nuances are plentiful, and if there is any consensus among the scholars, it’s that “daily” falls short in translation. Arguments are made for “bread of the day,” as in Eucharistic bread. Or “bread enough for this day,” as in all things needed for life. Or “bread for a single day,” as was true of manna in the wilderness during the Exodus, which rotted if you tried to hoard it. Or “bread of that day which is to come,” as in the feast of God’s final fulfillment of all things. Or “bread that is superessential or supersubstantial,” as in that which truly feeds our souls. Or, finally, “bread that never runs out,” as in sustenance that persists without fail.

Are we then to pray for this whole cacophony of meanings? In a pandemic we could do worse. Tempted to hoard—is toilet paper the new bread?—the analogy to manna is pointed at any who profess to be Christians with stockpiling the TP. Longing for Communion while our communal worship is suspended in cyberspace, praying for that bread is certainly poignant. Living beneath the specter of a world beset by fevers and coughing spells, a shuttered economy, and an outbreak of anxiety, the hope for a meal signaling that all is fulfilled is surely heartfelt. And in these days when familiarity is in short supply, to pray for bread that feeds our souls in ways we did not even know that we were hungry for, that bread is priceless. Pray then as your hunger leads you, remembering that, at a minimum, this bread is ever ours: shared. No loaf of any sort in this prayer is private. Give us that bread—mundane or holy, future or soulful—but please, O Lord, give it now. Or hallow our very hunger for your ends.

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors. We might prefer the abstract “sins” or the more archaic “trespasses,” but the Greek says “debts.” And we all have debts. In our present society debt seems to be the cost of doing business … even if one’s only business is trying to stay alive. Student loan debt, credit card debt, medical debt, our lives are hemmed in by debt on all sides, especially among the least of us, for whom our economy has become so predatory. But the earliest Hebrew society, formed in the aftermath of their harrowing experience of slavery, imagined a Jubilee: a festival of debt forgiveness that regularly reset social opportunity and aspiration—and limited anyone’s capacity to build wealth on the debt of others.

Of course, the debts we ask God to forgive are not monetary. But they’re no less concrete. From the prophets to Jesus, we learn that what we owe to God is care shown to others in the most concrete ways. Think feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. Think, too, living wages, union rights, and universal health care. And while we seek forgiveness for the times we’ve missed the mark here, notice that the very forgiveness we seek is directly related—“as we have forgiven”—to the forgiveness we offer. Not that we “buy” our forgiveness. Rather, the only way we know—actually experience—the forgiveness we seek is in the very deed of paying it forward to others. Pull us, O God, into the swirling grace of debt forgiveness that is the beginning of justice and hope for us all.

Lead us not into temptation (or the time of trial). Consider all the ground we’ve covered with the few prayerful words to this point. The our-ness of praying, the Abba-ness of God, the holy disrupting name, the kin-making kingdom, the heavenly will that wants our conspiratorial breath, too, the bread of our hunger, and the debts we are called to forgive. The ground staked out thus far is no retreat into the safety of our tribe or the comfort of our privilege. Wittingly or otherwise, we have prayed to be stretched towards others, to overcome the “social distancing” baked into our racial-economic-class-gender-cultural differences.

Luther names the primary temptation we face as the desire to become “curved inward upon ourselves” (or with those whom we consider most like us). This temptation is omnipresent in times of pandemic. From hoarding goods to judging others, from escalating anxiety to debilitating despair. Our temptation is to see only from our perspective when the best choices we can make come from a perspective that weaves as many others as we can into our angle of vision. Even sadness and outright anguish can be a bridge that joins us to others. Keep us from turning inward in this moment when the world needs us moving outward—even if at a distance —more than ever before.

But deliver us from evil. There are—always have been, maybe always will be, persons and social forces (Paul calls them “principalities and powers”)—that are focused on curving self and others inward. They use language to heighten xenophobia, fear, and hatred of others. They prey by phone/email/web scam—or by public policy or podium pronouncement—on the most vulnerable ones … for whom God’s concern is greatest. Against these efforts we pray—and the “us” is universal, covering those who will be fine but more fervently those whose wellbeing is on the line—that all of us might be delivered.

One might argue that narcissism is Luther’s notion of incurvatus se (Latin: curved in upon oneself) elevated to pathology. It manifests both in persons and in systems. Death itself is not evil; but the grotesque impulse to sell stock based on inside pandemic knowledge, to barter the lives of the elderly for economic gain, to trade the (often unseen) vulnerabilities of our siblings to steady Wall Street wealth, to downplay the threat as a political strategy, or to wield power with partisan bias during a public health crisis, this is evil. And we pray against it. Deliver all of us from evil—and do so by opening our hearts and deeds to one another—every last one of us made kin by You.

For the kingdom, and the power, and the glory are yours forever. By now this prayer we ran to for comfort has turned out to ask so much of us, we might regret ever beginning to pray. What confidence do we have that these paltry words can unleash the wild hope we’ve dared to invest in them? This petition tells why. We assert—declare by virtue of radical faith and grounded in glimpses of truth experienced in our own lives—that the power to do these things is real and active among us. From before the beginning and until after the end, God is. And kin-making, freedom-launching, justice-doing, mercy-sowing, world-changing—these things are the power and glory of God. So we pray, All that we have asked and pledged, rest in You … and, by your grace, in us.

Amen. Much more than a liturgical period on a prayer, “Amen” means “Indeed!” “May it be so!” (The tone of the word supplies its own exclamation point.) So, even as we come to an end of prayer, we “double-down” and shout (regardless of how loud our voice is) one last word of conviction. Amen! 

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on March 28, 2020. 4 Comments

Hospitality … in “the Distance”

Hospitality … in “the Distance”
March 22, 2020 – David R. Weiss

“Pro-tip for couples suddenly working from home together: Get yourselves an imaginary co-worker to blame things on. In our apartment, Cheryl keeps leaving her dirty water cups all over the place and we really don’t know what to do about her.”

It was a tongue-in-cheek meme I saw on Facebook. A bit of pandemic humor aimed at helping folks suddenly finding themselves both co-homed and co-working cope with this new wrinkle in their relationship. I chuckled because Margaret and I were facing precisely that reality. And I bit. The next day—Margaret’s first working from home alongside me—I created a little placard to post in our dining room (er, shared office suite) with room for a changing date and the name of our latest “imaginary co-worker.” Innocent fun in an anxious moment. We posted a photo of the placard to Facebook.

March 17, 2020. We have our workplace stress management plan in place. Figure we’ll work our way through the alphabet so that no name gets too stigmatized. Already today “Alexis” has made a couple significant missteps. Won’t be bringing her back tomorrow!

We got several dozen likes and a couple wry comments on Facebook. Perhaps more importantly—although Margaret and I get along famously most of the time—it offered a gentle bit of warmth to set between us. Our work is trying. I read and wrangle words all day long. It might seem “easy,” but my creative process is a lot like making maple syrup. You get to enjoy the sweetness; I spend all day sweating while I boil down the sap. Margaret, meanwhile, is head- and heart-deep in helping the City of Minneapolis Public Health Department fashion its emergency response to the coming wave of illness to roil all 10,000 of our lakes and 5-plus million of our lives.

March 18, 2020. So, Margaret had to go into work today – Mpls is going into Emergency Response mode and she’s part of that; will still be working from home most days, but today it’s just me and Brendan here for lunch. And that dipshit decided to work through lunch to “impress the boss.” People, in this moment we need be there for each other! Brendan will need to find another boss to impress tomorrow…

“Brendan” got dozens of likes and laughs—and a life of his own in the comments before. Turns out a number of people had “met” him before in other settings and had opinions as well. “Brendan the buttkisser.” “I’ve never really liked Brendan.” “Brendan. What as @sshole. Seriously. Won’t even wash his hands.” One friend—a church friend, no less!—challenged, “So … that’s 2 in a row. Either you’re hiring shitty employees, or you’re a shitty boss. Just sayin’.” I replied, “Whoa there! But maybe you’re right. We went with ‘Sure Hire Intelli-Temps,’ and now I’m thinking I should’ve checked the acronym before signing the contract.” Late in the day, another friend—facing the pandemic with a child at home and a husband in the hospital in Michigan, wrote, “Seriously, this is my favorite thing ever. Thank you for a daily laugh when there’s so much stress in the world. Anxiously waiting to C who S.H.I.T. sends tomorrow!!” It seems our little inside joke is a balm beyond our four walls. So we kept it up.

March 19, 2020. This morning the temp firm sent over Cinnamyn to join our work team for the day. (Really, who names a kid that?) “Just like the spice,” she says. “But you can call me “Cyn, because everybody likes a little Cyn now and then.” She winked. I winced. Margaret glared. Oy.

Cyn garnered dozens more likes and laughs and generated some self-help conversation after Margaret warned me, “Watch it buddy. I got my eyes on you!” One friend at the end of our block commented, “Thank you so much for sharing your misadventures in short-term staffing. It is honestly a light in the day. And this one I shared with some colleagues, who think Cyn sounds ‘friendly’ and ‘has a personality.’” I agreed, replying, “Shhh … I thought so, too, but don’t dare say that out loud.” But another cautioned, “Well, there’s personality, and then there’s personality—be careful!” My cousin chimed in from North Carolina, “Beware of ‘Cyn’s’ allure—being Lutheran, there’s no confession to absolve you of poor choices!”

Midday, Margaret posted a picture of us bundled up against the rain, “Taking a walk, leaving ‘Cyn’ in charge while gone. Hmmmm, not sure about that.” We came home thirty minutes later to be informed by a high school friend in Wisconsin, “Cinnamyn is currently running a ‘video chat’ service out of your house using your internet. ‘Everybody needs a little Cyn’.” I’m guessing we’ll be changing internet providers now. The day ended with a college friend in Iowa observing (I think appreciatively), “You are both sick, SICK people, but I am glad you can manage to keep your sense of humor in all this. LOL! Stay safe.”

Friday things got … a little cheeky …

March 20, 2020. Well, I’d like to say that Darrell, our Sure Hire Intelli-Temp for the day, has been a joy to work with, but it’s more accurate to say that he’s been a real gas … and not in the most pleasant way. Do we really need to vet an employee’s night-before dinner choices? I know, everyone says “stock up on canned beans—powerful protein packed in a can.” Sadly, all that protein is getting packed in our can today, too.

Besides adding more emojis to our collection, Darrell went “on the road,” being shared to several other walls, adding his pungent presence to friends of friends that we didn’t even know. The first comment came from a retired social worker a bit peeved by the latest White House press conference, “Thanks David! I’m so pissed off today. I needed this.” A friend in our neighborhood recalled, “Darrell was banned from the employee lunch room when he had a stint at Traveler’s Insurance downtown—after a week, some asked him to go sit outside at the lunch tables. He made friends—but it was limited to outside time …” I read that out loud to Margaret, unable to restrain my giggles. When Margaret commented on that to our friend, she replied, “I’m glad; the whole idea is funny, and I enjoy it also. Trying to find fun with others is helping me, too. Cannot wait to see who your latest coworker will be!”

At the end of what had been an unusually trying day, we still faced a full sink of dirty dishes prompting Margaret to post a picture: “Farrell’s one job today was to put away clean dishes and wash dirty ones. Needless to say, he won’t be back tomorrow.” I added, “WTF? He told me he was going to ‘clear it all out’ before he left for the day. Oh … sh*t … have you tried the bathroom lately? He definitely cleared something out! Ugh!” Margaret’s typo was accidental (check your keyboard, F is right next to D), but by now Darrell had a defender in my cousin here in Minnesota. “Margaret, not quite sure, but maybe by calling him Farrell instead of Darrell he got a little miffed. Though clearly you both were pretty close-minded from the start with this guy. Not sure he could have done anything well enough for you today.” Margaret shot back, “He was an oops from the start.” But my cousin was not letting up, “I still hope you gain a little patience and compassion over the weekend, seemed to me to be in short supply today!” (I’m not sure she knew how true that was!) Margaret offered in her defense, “Well, I have had another ‘D’ [um—me!] to contend with today … and every day.” My cousin wisely and graciously typed, “I’ll just leave that one alone …” Thank you!

This morning we got our final comment on yesterday’s escapade, from a friend just across the river in Minneapolis, “You guys are hilarious—and it is desperately needed!”

Innocent fun in an anxious moment? Hardly. Margaret heard someone suggest we reframe what we’re doing as “physical distancing” to be clear that the goal is to preserve our capacity for social relationships (by preserving our physical health). “Social distancing”—however well-intended the term was—can send the devastating subliminal message that the point is to thin our social connectedness. Nothing could be further from the truth. To weather this storm we need to do the exact opposite: to deepen our social connectedness in creative and non-physical ways so as to sustain our social-emotional-physical health in the midst of this global health crisis. We need to extend hospitality … in the midst of physical distance. How?

Margaret and I pretty much married ourselves to hospitality when we married each other. Having dated seriously for a year in college, it wasn’t until twenty years later, both divorced and with children, that we actually bound our lives to one another. When we did (in 2001), we shaped our wedding ceremony around “seven sacred stones”—calling out seven core values that had ripened in each of our lives independently. These “sacred stones” have been at the center of our marriage—our shared life—ever since. And one of them was, in fact, hospitality: honoring the place that conviviality plays in our lives. [1] Many who’ve been part of our lives—and in our home—since then will testify that “hospitality” is at the heart of who are.

It looks like we won’t be welcoming anyone into our home again anytime soon—except for those imaginary temp employees (who, as my cousin observed, haven’t exactly been blanketed with hospitality—oops). But through them, and that humorous window into the foibles of our now working-from-home life, we continue to extend hospitality to our friends … in “the distance.” This isn’t to downplay the seriousness of either the pandemic or the painful disruption it’s causing in many lives—including our own. It’s simply to say that humor and hospitality are still worth sharing. You can tune in at www.facebook.com/davidrweiss. Who knows the challenges that S.H.I.T. might send our way next week …

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

[1] You can find a list of all seven sacred stones here: https://tothetune.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/seven-golden-stones.pdf.

A Father’s Words to Far Off Children

A Father’s Words to Far Off Children
March 20, 2020 – David R. Weiss

About two years ago both of my youngest children moved from here out to California. Ben, along with his wife, Jess, moved to Sacramento where she took a position in HR with Pepsi. He continues to work for a Minneapolis firm that specializes in digital archiving—work that he does from a multi-monitor virtual desktop in their home. Just a couple months after their move, Susanna joined them in California, beginning her Ph.D. work in chemistry at Berkeley, about 90 miles from Sacramento.

As a father, it’s been a gift to know that even as they are further from me than ever before, at least they’re a reasonable car drive or train ride from each other. One way I’ve dealt with the distance between us is to establish a discipline of writing them each monthly letters—typed up and sent by snail mail. No mere notes, I’m using them to collect and share family memories: legacy letters. This month, however, I decided to write “into” the pandemic. When I mailed this, Susanna was already under a shelter-in-place order, but Ben and Jess (in Sacramento) were not yet. That changed last night, a day or two before my letter will even reach them.

Although the monthly letters are usually quite similar, I write one to each of them, tweaking it to match their lives. They are, after all, personal letters to my children. This one, though, might offer some words of wisdom to others, so I am sharing a “blended” version here. I make no great claims to wisdom, but I will say that I love them with my whole heart and if there is wisdom here, it is due in large part to that love.

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Dear Susanna & Ben—

I’m writing to you today from a changed world. Everything we took for granted about the future has now called our bluff, and we are left wondering whether “normal” was just a childhood fancy we didn’t realize we’d have to outgrow. And here we are.

Your life will be different from this moment forward—demarcated into pre-pandemic and post-pandemic eras. It’s true that 9/11 changed many things. But this pandemic is so much more far-reaching. From one end of the globe to another, aviation, health services, human services, economies, athletic schedules, education, societies, families will all be stretched right up to … and sometimes past … the breaking point. I expect that, far from being a single month of awkward inconvenience, this season of severe dislocation is likely to last for months—perhaps many months … perhaps into next year. Who knows how your education, post-grad job prospects, your current work job—or Jess’s—will be impacted. In many ways this pandemic reveals how essential sound science and chemistry as well as computer networks and basic retail services are in our society. On the other hand, our economy—across the globe—is going to be deeply hurt. Most notions of “progress” will be seriously staggered. (And some of them should be!)

But not all. And that’s what I want to write a few words about this month.

Of course, you “know” all this already. It’s how you were raised. But the path from childhood into adulthood is winding and sometimes treacherous. And there are many pressures along the way that encourage you to forget or trade in these deeper learnings for “shinier” but less life-giving values. So please read these words carefully. There is so little I can do from so far away to keep you safe or whole as this pandemic settles in and re-defines our lives. But I can offer you these words about how you might still make “progress” while it seems like everything except the pandemic is on “pause.”

(1) You are enough. No matter what tomorrow brings, you are already enough today. If the world never returns to normal, you are enough. And you have gifts right now to bring to the world as it is today and as it might become. Rest in your enough-ness.

(2) Now is the time to practice kindness to yourself and to others. Feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, isolation, and anxiety may run deep. Hold them as gently as you would a grieving friend. They are real and trustworthy—not all there is, but nonetheless worth your acceptance and comfort. Those you live with, and others in your circle of family and friends, will have waves of the same. Show as much comfort and empathy as you can. Being present in these raw moments is how we build authentic bonds strong enough to hold us together. Margaret Mead regarded evidence of a healed femur as the first sign of “civilization”—because it indicated a people willing to care for those who could not care for themselves. That was the birth of kindness. Keep it alive.

(3) You are unique. Kindness is a generic good you can be universally generous with. But you also are blessed with an abundance of ways that you are uniquely you. In this time of upheaval-dislocation-forced-seclusion, settle into the selves you treasure. Pick up your violin (or hurdy-gurdy) now and again. Relish your baking and cooking skills. Keep up your food shelf work (assuming it stays up). Read. Walk. Journal. Frederick Buechner says (and I agree), vocation is that place where your own deep gladness meets the world’s deep need, then use this disruptive pause in your life to take stock of your deep joys—surely chemistry or IT/library/archiving work is among them, too—and spend some time asking how that gladness might meet the world’s deep needs tomorrow … and, yes, already today.

(4) Each moment has untold depth to it … and community comes in many forms. If, in fact, our lives are severely disrupted for a year or longer, the days might begin to seem interminably long. So fashion a rhythm that makes them (insofar as possible) life-giving instead. Be active (outdoors whenever possible) at least a bit each and every day. Make a habit of setting aside some time for daily (and sometimes deep) conversation with Kerry/Jess about life itself. (The types of conversation you’ve always “meaning” to have, but are often too busy to have—have them now.) Set up a rhythm of video chats with friends and with family. Against the uncertainty of in-person social contacts, weave a virtual network that links you deeply to others. And don’t be afraid of the quiet. Sometimes the stillness itself brings gifts. Let your cats, Luna, Porter, Penny, and Puck remind you that even the pandemic does not reach everywhere. I hear the birds singing outside our window each morning as though the spring is coming right on time. They are oblivious to the anxiety that greets ME when I wake. Yet their singing reminds me that the seasons WILL come; life WILL move forward (even if very differently for us); and that nature’s capacity for simple joy knows no bounds.

(5) Learning always matters. The future course of your education or career may well be altered as this pandemic sends ripples through universities and workplaces across the country—who knows how those ripples will reach you. But nothing you have ever learned or done is wasted. It all becomes part of you—even the forgotten bits leave traces in your psyche or echoes in your habits. So don’t despair over this disruption. What you’ve learned and done—and why—become even more important now. So find ways to keep your mind nimble even while other things are on hold. Everything you know and learn and do adds to the whole of who you are. Already enough. Always becoming more.

(6) Joy is a renewable resource—and one that has infinite variety. There will come days when you wish life could return to pre-pandemic days. It won’t. EVER. Someday we’ll reach the far side and land a different shore. But there’s no going back. Still, even now, there is joy to be had. Laughter at whimsy. Awe at beauty. Wonder at deep friendships. The taste of good food. Joy at community experienced in new ways under new challenges. And these things are not fixed or limited resources. No matter how many months this journey takes, there will always be the possibility of joy … today … and again tomorrow. Even under new constraints. Always welcome joy.

(7) Lastly, justice lies in the arc of the universe waiting for you to bend it. This pandemic will reveal (even further) the way that inequities in our society can be deadly. Far from “weeding out” the weakest among us, it will exact its toll primarily on those most exploited. Those whose lives are made weak by the dys-values of greed and power and “progress.” Pay attention to what is revealed here. Because part of your vocation is to figure out how your deep gladness can help bend the arc toward justice. Doing that, more than any other “progress” you make, will place your life in the great river of Meaning and Purpose. That’s where you want to end up.

… until next month, from St. Paul out to Berkeley and Sacramento, wrapping around the moon along the way, I love you. Dad

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

BREAKING: God Tests Positive

BREAKING: God Tests Positive
March 16, 2020 – David R. Weiss

(City of Zion) HNN – In a stunning overnight development, the angel Gabriel (they/them), long serving as God’s press secretary, acknowledged in a hurriedly assembled morning press conference that El Shaddai, the Breasted One who fashioned and sustains heaven and earth, has tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus presently sweeping across the globe. Accompanied by archangel Michael (also, they/them), commander of the Heavenly Host, the two angels took questions for some time, although their answers rarely satisfied members of the world’s press corps.

The brief opening statement offered few details and read simply, “Almighty God, that One who is before all things, after all things, and for all things, has tested positive for the coronavirus known as COVID-19. As such, we in the Heavenly Realm now stand in full and vulnerable solidarity with Earth’s people. While we, saints and angels alike, do not know precisely what the future holds, we in Heaven remain committed to our partnership with Earth—including keeping all borders open for trade, travel, and mutual support. We appreciate your prayers even as we offer you ours.”

A reporter with Reuters asked how it was that God, Omnipotent Ruler of All, could be felled by a virus of their own creation. Gabriel explained, “Many humans have a wholly inaccurate perception of omnipotence. For the Holy One, power resides in presence, and presence presumes mutuality. God dwells with and within creation. This arrangement, instituted by the Divine shortly after time began, has provided a few surprises over the eons, but God remains well pleased with their decision.”

Another member of the press—wearing a Guardian media badge—tried to ascertain what threat the virus might pose to the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Michael explained that, although the Lord was in excellent health, simply on account of their age—Ancient of Days—they certainly fell into the high-risk category. As a result the holy city would be taking steps to support God’s well-being “in all appropriate ways.”

The exchanges grew testy when the Fox News reporter challenged the opening statement as “fake news,” repeatedly interrupting both Gabriel and Michael as they sought to reply. It appeared the Fox reporter was shouting “no change-backs,” while insisting this latest news was utterly at odds with the way God had been represented in the Bible.

When the shouting subsided, others in the room could only catch the curt concluding remarks by Gabriel, which ended thus, “Look, if you read the book carefully, it’s pretty clear that the Author of All Things is not hung up on inerrancy, preferring to work with all manner of persons: prophets, kings, queens, even children, shepherds and such, who are ‘distinguished’ as much by their faults as by their virtues. Bottom line: your stubborn misunderstanding is not our fault. Next question.”

At this point the room fell silent until a young girl with PBS Kids network inquired in a tone of genuine concern, “Will God die?” To which Gabriel reacted with unexpected glee, “Excellent question! Not because it’s exactly correct as posed, but because it comes from compassion—which is where all the best questions arise. Thank you for asking!” He then deferred to Michael, who offered the official heavenly response.

“The only honest answer, child, is yes. And no. Each time a human being dies, Almighty God experiences that death as fully as if it were their own. Each time a human being recovers, Almighty God regains their strength and relishes restored health. But most importantly, because of the way God’s Wisdom has been woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, each time one human being reaches out to another in kindness or justice—in those moments Almighty God comes so fully alive that all the Host of Heaven feel the feathers rise and tremble on our wingtips.” And indeed they shivered with unrepressed delight as they spoke.

Gabriel added, “This is why the Almighty and All-Vulnerable God is named Emmanuel (that is, God-with-us). Having chosen to be God-with, the Breath of God rises and falls particularly in the freely chosen compassionate deeds of human beings. Right now, the virus-laden breathing of El Shaddai is precariously shallow. It is our fervent hope that as humans dedicate themselves to the care of one another—both in what they do and in what they refrain from doing—that we will see the Breath of God restored. Thank you.”

As the reporters left the room, a thundering dry cough could be heard echoing in the city, as if to punctuate the fraught urgency of the moment.

—Heavenly News Network
This is a breaking news report. Check back for updates.

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on March 16, 2020. 2 Comments

Making Ourselves Present

Making Ourselves Present
March 15, 2020 – David R. Weiss

Our lives will be turned sideways by COVID-19 over the coming weeks and months. And, unless you happen to enjoy living life knocked sideways, we’ll find that inconvenient, frustrating, and completely overwhelming (at least at times). We’re all likely to become well acquainted with expletives and shed more than a few tears.

Unfortunately, this isn’t negotiable. COVID-19 is moving invisibly across our country, and it will try to infect all of us—that’s how viruses act. This one is set up particularly well to do just that. It’s new to humans, so no one anywhere has any immunity yet. It’s highly contagious, so it moves easily from one person to the next by direct or indirect contact. And it’s contagious even before its symptomatic, so we can pass it to someone else even before we know to put up our guard. While it kills only a fraction (1-3%) of those who get infected, it’s at least ten times more deadly than the flu—and, among the elderly and those with other respiratory conditions or compromised immune systems, it’s twenty times more deadly.

That’s why there’s so much emphasis on radical, inconvenient, social distancing right now. If we want to keep the strongest among us (who might only get a mild case) from infecting the weakest among us (who might well die), we need to keep our distance. All of us from each other. To not do so puts everyone at greater risk, because as infections rise, and those hit hardest by them threaten to overwhelm our medical systems, it will impact medical care for everyone who needs it for any reason anywhere.

In too many ways our culture, our economy, and our profit-care health system have left us not only ill-prepared but dys-prepared (that is, set up to fail) for a moment like this. We’ve been raised-taught-shaped to prize individual freedom over community wellbeing. Most of us have lived our whole lives thinking that a “normal” economy is one in which everyone is expected to fight for themselves and in which social safety nets, like paid sick leave, living wages, and child care, are only begrudgingly extended and often at a bare minimum. And our medical system is held hostage to a profit-care insurance system that insists on treating health as an investment opportunity rather than a human right in a civil society. More recently, a growing percentage of our populace have been lured into actively distrusting science and math—as though these skills, so fundamental to successfully navigating our world, have suddenly become part of an “agenda” because they raise real questions about the wisdom of the choices we’ve been sold.

Because this is the water in which we swim, it’s hard to imagine any other way to be than continuing to act in the very ways that have set us up for disaster. And that inability will be deadly for thousands of us (or many more) if we cannot start—yesterday—thinking outside the box.

It’s no wonder that we grouse and grumble as events are canceled, whole sporting seasons are suspended-paused-postponed, churches are asked to temporarily stop communal worship, and schools are closed by state mandates or local decisions. Our lives are being thrown sideways for a common good we can barely conceive of: the chance we can avoid mass deaths on a scale few of us alive today have EVER entertained outside of a movie. And if we are successful, the very measure of our success will be that we will have seemed to have over reacted. That’s what success will look like. We know that because of science and math. The models out there provide glimpses of worst-case scenarios that suggest if our only choices are to panic now or grieve later, we’d be wise to panic now.

BUT THERE IS A THIRD OPTION: to engage in downright dramatic social distancing, paying full heed to the clearest voices in public health who are counseling the best ways to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic, which will lessen its impact on all of us.

There are, of course, profound challenges in this. Even in our strongest family units, the prospect of an unplanned month-long “adventure” in having kids socially contained and engaged in distance learning at home can be overwhelming. Add in homes where both parents work, or single-parent homes, or those with very limited economic or emotional resources, or those without access to paid sick/family leave, or those where safety is simply not present in the home, and you have a perfect storm for intense social strain.

But, remember, we created-elected-purchased these conditions for our lives. This is a perfect storm of our own making. And we can unmake these conditions, albeit not swiftly enough to ease the strain this time around. But God forbid we fail to learn from this moment, because, if anything, COVID-19 is a pop quiz for our readiness to deal with the coming challenges of climate crisis. What we learn in this season of pandemic will serve us well in the years ahead. What we refuse to learn now about the failings of our present system (assuming we and our loved ones survive) will almost certainly come for us next time. I say this not to be glum, but to make sure that we pay attention right now. There are things to learn in this chaos. We can learn them. And we can ill afford not to.

What’s most important right now is the sort of frantic-yet-calm focus that emerges after a natural disaster like a tornado or a flood. Where it becomes manifestly clear that an entire world has been undone, and that our first job is to band together and slowly move forward. The difference regarding this pandemic is that here we’re being asked to turn our social lives sideways—undoing one big part of our world—in order to safeguard (or at least lessen) the extent to which the more fundamental fabric of our lives is going to be stretched or torn asunder in the coming months. But we can only do this by acting before that other world is undone. Before infections are out of control. Before hospitals are overrun. Before health care workers drop from exhaustion (or disease). Before our prisons and our homeless centers become seedbeds for the virus. We need to rise to an occasion not yet seen.

We can only act with sufficient—frantic-yet-calm—resolve if we can envision the worst that we wish to prevent, and then use that as motivation to reconfigure our lives before that worst hits, and in hopes that it doesn’t. And, quite honestly, wishing to preserve as much normalcy as possible is our worst enemy in this moment. The goal must be to disrupt our normalcy as thoughtfully, deliberately, strategically, and dramatically as possible.

The other critical facet of any sufficient response is that we actively seek to embrace the widest circle of concern, including for the least among us. For us to truly implement social distancing as a life-saving strategy we must identify the obstacles—and then remove them. We cannot afford to merely identify the obstacles and then decide it’s too much to ask. That way lies immense grief for those who will be lost to the pandemic. Please do not spend your time paralyzed by the difficulty of the task before us. It is an immense challenge. But not facing it will prove deadly.

So let’s face it together. (While keeping social distance between us!) Everyone will need to make sacrifices. Everyone will find some sacrifices easier to make than others. Ask for help. Offer your gifts. Call out your needs. Use phone, email, social media, even old-fashioned stamps and envelopes to hold onto each other. Strengthen ties of support in multiple indirect ways. Fill whatever needs you can for others. Be uncompromisingly creative in how you do this—but remember, collapsing our social distance for anything less than essential needs undoes the efforts of us all. Expect your local, state, and national governments to be responsive. Hold them loudly accountable if they aren’t. Expect your employers to be on board—the very fabric of the society in which they do business hangs in the balance.

There are no individual winners here. (Or there ought to be none.) Winning means dodging a bullet together as a whole community. We do that by making ourselves as fully present as possible across the necessary social distance between us. Weaving together our needs and our gifts as never before. It won’t be easy. But right now it’s the only game worth playing. Oh, and it’s your move.

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on March 15, 2020. 2 Comments

The Shape of Love in a Time of Contagion

The Shape of Love in a Time of Contagion
March 12, 2020 – David R. Weiss

I sit next to J almost very Sunday at church, and I’ve done so for close to two years. We were complete strangers who simply would up in the same pew. Again and again. She is now my sister in Christ. No hyperbole there. Our mutually introverted selves light up with quiet joy when we greet each other as one of us slides into the pew where the other is already waiting.

For months we passed the peace with timid handshakes (we take our introversion seriously). Then firm handshakes … then tentative hugs … and finally, and only rather recently, with warm hugs that hint at the kinship we’ve found side by side in worship. Understand, for some people this “passing the peace” is either merely a quaint archaic ritual or the momentary bustle of greeting one another. But between us—and, no doubt, between many others—this passing the peace speaks a truth made tactile in our touch. As though weekly, when I say to J, “Peace be with you,” deeper than those words —in my very touch—I add, “And this mystery is deeper than either of us, sister, for here we are, side by side, being the very communion of saints.”

It is such a simple moment in the liturgy. And I don’t claim to reach such levels of holy wonder with every person I greet during that time. But it isn’t only J. I mention her specifically merely because she’s right next to me all service long. I could add the initials of at least a dozen others with whom that momentary touch builds a bridge of sacred honor and energy.

I’d even say that the touch in the passing of peace, whether by handshake or hug, is sacramental. It is physical element bound to promisory word (it is not “my” peace, but the peace of Christ that we share), and it carries grace from one person to another. But right now, touch … can be deadly. For that matter, so can bread, wine, and baptismal water. Not these elements themselves, but the way we touch them—and “touch” each other through them—during worship.

How do we respond when these means of grace threaten to become disease vectors instead? How do we respond when gathering for worship itself threatens to increase the threat we pose to one another—and to “the least of these” in our communities? These are pressing public health issues that are presently forcing their way into our churches. They raise challenging issues for how we practice our faith. And I know that pastors and other church leaders are actively, fervently wrestling with these questions right now.

I have an opinion about that. I say it’s time to set aside communal worship for a month or so and take it online as much as possible—and immediately—and then with equal speed to determine whose spiritual needs cannot be met online and find ways that honor the virtue of social distancing while also carrying the gospel to these persons. By now there is more than enough science to know with relative certainty that every Sunday we delay will worsen the pandemic, allowing the disease to spread further across our communities and exact a more deadly toll before it subsides.

We have no excuse to wait for sports teams, businesses, and government to lead the way. We were (re)born—baptized—for just such a time as this. To live by life-giving faith that cares especially for the least of these. To model—ahead of the curve, not by playing catch-up—what it means to love one another when gathering and touch and taste (the very actions that typically shape our worship) pose unwarrantable risks. We should be practicing the gospel of social distancing in our worship and we should be preaching that same gospel with compelling force such that it bears fruit in the way our members make daily choices to socially distance themselves during the rest of their week. This is what love looks like in a time of contagion.

Of course there are a myriad of questions about this. Does every church attempt its own live stream worship? Do we pool resources across several church communities? How can more tech-savvy churches assist others? How do we sing together? How do we pass the peace? How do we commune? All real practical questions, some of which have real theological questions bound up with them.

But we should not be distracted by either the technological difficulties or the theological nuances; we cannot afford to be. The wellbeing of our communities—that is, our congregations, our towns and cities, our states and our nation—hangs in the balance. Decisions we make in the next days (some of which should have been made in the past few weeks) will determine the scope of this pandemic in our country, whether it merely tests or altogether overwhelms our health care capacity. How many lives it takes along the way. And (tragically and obscenely) how much our profit-care system will worsen the pandemic by keeping people from the care they need—for their sake and for ours. Our choices regarding corporate worship will impact all these things.

Right now our faith will not protect us—EXCEPT as it leads us to be prudent, caring, courageous, decisive … and socially distant.

Several Sundays ago J and I (and many others in our sanctuary) began trading elbow bumps during the passing of peace. Our congregation, like many others, has stumbled its way (awkwardly, with a bit of self-conscious nervous laughter) into this better-if-not-best practice of social distancing. It’s probably a wise strategy during cold and flu season in general. And it’s likely little more than window dressing during a pandemic. But still.

Last Sunday, however, J and I passed the peace … through the longing in our eyes. There are barely words for how powerful this was. No doubt, touch is a deep connector. There is quiet electricity in the tips of our fingers when the peace of Christ moves between us. But Sunday, restrained out of genuine care for one another, we simply looked and spoke the words, “Peace … be with you.” And there was a sacred surge that linked us, soul-to-soul. Only for a moment. But undeniably and powerfully so.

And I remembered something both well-known and well-buried within our tradition. God dwells, too, in absence. In holy longing. The apophatic mystics knew this aspect of God. By heart. Theirs are the voices in our tradition that have plumbed the depths of the Divine in darkness. Unknowing. Absence. Hardly the normative experience of God, they bear witness to the way God … hovers … at the edge and in the extreme. Beyond words and categories. In the Absence of Presence. (Think about that: a Christian-Zen koan, if you ask me!) God waits in the breach. And when life carries us to the breach, we can discover that God is already there.

This may be the most crucial insight faith communities can offer during this pandemic. That sometimes disrupting our lives—to the extreme—is okay, even necessary. And that when we do so, it is NOT for lack of faith, or hope, or love. It is the very essence thereof.

This public health call to socially distance ourselves is our Christian vocation in this moment. We do so as an act of hope, grounded not in desperation, but in the confidence that we remain the communion of saints, even when we “gather” distant and in longing. We do so as an act of faith, knowing that God, who is Emmanuel—ever with us—welcomes us and binds us together even as we seem scattered. And we do so as an act of love, embracing distance as the way we love our neighbor in this pandemic season.

Of course, there will also be moments in which cautious presence will be required, whether to provide medical care or to meet the basic needs of others. But this is a moment of genuine crisis, and we dismiss its seriousness at immense peril to those we love. Normal life is over for the next month or more. Social distance is the shape of love in a time of contagion.

Now, from right where you are, look into my eyes. “The peace of Christ be with you.”

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on March 12, 2020. 1 Comment

Eschatology and Solidarity: on Still Feeling the Bern

Eschatology and Solidarity: on Still Feeling the Bern
March 9, 2020 – David R. Weiss

I didn’t actually vote for Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday. I cast my ballot … for Us. It just so happened his name was next to that box.

Now, pretty much every decision I make is thought through frontwards, backwards, and sideways. That’s not always as asset, but while you can call me a lot of things, “thoughtlessly impulsive” is not one of them. I did not fill in the box next to Bernie’s name lightly. To be sure, every candidate—including Bernie—has plenty of flaws. My singular interest here, in the words 1 Peter 3:15 and in light of the box I checked last Tuesday, is “to offer an accounting for the hope that is in me.” That is, in Us.

Eschatology. The word literally means “pertaining to the last things.” It’s often used in reference to the End Times, as though it concerns things that are “off limits” until the end of history. Often, but not always. Elsewhere in theology—and as I use it here—it concerns the fullness of God’s desire for humanity, indeed for all of creation, and how the fullness of those desires come about. In fact, John’s gospel is so shaped by the immediacy of this fullness, that scholars coined a term for it: “realized eschatology”—the notion that this present moment carries within it the fullness of God’s yearning just waiting to be realized. NOW.

Long before Jesus, the urgency—the Sandersesque anger(!) of the Hebrew prophets—is animated by the same conviction: that God’s great desire is for justice in which all can flourish, and nothing stands in the way of actual justice right now more than our own preference for the injustices we find more convenient. That isn’t to say that a perfect utopian society is within our reach. We remain finite and fallible, yet both the prophets and Jesus were consumed by a zeal for justice that was not moored to the next life, but to this one. And in their eyes our fallible finitude does not excuse the cruelty we’ve built into our society.

There may come a moment when I throw my unqualified support to Joe Biden, a man intent on challenging the gross injustices of the status quo in ways least offensive to those holding wealth and power … but with sincere empathy, decency, and a degree of constitutional respect altogether absent from the Oval Office today. So, yeah, I’d vote for that over an unhinged narcissist intent on turning our Republic into a white nationalist, misogynistic, ecocidal state.

Still, as a Christian whose imagination is fed by prophetic/messianic this worldly eschatology, I’ll make no deals with centrist “realism” until there are no other options on the table. For me, to make any easy peace with Joe Biden right now is to agree that the doors to God’s kin-dom (genuine this worldly societal transformation in the direction of justice) can be closed and locked for the remainder of this election cycle (and likely the next four years) … since I’m (mostly) on the inside of those doors. But I can’t get the powerful refrain from Rev. Michael Cobbler’s sermon at Anita Hill’s ordination out of my head. (Anita was ordained to ministry in 2001 in defiance of ELCA policy, which, in good “centrist” fashion, affirmed her worth in the eyes of God, but found her unfit for ministry because she was in a covenanted relationship with another woman.) On that day Cobbler’s booming voice reminded us again and again, “And there are others who are knocking at the door … and there is room for more!” Sanders’ campaign says the same.

Heck, I’ll even toss my religious faith to the side and say that simply as a human being with a visceral longing for justice that includes not just my tribe but all persons (and the rest of the natural world as well—we are one Earth community), it would feel like a betrayal of both conscience and creation to say right now in early March, “I’m good with Joe, let’s just unite behind his tepid vision for a return to what wasn’t really working very well back then anyway.” No, even apart from my faith-driven “lofty idealism,” this chapter of the political season is surely about exercising our imaginations vigorously for the type of world we want. It is far too soon to be ushered by pundits (or by friends) toward settling for the type of the world our keepers prefer to offer. Not yet. Not me. Us.

Solidarity. Both Jesus and the Hebrew prophets call us to justice, mercy, and compassion—and that call comes to us not primarily as individuals but as communities. No merchants of personal morality, they were serious social visionaries. Altogether intent on getting us to feel their Bern. Today we could call them proponents of radical, uncompromising solidarity (which is only “ideological purity” when viewed from privilege). Their perspective is echoed in the words of the American socialist Eugene Debs (1855-1926): “While there is a lower class, I am in it. While there’s a criminal element, I am of it. And while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” This is not yet a policy agenda. Rather, it’s the gut-level vantage point that undergirds a socialist ethic. It begins, not with an insistence on radical equality, but with an inward cultivation of radical empathy: a feeling for and with “the least of these” as the lynchpin of all liberatory politics.

This is what drives Bernie’s agenda, and it explains why his message—and the restless tone of his rhetoric—resonates with so many who find themselves at the edges of society. Sanders unexpected rise in the polls over the winter months, triggering so much anxiety among the pundits, might spark an edifying moment of humble curiosity for those of us in the moderate-reasonable middle. How did we, in spite of our oft “bleeding liberal hearts” miss that the economic hurt in America (and the anxiety over the future harbored by so many youth) runs so much wider and deeper, across color and religion, than most of us dared to imagine?

In his campaign’s tagline (“Not Me. Us.”), the “Us” is anyone who chooses to be part of it, but the real target is the people who’ve been relentlessly impoverished by the way our present economy functions: saddling people with debt that limits their future and their freedom, increasing wealth inequality without limit, and viewing the planet as mere background to our “progress” (when, in fact, our fortunes—people and planet—are wholly interwoven). Bernie’s vision—cancelling medical and educational debt, supporting tuition-free college/trade schools, providing universal health care through a national program, universal early childhood education, and radically prioritizing our climate response, to name some of the hallmarks —is indeed a wholesale societal transformation. Because nothing less will suffice.

Most of us have lived ALL OF OUR LIVES inside an economy designed by debt and hitched to unlimited consumption. One might argue that, alongside mass incarceration, the color of American debt is another tool of white supremacy (although one that increasingly sweeps up many of us who are white as well). Sanders’ proposals portend an economic reset in our society that would be as dramatic as the abolition of slavery. For those nearest the bottom such a reset is unmistakably liberatory, while for those of us still buffered from that level of desperation it feels decidedly ambiguous and disorienting. It is, after all, the changing of a world. And for those nearer the top—and the pundits often in their pay—it seems downright cataclysmic. And it is … to the extent that our present “normal” necessitates extreme need. Justice will be cataclysmic for the rich. It need not be vengeful, but it will upend their world.

How can it NOT seem fearful, then, for those of us in the anxious, comfortable/uncomfortable middle, to be asked to back a candidate whose real passion is for the least of these? Of course is it a fearful thing to choose a world not yet seen. (Ask any of Jesus’ disciples.) And yet, that’s exactly what President Lincoln did. And it is what Bernie Sanders is inviting us to do. But note, despite its disorienting prospects, this invitation comes with this modest promise that nearly all of us will be decidedly better off in a world unhinged from debt and exploitation. And that’s precisely why those intent on preserving their wealth or power prefer to keep us scared of such fundamental transformation and pitted against the real interests of the poor—at least in the pit of our gut, where our liberal ideals run thin.

Feeling the Bern. I worked fervently for a “revolution” in the ELCA: the full affirmation of LGBTQ persons as manifest in the celebration of their lives, the blessing of their partnerships, and the ordination of those called to ministry. We sometimes overstepped our “place” in the church’s scheme, as when we gathered in community and in Spirit to ordain persons whom the church refused to. Our fellow Lutherans cried foul, wanting a more patient, “centrist” path. “How dare you?” they asked. We responded politely but firmly, “We borrow our authority from the future.” Bernie’s agenda does that, too.

It won’t happen overnight—this wholesale societal transformation—but if it doesn’t happen dramatically and soon (which is exactly what scares so many of us) we will reach a point that neither people nor planet can bear, and those results will be truly scary.

Meanwhile, for those already living near the edge, “dramatic” and “soon” are words that carry good news. In Christian parlance we call that gospel. And we stake our lives on it. And not just me. Us.

 

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.