Impossibility Aside – Abolition IS our Business

Impossibility Aside – Abolition IS our Business
David R. Weiss – May 17, 2021

I love it when I sit down to Sunday morning worship simply hoping for a good church service only to discover myself smack in the midst of an abolition revival. Thanks, Pastor Sarah!

Full disclosure: I rather doubt anyone else heard ABOLITION echoing like a crescendo throughout the Call to Worship. And I’m not certain Sarah was thinking “abolition” when she selected the opening litany … (but I can hope, can’t I?).

Just a couple weeks ago I blurted out my impatience and frustration with well-meaning friends in this meme (May 4, 2021).

Please. Stop. Telling. Me. Abolition. Is. Impractical. Impossible. For the LOVE OF GOD, Utopias R Us. Paul describes the faith that saves us as faith in “God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17) We are called to be utopian because that’s who our God is.

In other words, the seeming impossibility of abolition may be a sound reason for many level-headed persons to be cynical about it as a real alternative to policing and imprisoning as we know them. I’ll grant you that. But for Christians it’s a whole different ballgame—because we’ve pledged allegiance to a God who regularly traffics in the impossible. (I’d say that’s true of any religious-humanist tradition that trades in utopian ideals, but I’m speaking up as a Christian.)

Maybe we should criticize or even oppose abolitionist ideas because they’re overly simplistic (except they’re not), or unjust (except, they’re not), or counter-productive (except, they’re not), or foolishly idealistic (except they’re not). I’ll spell out the details of all those “except, they’re not”s in future posts this summer.

What abolitionist ideas are is a direct threat to the status quo dynamics of domination and exploitation that have riddled Western society for the past several hundred years (but NOT since forever). And if you read between the lines of even your illustrated children’s Bible you can tell that the biblical God is precisely the sort of deity that overturns the status quo dynamics of domination and exploitation. I’d say that’s even God’s “middle name”—except it’s not: it’s actually God’s FIRST NAME. (When Moses’ asks that Holy Presence speaking from the Burning Bush for a name, the response given is YHWH, “I am that I am,” or more likely meant to be rendered, “I will be Who I will be,” a name connoting limitless surprise, untamable freedom, and the absolute commitment to do whatever is required to deliver liberation. THAT’S OUR GOD.

Now, I won’t say that bringing about abolition is “peanuts” for God. I mean, did you see Egypt’s living room after the Exodus? That was a messy plague-ridden affair. But the same God who undertook the Exodus—against all odds—THAT God is also all-in on abolition. And if we want to be on the right side of history, we might choose to be all-in on abolition, too.

I understand that abolition might set us on edge. After all, if we have the guts to be honest, we who are white are like the ancient Egyptians in this contemporary Exodus tale. We are the ones whose entire way of life has been built, fashioned—and mortgaged—on the production of people enslaved to our “benefit.” In the original era of U.S. slavery, talk of abolition was met by incredulity. Who will work the cotton fields? Who will do the domestic work on plantations? Who will supply the raw materials for northern factories? Abolish slavery and our whole way of (white) life will be in jeopardy!

Of course, slavery was abolished … and life didn’t collapse. Except. It didn’t become just either. Enter black codes. Police violence. Jim Crow. Segregation. Police violence. Red-lining. The war on drugs. Police violence. Mass incarceration. Environmental racism. Voter suppression. And police violence. Slavery, it seems, had a dozen or more fall back provisions. All to ensure that there would be no true Exodus here in America.

And yet, some of us claim to believe in and pledge our fidelity—the faithfulness of our whole life—to a God who is content with nothing less than justice for persons once enslaved. Which is why I’ve been a bit flustered by the way my white Christian friends want to decry the rhetoric of (and, of course, the very idea of) calls to defund the police. Abolition? That’s a non-starter. Utopian fantasy.

Except: GOD. We Christians routinely claim to believe in baptism that bestows genuinely new life; in bread and wine that (somehow!) become body and blood; in a community no longer misshapen by the inequities of gender, status, or ethnicity. We profess faith in resurrection—both for Jesus and for ourselves. And, if you follow John’s Gospel, we affirm that eternal life—that is, life rooted infinitely deeply in love—begins here. And begins now.

But our faith seems faint when it comes to abolition. And I find that a rather damning commentary on the state of Christianity today. I’ll take that up in earnest this summer. For now, just sit with me in the pew at church on Sunday. (This was our call to worship, italics added by me.)

One:  Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God, a new world has broken into ours
All:  a world in which justice does come for the poor, freedom comes for the prisoners, and healing for the sick.
One:  Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God, a new community has been formed
All:  a community that loves and cares for all its members, a family that welcomes all who are abandoned and rejected, a place where all find a place of belonging.
One:  Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God, a new creation has begun
All:  all that was distorted is being restored, all that was corrupted is being renewed, all that was broken is being made whole.
One:  Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God, God’s new world has begun
All:  Let us worship God!

If that’s not an affirmation of abolition, I don’t know what is.

Amos is adamant, the only worship that counts is justice rolling down like might waters. Isaiah says our worship ought to inspire us to break every yoke. Jeremiah measures piety by how much we defend the cause of the needy. Ezekiel fantastically calls dry bones back together and back to life. Jesus takes as his very platform God’s promise to free prisoners and call them forth from dark dungeons.

Impossibility aside, abolition is our business. More than this, it’s the very heart of our faith.

(Stay tuned.)

And, in the meantime, you can check out my unexpected six-post reflection on abolition and faith from last summer (2020)—sort of my “road to Damascus” moment regarding abolition. Find the first post, Come This Wilderness, here. It includes links to the other five, and link to a pdf set of all six essays.

And these more recent pieces: Anamnesis and Liturgical Rage (April 15, 2021); Awaiting a Verdict … While White (April 20, 2021); Having “the Talk” – as White People (April 26, 2021); and Abolition and the Octopus (April 28, 2021).

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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.

Abolition and the Octopus

Abolition and the Octopus
David R. Weiss – April 28, 2021

I can explain my support for police abolition in just two words: the octopus. (And the article—“the”—is really just there for convenience.)

I don’t mean to oversimplify things. Fostering the vibrant health of communities and tending to their public safety is complicated. And dismantling whole structures of policing and replacing them with other more just, effective, and wholistic ways of doing community care will (sadly) not happen overnight. True.

But let’s be clear on what constitutes a desirable—and necessary—future: police abolition. Because: the octopus. And, if we’re not clear on the goal, the telos, the end we seek, which is to END policing, we will never even get close.

Here’s what is unmistakably clear. The history of policing in the South was BORN with the purpose to terrorize black persons pursuing their irrevocable human dignity, whether by resistance or escape. Its aim from its very inception was to impose state terror on black people—largely at the behest of wealthy whites. The history of policing in the North was BORN with the purpose to terrorize the working poor and the destitute poor pursuing their irrevocable human dignity, whether by unionizing or in other (sometimes riotous ways) clamoring for justice. Its aim from its very inception was to impose state terror on the poor—largely at the behest of wealthy whites.

Enter the octopus. There are some incredible videos on the internet displaying the octopus’ unique ability to move through small openings. Lacking any bones, and “handily” equipped with eight arms and hundreds on suction cup grippers, an octopus can press, pull, slither its way through any opening large enough for its beak. There’s a National Geographic video that rather facetiously claims a 600-pound octopus can move through a Plexiglas tube the diameter of a quarter. No. The Giant Pacific Octopus has a beak that would require a tube about 3-inches in diameter, and a large adult one might weigh between 75 and 150 pounds. There are unconfirmed records of specimens at 300, 396, and 600 pounds. (Aside: National Geographic, you disappoint me!) But even a 150-pound octopus measuring 24 feet from arm tip to tip getting itself through a 3-foot tube just 3 inches in diameter is both amazing and more than a little bit unnerving.

So, with apologies to octopuses everywhere, its ability to squeeze through “impossibly” small openings when it suits its purposes is exactly how racism works.

Which is why all the talk about “police reform” strikes me as a dangerous façade. The end, the telos, the purpose of policing is indelibly bound up with white supremacy, racism, and the purposeful terrorizing of black people and poor people in order to preserve the disparity of power and the absence of justice.

Does policing occasionally produce good? Absolutely. But—and we NEED to be honest about this—it was NOT conceived to do produce good. It was conceived to foment terror on behalf of power. Period.

The fact that many of us who are white have been relatively buffered from this terror does not make it any less true. Not historically. And not in the present. Just this week the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States—comprised of human rights experts from 11 countries—released its report declaring that policing in the U.S. occurs in ways that violate international law. And does it with such distinctive systematic terror aimed at black people that some cases constitute crimes against humanity.

That’s the octopus having crawled forward into each new container decade after decade after decade. After civil rights report after civil rights report after civil rights report. After reform after reform after reform. STILL violating international law and committing crimes against humanity. Not because of “a few bad apples”—those apples are exactly the fruit the tree of policing was designed to bear.

Police abolition will not happen quickly or easily. And it will take a degree of creativity and compassion that we’ve rarely exercised in public policy. (Although we do NOT need to start from scratch. There is a vibrant body of literature already out there—voices we’ve been determined to keep outside the conversation. In fact, the Mennonite church recently released a faith-based curriculum on police abolition.)

Abolition is the path toward a healed America. It’s not the only clean break with racism we must make, but proposals for police reform are a chimera designed to alleviate our sense of guilt while leaving just enough room for the octopus to crawl forward. It’s time to leave the octopus behind.

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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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on April 29, 2021. 1 Comment

Having “the Talk” – as White People

Having “the Talk” – as White People
David R. Weiss – April 26, 2021

I’ve chatted with a number of my white friends over the past several weeks, but it only struck me today that we’ve actually been having our own version of “the Talk.” Probably some of you have, too.

You know, “the Talk” that happens as soon as another black person (usually a man) is killed by police. From our elected officials to our neighborhoods we start to worry. Will there be riots? Will buildings be damaged? Will there be looting? Will fires be set? How do we keep our community (our buildings, our businesses, our homes, our bodies) safe?

Prior to the murder of George Floyd, the Talk was surprisingly muted. There was certainly discontent after the 2016 killing of Jamar Clark: an uncomfortably long encampment outside the 4th Precinct. Less than a year later, the killing of Philando Castille sparked more protests and even a violent confrontation with police. But, prior to George Floyd, our most pressing question was usually, Will streets be blocked—again? Or, Will protesters make a scene at the Mall of America?

I don’t mean to downplay the significance of these earlier instances of “civil unrest,” but, if we’re honest, these instances were mostly about feeling uneasy, inconvenienced, maybe some anger over being disrupted from the normalcy of our lives. But “the Talk,” it’s about fear.

It’s about the dawning recognition that it (maybe) isn’t safe to kill black people anymore. Shit—who saw that coming?

Sure, for the most part, the worst confrontations—the rioting and the looting and the arson—have taken place at the police stations or at businesses that happened to be located in areas that served minority communities anyway. But sometimes those locations were frightfully close to our own locations as white people. Sometimes they overlapped: absent strict segregation these days, the economic and residential lines where unrest has played out don’t really respect race.

And, I suspect, that’s the nub of our fear. We can always hope—but we can never be sure, not anymore, it seems—that the unrest, the civic violence that is really the echo of police violence which is itself the exclamation point on systemic violence, will stay where it “belongs.” Elsewhere than our communities. Elsewhere than our residential streets. Elsewhere than our bodies. Elsewhere than our white lives.

Now, since George Floyd, the Talk is becoming a nagging reminder that every damn time another black body falls—especially if it falls right here in the Twin Cities—we need to court fear. And that sucks.

Operation Safety Net was a coordinated governmental response to that fear. Because we know now how unruly black people (and their allies) are willing to get over a death they find unjustified. From the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis to the Western District Police Station just blocks from my home in St. Paul, to multiple business neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Operation Safety Net did its best to tell us, in clear Minnesota Nice: “no matter what, we’ll make sure order is kept.”

But the only reason we needed Operation Safety Net—the only reason the police station near my home turned itself into a concrete-and-fence-and-razor-wire fortress during the Derek Chauvin trial—was because we now live with the fear of unbridled black anger at police killings. That’s why we have the Talk.

Unbridled. That was probably a poor choice of words. We bridle horses to control them, to make them work for us. It used to be we metaphorically bridled black people. Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation—all bridles. The KKK and its more recent reincarnations, the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, voter suppression —and, yes, racist policing—all bridles. All designed to keep black labor at our beck and call while keeping black anger … well, bridled.

If black anger is unbridled, can you imagine its intensity? No wonder we’re having the Talk these days.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be easier (and wiser!) to entertain actual justice rather than live in these cycles of fear. Unless, for the moment at least, we find the notion of justice even scarier than the Talk.

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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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on April 26, 2021. 1 Comment

As the Turn of the World Draws Near

As the Turn of the World Draws Near
David R. Weiss – April 2021

In September 2019 I wrote a beautiful song text, “There’s a Blue Sky Over All of Us,” to accompany our initial offering of the Sacred Circle for Our Climate liturgy that I wrote. Unfortunately, I set those words alongside a beautiful, timeless (but copyrighted) refrain and tune from John Denver’s “It’s About Time.” We’ve used that song twice times in live liturgies that weren’t taped or livestreamed. But absent formal copyright permission, that song is can’t be shared. 😦 I’ve spent over a year wending my way through the “permission for adaptation” process with Kobalt Music, the licensing group that represents whoever holds the rights to Denver’s music today. Only to be told last week – a few days after our most recent Sacred Circle – that my request for an adaptation license has been denied – no further explanation offered.

The Spiral of Active Hope in The Work That Reconnects image by Dori Midnight / http://www.workthatreconnects.org

So, I’ve written a new song 🙂 that brings forward some of the imagery I really liked from “Blue Sky” and adds in new imagery that fits well with both the new tune and the themes from the liturgy itself. This text uses “Star of the County Down” an Irish folk tune in the public domain. The music echoes the urgency of turning, which made it a good choice for “Canticle of the Turning,” the hymn text based on Mary’s Magnificat that also uses this tune. Additionally, Joanna Macy (co-author of Active Hope and developer of the “Spiral of Active Hope,” which is the inspiration for the Sacred Circle) employs “The Great Turning” as the term for the entire paradigm shift needed to preserve and create a path toward a livable future.

This text will be premiered in worship (by a 4-person ensemble—no congregational singing yet) at St. Paul’s UCC as part of our Sacred Circle liturgy this coming Sunday, which is Integrity of Creation Sunday in the UCC calendar. You can find the bulletin with the complete liturgy here.)

NEW: You can now view the whole service – or just fast-forward to hear the new song at this link on vimeo. The song starts at 50:15. It’s worth HEARING the song!
AND: You can download a pdf version with musical notation all set for use in worship or community event!

In the text below, the bolded syllables indicate the stress points in the meter.

As the Turn of the World Draws Near

From the diving loon with its haunting tune
to the frogs that are chirping shrill
while the walleye leap and the shy lynx creep
and the bears in their caves sleep still.
The tall pines sway and the foxes play
and the rice rises wild in lakes.
Fill our hearts with song, that we, too, belong
Rouse our souls so we’re wide awake

The day is bright, and the time is right as the dark of the night is clear
That we now uprise from the ground to the skies as the turn of the world draws near.

But the weather’s fraught and the climate caught
and the fabric of life’s undone.
As the earth cries out in an anguished shout
’neath the glare of a blist’ring sun.
The ocean spray voices loud dismay
and the heavens for mercy plead.
Give us hearts to hold all the pain now told
And to follow where it may lead.

The day is bright, and the time is right as the dark of the night is clear
That we now uprise from the ground to the skies as the turn of the world draws near.

As our children yearn for the world to turn
and the poor seek a just new day;
Though the time is late, let us turn back fate
Let our hope rise without delay.
To turn the world t’ward a day unfurled
Make a-mends with this fragile dome
Wrap our prayers in flesh, keep our courage fresh,
Give us hope for our only home.

The day is bright, and the time is right as the dark of the night is clear
That we now uprise from the ground to the skies as the turn of the world draws near.

The day is bright, and the time is right as the dark of the night is clear
That we now uprise from the ground to the skies as the turn of the world draws near.

David R. Weiss © 2021 / Tune: Star of the County Down

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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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

Awaiting a Verdict … While White

David R. Weiss – April 20, 2021

I am on edge as we wait for a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. But I have to be honest: my life is not likely to be any more or any less safe because of the verdict. Still, as a white man, I have more in common with Derek Chauvin than I do with George Floyd. I say that with anguish and discomfort. But it’s true. My life has prepared me to be the killer, not the killed. So this verdict will echo silently with my own name. Here are a few things on my mind—on my heart—today.

Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on Unsplash

#1   I do not envy these jurors. Although, had I lived in Hennepin County, I would’ve prayed with all my might (despite not placing much stock in petitionary prayer) to be summoned for jury duty and then selected for this jury. That is perhaps a contradiction, but it’s my truth. I’ve seen many people post that it should not take longer than 9 minutes and 29 seconds to convict Chauvin on all counts, and while this is true, it is equally true that nobody honoring their oath as a juror could legitimately reckon this man’s guilt without also reckoning that this verdict will reverberate far beyond one man’s life … and one man’s death.

Of course, this much may be asked of any one of us on any given day. And we may well have less than 9 minutes and 29 seconds to make our choice. But I’m willing to grant them the time they need to be deliberate. In this court case we stand (once again, I know—hardly for the first time!) at a crossroads for the future of our country. And these “ordinary citizens” have been chosen by fate to make decisions weightier than any of them asked for. I think about that as I find myself waiting for a verdict while white.

#2   It isn’t “just” Derek Chauvin on trial. I understand the verdict will be passed on his actions and the sentence served on his life. But in some profound way, not even just policing, but the white race itself is on trial. If a jury of our peers cannot pronounce “guilty of murder” on this man’s actions, we might as well still be printing up postcards of Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck labeled, “Minnesota Nice: 10,000 lakes and more. We’ll take your breath away.” If that feels like a gut punch, I suppose it should—for all of us waiting for a verdict … while white.

#3   Even so, I would not want to be Derek Chauvin. I get it. The man kneeled on another man’s neck until he died—while “relaxed” enough to have a vacant look on his face and a hand in the pocket. He was supremely confident of the power whiteness invested in him. And he deserves to be found guilty and held accountable. That said, let’s not make him larger than life. He is little more than a gargoyle in the architecture of white supremacy. By focusing too much on the sweet taste of vengeance (and calling it justice), we settle for knocking one gargoyle off the trim while barely damaging the building itself.

Worse, we might imagine that a guilty verdict on Chauvin serves to acquit the rest of us. The same way we imagined electing Obama meant racism was over. Chauvin is fully responsible for his own actions. But right now, we’ve loaded onto him something close to the whole history of race and policing in America. And that’s not only unfair to him, but even more so it tempts the rest of us who are white to let his place in white supremacy cover over our own. And that’s something we cannot afford to do as we wait for a verdict … while white.

#4   Of course, I would ALSO not want to be George Floyd. But the very point is, I never would be George Floyd. My long hair, my inclusive theology, my radical politics—all choices I make to express the values I embrace—might make me target of some. But the unchosen color of my skin has never exposed me to the immediate abrasive social forces, or the geologic weight of racialized history, or the dehumanizing glance of policing. No small measure of my discomfort rests in the gap between my life and his as I find myself waiting for a verdict while white.

#5   I feel the rising discontent among my friends. Like a tree that groans in the storm before it snaps, I hear the creaking tension in the conversation threads in some of my Facebook communities. Like fault lines present since forever, but in recent weeks wound so tightly that the very ground even between friends now trembles and threatens to fracture. Here is the pitched contradiction of our lives: even among people of honest good will there are real differences of perspective and, just as often, real distortions of understanding bequeathed to us long ago by those who loved us. The hard truth of this moment is that the path toward justice involves relinquishing “truths” that have guided our lives and guarded our communities for so long that they have come to feel at once common sense and sacred … despite the havoc they’ve played beyond our field of vision. Will our friendships survive this verdict? Should they?

I do not post the question lightly. Relationships open up important avenues for conversation and transformation. But there are moments when affirming the messy truth right now no matter what takes precedence over tending relationships. I find no easy answer as I find myself waiting for a verdict … while white.

# 6   I am not excited about the prospects of more “looting.” I put it in quotes because the word itself drips with power. My whiteness is defined by its historical permission to loot. And my socio-economic position (precarious though it may feel) is, in fact, defined by the lingering echo of looting done on my behalf. The land I call my country—including the tenth acre here on Blair Avenue to which I hold title—looted. By settler conquest, by genocidal military actions and political-cultural policies, by unfair treaties, broken as deemed necessary or convenient. Moreover, the economic assets (never more than middle class) that secure my present are indelibly “indebted” (quaint word!) to having looted the labor, the lives, the very children of Africans enslaved to build white wealth in generations before me.

Even today, when low wages, investment practices, and a whole system of economic-legal rules penalize the poor—To. My. Implicit. But. Undeniable. Benefit.—what is that, but “legalized looting”? So while I know that the less legally authorized looting that may follow a verdict will harm specific businesses—some of them minority-owned—I also know that this looting (unlike that done on behalf of my whiteness) is at least motivated by legitimate anguish and outrage rooted in real history. Imprecise. Incidentally unfair. In some ways acts of self-harm by a community whose pain is unfathomable. But as someone awaiting a verdict … while white, it is more understandable than I can bear.

#7   I tremble for my children. More than I, they will reap the whirlwind of this verdict. And in very different ways. Altogether, when I tally up those who count as my children by genes or marriage or heart, and when I add in their partners, there are twelve. Three are white; three are brown; four are mixed heritage (some more visibly so than others), and two are black. Their lives—and their children’s lives—will carry the consequences of this verdict into an uncertain future. And I can only hope they find ways to listen across the hues of their skin and the differences of their lived experience toward a day when justice and more is available to each of them in full measure—and when the threat of racist violence that looms openly over at least five of their lives has been eclipsed.

My parental love for each of them aches—and for each one differently as I find myself waiting for a verdict … while white.

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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on April 20, 2021. 2 Comments

The Dark Side of White

Written over 3 years ago, this poem-prayer is more fervent than ever TONIGHT.

The Dark Side of White

The day soon is coming—one of these nights
when we’ll fin’lly wake up on the dark side of white.
That world is waiting, eager for birth
the one where character measures your worth.

And it will be born, by war or by peace
but sure as hell not by the law or the police;
those systems have neither the vision nor sight
to carry us through to the dark side of white.

The alt-right may rile, feeding off fears,
lies, disappointment that’s festered for years,
but their torch-bearing terror and cross-burning fright
will be swept clean away on the dark side of white.

And the roles that were groomed for us and our kin,
the priv’lege coded by the color of our skin,
will finally come up “transaction declined”—
that’s the way it will be on the dark side of white.

So our world is right, to feel on the edge
but the point is to leap, not to cling to the ledge
Me? I’m ready to dream of that soon-coming night
when we’ll fin’lly wake up on the dark side of white.


David R. Weiss
2017.10.15

Anamnesis and Liturgical Rage

Anamnesis and Liturgical Rage
David R. Weiss – April 15, 2021

“Do this to remember me.” That’s what Jesus said at the Last Supper on the night before his death. Anamnesis is the Greek word here: “in remembrance.”

It’s grueling and uncomfortable, tense and unpredictable, right now outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department. For four nights running, there’s been over-the-top anger at the killing of yet another Black man – Daunte Wright, age 20 – by a police officer.

At this point the details don’t matter anymore. This is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.

Photo: Chad Davis – Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I shake my (white) head in disbelief as I hear city and state officials and law enforcement say, “we’re working to provide safe opportunities for protest.” Which is really a way of saying, “those of us inside the system want to set up space and time so that those who are angry on behalf of those getting killed by the system can express your disappointment with a system that keeps killing you … but only on our terms, so as to make sure the system itself stays in control.”

Jamar Clark. Philando Castile, Thurman Blevins, Isak Aden, Daunte Wright. The list could go on and on and on.

And at this point the very POINT of protest is to let the system know it is no longer in control. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.

I shout back at the local newscasters as they remind viewers that the protesters on their live coverage during the 10 o’clock news have been asked repeatedly to disperse. It is, after all, after curfew. They’re now protesting “in violation of the law,” outside the permitted times. And they’re throwing things. No mention that the tear gas being used by police is actually banned from use during war; you can use it on crowds – just not on soldiers. (Fun fact: any protester arrested while in possession of a gas mask will face extra charges – you break an additional law if you try to protect yourself from tear gas.) They also omit that besides tear gas police are firing other chemical irritants as well as (hopefully) less-lethal munitions at the protesters.

It’s as though, if the protesters want any good press (at least by the mainstream media), they need to play by the rules that require them to tamp down their “frustration” over 400 years of racism and protest in ways that keep white people at least tolerably comfortable.

Photo: Chad Davis – Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

But at this point the very POINT of protest is to tell us white folks that comfort is no longer an option. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.

I am astounded at the resources – the police and guardsmen, the weapons, riot gear, munitions and vehicles – that can be deployed as part of Operation Safety Net. Thankfully, when this latest police killing of a Black man happened, all these resources were right at our fingertips on account of the ongoing trial of another police officer for killing a different black man last year. I guess what astounds me is that ALL THESE RESOURCES – which can hardly be cheap – can be gathered with such back-patting collaboration to keep stores safe and keep police stations and courthouses safe, while we cannot manage to keep black persons safe. And cannot manage to invest similar resources or engage in comparable back-patting collaboration to address the deep issues of racism in policing or the generational poverty in Black communities.

It’s almost like we can only imagine a “safety net” as it applies to buildings and inventory – and only as something that kicks in the moment the next Black body gets killed by the police.  

But at this point the very POINT of protest is to tell us that Safety Nets are for people not property. Period. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.

How long will it last? I wonder. And I worry, because if these protests last until we get it, that could be a very long time. Someone said (I googled endlessly and unsuccessfully to track down a source) something like, “Our great sin is that we could repent at any moment – and yet we do not.” I think it was in reference to the nuclear arms race, but it’s just as true of white supremacy: “Our great sin is that we could repent at any moment – and yet we do not.” We have had years and decades and generations and centuries to get this right, and yet we have found it easier to let just one more Black person die at the hands of the police before we truly repent – which is never just an apology; it’s a wholesale reversal of behavior.

And at this point the very POINT of protest is to tell us that nothing less than full blown repentance will suffice. The details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.

But I hear you ask, will all this righteous anger (which is also admittedly damn unruly) really make a difference? Aren’t there “better ways” to pursue change? Wait. I need to say a couple things before you go further.

First, after 400 years of unremitting (morphing, yes, but unremitting) racism, in the face of which no other effort has proven sufficient to bring about justice, don’t you think that maybe a little unmitigated anger is in order by now? Second, if you’d like to take the edge off these protests and are willing to promote some “positive change” yourself, how about ditching all talk about reform and starting out with a full-throated endorsement of abolition? It doesn’t mean the absence of community safety; it means renouncing absolutely any trust that the institution of policing can provide that community safety. If you’d like the protesters to “calm down,” then put abolition in the middle of the table, and I bet you’ll find some of the best minds and most generous spirits join you there.

Until then, the very POINT of protest is to tell us that “reform” has always, always, always been a racist mirage. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a holy liturgy of rage. And it will happen again and again and again – in remembrance of every Black life that matters – until justice comes rolling down.

Until then, the protesters are following Jesus’ own instructions: “Do this to remember me.”

* * *

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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on April 15, 2021. 2 Comments

Finding Faith in the Wounds

Sermon, Easter 2 – April 11, 2021 – David R. Weiss
St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, St. Paul, Minnesota
Texts – Acts 4: 32-35 (holding all things in common), John 20: 19-31 (Thomas)

NOTE: You can also watch this sermon at this link. I take the pulpit at 29:29. The hymn that comes right after the sermon is also a text by me. I’ve put the hymn words below the sermon here.

No one wants to be “that guy.” But sometimes “that guy” is exactly who you are.

Just imagine. John never tells us why you went out that first Easter evening, but you did. And the moment you return and step back into that upper room, you can tell. Everything has changed. For everyone. Except for you.

Because you missed it.

And no matter what your friends tell you, it doesn’t make sense. The gap between what you hear and what you can believe is simply too great.

Although we should be clear. This has nothing to do with your “willingness” to believe. If “willing” were the issue, you would have believed before anyone said anything. No, this is simply beyond your reach. Try as you might, you can’t touch this.

I mean, look, you watched him die. Albeit from a safe distance, at the outer edges of the crowd, because, like the other apostles, you were scared to be associated with the man on the cross. Your stomach was knotted in anguish—and in disbelief on that day, too. But you were there.

You saw his beaten body. You winced at the crown of thorns pressed into his brow beneath Rome’s mocking sign that called him “King of the Jews.” You cringed at the way his hands curled inward in silent endless agony from the nails driven through them. You heard him speak in breathless gasps from the cross. Finally, the centurion pierced his side with a spear. You. Watched. Him. Die. In disbelief.

So now, when everyone else is suddenly so excited to tell you, “He’s alive! We saw him! Just now … while you were out … He was here!” well, you’ve never wanted to believe anything in your life as much as that. Your disbelief is simply desperate honesty. In fact, you’re speaking against your own deepest wishes when you say, “Unless I see for myself … I won’t believe.”

And ever after you’ve been known as “Doubting Thomas”—the disciple who at first refused to believe. As though the rest of us never would have doubted. But I wonder.

Because there isn’t one of us here this morning who was in the upper room. We all missed that first Easter meeting. And there probably isn’t one of us here who hasn’t at some point found ourselves desperately wanting to believe … but unable to.

So, Thomas … is us. Every last one of us, sooner or later. Desperately wishing to believe and finding that it is simply a leap too far. Thomas at least knows what he needs. “If I can just touch his wounds, then I can believe.”

Béla Iványi-Grünwald (1867–1940) public domain / Wikimedia Commons

*   *   *

Now it’s eight days later. Over the past week you’ve heard all the stories swirling. Angelic words of comfort at the tomb. Tales told by Mary Magdalene and others. An appearance on the road to Emmaus—a supposed revelation in the breaking of bread. And yet, for you, it’s been a long week, as you find yourself still “stuck” on the outside of this story, with resurrection faith remaining stubbornly beyond your reach.

Until—on this eighth day, suddenly there’s a PRESENCE in the upper room again. The hair—every single hair—on your neck stands up as if to say “Alleluia.” And then he’s here. In front of you. Outstretched hand open, the nail wound still there … inviting … your touch. And his side, no longer bleeding, but still bearing that wound from the spear. You lift your hand, trembling in wonder, and you do the most awful—the most full-of-awe—thing you’ve done in your whole life. You touch that wound.

And … finally … you believe.

Of course, John is using this scene in his Gospel to address his own audience. You can hardly blame him. By the time he writes, around the year 90 or 100, everybody had missed seeing Jesus. So, when John has Jesus say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” it’s because now everybody has to believe without seeing for themselves. Everybody—including us.

Still, it stings a bit. The message seems to be, “don’t be like Thomas.” But you’re Thomas, and you know there’s a deeper truth here.

*   *   *

Fast forward several months now.

You’re still in Jerusalem. Eventually, you and the others—apostles, disciples, followers of the Way—will scatter to the ends of the earth, carrying the gospel with you wherever you go. But for now, you’re still getting your feet beneath you again. And right now, you’re thinking quite directly about those feet—well, more specifically all the coins getting laid at them. The proceeds of property sold by new followers of Jesus to be shared as needed with others in your midst.

I’m guessing you know something about the trail that leads from touching Jesus with your hands to all these coins piled at your feet.

As you and the other apostles and closest followers of Jesus began to announce his resurrection, it was as though everyone who’d encountered Jesus during his ministry was suddenly standing in your sandals.

People who’d heard his parables that turned the world as it was upside down. Declaring grace and compassion rather than power and domination as the very architecture of God’s empire. But … after his arrest and trial and execution by Rome, was it possible—how could it be?!—that the world might still turn as Jesus said?

People who’d seen one of Jesus’ healings or sat at table with him—why, he simply refused to even acknowledge the otherness that both Rome (and Jerusalem!) used to set people against one another, or the boundaries they used to decide who was in and who was out. It was as though for Jesus there were ONLY children of God. But … after the cross, was it possible—how could it be?!—that those boundaries, which Rome had just nailed back in place, might still crumble?

People who firsthand, for themselves, had felt God’s longing love reach out through this man and wrap them in a transforming embrace—one by one, and then altogether woven into a glorious piece of kin-dom fabric. But … after his body was wrapped in linen and laid in the tomb, was it possible—how could it be?!—that this wondrous weaving might go on?

That changed world, that kin-dom wrought by God, had seemed about to dawn—as though it were already dawning in Jesus’ company—and then, with his death, everyone’s hopes came crashing down. And they all found themselves perched, just like you, on the precipice of despair, desperate to believe but unable to see or touch Jesus.

Who knows exactly where or when or how it started? Some things are maybe meant to be wrapped in mystery. What you do know is that eventually these people also found a way to see and touch Jesus.

Sometime around the day of Pentecost, you and the others among Jesus’ closest followers began to establish the rhythm of a new community. Sure, there were “big moments,” like Peter’s public preaching. But in your mind it was the mundane parts of the movement where faith was truly born. Words can move you for an hour or a day, but it’s the rhythm of ritual, the intentional shape of daily life, that really transforms a person.

So, there was daily teaching just as Jesus had done, now in your own small groups. Retelling his parables and his message about God’s sheer and holy grace, recounting with wide-eyed wonder how that grace found expression in Jesus’ healings and table fellowship.

Beyond the re-telling, there was the re-doing: the daily practice of genuine fellowship among yourselves. The miracle—honestly, no other word suffices—the miracle of befriending those that the empire had made “other,” until these others became friends you knew by name.

At the center of that fellowship were the meals—breaking bread, amid laughter and tears, among new friends. Sometimes those meals took on the shape of a ritual, as Jesus had instructed. Other times they remained merely meals, but no less holy on that account.

And there was daily prayer. Gathered together, you spoke gratitude to God for what was unfolding in your midst. And you beckoned—as one people, though so varied among yourselves—for the courage and the wisdom to play midwife to the reign of God in a community called to echo the compassion Jesus taught.

And this is where resurrection faith was born among you. Not as some mystical idea, but as the visceral conviction, born out of your lived practice, that God was entirely undaunted by Jesus’ death. And that God was NOT going to leave him dead. Jesus’ living presence was palpable in your midst. God’s desire for a people brought together by grace and love was proving greater and stronger than anything you—or Rome—had imagined. Stronger even than death.

To be clear. To be emphatically clear. Because you know this all the way down to your bones. This love that is stronger than death … is born in our wounds. “Resurrection,” as you like to say, is just a fancy word. It doesn’t mean anything. Until you touch the wounds.

Which brings us back to those coins at your feet.

You know nothing of the precarity of our lives. But you have your own versions of generational poverty, police brutality, racism, obscene wealth, neglect of refugees and immigrants, rampant incarceration, medical debt, student loans, ecological devastation, and the deadly othering of persons by gender or sexuality. Your world is at once very different and yet all too similar to our own.

But there is a peculiar vitality that shapes your community so much that now Jesus’ talk about new wine bursting old wineskins makes perfect sense to you … even as it honestly unnerves us today. You live as a community that recognizes—and embodies—God’s gospel truth that “Nothing belongs to any of us … except as we belong to one another.”

That rhythm of teaching and fellowship and meals and prayer has become the manger in which the newborn Body of Christ is laid: the church. And the miracle that amazes even you to this day (the evidence of it is piled at your feet right now) is that as these first members of the Body of Christ dared to know one another, freely sharing griefs and joys … and needs, they find themselves moved to touch the wounds on the Body of Christ. To meet the needs of others so fully, so FAITH-fully, that “there were no needy persons among you.”

Imagine: today we find THAT idea—actually and entirely meeting the needs of others—more challenging to believe than the notion of resurrection.

But what you understand is that the early church is simply going about—as its daily business, as its very purpose—the work of ending Rome’s reign of domination and death. And giving daily … quiet … defiant … embodied … announcement of the reign of God—just as Jesus declared. No doubt, later on people will want to clamor about the coins at your feet, the property held in common or sold to meet the needs of others. But this sharing of possessions, this pile of coins, in truth, this is the least of it.

Because this extravagant sharing—from human fellowship to material goods—this daring to touch the wounds of Christ’s body—this is the moment when these first Christians—including you—finally know what it means to say, “I believe.” This is where resurrection faith begins.

And suddenly it strikes you: it’s even more than that: THIS IS RESURRECTION ITSELF. Happening right now.

And as you, “Doubting Thomas,” smile at that deep truth—piled up at your feet, but even more so playing out in the community around you—you could swear you hear an angel chorus in the background singing “Alleluia—Christ is risen.” And you say quietly to yourself, “Christ is risen indeed. Thanks be to God. AMEN.”

* * *

This is an abridged version of a hymn text I wrote several years ago. These verses were used as the Hymn of the Day following my sermon.

Touching Jesus
text by David Weiss

Precious Lord, still your hands, bear your wounds, many lands;
Some are lost, some are least, some are hurt,
Let me touch you in deed, as I touch those in need;
Use my hands, Precious Lord, make them whole!

Easter morn, through my tears, call my name, bring me near,
And I hear, and I look, and I hope.
Over cross, over death, bringing life, drawing breath,
Precious Lord, once again, you are whole!

Easter eve, I’m away; you were there, but I say,
Let me see, let me touch, let me know.
Once again, there you are; fingertips touch your scars;
In my heart, Precious Lord, now I know!

* * *

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 SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

An Unexpected Pick-Me-Up

Note: This is a “throw-back” entry, written five years ago. I no longer deliver groceries on the side. At the time I wrote this is wouldn’t have been appropriate to post on my blog. Five years later, with all the names changed, it remains a poignant glimpse into that job and the holy lives I crossed …

An Unexpected Pick-Me-Up
David R. Weiss, January 23, 2016

Well, on Thursday it finally happened. I heard the words that every delivery person dreads: “Um, I don’t have any clothes on, but, yes, come in here—please.”

For over a year I’ve delivered groceries to Rose (not her real name). But I’ve never seen her. She lives with her mother, a delightful 90-year old woman who moves slower than molasses (yes, that is possible), but she also moves with a chipper demeanor and cackling laughter. Mom is the caregiver. Most days I only hear the daughter’s voice hollering out from a back bedroom, asking how much to write the check for. Thursday was different.

In the morning around 9:30, while still at Cub Foods double-checking people’s orders, I got a call from the office. Noah asked me how well I knew Rose. I replied that I’d been delivering to her home off and on for more than a year, but explained that I’d never actually met her because I only ever interacted with the mom. He went on to say that he’d gotten a rather confusing email first thing in the morning, sent by Rose’s volunteer order taker the night before.

It seems the order taker received a cryptic voice mail from Rose’s phone number, but not in Rose’s voice, just saying that Rose had fallen down and might need to be seen by someone. Noah had been trying to reach Rose by phone since 9:00 a.m. without success. He didn’t understand the message and asked if I had any insight. I said the voice on the message was undoubtedly the mom’s voice and that I guessed one of two things was going on. Either Rose had fallen and was going to need to be taken somewhere—in which case the mom was calling to say that they would not be around for delivery on Thursday. Or—and I thought this more likely—the mom had picked the wrong number to dial from a list of “important numbers” by the phone and had intended to leave that message for a home health care person.

In any case, we decided that despite Noah’s inability to get a phone response, I should attempt delivery, but not be surprised if I found no one home. This does present some issues as all the perishable items are simply taken as a loss (they can’t be returned to the shelf), and the whole order needs to be returned to the store and all the non-perishables “un-shopped.” But Rose’s home is in the middle of other stops, so it wasn’t out of my way to take a chance. Good thing I did.

Rose was my fifth stop of the day. I pulled up a little before noon. Since I had two heavy totes to carry up to the house, I decided I’d try calling first to see if there was an answer. No luck. Rang and rang, and eventually went to voice mail, where I was told the mailbox was full. Okay, but rather than just drive off, I figured I should at least ring the doorbell. This is always an exercise in patience, because even when the bell rings (and I can’t hear it clearly from outside the home), Rose’s mom moves so slowly that I’m never sure if she’s actually coming or not. I rang the bell, but couldn’t hear whether it sounded inside. I waited. Nothing.

Ah, but the storm door is unlocked, I might at least rap on the wooden door, in case the doorbell isn’t working. Rap, rap, rap. And then, distinctly, I hear a voice holler. I think it says, “Someone’s at the door!” I wonder if maybe it said, “Open the door!” or “The door is open!” So I try the handle. The door is unlocked.

I call inside, “I’m here with your groceries. I’ll get them out of the van and be right back.” I bring both totes to the doorstep and carry them inside. The entryway has its own little vestibule, maybe 4 feet by 4 feet before you step into the living room. They keep the house dark and there’s always a heavy drape hanging over that doorway. With the totes inside, I pull the drape back and take a look into the living room. I can see in the dim light that at the end of the sofa there’s a slumped body underneath a blanket. No, please, no.

Rose’s voice comes out of the bedroom in back, “Is my mom sleeping out there?” Yes, please, yes. At ninety-plus years and slower than molasses, the line between sleep and death might well hinge on “please.”

“Yes, she’s asleep.” “Well, can you wake her up? I need her in here.” “Okay, I’ll try.”

Then again, we are NOT supposed to touch our clients. (Or their mothers, no doubt.) Our mantra for safe boundaries is “Keep the box between you and the client. At. All. Times.” Time to think outside the box.

I go over to mom, and she is clearly zonked out. Ancient and exhausted. I do not want to startle her. Not sure she is capable of screaming, but if I were her and I was unexpectedly awakened by a long-haired, bearded man looming over me in my own home, I imagine I’d skip the screaming and go right for the nuts. So I cower a bit while I gently touch her shoulder. Geez, even after  a year, I don’t even know her name.

“Is she awake yet?!” Rose has not mastered patience like I have. “Can you please get her to come in here? I’m in pain!” Mom opens her eyes. Sort of. She rises from her slumped position to sit up on the couch. Thankfully she recognizes me, so there is no fear on her face … or any longer between my legs. Praise Jesus for small favors.

But all she’s doing is sitting there. “Rose needs you.” Open, vacant eyes. She starts to get up. “Is she coming?!” “Yes, she’s awake, and she’s getting up.” Meanwhile, ever the one to keep myself busy, I carry the totes from the doorway to the kitchen to start unloading. “Please, I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up! Is my mother coming or not?!” Well, damn. Shit just got real, as they say.

“Yes, she’s coming now.” Meanwhile, in my head, a whole lot more comes out: But, let’s be serious, Rose, this woman, who moves slower than molasses, whose shoulders are permanently stooped such that only once in fifteen months have I ever even made eye contact with her, this woman is NOT going to be able to do a damn thing for you if you’ve fallen. And, as I notice with some alarm, there is no chipper demeanor, no cackling laughter, and today mom is moving slower than cold molasses. She is walking weariness. Time to move to Plan B.

“Your mom is on the way, but she’s moving pretty slowly. Do you want me to come in and help you?” “Um, I don’t have any clothes on, but, yes, come in here—please.” Well, that didn’t go as planned. Ummmmmmmmmm … “Okay, I’ll follow your mother into the room.” Suddenly I find that I have a very active prayer life. And a very vivid one, too. And mom is barely moving. “Please, I need help!” Well, shit, here we go.

I step past mom, who seems barely aware of what’s going on, turn the corner, and prepare to … oh, Praise Jesus, Rose does not have any “clothes” on, but she is very well covered by her nightgown. My day has just gotten infinitely better.

She has fallen and is laying on her side, pressed against the wall midway between a plush easy chair rocker and a walker. Not sure which direction she was going, in or out, from sitting to standing or the reverse, but she didn’t make it, and she went down instead. Her legs are in very bad shape. Advanced diabetes? I don’t know, but it’s clear they cannot support her weight. And when she fell, she collapsed onto to her left side on the floor and she doesn’t have the upper body strength to get herself upright again, let alone off the floor. But, she is alert, and her mind is very clear—and very impatient.

“Please, can you help me sit up?! I’ve been down here for three hours and my mom has been asleep the whole time.” Note to self: so that explains why Noah got no answer three hours ago at 9 a.m. I move around behind Rose so I can crouch down and get my left hand around her left shoulder where the wall and floor meet. I am being very careful about what and where I touch—and, can I just say, I am missing that “boundary-box” desperately? “Just help me sit up, then I can call 911; they’re the only people who can get me off the floor.” Note to self: thank Jesus for 911 responders later today.

With Rose now sitting upright and leaned against her easy chair, life in the bedroom is much better. For both us. “Uh, could you please hand me my purse from the end of the bed there, and I’ll write you out a check. How much is it today?” So apparently life just moves on. Just like that? “And where is your phone, Rose? Can I get that for you, too?” You know, so you can call 911, and we can all say, thank you Jesus, together? “Oh, it’s right here next to my chair, but I couldn’t reach it after I fell.” And, sure enough, there it was. So close, but 90 seconds earlier, so far away.

Life was indeed so much better for both of us. But maybe not so much for mom. I went out into the kitchen to unload groceries. Mom followed like cold molasses. Only slower. In the absence of her chipper demeanor and cackling laughter the smell of urine was overpowering on the carpet outside the bedroom. She came and sat in a chair by the kitchen table while I put groceries here and there, between dirty dishes and other clutter. I called the amount out to Rose. “Thank you,” she said. I went back to the room I had never been to before today, this time like it was all so normal, and got the check from her. “Thank you,” she said again. “For everything.”

Ducking back into the kitchen to retrieve my empty totes, mom was still sitting there. She was the portrait of resignation and despair. Or was it merely weariness from a long night after an already long life? I pointed out where the cold food was and put the vanilla ice cream in the freezer. I wedged it there, diagonally and upside down, into maybe the last bit of free space there was. In front of two other half gallons of vanilla ice cream because I could have triggered an avalanche if I’d rearranged anything. Mom mumbled, barely more than mouthed, the words “Thank you so much.” Even in a broken spirit, gratitude had its way.

I left the home and drove three houses down the street to call the office. I’m a “mandated reporter.” Since I serve a vulnerable population when I see an unsafe situation I don’t get to choose whether to hold my tongue or not. I report it. People at a pay grade higher than mine decide how to respond. Note to self: one more thing to thank Jesus for.

I recounted everything to Cathy, our executive director. I was surprised at how I felt myself trembling as I spoke. While we were on the phone I saw in my side-view mirror the fire truck pull up in front of Rose’s house and watched the four firemen/EMTs go inside. I explained to Cathy my two-fold concern: first, even on her good days, I was not convinced that mom was in a position to care for Rose. Even her chipper, cackling self could never have righted the woman who had fallen in the bedroom. More to the point, the mom I witnessed today was barely capable of human interaction. If that was more than weariness at play, the mom needs help. And even if it was only weariness, a weary 90-something mom caring for a 60-something daughter with significant health challenges is going to be a losing proposition at some point.

Cathy asked me to touch base with the fire crew when they left, to see if they would report this to social services. Otherwise she would. They came out soon after I hung up. I met them, identified myself as the delivery driver who had just been inside the house and asked if they would be making a report. “Well … we really don’t get into that sort of thing,” said the first one. Then the captain (I’m guessing) stepped forward and told me they only report situations that are “medically threatening” or if they see a pattern, but this was the first time his crew had gotten a call to this home. Then he added, “But we work different shifts, so if a call came in on another shift or to different station we might not notice it.” I said we would be reporting it, particularly my concerns about the mom. “Yeah, I saw her sitting in the kitchen,” he acknowledged. Wait, so after I left her daughter was still on the floor in the bedroom, 911 was called—and came, and she’d never roused herself from the kitchen chair? He added, “I’ll put a note in my log, so that if there’s another call we have a record of it.”

Back in my van I had eight more deliveries to make. But I already felt “done” for the day. My hands were still trembling as I drove off, and my soul felt particularly fragile. Many of the elderly folks I deliver groceries to are just that: elderly. But more than a few are elderly-plus. Elderly-plus-poor. Elderly-plus-fragile. Elderly-plus-blind (or deaf). Elderly-plus-lonely. And plenty of them are elderly-plus-plus.

Me? To say that I “just” deliver groceries doesn’t even come close. But sometimes, no matter what, I feel like I don’t deliver nearly enough. And all I can hope is that the ache in my heart, an unspoken prayer, because, truly, there are no words, finds its way home.

* * *


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 18, 2021. 1 Comment

A Song Trilogy for Grief – and Grace

It is hard to respond to the announcement out of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (and approved by Pope Francis) that the Catholic Church will remain steadfast in denying the blessing of marriage to Catholics in same-sex unions. The message is an affront to Jesus and to the Gospel. Its impact will be measured in blood, despair, and deaths. Yet also in resistance and fresh declarations of God’s love – as here.

Rather than write an essay, I offer three songs as a balm in this moment. The lyrics are below, along with an audio clip so you can hear each one – with gratis to Sara Kay for these beautiful renditions. All songs from my CD.

Hearts on Fire

This hymn was written for the 2008 Lutherans Concerned/North America Assembly; its chosen theme was “Hearts on Fire.” The hymn sets the journey of LGBTQ Christians within the story of Emmaus and becomes a strident anthem about LGBTQ Pride today, from its secular expression in Stonewall to its ecclesial expression in the struggle for same-sex blessings and ordination.

Audio: Hearts on Fire

As if in the upper room, as if in God’s holy womb
As we celebrate this meal, as God’s welcome we reveal,
Hearts on fire, Christ’ desire, that our faith be born anew,
And the kin-dom of our God be ever true, ever true.
Here we gather, glad we say, Christ is with us here today.
In the stories that we tell, hear the Holy Wind now swell.
Hearts on fire, soaring higher, comes the Dove on flaming tongue,
Dreams and visions for our old and for our young, for our young,

Once our people lived in fear, once our hope was hard to hear,
Once our lives were framed by fright, ’til that Pentecostal night.
Hearts on fire, holy choir, of a most surprising tune
In the Stonewall cries of pride that distant June, distant June.
From the alleys running scared, from the brutal hate laid bare,
To a sanctuaried space, to the claiming of our place.
Hearts on fire, we aspire, find our missing Body parts
And re-member – every member – whose we are, whose we are.

From the moment that we dare, ask another’s life to share,
Mid the people gathered round, as our lives in love are bound.
Hearts on fire, steepled spires, tolling loud for life-long love,
Witnessed by the church below and God above, God above.
Now the One who knows all needs, on good soil sows good seed,
From the ground some grain is lured, to the Table and the Word.
Hearts on fire, Christ’ desire that this Body be made whole,
In the calling and the placing of the stole, of the stole.

Text: © 2008 David R. Weiss
Tune: Carl Schalk, b. 1929, Thine (Thine the Amen, Thine the Praise), © 1983 Augsburg Publishing House, admin, Augsburg Fortress.

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We are your soil

This hymn text was written for the Goodsoil worship at the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando. The theme of the Assembly was “Marked with the Cross of Christ Forever”; hence the use of that image here. Also, I draw on the image of “Goodsoil” (the name taken by the alliance of groups working to promote full participation for GLBT people in the ELCA), specifically naming “gay and straight” and “bi and trans” as the “good soil” in which God sows seeds still today. And I ironically invoke the image of “Solid Rock,” the name taken by those opposing full participation, suggesting that ultimately even this solid rock will sing hosanna at Christ’s coming. This hymn uses a newer fast-paced tune, “Du är Helig” (“You are holy”) by Per Harling that appears in the new Lutheran hymnal.

Audio: We are Your Soil

Who are we?—Lord, we are yours!  We are marked forevermore
By the cross and by the word.  In our hearts we’ve been stirred.
Darkness round us, still we sing; To the promise still we cling.
Waiting for the coming dawn; Solid rock turned to song.
We are good soil; we are your soil.
Sow your justice / In Christ’s body still today!
Let compassion fill our lives, Lord.
Rocks and stones, now, / Sing hosanna to our God!

Who are we?—Lord, we are yours!  We were baptized at the font,
Water splashing on our face, Marked forever by grace.
Gay and straight, we sing your praise.  Bi and trans, our voices raise.
To the feast you bid us dine; Welcome bread, welcome wine.
We are good soil; we are your soil.
Sow your justice / In Christ’s body still today!
Let compassion fill our lives, Lord.
Rocks and stones, now, / Sing hosanna to our God!

Text: © 2008 David R. Weiss
Tune: Per Harling, b. 1945, Du är Helig (You are Holy), © 1990 Ton Vis Produktion AB, admin. Augsburg Fortress.

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O Christ Who Came

This hymn text uses the beautiful haunting tune “Londonderry Air” (most well-known for the Irish Ballad, “Danny Boy,” but also for the hymn, “O Christ the Same”). The imagery is triune, picturing Christ as present through the Hebrew prophets, in Jesus’ ministry, and in the activity of the Holy Spirit … from Pentecost to the present. This is a hymn text, blended with music, that touches heaven.

Audio: O Christ Who Came

O Christ who came / through ancient prophet voices
Declaring hope / when hope was all but spent
Who offered life / to those beyond our choices,
Whose words beyond / our foolish wisdom went.
O Burning Bush / aflame for all creation,
Who bids us all / to turn aside and see;
O Christ who came / in hope that we might hasten
Your kin-dom come / and set your people free.

O Christ who came / to fisher-folk confounded
yet left at once / their boats and nets behind
To join your work / of holy hope unbounded
Good news proclaim / and captives to unbind.
O Christ the Text / the Word of God brought to us
Who spread the feast / and beckoned all to dine;
O Christ who came / determined to renew us
Your kin-dom come / in water, bread, and wine.

O Christ who came / in rushing Wind of Spirit
In Pentecost / of welcome flaming bright
Unstop our ears / that we might finally hear it;
Soften our hearts / as well, restore our sight.
O Calling God / whose voice is never ending,
Whose hope is strong / whose Spirit yet does roam;
O Christ who comes / in all we are befriending
Your kin-dom come / your children welcome home.

… O Christ who comes / in welcome wide extending,
Now through our lives / invite your children home.

Text: David R. Weiss, b. 1959 © 2008 David R. Weiss
Tune: Traditional Irish, Londonderry Air (O Christ the Same) – public domain.

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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 atwww.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

This entry was posted on March 15, 2021. 1 Comment