Me and Mom

Note: I shared this on Facebook the night I wrote it; am sharing it here fir those who aren’t on Facebook or may have missed it there. My mom has been dealing with memory loss and encroaching dementia (likely Alzheimer’s) for several years now. Looking back, my dad would say she began deteriorating over a decade ago. She turns 87 this summer. Because I hadn’t seen her in ten months due to Covid, the changes in her behavior, memory, and affect were pretty stark.

Me and Mom

For so many years
we spent so many hours
late into the night
talking from here
to kin-dom come
about dreams and hopes
and heartbreak.
Yours the ears that
heard me into speech;
yours the heart that
held me (and Dad) close
when the chasm between
us—me and Dad—
seemed immeasurable.
Today when I arrived
there was no hug,
no tender kiss
to welcome me
as usual.
Nothing is usual anymore.
You asked
where I had come from,
not remembering
I live in Minnesota;
and if I was staying for supper,
not realizing
I’m here for 3 days;
and if I was married,
no longer knowing
the grandchildren
I’ve given you
or the woman
whose life and love
I’ve shared
for 20 years now.
Home is bittersweet joy,
but
I am still the luckiest boy
I know to be able
to call you, Mom.

2021.06.16

Me and Mom – June 2021

This entry was posted on June 17, 2021. 4 Comments

When the Center Slides Sideways

When the Center Slides Sideways
David R. Weiss – June 15, 2021

NOTE: This post, which discusses my “complicated relationship” with myself (depression), isn’t about seeking pity, much less attention. I rarely go “here” in my public writing. Of course, there’s shame, embarrassment, and self-consciousness at play. But also, as a writer, I harbor a deep desire to be known for the inspiring, piercing, provocative words I write rather than the cacophony of voices (a virtual chorus of inward critique and cosmic nihilism) and bewildering feelings (and sometimes the sheer absence of feelings) inside me.

ALSO: Although this should go without saying, I will say it—just in case. Expressions of solidarity, appreciation, insight, are welcome. Unsolicited advice is not. This is my life. It has been my life at least since adolescence. Over the years I’ve worked with several therapists, and I’m actively working with one right now. I’m processing some of my stuff out loud today, not so you can tell me what you’d suggest, but so you can better understand the ebb and flow (some days the pathos and chaos) of my inner life. If that’s TMI—“too much (personal) information”—for your tastes, just wait for my next post. I don’t come here often, but sometimes the better part of valor is actually less discretion. That’s my choice today.

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There’s a challenge of living with chronic melancholy (mild/moderate depression) on top of being both intellectually thoughtful and temperamentally introverted. It’s easy for others to mistake my more or less level demeanor as inner calm, when it’s just as likely to be existential weariness. The quietly desperate attempt to find bearings that mark meaning and purpose in a world that seem determined to undercut both of them regularly. And, for me, acutely.

This spring my center unexpectedly slid sideways and that weariness ate me alive. Somedays for breakfast, lunch, and supper. And not because of any one thing. Sometimes life is hard for me even on days when I channel joy. That’s perhaps one of the most damning details about depression: joy takes the edge off it—and thanks to family, friends, and trees—I am fairly pampered with joy. But it is no cure for it. And the melancholy that lives in the marrow of my bones never takes a vacation.

On the other hand like noxious algae in a lake, it does occasionally … bloom. And when that happens—holy shit—all the oxygen in the lake gets gobbled up and I’m left gasping for air … that simply isn’t there. In the very place I like to call home. ME.

There is no clear cause or specific reason to point to. Whence this sadness? Were I more dramatic, I might make a wild sweeping gesture and say, “All of this! All. Of. This.” As a poet-prophet-essayist, my bread and butter is empathy plus vulnerability plus holding myself open to unexpected insights that are as likely to rock my world as yours.

That set of peculiar characteristics forms the cauldron in which my words bubble away. But when the center slides sideways I can lose my balance and suddenly—oops—find myself dunked into that cauldron, too. For no good reason at all (it’s not like anyone—or anything—pushed me) I’ve spent most of the spring with my psyche simmering alongside all the other muck in my own cauldron pitched over the fire that burns in my soul. I’ve been so busy treading “water” inside a fairly toxic brew of social perceptions that I can barely fashion a coherent sentence before I feel myself being pulled under again. Which is why my blogging has been so sparse of late.

Make no mistake, this sludge is (potentially) as creative as it is toxic … and (potentially) as lethal as it is lively. So I do still turn out some sparkling pieces: a couple hymn texts and essays come to mind. The hymns in particular garnered me some fine praise. And they are textual gems. Glistening, powerful. But alongside those accolades comes a measure of loneliness.

Photo by Petr Slováček on Unsplash

Full disclosure: I exist, day-to-day, far closer to the edge of despair and madness than most everyone (except maybe Margaret) realizes. It’s fair to liken this past spring to me doing a free solo climb on the sheer face of a mountainside cliff. I don’t exactly mind. I mean, I always hoped for a sense of vocation that would bring me fully alive. I suppose it’s just quibbling to add with some irony that at times it nearly kills me as well. Whatever.

But please be cautious—generous but cautious—in your praise. Because you see me—when I post the final product on my blog or on Facebook—crest the cliff edge and hoist myself and my words onto the top, and it looks (and I even feel) celebratory. But while no one was watching this past spring I nearly lost my grip on that sheer face of the cliff umpteen times. Sometimes amid the writing itself; more often amid the inner writhing that made the writing so difficult.

Nonetheless, I truly believe I’m called to this restless existence. I might even say sadness is my superpower. Or at least my capacity to fashion something precious out of the melancholy that marks my mood more days than not. This is not wallowing. You and I both need the gifts I bear. And while there are things I can do—and do better—to maintain my balance (and avoid taking foolish risks on that sheer face of the cliff) there is no path for me that is not perilous.

I am (simply) doing my work in the world. And the conditions in which I do that work are intrinsically dangerous. But so are the conditions in which one fights wildfires, and no one says those who fight them are foolishly tempting death. They’re taking risks to honor life. Those who know me, know that I am no thrill seeker. Far more kin to Bilbo Baggins than Aragorn, if I’m laboring in deep peril, it’s because I don’t believe there are other conditions in which this most important labor (call it truth-telling for church and society) can be done well.  

Still, this spring (really for the first time in three years—and for no real good reason at all) my center slipped sideways, I lost my balance, and I found myself gasping for air. I’m breathing a little easier these days, although I still haven’t quite re-centered myself.

I find life harder that you might guess. Even on good days. And especially on bad ones. But when I write, that’s when the magic happens—that’s when I feel most fully alive. If I make it look easy, that’s only because writing settles my soul. Rest assured, the Wind was howling and the Water was pelting me before the words came.

No complaints. It’s just time to be known on my own terms.

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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 June 15, 2021. 6 Comments

Jeff Bezos and the Overview Effect

David R. Weiss – June 11, 2021

God loves Jeff Bezos. And: Jeff Bezos’ life choices constitutes a remarkable series of choosing evil over good again and again and again. And again. These things can both be true. Indeed, they are.

Few persons alive on the planet today, politicians or magnates, have so hoarded power and wealth at the expense of so many and at such dire cost to the planet, as Jeff Bezos. His very modus operandi is to exploit workers and undercut other businesses so as to maximize profit as though he were a cancer. If we’re honest (and it’s time to be honest), the man has a pathological obsession with wealth that ought to be criminalized because of the social and ecological harm it actively causes.

So, excuse me if I’m unimpressed by his plans to launch himself into space next month.

“The Blue Marble” – Earth from space – image from NASA, Apollo 17, 1972

He remarks in a recent Instagram video that going into space has been a childhood dream of his. That’s likely true for almost every Amazon worker whose slow impoverishment has been crucial to Bezos’ wealth. Then he says, “You see the Earth from space, [and] it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity.”

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Sorry, that’s NOT how it works. The “overview effect,” as it’s come to be known, refers to the transformational shift in perception reported by many astronauts as a result of spaceflight in which they have seen Earth whole and fragile, its collective vulnerability (our collective vulnerability) shimmering in space.

But Bezos has spent his adult life not merely insulating himself from collective vulnerability—he’s actually devoted his business model to exacerbating it. And in that case that is ZERO reason to think he can glibly—as a stroke to his narcissistic ego—jet off into the deep blue on a lark and gain enlightenment.

I call bullshit. Not because I’m mean spirited but because that’s the gospel truth.

Consider Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man, sometimes named Dives (which is simply the Greek word for “rich man”) feasts sumptuously day in and day out while Lazarus goes hungry outside his doorstep.

When both men die, Lazarus is carried off to Abraham’s bosom, where he is at last comforted. Dives, meanwhile, finds himself in the fiery torment of Hades. From there he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers that they might change their ways. Abraham reminds Dives that they already have Moses and the prophets (that is, the rich social justice teaching of the Jewish tradition) to guide them.

Dives protests, “But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will surely repent.” To which Abraham responds (but remember, this is Jesus’ parable), “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Not even if someone launches themselves into space.

I don’t doubt that the overview effect is real, but for someone so existentially (and economically) invested in rejecting it, someone leveraging the obscenity of their wealth to purchase it (!), the overview effect will prove far more elusive than a mere space flight. As Jesus advised another rich man (Mark 10:17-31), Bezos would be wiser to sell what he owns and give the money to poor. Short of a willingness to do that, his space flight is just another fool’s fantasy. As well as an assault on the poor … and on the planet.

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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.

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.”

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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 15, 2021. 2 Comments