Channeling Stardust

Channeling Stardust
David R. Weiss – August 21, 2022

Sometimes in our less than stellar moments we discover that we are somehow channeling stardust.

Before leaving Michigan City this morning I decided, with some small measure of trepidation, to sing one of Mom’s favorite hymns to her while she lay in bed.

I should clarify that. I sing in a group, ideally a whole cloud of witnesses singing together, so that my notes are “chaperoned” by the stronger singers around me. On my own, doing my honest best to match word to melody, I … bleat.

Besides which, “Beautiful Savior” is on Mom’s short list of favorite hymns, not mine. And although it is well-known to me from years of singing it, beginning in Cherub Choir in my elementary years, these notes were not made for my voice. Still, I sang. Well, bleated.

The tune was suddenly far more familiar in my distant memory than the immediacy of my mouth, with notes dangling like participles wondering where their words are. By the end of verse one, my voice teetering between sincerity and shame, I questioned if I should spare her the rest. But when I glanced up Mom, eyes closed, she seemed … almost blissful.

Whether that was wishful thinking or not, I made the decision to plunge forward, doubling down on my confidence with cacophonous fury. I finished verse four, trading “Beautiful Savior” for the prayerful relief of a “Sweet Jesus!” whispered beneath my breath.

I walked around to Mom’s side of the bed to say good-bye. As I gently kissed her forehead, her eyes sprung open and she said, “Thank you, thank you!” with all the lucid zeal of a woman I hadn’t encountered in over a year.

I know, it’s just four words (okay, just two words, repeated). But these words used to be her standard expression of joy in thanking me at the end of a visit. And they were spoken with crisp clarity and something close to a twinkle in her eye.

I told her I was going home to Minnesota for a few days, but that I’d be back. I told her (again) that I loved her. It was the longest sustained eye contact of the four days I’d been with her. Then she said, “Will you give me a kiss?” And puckered her lips in hopeful anticipation. This, too, was my mom of a much earlier dementia, a mom I hadn’t encountered at all in 2022. I planted a holy healing kiss on her lips and said goodbye.

Four days earlier, while driving from Minnesota to Indiana, I penned an acrostic, reflecting on my “mission”: going home … to kiss mom goodbye. But during my entire visit she was pretty much lost in her thoughts—or in whatever tangled neural thicket has almost entirely stopped her thinking. Every encounter a reaching toward someone receding away.

And yet, for a single, short, sustained moment today we met in a middle space.

I don’t imagine for a minute that enough singing would turn back time on the disease that has ravaged her brain. It’s been ten days since she last ate. I see the gaunt lines framing her face. The exhaustion of both her spirit and her body is palpable. I can feel her growing restlessness for a peace not available to her in these parts anymore.

My singing won’t undo any of that. But for two minutes this morning I sang the fog away and we beheld each other. And we kissed each other goodbye.

Sometimes in our less than stellar moments we discover that we are somehow channeling stardust. Thank you, sweet Jesus.

But don’t look for me to join the church choir anytime soon.

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at

This entry was posted on August 21, 2022. 3 Comments

There are No Words

There are No Words
David R. Weiss – August 21, 2022

As I drove to Michigan City on Wednesday, I tried to think of all the “final words” I would say to Mom. The memories I’d touch on. The gratitude I’d voice. The love I’d speak again and again.

It turns out there are no words to speak.

Mom manages confused sentences here and there. I’m not sure she’s put more than two of them together before veering off into a lost direction. Mostly she says nothing at all, lingering between sound sleep and someplace between dozing and delirium.

If I speak, it’s clear my words mostly just deepen the disorientation that engulfs her. I have named a few precious memories. I have said “thank you.” And I have told her I love her a couple dozen times. But I am keenly aware that I’m just throwing spaghetti at a wall—and none of it is going to stick. Truly, there are no words.

Today I just held her hand for a good long time. Making peace with the “no words” that are left to say.

I remembered Professor Ed Schick from Wartburg Seminary. My very first semester there, in a course on Matthew’s gospel, he was explaining the phrase common in Jesus’ preaching, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Sometimes translated as “drawn nigh,” sometimes as “at hand.” Ed reached out his hand, stretching it far in front of him and looked out at us. “How near?” he asked. “Close enough … to touch. At hand.”

A simple wordplay to make a point. But it became the shape of my life. That somehow the kingdom of God is what transpires at the end of our fingertips. My life-contorting passion for doing justice, chasing after mercy, and walking humbly with God was rooted in that phrase, “at hand.” My conviction, presented in a kaleidoscope of images over the years, that compassion is the very heart of God—was born right there in Ed’s class.

The kingdom of God—the life-changing, world-transforming dynamism at the heart of All That Is—it appears in the space that closes between two human lives in the moment of touch.

In the warm washcloth used to wipe Mom’s face. In the awkward intimacy as Deb and I work to change her wet pajama bottoms. In gently bringing the sippy cup to her lips. In lifting her—with a wordless grunt—into bed when she has collapsed in my arms. And in simply holding her hand.

There are no words. But the kingdom of God has surely drawn nigh.

At hand.

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at

This entry was posted on August 21, 2022. 1 Comment

The Long Edge of Death

The Long Edge of Death
David R. Weiss – August 19, 2022

Liminal means “on the edge of” as a threshold: an edge between. That’s where Mom is right now.

When I learned on Tuesday that she would be entering hospice, I was a bit caught off guard. Dementia has been slowly but surely erasing her Self over the past decade or so—especially over the past three or four years. But she was still regularly “with us.” If only for a handful of hours each day, she would nibble a meal, relish her sweet treats, work away at her booklet of simple word games, play solitaire, wander the house, and ask repeatedly for car rides.

No longer her full Self, but still engaged with life albeit in a diminished capacity. Still mostly well aware of Dad. And still showing glimmers of recognition of each of us kids.

That began to shift, barely perceptible at the time, in early August. Her health has ebbed and flowed over the years, and I think we initially assumed this was just another ebb … to be followed by a flow, or at least a plateau. Two weeks later we can see that this ebb was the beginning of her final ebb.

For the past year or so Mom has lived for rides. Sometimes four or five per day. She rarely paid much attention to the sights, and recognized little that was familiar anymore, but something about being in the car soothed her. So Dad kept driving her, even when it drove him to distraction. On August 10, Mom got up late in the afternoon. She had a bite to eat and was ready for her ride. They drove and drove that day. When Dad pulled into the driveway, Mom asked longingly, “Can’t we go just a little bit further?”

There was a pleading insistence in her voice, so Dad pulled back out and they drove on—pretty much into the sunset. Dad figures it was a 50-mile ride altogether. Maybe that pleading insistence was Mom sensing something was different.

The next day, Thursday, was Deb’s 54th birthday. But when she came over with a little birthday cake to share, Dad couldn’t entice Mom to come join them in the kitchen for cake. Mom was not one to pass up a chance for something sweet. But this night she stayed in the living room. Deb said afterwards Mom was “very quiet”—as though her stillness filled the whole room, an aura declaring “This is my silence now.”

Over the weekend Mom stopped eating altogether. As though her appetite for food—and her appetite for life—had vanished in sync. She barely got out of bed—and if she did, it was only to flop on the sofa or slump into her rocker and resume dozing. Dad noticed she needed some real help navigating the house—a first. She was increasingly lost, not just in her mind, but in her home and on her feet.

Sunday night she expressed interest in a car ride but needed significant assistance from Dad to get out to and into the car. After a lifetime of car rides, this was probably her last. Who knew?

Monday Dad was ready to call the doctor to have Mom checked, but when he heard Deon was coming up on Tuesday, he decided to wait until she was here, too. He thought he might need both Deon and Deb to help him. He did.

Dad and Deb managed to get Mom up and dressed, and then they led her down to the living room. Disheveled is compassionate. “Pretty rough” was Deb’s text to me. Somewhere between child and crone, between stumble and stupor. Deon and Deb guided her outside and into the car, which Dad had waiting with the door open. At the clinic Deb went in and brought out a wheelchair, which she and Deon moved Mom into and took her inside while Dad parked the car.

Mom has been sedentary for years, but she’s never struggled with mobility. My guess is that getting ready to die has been more exhausting than we could imagine.

After a brief examination, the doctor’s recommendation was clear: it’s time for hospice. When I heard she was going to the doctor on Tuesday I was still counting on more flow to follow this latest ebb. But as I spoke on the phone afterwards, first with one sister, then the other—and with hospice now waiting in the wings—the finality of this ebb began to settle in. They each encouraged me to make plans to come “now”; not to wait until after hospice did the initial in-person at-home evaluation the next day.

The urgency was twofold. First, if I wished to be with Mom before her wits entirely left her, to be able to say “goodbye” and “I love you” and have it mean something to both of us—well, my sisters were clear: that window was closing. And fast. Second, it seemed important—infinitely so—that we step across this threshold together. That Mom’s husband and three children (our older brother died in 2004) be here together lest the absence of any one of us prove too much for the rest of us.

I packed that night and left the following morning. Hospice arrived hours before I did, so I missed the first consultations with the social worker and the nurse. But when I did arrive Wednesday evening, I went straight to the bedroom to let Mom know I was here. She was not nearly as impressed by my arrival as I was. She was impressed (or distressed?) enough to comment on my long hair. When I asked how she was, she replied, “Oh, I don’t know anymore.” It was less frustration than honesty speaking. Now 7:30 in the evening, she had not gotten out of bed at all yet. She looked like she was practicing her casket pose, though her eyes fluttered now in a way I doubt they will then. She was clearly no longer invested in this life. On the edge of dying, but not agitated or restless. Just weary. Bone weary. All day long.

Wednesday night around nine she made her way to the living room sofa, crawled onto it and lay down as if to go back to sleep right there. I went and sat by her for a while, joining her silence. She thanked me for “just coming to hold my hand,” and two minutes later she released my hand and said, “You may depart.” And so I did. Perhaps it gets crowded at that edge.

Thursday when the nurse came for a follow-up consultation, I asked how quickly this would progress. Mom was more at the edge of death than I’d ever seen anyone. She’s literally spending 23-plus hours either asleep or not-asleep-but-not-awake-either. Her wakefulness comes in 5-minutes gasps across the latter part of the day, and it seem to take all her remaining energy to muster for that brief time. At the edge of death.

The nurse demurred. No signs of “active dying” yet. Mom is still in a long slow coast toward death, but it could easily be seven, ten, twelve days before that final end even begins. That final stage of active dying—the body slowly shutting down one system after another—will likely last 24-48 hours.

Who knew there was such a long edge to death? (Maybe you did. I did not.) I pretty much expected to come home, settle in, and keep Mom company for 3-4 days while she died. Turns out she has other business to attend to. I can’t say what that is. And she’s not telling. It looks like she sleeps pretty much all day. But the nurse says she’s not dying just yet. She’s just mostly stopped living.

You could say she’s liminal. An embodied edge between. Apparently, it’s a wider threshold than I realized.

I’ll have a couple days of deep presence to her (and to Dad and my sisters). Then I head back to Saint Paul to await the finals summons. Mom’s life is liminal. Mine is still busy. So, I’ll head back and be busy for another week or so. But before I leave, I’ll say my final farewells and my last “I love you”s. These will be the last words I speak that (if I’m lucky) Mom will acknowledge.

When I return, during those final hours, she may well still be hearing all that’s said. But she’ll be listening from a place deep inside. Then truly on an edge beyond our reach. LIMINAL in all caps. In the meantime, she’ll be outwardly disengaged while she inwardly ties up loose ends, her psyche slowly releasing itself from a lifetime of joy and sorrow, love and loss, family and faith. Most of that is all jostled up by dementia now. She may need this long slow coast to chase down all the farewells she has to make. What can I do except wish her godspeed as she travels this last long edge of death?

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at


David R. Weiss – August 17, 2022

Mom has barely eaten for a week now—nothing for the past four days. Barely had anything to drink either—maybe two 7 oz. cans of Coke and just a couple sips of water. Over four days. Barely left her bed—only a couple hours in a day. And some days not at all.

After a decade long slide into dementia, she seems barely herself anymore. But these last days she’s barely alive.

And yet I wonder. Is it maybe … somehow … the opposite?

Is it that we can barely sense the hunger that growls in a stomach with a growing appetite for other food? That we can barely sense the thirst that rises in her throat for drink we cannot offer? That we can barely gauge the fitful energy just waiting to set foot somewhere beyond here? Her full self now deeply cocooned inside pathology, but about to be split wide open?

Barely alive? Or is it that we can barely guess at the Life about to embrace her whole and release her shimmering soul to what comes next? The poverty of our perception says, “dust to dust” and “ashes to ashes.” But I think stardust and fire will carry the day.

And no “barely” about it.

NGC 3324, star-forming region in the Carina Nebula – James Webb Telescope

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at ww

This entry was posted on August 17, 2022. 2 Comments

To Hell with Heaven

To Hell with Heaven
David R. Weiss – August 16, 2022

NOTE: I do not write these words lightly. I write them because I believe them to be true. And because I believe them to carry hard grace that we can ill afford to be without.

Near the start of Griefwalker, a documentary about Stephen Jenkinson’s work accompanying those who are facing death, he says: “There’s kind of a hole inside most of us—approximately in the shape of a soul. You can’t know what the soul looks like until you feel for yourself around that hole, that wound. We don’t really know what we’re missing until we put our finger in it. Until then it’s just a rumor.”

The image is overfull. Putting a finger in a wound? It recalls Jesus’ disciple Thomas, who (in John’s gospel) insisted on placing his finger into Jesus’ wounds to confirm the resurrection. But, as Jenkinson soon makes clear, the wound he’s talking about is coming to terms with the certainty of our own death. Not resurrection, but its absence. The unconditional finality of death.

Specifically, mine. Specifically, yours.

Moreover, Jenkinson says this “mortal” wound is our soul: it haunts us at the very core of our being. He regards our dying—more precisely the moment our death becomes more than mere “rumor”—as the crucible in which our living is made real. Only when we dare to touch the wound of our own mortality—”to feel around that hole”—do we begin to live. Prior to that, our living is mostly a running from death, which is the furthest thing from living life.

Unfortunately, that running from death, that refusal to reconcile with the wound that is ours, has given us a badly wounded planet instead.

When I began writing and speaking about faith and the climate crisis in earnest (in 2015), I chose as my overarching theme, “At Home on Earth.” I wanted to suggest that finding ourselves at home here on Earth, embracing the grace of finitude, is crucial in meeting the challenge of climate change. I still believe that. Only more so. Except not.

Only more so. Finitude is the path that leads us “home.” Jenkinson’s wound—which is not “the prospect” of our death entertained as mere likelihood or “rumored” eventuality, but the damming certainty and absolute finality of it: our own personal encounter with finitude—is the only trustworthy door to whatever might yet be for us as a human society. This is not simply learning, begrudgingly, to live within the limits of a finite planet, but to affirm the goodness of those limits alongside the inevitable grief tied to our own death and the deaths of those we love. Finitude is a hard grace, but a grace nonetheless. For death, as Jenkinson reminds us, is the womb of life.

Except not. I no longer believe that “meeting the challenge of climate change” falls into the category of “whatever might yet be.” It probably didn’t fall into that category even back in 2015; I simply didn’t realize that at the time. Another hard truth, this one less gracious: we won’t “meet” the challenge of climate change.

Today “whatever might yet be,” particularly if we pick the pathway of embracing finitude, navigating our way forward by moving into Jenkinson’s mortal wound and feeling our way around inside it, is, at best, surviving with our humanity more or less intact, even as our world, both ecologically and societally is left in tatters. Tattered because of decades of governmental negligence, political obstruction, and highly cultivated personal indifference (though far from individually innocent, we’ve also been carefully conditioned to consume much, care little, and dismiss science). But tattered also as the result of corporate determination to make one last dollar before things go south. (Actually, as things are going south—fast.)

Tattered. That’s our best-case scenario. There are worse scenarios out there. At this point, tattered is a real grace. We dare not dismiss the gift of tattered.

So, I say it’s time to plumb Jenkinson’s wisdom. And to be even more clear about my own conviction regarding what it means to be “at home on Earth”: it’s time to say to hell with heaven.

I don’t definitively deny the possibility of something next … after we die. An afterlife? A rebirth? Sustained self-awareness? A persisting glow within the life of God? Personally, I’m skeptical of any ongoing individual awareness. I don’t expect a glorious reunion on the far side. And I don’t really lament that. I don’t regard an afterlife as central to vibrant, meaningful, profound Christian faith. But I admit the final truth of the matter is above my pay grade. Color me “willing-to-be-surprised” when I die.

But I will say—definitively—that, for NOW, living with integrity on a finite planet requires that we embrace our own finitude. Absolutely. Unconditionally. NO HEDGED BETS. In a world misshapen by More—an addiction to accumulative consumption—and bereft of any widespread notion of Enough, the gospel truth that scandalizes us most of all is this: we die. Each one of us. Specifically, me. And specifically, you. This is the good news, and we need to embrace it as precious wisdom if we hope to live.

So, what would it mean … to touch the wound that is our soul? Jenkinson suggests we only uncover and truly enliven our souls—our Selves—beneath the weight of our absolute finitude. But—crucially—not as curse or punishment; rather, as the simple fact of ecology: life bequeaths death bequeaths more life, and so on. Living deeply in the visceral awareness of our death—our place in the circle of life—is what it means to be “at home on Earth.” To acknowledge we are not “destined” for some other, better place. We are bound graciously to this “best of all places”: from bones to blood to breath … to death … we … are … home.

But heaven tries to tell us otherwise. Heaven lets us “face” death without ever really facing it at all. And because we imagine we carry some sort of “get-out-of-death-free” card, we never take full account of our actions and inactions here and now. Heaven sets us (and typically us alone) outside the circle of life. And that move comes at a dreadfully dear cost to everything left inside the circle. It betrays the whole of creation.

It isn’t heaven alone that will leave our world in tatters. But heaven is an accomplice. It dulls our anguish, moderates our resistance to the wanton destruction of life, and lessens our respect for the Sacred Circle of All That Is. I don’t suggest we give up heaven because it’s easy or comfortable; surely not because it’s a popular suggestion to make. But because doing so may be the difference between tatters … and extinction … in the generations ahead.

No doubt there are plenty of folks who’ve dismissed heaven and are all too eagerly despoiling the planet. They’ve found other ways to deny the full truth of finitude and its gracious claim on them. But finitude is an inescapable law of life. They’ll have their own “Come to Jesus” moment in due time. My argument is not that giving up heaven with necessarily save us or the planet. It’s that holding onto heaven necessarily undermines our best efforts to tend this world well, both for ourselves and for those who will receive it from us. Embracing the full, hard, gracious truth of finitude (which in my mind necessarily means setting aside an afterlife) is now our only chance of navigating the tatters up ahead.

“Except a grain of wheat fall to the earth and die it cannot bear fruit” (John 12:24). With these words Jesus (or John, the evangelist who scripts these lines) is foreshadowing the resurrection. But is it possible these words carry a wisdom less ethereal? That John’s gospel intimates that this is how we claim life-after-death before we die? That only by owning the inescapability of death—in very personal terms—do our lives bear fruit.

Indeed, in the Fourth Gospel the notion of “eternal life” actually suggests infinitely deep-rich-meaningful-compassionate life right now. Scholars call it “realized eschatology”: that the “last things” (in Greek eschatos means “last”), the end, the fulfilment of all that is meant to be, begins NOW in the moment we come to faith. For John’s community, it seems, one of the central gifts of faith was the fulness of “life-after-death” while still alive. That abundance was not reserved for another life but intended for this finite life.

Thus, the first and final Enough by which our lives are plumbed—the Alpha and Omega of all that is—is to embrace enough with loving regard for our own lives. To confess, Life until death is enough. Those five words are the womb for an ethic framed by awe and gratitude, grief and mourning, outrage and struggle, vulnerability and empathy, solidarity and compassion, justice and joy. I suspect that’s what John’s community knew as “eternal life.”

There is an undeniable grief in the awareness that we were made to die … and yet also an immeasurable awe in realizing that death feeds all that lives. Jenkinson says, unapologetically, that it is grief—not hope—that may yet gift us a future. Not the one we imagined. But one we might yet make ours.

Gandhi titled the autobiographical sketches of his Experiments in Truth. I suggest the rest of our lives be conducted as experiments in truth. Facing death, touching that wound, finding our soul between grief and awe—that’s an experiment in truth. Our lives are the lab. And the planet and the future hang in the balance.

If communities of faith desire to be centers of humanity and compassion in years to come, we will do so by finding ways to bear a gospel that is as finite as we are. As this glorious planet is. A gospel that does not “overcome” death, but offers the wisdom and compassion to honor it, embrace it, and nonetheless call us to love … extravagantly.

NOTE: This post carries me to the outer edges of orthodoxy. No apologies. I blog under the heading “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” I expect to pen two follow-up blogs expanding on the ideas introduced here. If you have a question you’d like me to address, please post it in a comment! ~David

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at ww

This entry was posted on August 16, 2022. 3 Comments

Two Things True

Two Things True
David R. Weiss – July 15, 2022

Two things—opposite as it were—can be true at once.

There are things I wish I did not know … that I am yet glad to know. Not happy, per se, but grateful amid regret. Things needful to know and so the knowing, though unwanted, is, at the same time, welcome.

Two things true at once.

Or again: I am learning that it is possible to write—and to act!—with love … on the far side of hope. And it is possible, from that place, to sustain what might be called “counter hope.”

Not pessimism. Not at all. But a hope that is no longer hopeful. No longer the reflection of upbeat attitude or warm emotion. A hope so thin and gritty that it is “merely” existential—and nothing more. That is, it exists only as chosen action, however tiny, in the present moment. Such “counter-hope” is not something we hold onto, not something we “have”; it is something we do. Again and again and again.

Just back from a week of hiking up on the North Shore (of Lake Superior), my experience was one of persistent bittersweet awe. Many of the parks and trails and beaches bear witness to the irrepressible artistry of creation, the seeming longing of the world simply to be with unrestrained exuberance. Thus, an entire week of “oh my” followed by “and yet.”

Gooseberry Falls

Despite its pristine pretensions where I walked, this Earth is wounded. And deeply. We saw glimpses of that in the occasional mountains of logged trees or rail cars of mined ore. Fellow members of the Earth community, their citizenship revoked so they might be rendered resources for (globalized Western) human appetites that are fluent in one language only: More.

That’s not to say that no people or culture has shown a capacity for restraint or, better yet, a culture of humble harmony with the planet. Many have. But the lingua franc of the globalized industrial world is accumulative consumption. Our measure of worth, our sense of meaning, our very reason for being (from the individual to the whole economic system!) is oriented to a singular end: More.

Hence our wounded planet. And because no corner on Earth is separate from the whole, even the North Shore’s beauty is wholly entangled—in distant but undeniable kinship—with raging wildfires, receding lakes, ocean plastic, retreating glaciers, rising temperatures and more. The instinctive awe cannot be divorced from withering anguish.

Two things true at once.

Delighted to spend a week in daily relationship with three of my grandchildren. Yet every moment of joy is matched and more by the inescapable awareness that they have no idea. And they are wholly unprepared for the future that is coming for them.

How could anyone be prepared for a tomorrow that is not simply the day after today but the sum of decades of yesterdays that will now broker a complete break with every yesterday … and rewrite every tomorrow we ever imagined?

At Split Rock State Park

And isn’t childhood—they are, after all, just 9, 11, and 13—supposed to be a long season of innocence; rambunctious, sometimes cantankerous growing, in which kids can be kids, delaying their ripening maturity until young adulthood finally claims them? But with the entire world readying to shift—perhaps before they even have the chance to grow up—there is an impatient anxiety in me. They may not have the luxury of childhood.

Of course, many—countless—children across the globe—have already had their childhood forfeited to the More that fuels war and famine, political ambitions and environmental destruction. My grandchildren are simply going to find their lot abruptly joined to that of their peers around the world. A generation—a whole series of generations—consigned to live within the wounds of a planet that would’ve preferred to offer us its abundance.

Except that there was no abundance that could satisfy us. Enough? Was that even a word?

The same was true, by the way, of my brother’s relationship with bourbon. What struck me as abundance beyond measure left him perpetually unsatiated … until it left him permanently dead. A longer more complicated tale than that, but the cause-effect holds true. As it may for us as well.

I have every desire to be hopeful. I could name them if you like. Six children: each the apple of my eye. Nine grandchildren: together joys uncounted. A wife who still pitters the patters of my heart. And two or three decades of my own still unfolding. And those are only the desires that leap to mind. I have multitudes of wishes for a future that I know is no more.

Two things, painfully true at once.

“And yet …” you will stammer. “If only …” you will offer. “For surely …” you will insist. I hear the sincerity in your voice. But sincerity cannot purchase what is no longer for sale.

It isn’t just the math—although that’s damning enough. Between rising CO2, trespassed planetary boundaries, collapsing ecosystems—and social systems and political systems—there simply isn’t any honest math that provides any solid basis for hope.

And whatever miniscule odds you might conjure up are exorcised (an ironic use of the word if there ever was one) by those determined to turn a profit right up to their last breath, those determined to wield assault weapons while uncertainty and anxiety peak (an incendiary combination), and those determined to undo democracy so that authoritarian homophobic misogynist white nationalism can be the flag flying over the future as it implodes. I could go on: pandemics, migrations, drought, famine, hunger, massive civil unrest, war, and nuclear disasters. But that would just be piling on.

Yes, there is an abundance of good to strive for—simpler living, greener energy, and the resolute protection or reclaiming of all manner of civil rights and human rights. But that good is not cause to be hopeful. The forces arrayed against us, some systemic, some personal, and some ecological are not going to negotiate. And some of them have inertia that simply no amount of good will or regret will moderate. Our future is bleak—at best. And I mean “at best”; there are possible futures worse than bleak.

Temperance River State Park

Which is why I say the good is not cause to be hopeful. The good is cause to do right. Irrespective of the odds. Doing right on the far side of hope, that’s “counter-hope.” It’s the best we can do now. It won’t make a dent in “bleak.” But it may open a passage to a tomorrow we never wished for, but which we will be damn grateful for if we make it there alive.

Two things true at once. The world is overfull with beauty. And overwrought with wounds. So much to savor. So much to salve. Keep busy savoring and salving and you won’t miss the hope at all.

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at

This entry was posted on July 19, 2022. 2 Comments

Making Fernando Cry

Making Fernando Cry
David R. Weiss – July 5, 2022

[Aside for those of you who weren’t aware of this: Fernando is a 32-year-old Brazilian man who just arrived in the U.S.—his first time abroad—to start a 3-year post-doc fellowship at the University of Minnesota in cardiac physiology. Connected through a friend of a friend—indeed just hours before he arrived—he will rent a room from us until the end of August when he moves into a place much closer to campus.]

To be fair, Fernando has been with us since 10am last Monday, so I waited an entire week to make him cry. It’s not like I put him in tears in the first few days. Let me tell you about it.

I knew already last week that Fernando’s parents were no longer together. And that he had a younger half-brother on his mother’s side and a younger half-brother and half-sister on his father’s side. No big deal, since our family has half-siblings, step-siblings, and heart-siblings in spades.

Anyway, Monday night we had almost an hour to wait, sitting on plastic chairs in a parking lot (thankfully in comfortably warm air with a gentle breeze) before the fireworks would start. So I asked him, “How old were you when your parents divorced?”

He paused, as if considering how (or how much) to answer, and then he said, “Well, my history is a complicated one. I think it would be a good movie …” And then he explained (edited here for brevity).

“My mother was poor and black. My father was white and wealthy. They did not really have a relationship. When my mother discovered she was pregnant, she talked to my father, but nothing came of their talking. So I was born and my mother raised me alone. Eventually she remarried and got my younger brother, but she would never tell me who my father was.

“I often asked her, because I truly wanted to know my father, but my questions only made her sad. She would tell me to wait until I was older, and because I could see she was sad, I learned to keep my own sadness—which was a lot—inside me. Even though I often wondered about my father, I put the energy of my sadness into my studies to distract me since I knew I could not learn anything until my mother agreed.

“When I was 22, I completed my undergraduate degree to become a physical therapist and then my mother finally told me who my father was. And I was very surprised. You see, we lived in a small town (20,000) and everybody knew everybody else. So when she told me, I learned that my father was someone I already knew. He lived not far from us. A rich white man with a family of his own.

“And I hoped to have a relationship with him. But when I approached him I learned that it is not easy to simply “become” a father and son just because you want to, when you never knew each other for so long. Sometimes I talk to him still. But it is always a little strange, because why could I never know him sooner? I have a closer relationship with his mother and his children, but it is still very different than what I have with my mother’s family.”

Quite a tale to share (and there is more that I have left aside). Margaret and I sat in rapt attention, well aware that this was a “thin moment” in which he was making himself quite vulnerable to us.

After the fireworks we came home. Well, we were mired in a parking lot down in Eagan for 45-50 minutes, and then we came home.

On the way, I shared with him that my relationship to my children was also complicated. In very different ways, of course, but I shared a sketch of my life as a parent on the drive home, so that he would know I had heard his story with real empathy.

By the time we got home it was 11:30, and we all decided to have midnight snacks. Even Percy joined us (of course!). I just had cheese and crackers, so while Fernando made his burger, I gathered a couple things to show him. When we sat down, I first showed him the “Gravity” poem I wrote for Ben on his 30th birthday. He now knew enough to appreciate the sentiments as well as to be amazed at the acrostic.

Then I showed him my two 3-ring binders in which I keep my copies of “Apple: Tree” and “Reading with Dad,” the letters I am writing to my children. I explained that for four years now—ever since they both moved west within months of each other—I have written a letter every month, both to tell the story of my life, but also to make a bridge across the complicated past that we have. Each binder now has 250+ pages of typed letters in them.

He was speechless. Literally. He said, while his eyes glistened with tears, “I do not even have the words in Portuguese to say anything.” And then he found them. Both tears and words.

“All my life I wondered about my father. But until today I have never wondered whether he wondered about me. And you have shown me that maybe my father also wanted to know me, but he did not know how. I will reflect on this for a long long time.

“I said earlier that I would always remember this day because it was my first fireworks in America, but NOW I will always always remember this day for this. Talking about my father is the hardest thing for me to do—and how could I be here just one week and feel safe to say it all to you and Margaret?

“It reminds me, my grandmother—my mother’s mother—sent me a message when I was getting ready to come here. In it she said, ‘Don’t you worry, Fernando. You will find a beautiful family to be your family in America. I have seen them, and they are so good. You will be blessed.’ I do not know how she says these things, but I believed them when she told me. But I did not think I would find my family so soon.”

Well, by now we were all three teary-eyed and over-tired. So we exchanged hugs and went to bed. It was a bit more fireworks than any of us anticipated.

Fernando had mentioned earlier in the evening, at the end of his tale, that despite his suffering through the years about his absent father, that he had learned to use it as a source of empathy for others. So have I. Now, I will not say that all suffering bears a gift. But often it can. If you allow it.

Fernando is here on a fellowship to do research in cardiac physiology. He likes to say a bit cheekily, “I have come here to learn how to mend a broken heart.”

Who would’ve guessed it might be his own.

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at

This entry was posted on July 5, 2022. 2 Comments

A Modest Defense of Self-Immolation

A Modest Defense of Self-Immolation
David R. Weiss – June 3, 2022

Usually when I finish a piece, I am eager to post it for others to read.
I finished this piece 18 days ago. Draw your own conclusions.

I know, it’s a rather alarming title, but I need to begin first with a confession before I get to the real subject. I truly enjoy writing the memoirish pieces I occasionally post on my blog, wrapping the stories of myself and my family in (hopefully) equal measures of honesty and grace. These pieces are a gift, to myself, my family, and often (from the feedback I receive) to others.

But there is, in fact, more than that. My decision to write the truth of my life as fully and faithfully as I can seeks not only to integrate myself but also, and just as importantly, it helps anchor and cultivate relationships that can be real and authentic—some present and some yet to be. Such truth-telling is the ground in which solidarity can grow. And solidarity—the capacity to stand with and for another across difference—is made possible by story. It primes the imagination for empathy. Thus, this writing matters.

But here’s the confession. Sometimes I do this writing because, even when I’m plumbing the anguish of my mom’s dementia or the fraught history I have with my children or the yawning sense of incompleteness I find in my own life arc—even then, this is the least painful writing that calls my name.

I have so many hard words to write in my future. More than you … maybe more than I … can imagine. These familial sketches soothe the restless writhing over what must also be put into words soon enough. In memoir, I mend my past and present. But there are words waiting in the wings that aim to wreak havoc on the future. Although “wreak” gives me too much credit. I am simply to intone the next acts in our planetary apocalypse. It is a task that I dread.

Also, a task to which I feel called.

And it is just possible that these two tasks, truth-telling about oneself and truth-telling about our planet (and our collective place on it) may be twin revolutionary deeds that point the way to a precarious tomorrow … “precarious” being the best of all possible worlds still available to us.

That’s the confession: some of my richest writing serves at least partly as a distraction from my most necessary work.

Today that necessary work involves a modest defense of self-immolation. (Self-immolation is the act of dousing oneself with a flammable liquid and then setting oneself on fire with the intent to sacrifice one’s life to the flames in a fiery gesture of anguish and/or protest.)

I’m thinking most specifically of the April 22, 2022 self-immolation by Wynn Bruce, a 50-year-old Colorado man who set himself on fire on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. He died of his burns the next day. News reports say he left no statement explaining his action, but his years as a climate activist, his regular participation at a Buddhist Ecodharma (eco-teaching) Retreat Center, the timing of his act—on Earth Day, and a handful of social media posts suggest this was an act planned well in advance and seemingly born of concern-grief-empathy for life itself.

This is the self-immolation I have in mind. So, I’ll say this up front (but I’ll repeat it along the way as well): I do not encourage, endorse, or support acts of self-immolation. I DON’T. And yet, I feel the need to offer a modest defense of it because it is easily mischaracterized, especially in the media, and it actually matters that we reckon with it for what it is, rather than dismiss or criticize it for what it isn’t.

Self-immolation is not suicide; at least not as typically conceived. To call it suicide (as has happened in news reports and commentary) misrepresents it at a fundamental level.

I do not wish to negatively “judge” the morality of suicide here. I’m simply arguing the distinction matters. Suicide is an act to end one’s life on account of abject despair, often due to some form of mental-physical-emotional distress or pain, or the perceptive of such. I’m not concerned with deciding whether suicide as such is ever “right” or justified. However you morally assess it, you can describe it as an act of the willful disintegration of oneself, an act undertaken, whether impulsively or after long reflection and planning, in the conviction that life as it is (or is perceived to be) is no longer worth living.

In stark contrast to this, self-immolation is a deeply terrifying act because it is made in the profoundly paradoxical and perhaps near-mystic conviction that life IS worth living—and is nevertheless in this act being surrendered.

Paul Tillich (in Dynamics of Faith, 1957) described faith as the active orientation of the self with reference to one’s “ultimate concern” (which might be a supreme value, but for Tillich was God). In this context, he asserted that faith is the very act of self-integrationthe act of becoming a (more) whole person by moving toward deeper alignment with one’s ultimate concern.

Self-immolation is exactly that. Terrifyingly so.

And when it’s named as suicide, the existential-moral-religious terror that is at its core (for both the actor and the rest of us) is erased. If anything, self-immolation might be called an act of prophetic suicide, which is to suggest that the point of reference is not the self—or the self’s pain—but the larger community, the Earth itself … or even God—or God’s pain.

I don’t doubt that there are suicides driven by climate despair, an irrepressible sense of “doomism.” It is unquestionably a moral tragedy—and atrocity—that we live in an era when abject despair is, arguably, a rational response to our current planetary crisis. It is surely not the only rational response, but it is one. Still, self-immolation does not reflect “doomism,” and when it’s reduced to an act of climate despair, we belittle it. Worse, we deaden ourselves to the response it ought to elicit in us.

Listen, we are in full blown ecological crisis. Now. We are in real danger of “total societal collapse”—which, by the way, is the term employed in a paper published by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction as part of the 2022 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR2022). The report uses a planetary boundaries model that tracks how human activity is disrupting nine different Earth systems that jointly maintain the “safe operating space” in which human society has developed.

Unfortunately—which is a planet-sized understatement—we have exceeded the “safety zone” on four of nine boundaries: we’ve severely disrupted (perhaps altogether ruptured) their ability to help preserve the planet’s ability to sustain us … and other species. Four of nine. And (pending data analysis) we’re likely to have crossed two more safety thresholds as of last summer. SIX OF NINE. And, because these boundaries interact with each other, supporting or destabilizing the other boundaries, we might cross all nine of them within the decade. We are coming unmoored. At the planetary level.

The UN paper puts it this way [editorial asides are mine]: “In the absence of ambitious [read: politically imprudent] policy and near global adoption and successful implementation [read: a snowball’s chance in hell], the world tends toward the global collapse scenario.” As Earth systems buckle, human social systems—from food supply to national political discourse to global cooperation, to civil unrest and violence—in turn strain and tear. And these stresses reinforce each other in cross-systems’ feedback that threatens to escalate all the way to “total societal collapse.” Oof.

Of course, there is always a thin ray of hope we can cling to. The GAR2022, like every other UN report, assures us (however dire its initial warnings) that there are steps we can take to avert the worst of this. Yet that very hope stalls our response. We think, “If it’s still possible, then I have a little more time to maintain my life as it is.”

But, about this recent GAR2022 (released in May), one senior advisor and contributor to the report asserted (anonymously to a British news source) that the GAR2022 was “watered-down before public release.” That the world has, in fact, “passed a point of no return.” That “the [final] GAR 2022 is an eviscerated skeleton of what was included in earlier drafts.” OOF.

This is our world—our entire lifescape. Right now. And it will be our children’s inheritance.

yes, there are absolutely steps we can take to lessen the severity of a worst-case scenario. Quit building pipelines. Practice gratitude—daily. Imagine radical sharing (then practice it). Drive less. Learn to garden. Make friends (across differences!). Stop flying (I’m serious). Study nonviolence. Stop eating meat. Treasure nonmaterial abundance. Create deep community in your neighborhood or church. And there are more. Concrete steps that can lessen the enormous suffering (which is headed our way no matter what) and anchor our humanity amid the coming tumult. I’ll say it again, because we don’t seem to understand this, so long as we hold out hope that somehow our politicians or some new technology is going to turn this thing around, we will find ourselves waiting a little bit longer to get truly serious.

And if we’re honest, our response thus far, over the fifty years we’ve known about the threat of global warming, from global agreements to national policies to community models to consumer choices—given that our entire lifescape is at risk—has been purely pathetic. It’s inaccurate even to say that we’re living on borrowed time. We’re on stolen time. Time stolen from other species, from entire ecosystems, from whole generations—including the very next one, that is, the little ones we cradle in our arms and tuck into bed at night right now. Their time. Stolen as we speak.

It is against this backdrop that I need to offer a modest defense of self-immolation.

I do not encourage, endorse, or support it. But I understand it. When you look without blinking at the damage we have done to the biosphere, when you hold open your heart to the wounds of all living things on account of human choices … on account of human systems that operate with inertia even beyond our individual choices, when you attend to the compassionate (pain-bearing) presence of God in the midst of the world that God loves—and when you grasp the radical indifference of the industrial human world to all this—of course your soul might choose to bear witness by becoming a searing fireball of grief-agony-compassion-truth.

To be very clear, self-immolation is NOT celebrated or encouraged within the Buddhist tradition. It is a very complicated topic. Wynn Bruce’s own circle of Buddhist friends have voiced both their respect and their grief for his actions—and they have been honest about not knowing the state of his mind or his full intention. Still, I do not believe such an act is properly called suicide. Or that it is an act of doomist despair. It is, rather, an attempt to bear searing witness to the agonizing truth of this moment. We are out of time. Earth is out of time. God is out of time.

It is absolutely possible to face a harrowing future by choosing to be fully human and fully alive. So, if I wish to respond to Wynn Bruce’s self-immolation in a way attends to its heart-wrenching witness while simultaneously seeking to prevent others from feeling called to such acts, I will redouble my own efforts to recognize and embrace the Earth-suffering truth he knew while also pursuing as many of the steps named above as vigorously as I can.

A modest defense. What I can say immodestly is that the time to embrace life in all its fragile urgency is now, now, now. With nothing held back. Because ALL of our tomorrows hinge on this one singular today.

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at

This entry was posted on June 21, 2022. 1 Comment

Norman Gottwald: On God (YHWH) as the Justice Between Us

Norman Gottwald: On God (YHWH) as the Justice Between Us
David R. Weiss – June 17, 2022

This past spring Hebrew Bible scholar Norman Gottwald died at the age of 95. In the June 1 issue of Christian Century Walter Brueggemann (himself 89 and an acclaimed Hebrew Bible scholar) wrote that Gottwald was “the most important and influential Old Testament scholar of the 20th century in the United States.” That may be true in the academy and indirectly in the seminary, but I’m betting Gottwald—and his work—is mostly unknown in the pews.

It’s true that Gottwald’s scholarship is intimidating. At nearly 1000 pages, his 1979 classic The Tribes of Yahweh is least of all light reading. But his core insight, lifted up in Brueggemann’s remembrance, belongs in church pews today more than ever. I’ll get to that.

First, a note on the man and his method. Long before it became standard to “position oneself” by acknowledging the identities and agendas that (inevitably!) impact our worldviews and our work, Gottwald argued that we ought to “own up to our ideological investments” (The Politics of Ancient Israel, 2001) in order to promote vibrant and insightful critical dialogue rather than falsely pretend that any of us write and speak from nowhere in particular. And he was deeply invested: in anti-nuclear campaigns in the late 50’s, and in free speech, feminism, anti-Vietnam War, and racial justice, as well as more local concerns in Berkeley (where he taught for nearly two decades). Even after he retired from teaching he worked on causes like immigration, globalization, health care, and labor through the Democratic Socialists of America. Gottwald was thoroughly immersed in following the prophet Micah’s injunction to “do justice, chase mercy, and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8).

Gottwald’s personal-political investment in this work in his own life gave him a particular edge in excavating the dynamics of power often hidden between the lines of the biblical text. Drawing on sociology, economics, and archeology—and aided by his embrace of Marxist analysis—he read the story of ancient Israel with fresh—and revolutionary—insight. Some of his conclusions remain points of debate today, but many of them—including his method, while controversial at first, have become consensus positions among scholars. (Hence Brueggemann’s accolade.)

Still, much of Gottwald’s work remains buried in the church. Both because we woefully underestimate the capacity and interest(!) of adult lay people to entertain and embrace adult ideas about their own faith tradition. There is some truth to this. (See if you don’t feel a bit alarmed and defensive by the “adult ideas” I offer below.) But perhaps even more so because these adult ideas are almost incendiary in application. I’m coming back to that.

Here, in its most concise form, is Gottwald’s perspective on the origin of ancient Israel.

In the period from 1250-1050 BCE the land of Canaan was ruled by scattered city-states that were vassal states in Egypt’s empire. These Canaanite states paid their necessary tribute to Egypt and enriched their own elite by ruthlessly exploiting the peasants within their realms. During this critical two-century period, various groups of peasants revolted and fled (making a mini-Exodus of sorts) from the lowlands controlled by the city-states to the more remote highlands, where they founded something of a network of counter-Canaanite communities.

These communities actively sought to reject the oppressive politics/economics of Canaan by embracing egalitarian agrarian practices and, when necessary, mutual aid to one another. They also actively rejected Canaanite religion and embraced (which is really to say, gave birth to) monotheistic Yahwism. These “communitarian” tribes (Gottwald’s term) eventually merged into Israel. They were comprised of people with overlapping but not identical lineages. They came to regard themselves as a single people because of the shared conditions from which they escaped and the shared religious story they developed to explain their past and chart their future.

Thus, Gottwald said (and many scholars now agree) much of Israel’s early narrative from Abraham through the Exodus and settling in the Promised Land is “foundational myth” more than even oral history. It represents less stories passed down through generations, and more tales creatively generated to unite disparate peoples into a common narrative which could become theirs to co-create on the far side of oppression. There may have been some enslaved people who came all the way from Egypt and joined in this venture, but, given Canaan’s status as a region under Egypt’s thumb, it is just as possible that these origin myths projected a more localized rebellion/escape onto a larger canvas for its obvious dramatic and thereby unitive power.

Hardly the tale we’ve grown up telling ourselves. Or, more accurately we’ve told the foundational myth as if it were history. But there is plenty of sociological, archeological, even textual evidence to suggest otherwise. Welcome to biblical history … for adults.

Now to the edge of incendiary. As Brueggemann observes, Gottwald came to understand that in Canaan the religion of Baal and the politics of oppression were fully entangled and mutually reinforcing. Baal served to justify, endorse, practically demand (“practically” in both senses: “nearly” and “in practice”) the social hierarchy and exploitive conditions under which the pre-Israelites suffered. Thus, to escape these conditions was to escape that god.

But what people could escape their bondage if ordained by a deity—unless another stronger deity championed their liberation? This is tricky here. Because it raises the question of whether Yahweh “existed” as a deity before these peasants revolted and escaped, or did Yahweh “come to be” in these peoples’ flight to freedom? The question is profoundly theological, inasmuch as the name itself (YHWH) connotes the capacity to “cause to be,” perhaps in the very sense that Yahweh might cause these people, heretofore enslaved, to be a people in their own right.

Indeed, José Miranda, a Mexican liberation theologian writing in the 1970’s, notes that YHWH, (the Hebrew “name” God offers to Moses at the burning bush), can be rendered as either present tense—“I am who I am”—or future tense—“I will be who I will be.” It’s the same word; the tense is determined by context. Miranda argues, based on the string of future commitments God makes to Moses as part of this self-declaration (“I will bring you out … I will deliver you … I will redeem you … I will take you … I will be … I will bring you into … I will give it to you … ” Exodus 6:6-8) that it only makes sense to render YHWH also as future tense. And he suggests very provocatively that in this scene God makes their own ‘godness’ contingent upon God’s ability to deliver liberation. If, as Gottwald suggests, the Moses’ tale is created as part of how the Israelites account for their very existence as a people, it is possible that this God lived only in their most audacious, hopeless, desperate inklings until they acted toward freedom.

I say “incendiary” to hearken back to the burning bush … and to wonder what it might mean if bushes were to burn in our sanctuaries today. Brueggemann quotes Gottwald to call out his core theological insight in fairly dense verbiage: “The loosely federated egalitarian tribalism of Israel was symbolized and institutionalized at the most comprehensive level by a common cultic-ideological allegiance to mono-Yahwism. Far from being an eccentric, cultic component of Israel’s life or an arbitrary ornament on the main body of society, mono-Yahwism was a form-giving, energy-releasing reality.” In other words, as Brueggemann “translates”: “YHWH is inescapably and integrally linked to economic fairness.”

Far from reducing God to a necessary character in Israel’s tale of liberation, Gottwald viewed the process of liberation and the establishment of communities of economic justice as both the conditions under which Yahweh could come to be—AND the “energy-releasing reality” that made those very conditions possible. One does not proceed the other. They co-originate and mutually reinforce each other. God IS the presence of material justice in Israel’s life … and when that justice fractures, so does God.

Brueggemann connects Gottwald’s insight to our present moment, calling on churches to engage in truth-telling regarding “our predatory economic system, which produces and sustains poverty through cheap labor,” and to articulate “an alternative way that will yield neighborly abundance.”

These words are so true, but they stop a bit short of being incendiary. So let me light them on fire. The truth is the vast majority of us (white Americans, at least) are active (even if sometimes reluctant) participants in that predatory system. Our lives are allegiant to Baal, even if we weekly put Yahweh’s name on our lips. If we wish to do the truth-telling that is necessary to authentic biblical faith, we will need to speak from within the swirling vortex of economic justice coming-to-be.

Which is to say that short of real reparations in some form for the stolen land and stolen labor on which our lives sit, we are still living in Canaan and there is no speaking of God. Whatever we do on Sunday morning, it does not place us in living relationship with the “form-giving, energy-releasing reality” of God—except as we undo the generations of oppression and “make justice roll down like mighty waters” (Amos 5:24).

The biblical God and material justice are a package deal. We embrace them both. Or we know neither. For Norman Gottwald the choice was both—borne out in his scholarship and in his life. Because his work is still so unknown in the pews, my fear is that most Christians have never even faced the choice. Well, now the burning bush is right here in front of us. Both in Gottwald’s work and in the cries for justice round about. May we choose justice and see how brightly the flames of God take hold of our shared life.


Roland Boer, “Norman Gottwald: A Pioneering Marxist Biblical Scholar,” Monthly Review Online, published April 10, 2011, accessed June 16, 2022,

Walter Brueggemann, “Faith Seeking Economic Justice,” Christian Century, 139, no. 11 (June 1, 2022): 14-15.

Kevin Carson, “The Children of Israel,” Center for a Stateless Society, published on February 16, 2014, accessed June 16, 2022,

José Miranda, Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1974), 293-297.

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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 Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at