Depending on your stage of life, this conversation about friendship and Jubilee will hit you differently. For me, I spent less time thinking about specific friendships and more about my current lack of deep friendship.Read More
Whether we’ve come from contexts where we had little but now a lot or we’ve grown up with only having a lot, the idea, or even the small experience, of scarcity alarms us, leading some of us to wilding out with our consuming or conserving.
Whether you’ve been joining our conversations through the podcast, the blog, or the building we meet in, we probably sound like a broken record player. It feels like every other word we say is “remember” or something about remembering. I haven’t heard “remember” this much since the Coco soundtrack! However, we agree with the ancient Hebrew writers: the business of remembering is important work to healing and maturing in God as a community, so bear with us.
Many groups of humanity have only endured, overcome and thrived against oppression with the power of hope rooted in the collective memory of group who experienced freedom against all odds in the past. In Sunday’s passage, Deut. 20.1-4, God describes the mindset the Israelites should have before going into a war. Instead of amassing arms, identifying their toughest warriors, or strategizing their attack, God calls on the people to remember that they were once enslaved in Egypt, but now a liberated people. Hope fulfilled in their ancestors past was their greatest strength. Recalling how they had faced adversity before, yet were able to overcome in God’s comfort and power, produced what Brit called “hope earned.” A hope that stood against all odds; a hope that resisted an oppressive reality; a hope that lives on in the memory of following generations.
We have seen a similar hope in black people and communities in the U.S. where the memory of their ancestors' hopeful resistance provided the strength for them to face the next challenge in their community and dare to believe that they will survive and even flourish after it. For some communities, the hope is not always realized or experienced as fully hoped. For example, for over five hundred years my Puerto Rican ancestors have hoped for liberation and independence. While far from that, generation after generation of boricua has embodied a hopeful resistance which pushed back cultural erasure, circumvented racist legislation, and ceaselessly puts the spotlight on its colonizer’s abuse -- as seen in the current #renuncia protests. This earned hope of Boricuas everywhere fuels us all to continue to embody “Que Viva Puerto Rico!”
In these cases, however, only one particular “together” is being considered. How do we make hope a reality for multiple communities striving to embody life together, who also face challenges and embody hopes unique to their community? In a cultural atmosphere that wants to render disparate communities divided forever because of appearance or background, how do we find a way to unite and make hope a reality for us all? This is a tough question, but a real question; a question that can't be answered fully here. However, IMO it will begin to happen when we take the time to learn each others story of despair and hope to the point where our neighbor’s stories become our stories as well, their work of actualizing hope remembered becomes our work. This was the collaborative work of Jew and Gentile Christians at Jesus' table. This was the work of Civil Rights groups in the 60s to embody the beloved community. This is our work now -- to hope and remember together.
We live in strange times. For some, Twitter has become a source for Absolute Truths and journalism is seen as a seedbed of falsities. What’s more, I bet you can name someone for whom the opposite is the case. We’ve grown accustomed to this “digital age” where more words, ideas, and stories zip around and through us faster than ever. As with most technological revolutions, there are pros and cons. Alarmists are quick to point out the negative social and communal impact of digital technology and social media. I’m not here to engage that debate. What interests me more is people, like Zunyep Tufecki, who points out that digital technology and social media haven’t inherently changed the nature of human communication, but only have amplified healthy and unhealthy ways we’re prone to communicate.
In this past Sunday’s sermon, Cory led us into a conversation in Deuteronomy 19.15-21 about the power of words and the work it takes to use them healthily. Just because the Israelites were on a trajectory from oppression to liberation, from deconstruction to reconstruction, didn’t mean that their own oppressive habits and thoughts were going to magically change. The Promise Land itself didn’t guarantee profound ethical and spiritual transformation. They still needed to do the inner and outer work of finding healing, maturity, and transformation for their community and to bear witness to a healthier way to be human.
The same goes for us on this spiritual/human journey searching for a better Way. Just because we’ve done or are doing the work of deconstruction doesn’t mean reconstruction will happen automatically; it doesn’t mean that we’ll avoid petty arguments, talk shit about someone behind their backs, or overcome confirmation bias. How we use our words is crucial for the process of maturity. God knew that for the Israelites, and God knows it for Her people today.
It think it’s generally human to talk before thinking, and social media has only made that spillage easier and faster to do. Like a child too young to process and articulate her complex emotions, we just let it explode or spill out. In the same way God was carving out spaces and practices for the Israelites to handle their words carefully, we need to carve out space in our lives to practice mindfulness with our words. Harking back to a few blogs back, if there is pain in our lives we haven’t transformed, we will transmit it through our words. If we don’t take the time to H.A.L.T as twelve step communities teach us, we’ll lash out or burn bridges with our words, never achieving the healing we know we really need.
I’m not trying to front -- this is hard work -- easier said than done. But we can start by carving out those spaces in our lives to HALT and check-in on how we’re doing. Maybe that’ll help us think twice before hitting that enter button or care for a person instead of (only) critique the problem.
The history of Puerto Rico, or Borikén as the indigenous Taíno communities called the island, comprises a vast mosaic of joy, culture(s), grief, and hope. Some of our communities have only begun to unearth the pre-colonial world of Borikén and the cultural memories of the African communities coerced onto its shores. Tragically, however, as with many once or still colonized lands and peoples, colonization bleeds through how we recall our history, see ourselves, and hope for our future. Not all Puerto Rican familias are as mindful of the colonial part of our history though. My fam narrated a history, personal and national, which painted a different picture. It was a picture of “gratitude” for what opportunities had been afforded us through our relationship with the U.S. -- how it established the bridge for grandparents to immigrate and start afresh while also being able to visit home unimpeded by customs -- all dope things; don't get me worng. Without dismissing that piece of my family’s historical Mosaic, this gratitude never allowed us to hold the political suppression experienced by family on the island or make sense of the discrimination we/I felt in the U.S.
When I came to LA, I discovered a group of Boricuas Puerto Ricans in Action eager to explore the more painful sections of our people’s mosaic, and coño, we were ready to protest! TBH I was hurting a lot. I felt unfaithful to my community, guilty for my self loathing, and ashamed I had not been more quick to protest. The model of gratitude I had been given wouldn’t let me hold the pains, but what I didn’t realize is that the protest model I had been adopting wouldn’t let me experience the true joys of the mosaic.
Everything shifted for me, however, at a protest march on Hollywood Boulevard one hot, smogy day. We had organized in solidarity with thousands of Boricuas and allies around the world to commemorate the lives lost during/after Hurricane Maria and to protest the U.S.’s recovery-response to it as a microcosm of its larger unconcerned, systemic prejudice against the island and its people. We were livid: posters in hand, megaphones lifted and banderas puertoriqueñas as far as the eye could see. The goal was to march a few blocks from Hollywood and Vine up to Hollywood and Highland. Before we set off, one of the protest leaders grabbed a megaphone and shared words that still have me reassembling my paradigm for protest and gratitude: “Escucha mi gente! I know we are all fuming, that we are all grieving. Pero we aren’t the only ones who have been mad. Our ancestors felt the same feelings, but they didn’t survive and thrive through anger alone. They celebrated, they laughed, they created art, they played their dominos, they danced their way through in protest and joy. So vamos pero let’s sing and dance our way down the street, because if don’t dance, we won’t make it down the street.”
If you were at church this past Sunday or peeped the podcast, Brit and Alex Gervasi reminded us how God gave the Israelites a similar speech before they entered the promise land. They needed to be able to hold the painful memories of Egyptian oppression and the genuine joys of deliverance and freedom in order to be healthy and whole in the space God gave them. “Cheap gratitude,” as Alex taught us, doesn’t allow us to sit with our pains and be opened by them to new joys or movements toward freedom. If we cling to our pains in protest and refuse to acknowledge the blessings and opportunities around us, we remain paralyzed by anger likely to transmit that pain onto someone else.
I was again challenged by Brit and Alex to learn the hard habit of sitting with pain and joy, grief and hope. When we do both, “our wells become deeper” we become people more equipped to navigate the complexities of human life; people capable of appreciating the whole mosaic. And, mi gente, if we don’t learn to sit in this tension, “we will not make it down the street.”
Que pasa mi gente! The New Abbey blog post has returned. But if you’re like me, you may be saying, “never knew it was around in the first place.” In our efforts to continue to tell the biggest story about God in Los Angeles 2019, we want to open as many outlets of conversation our community can offer. For those of you still mulling over that conversation we had the previous Sunday, here’s a chance to continue that reflection and share something yourself if you want.
Alright! If you weren’t at one of our gatherings this past Sunday, Brittany “Beans” Barron preached from Deuteronomy 10.17-21 and spent most of her time looking at one verse in particular -- v.19, “you must love immigrants because you were once immigrants in Egypt.” At the edge of the promise land, God is preparing the Israelites to be a community that strives towards maturity with multiple rhythms of healing and transformation to help them grow as a community.
As Brit pointed out, one of the greatest obstacles to our communal and personal healing is how we deal with our pain. At New Abbey we say all of the time, “hurt people hurt people.” Put more eloquently, Richard Rhor says, “if you don’t transform your pain, you’ll transmit it your pain.” In other words, if we don’t take the steps to deal with and process our hurts, anger, sadness, ect., They will explode or spill onto people in our lives, perpetuating the cycle of oppression and grief.
God connects the communal pain of the people to the possible pain they could perpetrate onto others. God knows how unstoppable the cycle of transmitting pain can be and reminds Her people that recognizing and processing their pain can eventually open a door to a new way forward.“A door through which people find their pain not only healed but transformed so they become capable of walking others through similar pain -- “love immigrants because you were once immigrants in Egypt.”
But let’s be honest, learning how to sit with your pain SUCKS. It’s easy to say “pain can be our professor”, but it’s a whole other thing to actually do the work of sitting with that professor. Sometimes, the process can seem unfair, even unjust. One of the best examples of that comes from Black Panther. Oppressive economic and police forces had ghettoized Erik Stevens (Killmonger) and his Oakland community, his Uncle killed his dad and told no one to keep an Empire’s narrative going, a military industrial complex channeled his rage only to perpetrate pain onto others, and then some of his Wakandan family refused to accept him upon his return. Erik had been dealt so much pain in his life; vengeful deconstruction seems pretty fair. However, at a second glance you can see how little space Erik had to process his pain, and you wonder what could have happened if he found another way to process the hurt. Would he have found enough healing to return to Wakanda a different way? Obviously, Wakanda has issues with outsiders, with “the other.” What better Wakandan to help change that than one who felt like an outsider, an “other?” Erik’s tragic narrative portrays the reality Beans reminds us of, “if you don’t deal with your hurt, you’ll become it.” Seeing how consumed Erik had become with anger against his colonizers, T’Challa warns Erik that his anger transmitted on Wakanda would turn it completely into the people he hated so much, would transform him into an oppressor.
Don’t get me wrong, I still stand by the slogan “Killmonger was right!” but I do want to practice mindfulness of my own hurts and urge others to do the same. Personally, I need to sit with the pain of exclusion and discrimination others have transmitted onto me. I need to process the self-loathing I store up inside for not feeling Puerto Rican enough. No doubt, this is a hard journey, but we’re not alone in this. We have outlets of prayer, counseling, small[er] groups, AA meetings, ect.
So, que piensas familia? What pains in your life do you need to sit with? Who are those peeps you need to walk with? What can you do to find that transformation to slow that cycle of transmitted pain and put into the motion that cycle of healing for yourself and people just like you.
Let’s get specific. I grew up in upper middle-class, white, evangelical, suburbia in Douglas County, Colorado. This meant when I heard the word “blessed,” it had some very specific connotations. It meant that things were going favorably economically, your house was getting bigger, your car was becoming nicer, your kids were doing well, and your health was strong. And of course, it meant that God was providing these things for you.
Blessed is a word that I slowly but surely have tried to run away from in my adulthood. It was overused in my family and it made me feel that this God who was handing out all this blessing was rather schizophrenic and very homogenous. Like so many things in my adult life and faith, I can either run away from those areas of my childhood that seem outdated or I can choose to reclaim them, so I choose to reclaim ‘blessed’.
To be fair, when someone says, ‘blessed,’ it is a subjective word. The original Greek word for ‘blessed,’ makarios, means that fortune is favoring you or that you are simply happy. Who else can determine your happiness or feelings of fortune except yourself. So when you tag your Instagram with #blessed, and you’re sitting on a beach with a Mai Tai in hand, who am I to say that you’re misusing ‘blessed.’ Lets be honest, you get to choose that for yourself, and you get to be the one who decides if it is God who got you there or not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.
Here’s what does matter. ‘Blessed’ has become richer, deeper, and more interesting to me lately. It is a great word that has the ability to convey a truth that resonates with and integrates my whole life. ‘Blessed’ conveys my well being far beyond my circumstances, while still addressing them. Yet ‘blessed’ conveys a deeper meaning about hope, contentment, and satisfaction because my lens has grown and been transformed, because honestly, life has been hard at times. So when I say ‘blessed,’ I can say from the deepest part of my belly, that life is good, even when it’s not all pieced together.
Jesus begins perhaps his most famous teachings by talking about being blessed, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In this particular teaching, called the Beatitudes, Jesus offers a form of being blessed that was uncommon in my upper middle-class, white, evangelical, suburban household.
Eugene Peterson interprets Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes to say this, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.” Interestingly, in my life and the lives of those around me, it’s the God forsaken spaces, at the end of the rope, when God has been most profound. It’s here, in the pain, the heartache, the doubt, the places where my spirit has little to give, and life has bruised my soul, that I come to a place of tasting, touching, and seeing God. Why? Because what else do we have in those times?
Let me be clear and say, I don’t long for the moments of feeling God-forsaken, but it’s these stops, seasons, and moments that have been the most revealing, and led me to reclaim the meaning of ‘blessed.’ It’s here that I’ve been given perspective for all that is good in this world. If we can find blessing and God’s favor at the end of the rope, then imagine what the rest of the rope holds for us.