Life, Death, and Empire

Life, Death, and Empire

It is becoming harder and harder to trust God these days. I’m not sure if it’s because I have less faith than I used to, or if the costs are simply higher, the decisions so much graver than before. Probably a little of both. Long gone are the Friday nights where I worshipped with a heart that wasn’t full of questions. And I won’t admit it on most days, of course, but I miss when the scripture dispensed itself like fortune cookie wisdom, when the boundaries were clear and simple and the words were 2d; they didn’t carry so much history behind them back then. But now Jesus has so many more wrinkles on his face than before. And dude looks tired. But maybe those are just my projections.

It is now 2017. When the hell did this happen? On my bad days, the future feels like a minefield. There might be a treasure buried somewhere in this, but I’ll be damned if you see me with a shovel. The steps come fearfully, timidly now, but I told God a long time ago that I’d keep walking and I’m still here, limbs intact, complaining the whole damn time. And on these days, it’s hard to trust that God is still in my corner, hard to believe that the arc of the universe indeed bends towards justice. I still can’t quite figure it out. I still get off track, still get greedy and selfish and upset and I still know a hundred and one ways to protect myself and to trick everyone into believing that I know more than I actually do. It’s a tiring place to be when you can see all the ways you have bought into a voluptuous lie and yet you can’t free yourself from it. On my bad days, I look in the mirror and see a photo negative, all the ways I have cut myself out in order to fit into someone else’s expectations.

I am surrounded by sick children every day now. I pray for many of them knowing that this will be the final week of their lives, and for what? When a four year old is dying in front of you there is absolutely no way any honest person can conjure up a good, loving, merciful God. In these moments, “WHY?” is our only doxology, but it is then that we must proclaim it all the more. And somehow. Somehow mothers and fathers breathe deep meaning into the dust of their grief and loss. And somehow I glean some kind of sick gratitude from these moments. After all, we’re here aren’t we? Thank you God, we’re still here. The fact that some of my friends have babies who live without tubes and machines baffles me. What an absolute miracle it is to breathe and eat and move. What a joy it is to be alive.

And yet how easily this joy slips through the cracks in our cupped hands. And how shriveled, atrophied are our imaginations, our sense of wonder. We have profoundly sold ourselves short on the beauty here. We exist on Sunday night complaining, weekday maintenance until we can outsource our entertainment. We chase after anesthetic and wonder why we have grown numb. Whose dream was this? And who said that the promised land was supposed to be some kind of perpetual vacation? After all, to find the goodness in reality, the God embedded, is much too costly a task, like finding treasure in a minefield, joy in a cross, life in the midst of death.

I’m not saying it like I’m beyond any of this. I’m saying it like these were the definitions we were fed and we keep scarfing this shit down like it’s good for us. And all I’m really saying is that the Kingdom of God is like a red pill. And the stupidest, most nonsensical, most liberating thing we could ever do is take that pill and leave the safety of this slavery. Will you join me? You might miss the meat you had in Egypt but I promise you, you have forgotten how light your feet were without those chains.

I know you are tired. I am too. And you won’t hear me say it in person, but I am afraid as well. It makes sense to me that “Do not fear” is the most repeated command in all of Scripture. My hermeneutic tells me, I think, that this is God acknowledging that there are so. Many. Things. To fear. But we will not capitulate to them. We cannot. Because the whispers…

The whispers keep coming. And I think, though I am not sure of it, that there is something better beyond these walls. But it may require us to leave behind everything we’ve ever known. It may require a profound resocialization—a rebirth, if you will. Which is to say, a resurrection. Which is to say, a death. Which is to say, this shit is going to be the hardest thing we‘ve ever had to do. But we have a promise. All we have is a promise.

And every Sunday, every sacrament is a reminder that our humanity is something no man, no Empire has the right to touch. They cannot strip that which is already ours, no matter how hard they try, and they have tried. And I still believe that Left, Right, all of us—we are afraid of the same things, of our bodies being forgotten, of our personhood being trampled on. It just so happens that this is the exact mechanism that our country was built on. And certainly, some bodies have been forgotten more than others. In the face of this amnesia, we embody Eucharist, we consume blood and flesh and remember that the Gospel always has to do with bodies. And that it is in the breaking and pouring out of such that we become whole again. This will come at a high cost. Babylon will not go quietly; indeed, it is in her very programming to survive at all costs. The fear of death is the lifeblood of Empire. It will not be ours.