Rock Stars, Rock Bands, Choirs.

I’ve never done well as a solo act.

…that pun was way funnier in my head.

I’m still on leave from work as my body heals, but I stopped in on our Diocesan Convention last night, just to swap hugs and see people I’ve missed for a long time. This job changed my life; I hemmed and hawed about staying home and letting myself be away until I was actually back on the job, but ultimately, the personal connections with the hundreds of people gathered there are a sizable chunk of what got me through this.

Anyway, this last day has been a solid echo of the best reminder during this period of loss: I didn’t survive this on my own, or for my own edification. An army’s gotten me through it. This isn’t my story; it’s shared between all of us. And that’s my favorite thing about church: that we’re not alone in this, ever. We’re each other’s mirrors, lessons, stepping stools, shelters, and elevators into something grander than ourselves.

I’ve always had a little bit of a pack mentality; I blame it on choir. When I learned to sing, it was always as part of a large group; you learn to appreciate what your voice means as part of a whole. I’ve always been a little envious and suspicious of rock stars; I suspect they learned at the same formative age to use their voices differently, to build them to stand out. Rock bands are somewhere in the middle. But you can see this level of interactivity and personal growth cascade on through people as they interact with one another at different points in life–it’s how we lead, carry ourselves, and carry one another.

Soloists are a whole different thing. But still, you come back to the whole.

And boy howdy, am I ever looking forward to being back as part of this whole.

Pity as Part of Faith and Apart from It.

Last night, I attended a service in a church for the first time since the loss of my leg.

While not my home church, this was a church full of people I love; it’s a place in which I feel comfortable and welcome. And, as I adapt to life in a wheelchair, it’s a space I knew I could navigate. I’ve been working hard; my upper body strength is insane, I’ve been trained well by my occupational and physical therapists. And physically and mentally, I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since my first surgeries in November 2015.

I was ready. And yet…

I’m comfortable with the image of me in a wheelchair; I’ve gone so far as to piece together a likeness in Lego, which I think is pretty good, if I do say so myself. As I venture out into the world and reclaim the daily activities I’ve lost, I run into people with a very different image and memory of me. Last night, a man came up to me; our first conversation was in spring 2014, after a major work event in which I bounded across a room and up a flight of stairs to fix a tech problem. He’d referenced that event multiple times, and that moment, in talking about me in rooms in which I was to be introduced. I loved the story and I loved being seen that way. And last night he came up to me full of love and concern, and put his hand on me and told me how sorry he was that this had happened. And we talked for a while, and I felt very loved by and connected to this remarkable man.

What I have trouble adjusting to is that first look I get, time and again, as my friends and colleagues adjust to this new situation of mine. It isn’t just pity that I’m feeling or sensing, but that’s the part of it I suss out as hurting the most. It feels like I lose my agency all over again in those moments; I’ve recontextualized myself as far from helpless, but when you see a relatively young person in my altered state for the first time, helplessness floods into the picture. And then I feel the need to compensate and prove myself, all over again, as the machinery above my neck is working in its most spectacular fashion.

A big chunk of that is on me, but I also feel a sharp new lesson on the nature of charity and pity; we’re called not only to help those who are in need, but see their strengths and gifts as well, and be glad for the presence of these bounties. I need to get better at that, in both myself and others.

After all, isn’t that the basic definition of honoring human dignity?

Ash Wednesday/A Return.

Why are we here, anyway? Isn’t that the big question? Isn’t that what we’re constantly trying to find signifiers for, taking deep breaths and reaching out for answers? What are you trying to teach me today, Lord?

I disappeared for six months; for good reason, if any such thing exists for a writer, I suppose.

In the fall, I was diagnosed with Charcot’s, a relatively rare disease associated with diabetes, in which the harder tissues of a limb start to collapse in on themselves. Sometimes it’s stoppable via plates and screws; sometimes, infection sets in and eats the host alive. I got very unlucky with my particular course of the disease, and lost my left ankle and foot on January 10, my 35th birthday.

There’s a lot more to talk about on this subject; for Lent, I’m taking on finding new and positive ways to talk about this and help others fight this disease and the particular qualities of awfulness I found myself with. We can’t ever really slay one another’s beasts, but we can sure as Hell re-forge the swords we’ve used and toss them between each other as we fight. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Ash Wednesday is a dear day of the year for me. In 2014, it became my favorite professional day, as I got to see the man I work for, the Bishop of New Jersey, go out to the Trenton Transit Center in the morning and offer the imposition of ashes to commuters as they headed to work. It was one of those days that sticks to the impossible-to-clean parts of your brain; Chip Stokes was in his element, in his purple cassock, engaging people from all walks in conversation, offering ashes and blessings. Conversations were had with people who were curious or had walked away from the church at a prior point; I watched my bishop genially educated a trio of young men on their way to school who wanted to know more about this ritual and sacrament. I watched, and I learned, and I felt the meaning of the day.

Or so I thought.

We have these “before and after” experiences that change us. I think my limb loss counts. Before 2015, Ash Wednesday was a day of proclaiming faith as Lent begins, a reminder of what and who we’re committed to as disciples of Jesus Christ. On the other side of two terrifying trips to the edge of death, the heady reminder that we come from dust and return to it makes today a much more sobering experience.

But the other side of that is that God desires us to be here, as we desire Him; you can’t kill us. We’re eternal, even as parts of ourselves, the corporeal parts, fall away, out of sync with one another in their perfect imperfections. I’ve never felt so certain that my youth is over; I’ve never been less scared of death. And that’s the meaning of this day.

It’s not quite a proclamation of faith to me as it once was; Ash Wednesday is a demonstration that we’re here as material beings for only a short while, and we have a mission ahead of us. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and we have work to do and kindnesses to share.

And for the next forty days, I’m working hard to put compassion out, on blast. That’s the goal. Lent this year is about what we take on instead of give up.

I’ll be writing every day. I hope you’ll join me in reflection, in prayer, in sharing.

To be continued.

Comics: My First Church.

The mess of comics as evangelical anti-LGBT propaganda has reared its fanged, pop-culture swaddled head this week.

I’m mad about this for two reasons.

I say that, before I became an Episcopalian, that theater was my first church. This is not quite true. Theater was my second church.

Comics. Comics were my first church.

I like stories. I think that’s no small part of what we love about church, too–that’s what led me into comics.  I was four, and my dad handed me a Green Arrow comic bought at a deli. I’m not a Green Arrow guy–but I was hooked. Fast-forward ten years to my first part-time job at a comic book store, where I dove deep into the world of comics beyond superheroes, and read the work of Neil Gaiman, took in and outgrew the stories of Alan Moore, and then settled into a deep love for Strangers in Paradise.

A friend recommended this comic to me because I wanted something non-superhero, and this fit the bill. It was the story of three friends in love with each other, with evocative, adventuresome art. I fell in, picking up a new issue every month it was published, right on through to the end of the book ten years later.

I re-read the entire series during my month in the hospital last year, and as with anything we fall in love with as teenagers, our adult lives color our perceptions differently. One of the three main characters, David, is in love with Katchoo, a rough-and-tumble beautiful woman with a past. During a confrontation between the two characters in an early issue, David reveals, casually, that he’s a Christian. And Katchoo, through furrowed brow, snarls at him: “You’re a Christian?” This free-spirited artistic woman, our everybody-loves-her protagonist, spits that word out like it’s the new C-word. It’s an instant source of anger and mistrust. It devalues David in her eyes. He is devious at best, weak at worst. And as a reader, as a teenager, I felt the same. It made me like him less, because of the horrific cultural context of what I perceived, as a kid, as modern Christianity.

And then something funny happened: I won’t spoil it, but David’s arc in the book is one of redemption, one of walking the walk and talking the talk, and of allowing his actions and love to speak for him. His faith is mentioned again later by other characters, but is exhibited by him solely in his behaviors and deeds. Of the three main characters, David is the one I really ended up connecting with–which hurt like Hell in the long run.

Gang, you need to read this book.

I’ll talk more about faith and comics later this week, but it was a nice surprise to find, in something I fell in love with two decades ago, a seed of something really whole and open and positive about the faith I came to love later in life.

Comics can be great. They can teach us amazing things about ourselves, which is one of the high marks of art. Strangers in Paradise is proof of this.

Culture, Comandeered

Yesterday, George Takei brought to attention a whole new series of anti-gay propaganda in comic book form, created by a hyper-conservative evangelical sect. It attempts to appear couched and nuanced, but it’s not. This is hate, packaged in an attractive and palatable form.

And of course, Christianity is cited in the above article as the source of this hate. “Why do they have to label Christians like this?” a friend asked this morning.

Well, the dirty truth of it is that those of us who want more from our faith than hatred are getting our butts kicked by louder, more hateful voices, who are willing to fight dirtier and better with marketing and the adoption of cultural tropes and trends.

The time is long behind us when simply being good Christians was enough of an example to quell this sort of disastrous rhetoric.

We have to get better at this game, and soon. I won’t let my faith be used this way. I won’t let my comics be used this way either.

Get Loud.

I have a new piece in The Guardian today. About everything this last year, the health, the ignorance, the lessons, the amputations, all of it.

It’s the most difficult piece of writing I’ve yet to produce. I’m happy to have this out there and I hope it makes a difference for someone.

Our vulnerabilities make us powerful; we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. Truth turns our wounds into lessons. And then we must find ways to amplify those lessons.

Thanks to The Guardian-US and Kira Goldenberg for believing in me for this.

Hope, Nurtured and Negated.

Christians have a complicated relationship with expectations. And the ambiguity of it–and the wielding of that ambiguity as a defense when goals are not achieved and responsibilities are shirked–drives me a little nuts. I like outcomes tied to inputs–if you do x, you record y. If you spend an amount on an initiative, you should have to justify the expenses in data packaged as either results or lessons.

I feel strongly about the above. But that’s a me thing, and I’ll cop to that; figuring out how to manage expectations and personal achievements and disappointments is a big part of both forgiveness and walking a path towards happiness. I get all of that. In the wake of last month’s heinousness, full of murder and blame and agendas and misogyny and everything else unholy that bruises us in body and spirit, I find myself fussy and agitated. We keep praying. And then we recess back to our relaxed states, assured somehow that maybe God has heard us with enough alacrity this time to not poke extra holes into a whole host of innocent people, when the next opportunity arises.

Gang, I keep saying it: that part is up to us.

Dashed expectations, if managed improperly, lead to resentment. That’s the worst kind of self-abuse: when you keep expecting better of someone who knows this, and continues to not meet those expectations–and then you stick around. That’s not on them. And that’s a harmful kind of love, for both of you. If your gang or team doesn’t meet your expectations, you can adjust the expectations…or you can adjust your team. There’s no harm in that, so long as you don’t bring anger along with you as you swap out your squad for colleagues who meet your high expectations and in turn, challenge you to meet theirs. It’s like @GaryVee says: Stop Hanging Around With People Who Don’t Want to Win. I’d swap “Win” out for “nuture you” or “empower you” or “push you” or a variant of growth, but it syncs up nicely.

In expecting us to try fiercely to love and be better, Jesus has expectations of us; he also knows we’re going to fail greatly. And it’s in understanding that circle in which hope stays alive. We work hard and try to love deeply and understand; that’s where hope comes from, the physical activity of trying, madly, with energy and spirit, to connect in new and better ways. That’s how we nurture it. We kill it when we assume that hope is easy, or just a term, or a faucet that we can turn on and off on a whim.

Belief takes effort, especially in light of the harrowing onslaught of events that work hard to dash it. We have to work equally hard to keep it going.

Compassion as a Fire Hose.

I want black men to not be shot while pulled over. I want cops not to be murdered by snipers during nonviolent protests. I want young men of color to survive playing with friends and growing up and traveling to and from school.

I would make a sizable bet that most of us wish fervently for a world where the above statements are truths and not wishes.

The hair trigger attached to violence in our current climate threatens to undo us all. This is why escalation is so laughably, horrifically commonplace. After the shootings in Dallas yesterday, I had a colleague praise the shooters for “eye for an eye shit.” That this was somehow a necessary and acceptable next step, that cops needed to understand that innocent black men dying would lead to us taking up arms against innocent law enforcement officers. It was a horrendous sentiment, and how it was expressed and crafted will undoubtedly lead to consequences.

The only way out of this is to open up further, be yet kinder to each other, listen harder, and take action to move the ball forward in ways that don’t involve adding extra holes to one another. The only way.

I can’t afford to not be an optimist. We can’t afford to not trade in compassion instead of barbs and bullets. Compassion must be an unrelenting stream from each of us. The inverse is too horrible to reckon. We turn the weapons on ourselves in the exact moments we point them at others.

When those snipers took aim at those cops, they were not of the protesters present. They had a vested interest in continuing a conversation in which bloodshed is the only language spoken.

And we are so much better than that. Resist the urge to hurt. Access your instincts to listen and love. Everything else tumbles forward from there.

 

 

Our White Privilege to Remain Silent Is Over.

I got pulled over yesterday morning for leaving my handicap hangtag on my mirror. I bit my tongue and said some four-letter words and took some deep breaths. And I got off with a warning. I was worried about fines and points and being late to work. At no point did I fear for my safety or life.

I soak in white privilege every day. I acknowledge this. I acknowledge that I benefit from it. I acknowledge that I’m troubled by this.

Black Lives Matter has galvanized and transformed social consciousness and the use of social media. Let’s go further and be real, however; the point of this movement is that the establishment and wielders of power should be the ones thinking more and living in consideration of the disenfranchised and oppressed, and actively working to balance the scales and right these wrongs. It’s sin. Racism is sin, in its overt and subtle expressions.

The onus is not on black people to coach and coddle white people into accepting our outright responsibility for this, nor should they or anyone be worried about our comfort levels or the possibilities of our feelings being hurt as this revolution continues. I believe there are many white people out there who want to provoke further change and are ready for it and willing to help. I hope I am honestly one of them. I get supremely pissed off when it feels like all we can do in the wake of yesterday’s two shootings is to share memes and old photographs and snide jokes and maybe, maybe, pray as hard as we can. I’m sick of most of the above and tired of feeling relegated to just praying.

As with LGBTQ rights and change, I believe many allies want badly to speak out, but don’t, out of a fear of being miscontextualized or misspeaking. Then there are those like me, who don’t know exactly what to do. I worry that leads us to sigh and do nothing, and continue to reinforce structural and pronounced racism in this country via our consciously-chosen silence as unconscious support.

Power only shifts meaningfully when the establishment opts to identify an imbalance and power is relinquished to end that imbalance. We can’t leave it up to Black Lives Matter or any movement comprised of or for peoples of color, to generate a treatise on how us white people need to change or behave. We have to lead it and want it. We’ve done a profoundly lacking job of creating a path to liberation and equality on our own.

I want to do something. I’m starting here and here. I want to learn more and mobilize. I want to be more than an armchair ally.

More to come.

Amplification Nation.

Mass shootings bring out the very worst in groupthink and the strangulation of discourse.

The internet becomes a maelstrom of (even more) terrible things for a set amount of time.

I’m tired of people yelling at one another about action and inaction, and showing off prophectic allergies to action on their own parts.

I’m tired of that, frankly, in myself, as well.

Mostly, I’m searching for a quiet place and method from which to act.

I am not great at finding this right now.