The Best Ocean View in the World

Since COVID scuttled our original plans to sail in Greece, our alternative was a sailing school in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. This was a long way from Paul’s journeys in the Mediterranean! But we decided that since sailing was our theme, it was more important to have an understanding of how sailing works than to visit archeological sites. 

We gave ourselves a few days in San Carlos before our sailing school started, in order to get familiar with the restaurants and practice our Spanish. 

Hanging out at the hotel

San Carlos was voted by National Geographic to have the most spectacular ocean views in the world. So after settling into our lovely family-run hotel, we took a taxi to “El Mirador.” There is an observation point that juts out over the ocean, with views on every side. Below, birds wheel and coast in the air currents. At the tip of the point, the wind is so strong that visitors clutch their hats or phones. 

View from El Mirador

The twin peaks of Tetakawi are visible from anywhere nearby. It is striking how these massive rocks seem to change every hour, although they never move. The air, the light, the clouds, all paint the mountain in different colors and shades. It’s like a giant kaleidoscope. I understand why Claude Monet was moved to paint the Rouen Cathedral again and again in different light conditions. We found ourselves pointing and staring at it every day, multiple times a day. It’s like God was painting it over and over again, showing off a divine impressionism. 

The other ocean view we had during our time in San Carlos was up close and personal. Jacques Cousteau said that the Sea of Cortez was “The Aquarium of the World,” filled with marine biodiversity. People come to snorkel and see huge varieties of wildlife. Dolphins would come and swim alongside our boat, attracted by the wake (and the fact that we didn’t have noisy engines). There was one large group of females, and a couple of adorable baby dolphins, who sped along at our side. Various sea birds bobbed on the surface. We also got to see thousands of two-inch wide purple jellyfish: the Portuguese Man-o-war. We kept our distance from their sting. 

Humans throughout history have talked about the ocean in reverential tones. It is massive, powerful, teeming with life. It responds to cosmic forces like gravity and the spin of the earth. I think it is important to experience it from multiple vantage points to cultivate the appropriate respect. It’s alive, and it’s essential for our survival on this planet. 

The city of San Carlos has a large ex-pat population. Many Americans and Canadians move to San Carlos to sail or spend their retirement near the beach. Like many places around the world, there is a large gap between rich — or even the merely comfortable — and the poor.  

Sailing today is largely a hobby of the wealthy and middle-class, not a vital transportation mode for everyone. But this shift in global dynamics is driven by “cheap oil.” Of course, we know that fossil fuels are not really cheap; they are deferred cost which will have to be paid by future generations. I suspect that as wind and solar power become more mainstream, gas-guzzling boats will give way to more sail power. Shipping companies are already going “back to the future” by exploring wind power. Part of my desire to become more proficient at sailing is simply to have a method of travel that doesn’t require airplane or boat fuel.

We were able to get experience on three very different boats: a single-mast 26-foot boat, a vintage two-masted ketch, and a very large catamaran (which our instructor called “a floating condo”). 

Having the skills to sail suddenly opens up a new world of opportunities for travel. Boat captains are often looking for crew to help them make journeys, and there are websites that match teams by personality, skills, and destinations. While I don’t plan on making any trans-Atlantic trips anytime soon, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. There is much more of this amazing planet to see. 

Prayer: God who paints the landscapes, cosmos, and creatures, thank you for filling the universe with such beauty.

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr. 

The Boat and the Crew

In the fall of 2019, before the pandemic hit, we were scheduled to take our sailing class the following June in Greece. I was excited to get our curriculum package in the mail! I opened up a large folder full charts, and unwrapped the protractor and the navigation divider. I had seen these in movies, but had never used one.



Image description: Sailing curriculum including a workbook, notebook, clear plastic protractor, and navigation dividers.

But before we got to navigation, we needed to learn the basics. The first section of our curriculum was about the parts of a sailboat. And right here, in the first few pages of our workbook, I found one of my most important lessons. The V-shaped part of the boat above the bow is called the pulpit — the same word that describes the place in a church where a preacher delivers a sermon.

(It’s also the place where, in the movie Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett shout and stretch out their arms into the wind. I’ll talk more about the Titanic and how it fits into “sailing uncharted waters” when I tell you about our time in Belfast, where the Titanic was built).

An illustration of the parts of a sailboat. The pulpit and pushpit are highlighted.

Churches have often used the metaphor of a sailboat to describe their community. At certain early Christian pilgrimage sites, you can often find graffiti of a boat carved into a stone wall or bit of plaster. After the early church stopped meeting in homes and started meeting in dedicated buildings, congregations referred to the main sanctuary as the nave, as in “navy,” because the vaulted ceiling looked like the ribs of a boat. They imagined the pews as seats in a galley, and the congregation as the rowers. The pulpit resembled the bow of a boat. 


An ornate Baroque pulpit is preserved in a modern church in Erfurt, Germany. Erfurt is where Martin Luther was a monk. We visited Erfurt in June, 2022

Above: a panorama of the vaulted ceiling of St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, Ireland. Though it is distorted, you can clearly see the bit that looks like an upside-down boat above the nave.

But I realized an important church-related truth in this sailboat diagram: you don’t steer a boat from the pulpit. You steer it from the pushpit (or the cockpit), in the rear (or stern) of the boat. The person in front is not necessarily the person who is running the show. 

I think the early church communities understood, even after they began to become more institutionalized, that the clergy were not the only people in charge. See, it takes a lot of coordination to make a sailing vessel move. A boat probably has a captain, but a person on watch stands in the pulpit to see where the boat is going or to take bearings. A pilot stands in the rear to move the wheel or rudder and call out to the crew controlling the sails. A navigator takes measurements to make sure the boat is on course. 

And early church theologians talked about the Holy Spirit, like a wind or the breath of God, being the power that filled the sails and actually moved the church forward. 

When people talk about the church today, they typically talk about it as an institution or a business. I’ve heard people say “the church should be a hospital for sinners instead of a museum for saints,” which is true enough. But I wonder how it would change our perception if our main metaphor for church was not a static building or an institution, but something that actually moved under the power of wind or spirit. I wonder what would change if we traded our binary model of “leader” and “follower” for terms like captain, pilot, watchman, navigator, and crew. 


I snapped this photo in the Royal Observatory in London, England, in July. This is an exhibit about how the museum would curate exhibits in the future, considering England’s history of world colonization and the harm it has caused. I’ll return to this image, and how colonization plays into my sailing metaphor, later in my reflections.
Image description: A line drawing of a sailboat, with diverse crew. Large text reads “Our Guiding Concepts.” Banners on the boat read: habitability, adaptability, adversity, ingenuity, practicality, creativity, community, equality, identity. 

Prayer: Jesus who stills the storms, help us to be your competent crew. 

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr. 

An Interrupted Journey



The Church of Magdala, on the Sea of Galilee, featuring a striking boat altar. Personal photo, 2019.

Since we’re in one of these “Five-hundred year rummage sales” where all our old ideas and values are being reevaluated, I thought it would be a good idea to look at past rummage sales. Two thousand years ago (or four rummage sales ago), when a small group of Jesus-followers started spreading his message, the new movement met in peoples’ homes. The early movement called themselves “ecclesia,” or “the called-out ones.” This usually gets translated as “church,” but the old name, ecclesia, implies that this new community would be an alternative to religion as usual. Many of those house church leaders were women, and Paul names them: Chloe, Nyssa, Junia, Lydia, and others. They were explicitly egalitarian and inclusive. Paul wrote “there is no longer Jew or Greek, enslaved or free, male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Paul and his companions sailed around the Mediterranean, networking these new communities and doing what we might today call “community organizing.” He was trying to get several different communities to cooperate as one. 

This history is one reason I chose “sailing uncharted waters” as my proposal theme. The early ecclesia had no idea where the future would take them. There was no chart. They had no idea what hazards lay ahead, or who might try to hijack their movement. They did not know how the currents and tides of history might move their boat off course. 

Boats, of course, were an important symbol in the early church. Jesus preached from a boat, stilled the storm on the Lake of Galilee, and hung out with fishermen. 

My first experience with sailboats was when I was a teenager. My parents bought a single-sail 14-foot dinghy and we learned to sail on Alabama lakes. But in 2019, in order to get a sense of what the leaders of the early church faced, I decided I needed to learn how to sail on the sea. Part of my proposal would include sailing lessons. We made a plan that included sailing on the Mediterranean and visits to Greek archeological sites where Paul met with early church leaders. 

But after my proposal was accepted and I received the grant for my renewal project, the pandemic hit. We had to cancel our plans. I wasn’t just disappointed. I was heartbroken. But I realized that plagues have also been part of the “uncharted waters” that church and society have faced in past centuries. We know that pandemics will occur more regularly in the future as our climate changes. Perhaps it was fitting that my journey began with an interruption. I realized that we really are sailing uncharted waters. 

Prayer: God, our Guardian and Guide, you are with us on the journey, even when we are standing still.

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr. 

Introduction: Shoeing Horses


At a scenic stop in Ireland in July, we were visited by a friendly (and huge) work horse.

In addition to being a pastor, I have a Ph.D in religion, with an emphasis in homiletics (preaching) and social ethics. But as I watch the many crises affecting churches and academia, sometimes it feels like I did an incredible amount of work to get a degree in shoeing horses. There just aren’t a lot of jobs for farriers these days. It’s a niche occupation. 

I don’t think religion will ever be obsolete. But I do think religious institutions, and the clergy who maintain them (my online friend David Dark refers to clergy as “professional god-talkers”) will become more rare in the coming years. In addition to all the evidence of plummeting church participation, churches are polarized and splitting. There is a well-documented trend of pastors burning out and giving up, especially during COVID. I’ve felt it, too, that sense of hopeless dread. This is a hard season in which to try to build or maintain a religious community. 

As a society, I’d argue that in many ways, we’re becoming more religious. Back in the 1960’s, the General Social Survey reported that only 22% of Americans said they’d had a life-changing spiritual or mystical experience. By 2009, according to a Pew Religion and Public Life survey, it was nearly half of all Americans. Spiritual experience increased even as church participation decreased. 

Some of this may have to do with the growth of a population who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” In the sociological research, they are often described as “SBNRs.” Twenty years ago in his book After the Baby Boomers, sociologist Robert Wuthnow described what younger generations did as “spiritual bricolage,” sampling from multiple streams of faith traditions.   

In many ways, I feel like the work I did to earn a Ph.D in religion prepared me to have a ringside seat at this period of the Great Emergence, to observe of this work of spiritual bricolage as an anthropologist might. 

Even though church and academy are struggling, on my good days, I don’t feel that my effort in church or academia has been wasted. I didn’t go into ministry for the career advancement opportunities — I did it because I love God and I love people. And I didn’t go into academia so I could fight to earn a tenure-track position — I did it because I love learning. That’s why I proposed the trip I’m about to share with you: Navigating Uncharted Waters. If you’ve signed up for these devotionals, that probably means you do, too. This moment in history calls for people who love God, love people, and love learning. 

Thanks for joining me on this journey. 

Prayer: God, you who are both hidden and revealed, reveal to us the path toward truth and life. Amen.

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr. 

Navigating Uncharted Waters: Starting Soon


Above image: San Carlos, Sonoma, Mexico. Personal photo.

In The Great Emergence, church historian Phyllis Tickle described how every five centuries, the church goes through a huge rummage sale, where everything we value — and many things we have taken for granted — get put on the table for sorting. Some of these things we, as a church and as a society, will decide to keep, and others we will discard. Our names for these rummage sales often involve the word “Great,” as in Great Schism and Great Reformation

We held the last rummage sale around 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg. His action kicked off The Great Reformation, separating Protestant and Roman Catholic churches and setting the stage for the Enlightenment. Many of the ideas we’ve inherited, the things we value and the things we take for granted, were hashed out in a few centuries. 

You may have noticed that we’re experiencing another rummage sale right now. Many ideas are on the table: ideas about gender, our preference for democracy over authoritarianism, male supremacy, capitalism, and the role of the media are just a few. And the stakes are very high. We are living in the early stages of what may very likely be a mass extinction. 

A few years ago I felt I needed to get some distance to consider all that we are facing. As a pastor and a public theologian, I wanted to see up close our Reformation history, and to consider where we might be going in the next 500 years — not just as a church, but as a species. I applied for  and was awarded a grant to take a sabbatical and to consider these things, and now I want to share with you what I’ve learned. I offer these reflective devotionals not as an expert prognosticator, but as a fellow traveler who is making some educated guesses.

If you’d like to follow along, you can sign up for email devotionals or visit my website here


Prayer: Creator, help us in this season of uncertainty. 

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr. 

The Lie of the “Third Way”

I can’t help think about Harry Frankfurt’s essay, “On Bullshit” whenever I encounter white male pastors talking about a “third way” or being “centrist.” Frankfurt makes the point that humbug (a form of bullshit) is not a claim about reality; it’s a claim about the speaker.

Frankfurt quotes Max Black’s definition of “humbug” — “deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody’s own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes.” I suspect this describes many 3rd-way pastors these days.

I want to add that I’m not unsympathetic toward pastors who misrepresent themselves during this rise of white Christian Nationalism. I think there are a lot of pastors suffering from Moral Injury, a form of PTSD.

“Third Way” and “centrist” rhetoric may be a form of self-preservation. It says, “I’m not your target” to angry congregants. For many, speaking truthfully about the rise of WCN puts their families and their careers at risk. Far easier to talk about “polarization” and put the blame “on both sides.” But this silence comes at the cost of moral injury.

“Centrism,” in the USian church at this historical moment is a way of positioning my whitedudeself at the center of two imaginary and equally-obejctionable extremes. It reinforces the norm of binary USian “left-right” politics even as it pretends to offer an alternative. But it’s really just status-quo preaching.

(I have to note that the word “centrist” is very descriptive: it really does *center* white male power in the area of public theology and public policy. In this way it perpetuates material harm for others and moral injury for pastors.)

“I defy classification” is a lie that many church leaders tell themselves about themselves. They lament polarization, demonization, and enemyfying, and praise nuance and perspective-taking. All good. But when it comes to specific policies and questions of power… silence.

A preacher w/out this insight may even identify himself (and it’s almost always a “him”) with Christ, “crucified by both left and right,” as I’ve heard one preacher say, vicariously placing himself in the center not only of American politics, but the f’n cosmos.

3rd-way/centrism is “bullshit” because it’s a claim about yourself, not about reality. The last thing pastors want to do is talk about specific policies or theological claims, preferring to gesture toward the extremes and make apophatic statements about their own (& Jesus’s) identity (i.e. “Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican.”)

Again, I know this is *moral injury* for many pastors. It’s a trap that leads to burnout and demoralization when leaders are crushed between institutional evangelical-capitalist expectations for church growth and a vocational responsibility for truth-telling.

We need to name this bullshit self-centering rhetoric not only for the sake of the people being harmed by these crises, and not only for the sake of the church, and not only for the planet, but for the sake of the pastors who are complicit in it.

Church leaders cannot navigate the crises of climate change, fascism, & disaster capitalism by making nice with wealthy donors whose interests are in perpetuating those things at the expense of everyone else on the planet. If Jesus takes no side here, he’s not merely useless. He’s doing harm.

Pastoral Letter for Mother’s Day, 2022

The following is a message I shared in our our church newsletter:

Mother’s Day was originally a day to promote women’s equality, peace, and an end to war. It has become commercialized and sentimentalized and often is a painful reminder to those who have had complicated relationships with mothers or motherhood. 

And this year, Mother’s Day ends what has been an exhausting week in terms of news and religion. The revelation that the U.S. Supreme Court will allow states to force birth is the culmination of a decades-long war on civil rights by religious and political extremists

As a pastor without a uterus, I feel my own voice should take a backseat to those who are more directly impacted, and yet I also have a responsibility to deploy mine for the good of my friends and family. You may have seen that some of my words from a Facebook post in 2018 went viral again. I want to set those words in context with my baptismal vow to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves” and my ordination vow to uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. 

Below are excerpts from the United Methodist Social Principles, which have this to say about abortion: 

The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.

But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.

We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.


While they have their flaws (especially with regard to LGBTQIA persons), the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church generally reflect a well-reasoned majority theological and social position on current issues. The UMC has historically viewed abortion as a “tragic choice,” but emphasized that it is still a choice between a woman and her doctor:

Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.

The section on abortion also points out some of the best ways to reduce the frequency of abortion: 

We mourn and are committed to promoting the diminishment of high abortion rates. The Church shall encourage ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies such as comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support of initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.

It is important to note that while both abortions and unintended pregnancies have been declining for years, many of the United States and Alabama legislators who are restricting abortion access are simultaneously pulling the rug out from under people who get pregnant. In Alabama, for example, we still have abstinence-only education. We have not expanded Medicaid. We are a “right-to-work” state, which means people who get pregnant do not have labor protections, nor do they have parental leave to take care of newborns. 

All of these factors combine to make people’s lives harder, to make unintended pregnancy more likely, and to complicate pregnancy and delivery. These policies are at odds with the United Methodist Social Principles. They are also at odds with God’s vision of justice and shalom in the world. 

I am continuously awed by the process of new life. I spend hours building birdhouses so that mama birds have a safe place to raise their young. I delight in this time of year, watching fluffy fledglings take their first timid hops out of a nest. I believe all life is sacred, and I long for a world where all of God’s family is aided to flourish. I am “pro-family” for the human world and the more-than-human world. 

But I also recognize that evil is a force that warps the most holy things in the world, including parenthood and the Gospel. When our society weaponizes pregnancy against populations of poor people, indigenous people, and people of color, or when religious groups weaponize the language of love and care to oppress others, it is a deep betrayal of the Good News. 

All of which has made the last week — and the last six years — exhausting for many of us who identify as Christians who seek liberation and healing for ALL people. On this Mother’s Day, I hope you will take care of yourself and your own mental health. Rest and self-care are radical acts of resistance in a system that demands exploitive labor, which claims ownership of our bodies, and which tries to appropriate our spiritual and emotional energy for its own agenda of conquest and colonialism. We say that we will “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” I hope you will join me in sacred rest, sacred lament, and revolutionary, worshipful, self-care. 

A Good Friday Meditation

So, here we are. Good Friday. Honestly, this is a day I’m no fan of Christianity.

First, I find that little is more annoying about this season than bougie white boy preachers in thousand-dollar sneakers talking about Jesus and “revolutionary love.” Church is full of folks who are no friends of the revolution. “Revolutionary?” They ain’t even interested in abolishing prisons or reducing militarized police budgets, much less “revolution.” Their message isn’t revolutionary. It’s marketing.  

Second, Rome shows you what it does to revolutionaries: it crucifies them. “Crucifixion wasn’t just a form of execution; it was advertising,” says Amy-Jill Levine. A cross was a billboard. Crucifixions were staged near roads, so passersby could see clearly who was in charge and what happens to “revolutionaries.” As Max Weber put it: the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Crucifixion displays the state’s monopoly of violence literally: by splaying human limbs.

According to Josephus, after the Jewish revolt in Jerusalem in 70 CE, soldiers crucified so many people that they ran out of wood. They cut down every tree for miles to line the road with crosses, like flags. Today if you visit the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed to “let this cup pass from me,” when the guide says, “Some of these trees are so old that Jesus could have prayed under one of them,” you know it’s just stuff they tell tourists. The orchard where Jesus prayed was razed so Rome could have wood on which to nail revolutionaries.

Third, white Protestant support for torture, measured in 2008, was upwards of sixty percent. Six in ten are just fine with torturing folks. Waterboarding. Whipping. Stripping people naked and humiliating them. All the stuff that happened to Jesus? They’d give the green light for it to happen to any Middle Eastern guy with long hair and a beard.

While I’m talking statistics and cutting trees, only 40% of white Protestants believe in human-made climate change. I’m not just picking on Evangelicals, among whom that statistic is only 28%. I’m talking about mainstream “liberal” Protestants. When Roman soldiers cut down all the trees to make crosses, most church folks would be cheering them on in the name of law, order, and domination of the natural world.

So today, when Christians cry crocodile tears while singing how they would “cling to the old rugged cross,” it leaves me feeling a bit cynical. They may be having a genuine spiritual experience when they close their eyes, raise their hands, and sway gently to a Christian rock anthem, but it bears no relevance to Golgotha or the places Jesus is being crucified right now. It rubs me the wrong way when religious people pretend to care about the most famous victim of state violence ever, but don’t give give two figs for Patrick Lyoya or Sandra Bland. When they would cling to crosses, but disparage tree-huggers.

On days like today, I resonate much more with those who have rejected religion altogether, especially if it’s because they could not reconcile the prepackaged answers with today’s most salient questions: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow the state to have this monopoly on violence? How did the spiritual power of Jesus of Nazareth get hijacked so thoroughly by Christendom? Where is the “Good News” in the destruction of this world and the oppressed people who love it?  

“Good” Friday. The adjective leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The revolutionary I love and follow is still being executed by the state, which has yet to repent of its role in manufacturing suffering. The state, in collusion with the church, will resurrect in his place an agent of white settler colonialism, one who blesses Rome and the priesthood, who tells battered spouses to stay with their abusers in the name of long-suffering love, who persecutes queer kids and tells gay Christians to remain celibate, that it’s “their cross to bear,” an agent who sanctions bullying, who clear cuts forests and pumps oil from the ground to build sprawling highways so that Christians can park their cars at suburban churches on Easter morning and sing praises to an authoritarian king.

Honestly, the only thing that keeps me Christian is that my faith says, “it is God on that cross.” The only thing that keeps me Christian is that I keep seeing Jesus as an actual revolutionary who cares about the suffering of people at the hands of state power, a Jesus turning over the money tables on Wall Street. Jesus keeps showing up on the steps of churches telling preachers that they are whitewashed tombs whose words are full of death and decay. Jesus keeps standing up for queer kids and defending people whose wombs are treated like the property of the state or their husbands. Jesus keeps calling for actual prisoners in real prisons to be set free, and for the people with clubs and swords to put them away because they only lead to self-destruction. Jesus keeps telling people to observe that the birds and flowers—and humans—don’t have to earn a place in God’s economy, that their existence and life is enough to bring glory to God. The powers that be keep trying to silence God’s anointed and he, she, they keep showing up with all their pronouns and ethnicities and genders and refusing to be quiet or disappear from public view.

When I ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” she—God in human flesh—looks me squarely in the eye, shows me the wounds in her hands and side and answers, as she always does, with a question: “Are you asking me?” Then she gestures at the world as if to invite me to take up a cross and follow.

Where else can I go? She has the words of life.

So

The Universe, by Hildegard of Bingen, from WikiArt

For God so loved the cosmos;
loved the human world and the more-than-human world,
loved the quarks and the nebulae and
the vast stretches of empty space
between the tiniest particles and between the largest galaxies;
loved tree frogs and beetles,
mushrooms and songbirds,
loved you and me and the space between us;
that she poured her divine self out
and looked out on the world through human eyes in human sockets,
and felt the fleshy vulnerability of her creatures.

With the full, enthusiastic consent of Mary,
(and with no need of a man),
she nurtured in the water of a womb
a child;
and gave her beloved child to us,
and named this child “God saves,”
who was also her Very Truest Self;
because God has always been a giver
a lover
and prone to prodigal excess.

Then her Very Truest Self,
lived as one of us,
loved and taught others to love
(as She has always been doing, as She is still doing)
with the same kind of love that pours out
that sees
that inhabits
in such a way that Justice and Peace would become synonyms,
that they would hold hands;
in such a way that forgiveness would set free instead of perpetuate harm,
in such a way that prisons would be abolished,
(as She has always been doing, as She is still doing)
and the poor would be filled with good things
and the powerful would be brought low,
and the low would be lifted up,
because the abundance of the world is and has always been enough.

But the human world loved its dismal sense of deserving
more than light.
It loved its warring madness,
it loved dominating and colonizing and subjugating;
it loved shaming and putting people in their place,
and measuring out who deserves what,
and taking land and lives,
and crucifying anyone who got in its way.
It loved being important and big and worshiped.
It loved defining the world according to itself,
setting up whiteness as a god
and nation as an idol
who demanded child and elder sacrifice
in exchange for guns and gold.
It loved marketshare and mindshare.
It loved creating scarcity out of abundance,
burning oil to create money,
so that it could have more
by making others have less,
so that it could play games
with the life of the planet,
so that it could bleed the world dry
and strip mine the hills
to open a new strip mall.

It was so crafty at manufacturing suffering,
that after it killed Her child,
it mimicked her grief
and mocked her love
and turned the religion of Her Very Truest Self
into another dominance game
another theology of deserving.
It put crosses on steeples
on every street corner,
as a reminder that anyone who did not follow would be crucified.
It created disciples of hate to wound others in the name of Jesus.
It taught people that the world that God so loved
was disposable
and to pray to God about what comes after death
so that by a counterfeit resurrection
many would be led astray
and teach others to do the same.
And, feigning outrage at the death of Her child,
the One it murdered,
it would continue to burn heretics at the stake
along with witches, and queer people, and scientists, and lovers, and artists
and any saint who dared dream of a better world
for this world
instead of the next.
And all the while,
it would tell its followers:
“Do to them before they do to you.”

Any who dared whisper
“God is love”
would be reminded
of love’s cruelty,
of tough love,
of loving at or loving on,
a love that alters where it finds alteration,
of the Great Chain of Being and the Right of Kings
and that a Man’s Home Is His Castle.

This is why John had to tell us
that She loves differently:
So loved.”
Her love looks like a person,
and that person looks like you,
and you are made in the divine image of love.

Standing on Mount Nebo,
looking out over the promised land,
filled with burning forests and dead songbirds,
the corpses of insects and frogs who will never again sing at night,
paved roads full of automobiles with nowhere to go that isn’t just like the place they left,
we searching ones look for the breath of the Holy Spirit,
a purifying wind,
to blow away the polluted air,
to push the carbon dioxide back into the ground,
a wind that will animate the dry bones
and desiccated exoskeletons,
to knit sinew to bone
and muscle to sinew
and to cover all with flesh and feather and tentacle and leaf,
the fleshy vulnerability of all of her creatures,
because all of creation
ALL of it
every last bit of it
has been groaning for ages waiting for humanity to wake up
and be born again
to see with new eyes in new sockets,
to recover their original blessing,
their awe and curiosity;
their gratitude and reverence.

She is still looking
like a shepherd on the hills,
still looking
for those who so love the world
just so.

How We Got Here

Veil Nebula, by Ken Crawford. From Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes when I start to feel hopeless about the world, about climate change, weaponized ignorance, and interlocking systems of injustice and petty cruelty that create white supremacy, male supremacy, and toxic religion, I have a vision of what happened before I was born.

And I’m not saying I believe this is actually the way God or consciousness works, but I have this image of God giving me—giving all of us—a choice about whether or not to be born in this age, out of all the ages of history. I imagine the sales pitch: “Going into this world will be, in many ways, like running into a house on fire.”

“I’m not asking you to be a hero,” God says. “But to be a human. You will be part of a team. And the whole thing may collapse on you. And you’ll probably fail. Will you love this world? To pour out your life because you love it so? Because that’s what we do, you know. That’s what love does.”

I feel this vision when I get to be in communion with prison abolitionists and local farmers and deconstructing clergy and scientists and therapists and freedom fighters and activists and scholar-reformers. On good days, I feel like maybe we chose this, to be here, doing this work in this house on fire, because it was the time that needed us.

I’m not saying we chose this mess or chose to suffer — I think. But I think for humanity to reach maturity, some of us understand that we have to take responsibility for shit, even if it isn’t our shit.

And on good days when I catch this vision, I also realize that there is so much to love in this house on fire: my amazing family and friends, of course, but also animals and plants and music and beauty. And on good days I feel like the luckiest son of bitch in the world, and I’m glad you chose this time to live, too.