Lupus?! A wha dat?!

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Category: theology

With gratitude

My sons and I, November 2020.

Three years ago I was in Brooklyn Hospital Center enduring what would become a three month long stay. I would spend Thanksgiving in so much pain that the last thing on my mind was a plate.

Everyday I would rise at 6, read scripture, and worship God while singing along with Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise.” I would hold on until 9am or so when I knew doctors made their rounds, clamoring for updates on my condition. Could I go home soon? Would I make it home in time for my youngest son’s first birthday? I wouldn’t.

So standing in front of this hospital means another opportunity for me to show gratitude. You don’t have to make it. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. If we’ve learned anything from 2020, impermanence stands at the top of the list. Life is truly a vapor.

Explaining Death

My little ones have seen a lot of it for their ages. At least I think so. I compare it to my time as a chaplain at a K-8 where parents would call frantically “our goldfish died and Johnny doesn’t know yet! Please advise!”

I didn’t have a chaplain to explain that our cousin Cam, who my boys just met for the first time at 4th of July, is gone. We just went to the funeral and tried our best to explain why everyone is sad and why we have hope that we will meet Cam again. I remarked to my wife, “They’re taking this really well. I hope that’s a good thing.”

We relied on this experience when Dat died in January. We were again on the road going to another funeral. The boys, now old enough to remember these sort of things for the rest of their lives, seemed to embody hope for the rest of our mourning family. Something about youth at funerals helps you remember that life goes on.

I remember my Granny Louise dying when I was five or six and being angry because I couldn’t fly to Jamaica again to say goodbye. My grandmother went to bury her mother by herself, as far as I knew, and I wanted to be with my friend. I was really sad because I had just met Granny Louise in the summer of ‘92. I’ll never forget the warmth of her hugs and the smell of her hair. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt safer.

My sons were still awake when the news of Chadwick Boseman arrived. In my stunned state I still wished to shield them, soften the blow of this mortal wound. “The man that plays Black Panther isn’t alive anymore. He was sick and we all didn’t know. He was even sick while he made those movies! We will miss him so much. Let’s watch his movies tomorrow and give thanks for his life.”

So today we will watch Chadwick’s work as T’Challa. We will see him portray James Brown and Jackie Robinson. Thurgood Marshall. At some point I will watch him portray an officer who has the power to shut down all the bridges into Manhattan. I will see him be the living conscious of veterans trying to pick up the pieces.

Watching Chadwick Boseman portray T’Challa in Black Panther is the happiest I have ever felt in a movie theatre. Ever. I am forever grateful. God bless your life.

Source: Instagram @chadwickboseman

God nah sleep

Zechariah 10 has been my comfort. A counter to the narrative that faith is anemic in times like these. Some take comfort in criticizing rage and pretend that God can be reduced to a justice less peace. This desire to preserve normalcy, this desire to have one behave one’s self while there are knees on our necks is borne in fear. Fear that your myopic readings of Romans 13 won’t be enough. Fear that you didn’t spend enough time with the prophets. All that book learning and you never took the time to see how much God cares about justice? You look for God in your things. You look for God everywhere but the margins. Where God always is. You speak of reconciliation. You have soothed yourself to sleep with the dream of bringing together. You refuse to acknowledge that reconciliation is the repair of the master-slave dialectic. You want to be woke now. You’ve commodified woke. Prolly will commodify non-commodifying soon enough. But all of it means nothing unless you confess. All of it means nothing unless you admit you are complicit. You cannot be the hero in this story, we already have One. Our hero hears our blood crying from the ground. Our hero weeps. And our hero nah sleep.

Grandma’s Hands

You would have been 95 today.

You would have loved your great grandsons. They have your humor and your courage.

It’s been seven and a half years since you got promoted. I still randomly weep for you.

The tears have become more joyful recently.

I thought about trying to explain to you why I’m vegan now.

I think about how much I wanted to tell you I got in to a doctoral program. Same degree as grandpa.

And whenever I get really upset, and think about how you should still be here (Follett women live long, I’ve been told), I think about how tired you were. How much you’ve earned your rest.

I dreamed you once. You were young and still beautiful. With long ponytails and joy. So much joy. It’s all that comforts me.

Persistent widow prayers

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. 

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20)

In 2015, as I rode the G train, I would listen to “Pray For Me” by Kirk Franklin. The message of the song resonated with me. I was a new father, living in a new apartment, and starting a new job. I needed all the prayer I could get. 

I loved how the song opened with vulnerability on Kirk’s part. His voice made me think of a wounded healer, someone who has been beaten down but remains hopeful. 

Those feelings have been fixed for me in this season. Walking with a limp but trying to lead, be an example, be loving. 

I’ve found myself despondent at times. Too often, reminding myself that I am not sick. Even though I am at risk, I am well.

Reminding myself of this, encouraging myself really, has become a ritual. Deepening my praise by showing gratitude for daily bread in the midst of global crisis.

I am grateful for the privilege of sojourning through quarantine with family. I am grateful for my job, my students, friends, extended family, and a community that still gathers–electronically–to worship.

I feel blessed in the midst of this storm. It’s a familiar place. So many days in the hospital, through both severe flares, were filled with laughter in spite of the physical pain and dire circumstance. But I know everyone is not there. I know many people are too smothered by despair to find anything to smile about.

I’ve been sitting on this writing since Holy Week. Since Lupus, I’ve been drawn to the solemn holidays that force you to consider mortality. Ash Wednesday and its reminder of how dusty we are. Good Friday.

I wanted to share this on Good Friday because Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” felt more appropriate than ever. These words really ring in the hollowness of isolation. Jesus quotes the psalmist in psalm 22 and opens the door for all who feel rejected and alone. I believe that New York is the worst place in the world for loneliness. Perhaps one could render loneliness into solitude if they were, say, a rancher in Wyoming. But to be in a place so dense with population and to feel alone, is a uniquely cruel torment. 

 

It’s a call for us to innovate our love. Who is our neighbor and how can we be neighborly while socially distant? 

 

To love from a distance has become a critical form of hospitality in this time. We have to smile from a screen or behind a mask. This is difficult but I pray that you find new mercies everyday. I hope you discover new ways to love your neighbor. A radical love that pierces distances and binds us together. Let’s pray for one another. Let’s pray for people we don’t even like. Let’s confess our inadequacies. Confess our need. 

Pray for me.

I’ll pray for you.

Fight or Flight

Hearing about COVID-19 is like hearing about a tormentor’s return. It’s knowing you shot Michael Myers but not knowing where the body is. Or refusing to say Candyman. 

This week my sympathy for what was happening around the world became preparation. I wrestle with my fear, read Psalm 91 religiously and wash my hands even more. On Friday I could not place my feelings. This isn’t the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that the last day of school normally brings. It feels so indefinite. A collective interruption that holds us all in suspense. It hit me during an assembly. The feelings were so strong I wondered if it were psychosomatic. I felt my chest tightening during the assembly. I tried to calm myself down but eventually had to go to my classroom early and just pray. This episode and the exhaustion I feel tell me how unwilling my body is to have another dance with the devil.

Since 2011, I have had pneumonia five times. All of my episodes of pneumonia are connected to complications from Lupus. I am too familiar with how exhausting those fevers are, how labored the breathing is, the terrible effects of the antibiotics, and the permanent damage it inflicts on your lung capacity. I often think of my lungs as a building and that pneumonia has rendered rooms in that building uninhabitable. 

I texted with the pastor whose church I am visiting and am grateful that he understood why he would not be seeing me until this situation is under control. I wrestled this week. Were my precautions an example of anemic faith? Does trusting God mean that I keep going to church and step boldly as if there is no crisis afoot? I’ve arrived at the theological juncture that informs me to demonstrate my faith through wisdom. The Lord brought the episode in the gospels where Satan tempts Jesus to mind.

In Matthew 4, the devil brings Jesus to the “pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not [a]tempt the Lord your God.’” 

It is not an act of courage, bravery or faith to go out and about during this time of social distancing. It is selfish and foolhardy. It is best to demonstrate your faith and trust in God by taking care of the most vulnerable among us. You may have the health to overcome COVID-19 but consider those of us for whom contracting the virus would mean increased hardship, or even death. I am trusting in the Lord and believing that God will grant us a hedge of protection. I believe that we can participate in God’s good work by being that hedge for our most vulnerable neighbors. It is what’s best. So, you won’t see me out and about for the foreseeable future but I am confident that this too will pass. God bless you and keep you, my friends. Stay safe. 

Out of Egypt

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”– Matthew 12:14-15 (NRSV).

 

God’s relationship with Egypt is fascinating. Once the greatest civilization on Earth, it is used as an instrument throughout history to illustrate God’s ultimate greatness. Perhaps this is most vivid in the Exodus story but is rather noteworthy in the life of Christ as well.

 

Things got hot for our Lord’s family very early. Herod, upon hearing word of this “King of the Jews”, tried to deceive the wise men and orchestrated a massacre. How fragile is your power if you need to harm the innocent in order to keep it?

 

Jesus’ family would stay in Egypt until Herod’s death fulfilling, as verse 15 states, the words of the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” In this instance Egypt once again is God’s instrument; a holding device where the promise is nurtured and cultivated. It fits thematically with the permanent truth that patience is necessary. There are plenty of “Hold on!” moments in Scripture (no doubt they are there as mileposts for us to be encouraged in our waiting). The waiting can feel like bondage.

 

Hospitals can be Egypts. Since 2012, I have been hospitalized six times. My last stay cost me the opportunity to be with my family on Thanksgiving, attend my youngest son’s Christening or be with him on his birthday. Everyday that I was able to I would look at the calendar and mark how many days I was confined to a hospital bed. I would argue with doctors and nurses with the hope that they were miscalculating the time of my discharge. One episode found me yelling at a young doctor who, around day 19 of my stay, unpreparedly estimated that I would be there ten more days. “Ten more days!” I exclaimed. It was entirely unacceptable to me. I had lost too much already, I thought, what more do you want from me!

 

Friends and loved ones I spoke with would hear me compare my situation to that of Batman’s in The Dark Knight Rises. It felt like lupus had broken and imprisoned me in the pit. There were no prayers there, no reading of scripture but as the psalmist reminds us in Psalm 139, God was there. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful roommate. I was broken, had nothing in the tank, no sauce but I knew this was not it. Unlike my attack in Charlotte, in which I woke up everyday thinking I had died, I did not believe that this would kill me. The situation was dire at times but the greater problem to me was not being with my family. Sometimes we consider our Egypts to be prisons when they are merely holding centers.

 

In both my hospital experience and in the story of our Lord’s family, timing is everything. We are not in control, there are too many variables for us to master without the Master. What we see as a crisis does not catch the Master by surprise. He is not powerless in the face of our circumstances. The severity is real. Whether Herod or lupus, there are forces in our life that seek to smother our destinies. Thanks be to God that He is a shelter.

Still

I don’t write as often as I should. 
Life bends in a peculiar and isolating manner at times. 

Mountaintop moments are great but remind you that you cannot bring everyone with you. 

Not everyone can relate. 
It’s popular to call 2016 a disappointment.

It was a year full of challenges but I’ve had worse years. 

Must be uncomfortable for the person who privately thinks this is the best year of their life. 

Perspectives.
As we get ready to start 2017, my prayer is for stillness. I don’t wanna feel scattered and whatever goals arise will require focus. So for now, God bless you, rest well and may 2017 draw you closer to God and the fullness of Christ’s love. 
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

Quiet nuh!

I should probably be doing something else (like work) but longhair….

I laugh when my students hear my instruction and protest. “So does everyone understand? Are there any questions?”

“This sounds like work!”

It is.

They (the infamous secret government that controls us all) say that if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. I have found truth in that. A cornerstone of my theology and worldview is that God intends for us to enjoy life.

Life is to be enjoyed. Truly. And when you are locked into what you’re supposed to be doing THEN you get that fulfillment which allows you to never work a day in your life.

But as Bob says, “the harder the battle, the sweeter Jah victory”.

I have a tough time teaching Steinbeck. I get why Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are American classics. I would even entertain a notion that Steinbeck wrote with a prophetic voice in his time. But when my ninth graders call him boring, I can’t disagree. I remember being so bored by Grapes of Wrath that I wrote my final paper on the half I’d read. I even ended it with something cheeky like “who knows if they’ll ever make it to California?”

My English teacher was a good sport and said it was certainly an A paper but as I’d only read half the book she could only give me half the points.

Merry Christmas.

As bored as we are, a bigger issue to me is our study justifying their misogyny. Our book discussions always had somebody calling Curley’s wife a thot or students being incapable of seeing her perspective.

During a discussion where we confronted the issue, another teacher blamed rap for the misogynistic views.

That annoyed me though.

Misogyny is older than the Bible. Rap didn’t start it but it carries on tradition (like country music, movies and general society)

Sometimes the mountain seems insurmountable and I hear temptation tell me to look elsewhere. There has to be somewhere where my gifts and talents are appreciated. I can do so much more with a greater platform, it says.

But I am content in this stage because I recognize the journey and little interest in forcing fate before God’s time.

I get frustrated but then I look back.

I remember the hospital bed (it got better).

Leaving Trinity (it got better).

Living with my in laws (it got better).

Returning to Richmond (it got better).

So now, no matter the obstacles, difficulties and certitude that evil wants to destroy you, I can be reassured that the One who got me out of the hospital, kept my Beloved and I, and blessed us with the lil fella has not forsaken us and has no plans to.

As Paul shared in 2 Corinthians:

We  are  hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we  are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Enjoy the day my friends. Tell any doubt or insecurities, “Quiet, nuh!”

Forgiving Trump

  
Photo by Gage Skidmore/Huffington Post

Now I don’t normally want to talk about Trump because I consider his contributions nothing more than the dregs of our society. To call him a scoundrel is saddeningly as controversial as an announcement that water is still wet. To be honest I am enjoying his success in the political arena because it is an indictment on the country. White supremacy dies once Americans acknowledge our complicity. Systemic racism does not exist because of “them”, it exists because of “us.” (I mean, it’d be nice to just blame this all on white people–slow down respectability politics, I am not agreeing with you–but Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas and every other person of color who lets their self-hatred shine shows that white supremacy, ironically, is an equal opportunity employer.)

I first noticed this Trump video a few weeks ago and it made me pity him. In the video, Donald is asked if he has ever asked God for forgiveness and he is demonstrably uncomfortable. He speaks about how folks are often surprised to learn he is religious and then waxes poetically about his late pastor, name dropping his book, and reminisicing about how captivating said pastor’s sermons were.

The interviewer does not let him off the hook. The audience laughs at this show of authority and Trump eventually admits that he has never asked God for forgiveness. He assumes that his effort and desire to do better next time should suffice, or maybe even the elements of bread and wine at communion get the job done. 

Trump’s answer is perfect to me. It encapsulates the errors of human pride in a wonderful way. Here we have a man who regularly displays misogyny, racism and an utter disregard for others. 

(Two dope TV ideas: Iyanla needs to bring Trump and Rosie O’Donnell on “Fix My Life”. Like why is he so mad? Unlike other targets of his misogyny, his barbs come with the kind of intimacy birthed from a destroyed friendship. Why you so mad Donnie?! 

2. I want this whole campaign to be an episode of Unsung with special guest narrator, Herman Cain.)

With Trump I see a man who reminds me of the judge in the parable of the persistent widow (One who “did not fear God nor regard man” Luke 18:1-8). Trump tries to use his privilege and sidestep the conversation entirely. But name dropping a pastor cannot save you. Trump then talks about his own efforts, “to do better next time”, but this only exposes his misdiagnosis. The offense we each commit against God is far more severe than a misunderstanding. Perhaps when I offend you, I can strive to learn from that mistake and do better next time. But sin’s stains run deep. And no matter how much we endeavor, no matter how much we hope to learn from our mistakes, it is a complete waste unless we ultimately encounter our futility. How we cannot clean our own hands. How desperately we are in need of a Saviour. 

Trump proverbially enters the right building but is on the wrong floor when he speaks about communion. His description of communion turns it into a work of righteousness which sells the sacrament short. If communion is a mere work, the heavy lifting is done by us. After all, we are the ones who go to church. We are the ones who take the bread. We are the ones who take the wine. Yet communion is much more than that. It encapsulates what the Christian life is, participating in the life of Christ. The focus cannot and never should be on what we do (which if we are honest, is not much). One enters into the Christian life at the edge of one’s futility (“God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Luke 18:13) but one matures through worshiping God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Trump, like all of us, must get dissatisfied with his own works. Lose the love he has for his own ability to make a way. This walk is not about showing God how well you are trying; we get nowhere until we humbly admit we can’t. 

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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