Lupus?! A wha dat?!

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Tag: Death

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.

I couldn’t call when You were dying

I’ve let my loved ones know

That in the event I’m on a plane

And think that I have arrived

At the end

I won’t make a phone call

No terror, or reminders of love

No semblance of intimacy thousands of feet in the air

No delusions of a life wrapped with a bow

Too dissimilar to death’s scar

The jagged pieces of lives shattered to pretend that we can ever truly be prepared

Earthquakes happen so frequent

We believe it’s man’s machinations

A revelation of Revelations

Or Mother Earth’s menstrual cramps

How regular and majestic

Coupled with threats of tsunami that kept me refreshing the page until the alert fell asleep

I forced myself awake determined not to find Wednesday with news you were no more

I opened WhatsApp to close it

Texted then wiped it away

Impersonal at the very least

And that’s never my intent

So I relearned that inaction is an action

And determined that I’d rather refresh then prepare myself for a final conversation

We’ve been doing so much better!

Rebuilding what never was

Though false alarm

I’m reminded that my instinct is well founded

A monument to catastrophe

How small we are in the face of the ineffable

To love and be loved

3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.”

4 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.”

Job 2:3-6 (NKJV)

Feels fitting that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day cross streams this year. In my last update I mentioned how chronic illness has made me think about mortality more than I’d like to. I try to mask it in gallows humor but it is sobering when jokes about your demise are left unfunny on the ears of those who love you. I don’t think about death from a fearful place. If anything I feel charged to enjoy each day and be fully present. Love and loss are inextricable. I refuse to love as if I am incapable of loss; my human limitation would pervert that love into a sort of entitled emotion that takes loved ones for granted. Instead I would rather fuel my love with an understanding of impermanence. I’m not going to look at the clock the whole time but my loved ones ought to be cherished. Prayerfully I am doing that.

I definitely feel loved in return. It’s not something I take for granted. The phone calls, visits, donations and acts of kindness my family and I have received from you all is beautifully embarrassing. Thank you for seeing me.

I have three appointments this week. The appointments with my primary doc and nephrologist went really well. My creatinine level, formerly as high as 6.6, is now .98. It feels good to see your doctors tell you that your health is heading in the right direction.

After my primary doctor appointment, I got a call from my cardiologist. The last echocardiogram I did still shows something on my valve. As a result, I am scheduled to get a transesophageal echocardiogram in the upcoming weeks. Pray for me as I pray for you.

Chris

Supermarket Verses

Was it you?

That used to scold me

when I’d put items back

in the supermarket

out of place?

Can you believe how she looks now?

I bet she won’t stop working out

until she gets definition

on her abs again.

I heard she wants to lose ten pounds.

That’s too much pressure.

Just live.

 

Our cashier isn’t interested in the exchange of pleasantries.

Her loss.

But I get it.

Full day of work, last shift. It sucks.

Don’t know how much I’d smile.

From the looks of my grocery bagging skills, don’t know how much use I’d be either.

 

You always make me bag!

I never understood that.

The times when you are paying I get it but I had money in my pocket this time!

We’re standing in the wrong places.

 

I must be lousy.

The cashier bags these items with ease.

I manage to get three bags worth of groceries into the cart.

She seems so unencumbered by the categories.

Flawless. She knows to put kindred items into the bags. Record time.

She doesn’t smile but she packs these groceries with love.

Reminds me of Ms. June from the cafeteria in Davidson.

Made the best sandwiches on earth!

Three hundred kids in line, each one leaving with a piece of her love.

If you looked close, you could see her painting with mayonnaise and mustard smiles.

 

God I’m hungry.

 

This morning I tarried over dishes.

Mind isn’t clear if my kitchen isn’t.

And it made no sense to cook a good meal in a dirty kitchen.

I can’t fathom taking on the enterprise of straightening up when I felt so weak.

Two pieces of toast should suffice.

I’ll take them with a grapefruit juice so I can keep my constitution.

 

Downed medicine, to these dishes.

 

Remember how meticulous Prednisone made me?

I felt so focused when I came home from the hospital.

Everyday was a challenge.

A milestone.

An opportunity for victory.

I thought I died everyday.

 

Standing in front of the microwave, clutching my chest

Determined to set the time so at least when you found me

You would know when it was.

Shaking in the hospital bed, calling for the nurse.

It all felt over didn’t it?

Slipping away seconds before I belched something serious.

Both times.

So embarrassing.

But I learned that most things you think are gonna kill you

Are usually just gas.

 

I know you hate washing dishes.

Who could blame you?

Felt like every time we talked you were washing.

Were you the only one who had to do chores?

I hate your mom for that.

You seem like Cinderella to me.

 

There’s a method to my madness for sure.

I like to take utensils put them in a bowl.

With oatmeal crusted on the side, it’s ripe for soaking.

The cups are rinsed so the contents don’t spread in the dishwasher.

Nothing more disheartening–in the realm of kitchen cleaning–then having to rewash dishes.

Waste of work, wasted motion.

Lost time we can never reclaim.

 

It’s always a mountainous task.

The mountain becomes a hill

The hill becomes a drying rack

The rivers in the dishwasher roar

My work here is done.

I’m a fan of two sleeps

Yeah, I know, I make fun of how you sleep so much but it’s how i was raised.

i slept in a lot, don’t get me wrong,

but being in my bed past 8 made my grandma assume my sickness

dyam lazy, a sin less desirous than ailment


You remember how mad I was?

The whole day felt cranky.

Just left your parents house,

just left our lives in Charlotte

We were on our way

We must know 13 like the back of our hands now

traipsing from Maryland to the Turnpike

The heaviness of it all

Maybe I’m writing heaviness into my memories

I do remember getting mad

I told you to park in the driveway but you wouldn’t listen

You wanting to park on the street made no sense to me

this rage that i knew had to be displaced

an accumulation perhaps of debt for sins passed.

moments of insubordination, disobedience.

something wholly emasculating about not being listened to

Reminding me that I did not know what the hell I was talking about

 

Driving has never been my strong suit

Don’t know why I didn’t learn when most teenagers did

Young for my class, schooled in a different state than I lived

A hurricane of factors convincing me I didn’t need it

I tried it. Didn’t hate it but it didn’t make me come alive.

Only in my dreams that turned nightmarish.

Conscious of my feet

needing the break but growing heavy on the gas pedal

Reaching for the break with my left foot ensued panic

 

I panic with parking decks

Remember our trips from the seminary to the apartment?

Grew comfortable with the 3 mile trek

Til that brother came careening out of the parking deck

All I saw was doom impending but it wasn’t that bad

Save his lady yelling at me

Why sisters do that anyway?

Don’t they know words cut?

I mean, he was cool

I was cool

You were cool

But she had to trip

for no reason

 

After that I hated driving again.

took a while for me to get over how it felt

when my cousin yelled at me for losing focus

I get so anxious about driving my hands turn blue

only way I calm myself is remembering I drive for you

 

I never felt anyway about you being better than me

Always made me feel like we were progressive

You drive, I cook, I might stay home with the kids!

Could not care less about how it looks

I can be more than a good man for you, I can be a good human

Certainly felt neither when you stopped at the curb

 

It was so simple to me

Pull into the driveway

Say hello to the family

Bring bags upstairs

Come back downstairs

Eat

Fellowship

Sleep

 

We got out of the car

I thought about how I was going to announce myself

To Grandma and you flew upstairs without a word to anyone

I turned

Ready to make a joke with Grandma but saw she was sleeping

Never knew how she slept soundly on hospital beds

Dialysis so taxing she had no choice but wonder if she truly got rest

My aunt told me that she just had dialysis earlier and was feeling awful

Does dialysis ever feel good?

 

I came upstairs to sleep

Pretty tired but not enough to forget being pissed

Naturally, I gave you the silent treatment

It’s never as refreshing as intended.

One thinks silence puts the offending party in their place

shows them the essential nature of your words

cripples them through the verbal war of attrition

but sleep was your defense

the heavens rocked with the ripple of your snores!

my teenage ghost petrified by the tree chopping

How can I savor silence while you sniff electronic music?

Well played my dear, well played.

 

When you wake, I air my grievances!

Feign innocence then assume all guilt

A tactic oft employed but I am always jarred

You had no idea, you are the worst.

Of course neither is true

I’m caught preserving self-esteem and a righteousness that isn’t worth it

 

I was called downstairs

My aunt’s voice was wrong

Grandma no longer breathed

I couldn’t pray

I stood convinced that her chest would raise

Never thought it’d be this way

Always feared I’d be hundreds of miles away

A phone call bearing the news

I still think of her and lose myself

It’s the triggers of rye bread

the reruns of Walker, Texas Ranger

So random the grief and the regret.


I remember when I knew I loved you

Felt it stirring for some time you know.

The slide from being cool and feeling healthy

 

We didn’t speak every week

Then I saw you everyday

Not able to imagine without you

 

Can I love without loss?

If I let on will you be taken away?

I’m a Job of sorts.

 

That day I made up my mind

To tell you how I felt was so beautiful.

We drove over to the next town

(Votin’ in the primaries)

One of those days where we matched by mistake.

Black shirts and khaki shorts

Made history and strolled.

Down the avenue was a dog and his man

I coolly stepped in front of you

Easing us off the sidewalk and onto the grass

Said peace to them both and stood in front til they passed

A big deal for me.

 

I am not far removed from german shepherds

Walking on blocks had to make sure none were loose

Recess interrupted by pitbulls and rottweilers

Made me run and find someone worth standing for.


I was someone once.

Full of potential.

 

Funny how potential is so much like credit.

Don’t know how good it is til it’s used up.

 

I used to fear peaking early.

But laying in that hospital bed

certain it was all over made me content.

 

If this was how it ends then I used my time well.

I loved.

My regret, my reminder of failure

is to know death means I’m leaving you.

I would never give you the life we hoped for.

You’d have the stench of widowhood.

Would you remarry and find the life we were looking for?

 

Would suitors handle you like produce

Discover this imperfection

Deem you less choice?

Did I ruin you?

 

It’s the triggers you know.

So random the grief, the regret.


Breeze

Nights like these I miss the breeze

You don’t know how I bleed for you

Swing from poplar trees for you

The silence so violent

The summer so arrogant

I sit and I long

I long for the breeze

 

Who knew leviathans brood by oceans?

The arms that nursed you curse me daily

Fountains of iniquity that raised you to fail me

 

Yet in spite of these frailties we thrive

with dancing shoes

with cold sweat

with short breath

falling hair

failing lungs

my

heart

beats

 

Oh cactus, you stubborn fool!

A desert for your kingdom

A lifetime with no reprieve

I too dream of home untarnished

Gentry dreams make me grieve

 

My home has no garden

No shelter from trees

But still I find comfort

when I’m blessed by breeze

“Here Lies The Dragon…” (Rev 12:7-12)

It fascinates me when I think about those peculiar bedfellows. Hope and despair.

How can we be victorious when it feels all is lost? Much more than mere feeling, or passing sentiment, how can we sing our song in a strange land? I confess that there are times when I feel all thumbs. When I can tell no one is buying what I’m selling and there are low points where I cannot blame them.

No one needs compelling evidence that there is evil in this world.

The news, our communities, our lives are filled with examples that convince. Freddie Gray‘s smashed larynx and nearly severed spine in Baltimore. Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston. Tamir Rice murdered in Cleveland. Eric Garner and Eric Harris expressing with their dying words that they cannot breathe, to no avail.

I remember when I learned about the way crucifixion kills. I never gave it much thought coming up. I guess I just thought the nails piercing the skin forced one to lose too much blood on the cross. Coming up we always sang about the blood. Communion was about the blood. Movies and television shows always depicted Jesus shedding a lot of blood so I suppose I put two and two together.

While it is true that one loses a lot of blood when crucified that is not the primary cause of death. Crucifixion is an exceptionally cruel way to die because amongst the nails piercing your skin and the practice of breaking the bones (which Jesus was not subject to), asphyxiation is the primary cause of death. While on the cross, your body stretched out, breathing becomes a laborious task until it is an impossible task and breathing stops. It is a death void of mercy.

Leaves little wonder why Jesus in the midst of such agony would quote the psalmist in his plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We too must wonder if we have been forsaken. When this bitter soup is continuously reheated and the actors tragicomically fill their roles. Everyone fulfilling their duty to the zeitgeist. Eat. Sleep. Outrage. Repeat. Unfriend people on Facebook. Attend a march or two. Refuse to watch mainstream news. Ultimately feel overwhelmed, perhaps defeated but begrudgingly press on. Does our blood cry from the ground?

I am encouraged by my inability to excuse myself from God’s presence. The psalmist has found nowhere to go where God is not. The psalmist reveals that even when we make our beds in hell, God is there. God is in our streets, with us in the jail cell, in the paddy wagon, with us as we mourn, with us as we suffer.

This presence comforts me but perhaps you remain unconvinced of its significance. Perhaps you cannot see the benefit of God’s presence in these circumstances.

Victory as presented through a biblical lens is peculiar. Scripture speaks about swords being beaten into plowshares, lions eating straw and a time when the wolf and the lamb will feed together. These examples are hopeful examples, a time when we will have to study war no more but ring hollow in our landscape because our society is disinterested in turning instruments of war into tools of agriculture. Our society cannot comprehend why one would eat straw when one is an apex predator, fully capable of sinking one’s teeth into whatever one chooses. Our society has conditioned us to believe the lamb has gone for the okey-doke and it is only a matter of time before the wolf’s plan is fully revealed and that foolish lamb gets got. Our society has created a lens where anyone who concedes power is foolish, might makes right and just hospitality is weakness.

There’s no room for the gospel in that worldview. When one hears the gospel under those conditions they must hear a toothless message. Where turning the other cheek is no longer an act of endurance but is a capitulating act of cowardice. You hear that a lot in the struggle, don’t you? Where the struggle is reduced to either being a disciple of King and non-violence or a Malcolm X type of brother who ain’t with all that. The gains gotten through non-violence seem inconsequential to the hell still being caught that an alternative seems seductive. We reduce Malcolm to a righteous Rambo who kicks in the door and takes everything back. But this lens sees only what it wants to see. It has no room for gleaning lessons from the lives actually lived by these men and is often unwilling to broaden that lens to include the men and women through whom we have reached this point. There is a danger when we can no longer learn. When we’ve figured it out or made our world so small that our context has the only hell being caught.

And let us make no mistake: people the world over are catching hell. There is something cold and sinister about making someone legitimize their suffering. Why is my personhood disquieting? Why must I assert my dignity? Who made it ok for me to be irrelevant? Or silenced? It should not be subversive to say black lives matter. To live my life confidently, knowing that “I am not forgotten” as the singer says, “God knows my name.”

It is exciting to see our text today on a cosmic battleground. Michael, the archangel defeats the dragon. As a result the dragon and the dragon’s angels are thrown out of heaven. When we look at verse 9, where the dragon is thrown, the verb used to show Satan’s defeat, eblethe, we see that this verb is passive. It is a device used in scripture referred to as a divine passive. An action that is initiated by God. Michael represents God’s combat capabilities but this triumph over the devil is achieved by God.

When I first read Paradise Lost I was in awe of the swift defeat Lucifer received when he attempted to revolt against God. The character appeared shocked and dismayed; simply didn’t know God had such capabilities. The same is true and much more so in this text where a cosmic battle of majestic magnitude is won through an act of humiliation.

Verse 11 tells us that the ones who were accused by the accuser have “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” It is on this plane, in our terrain where this cosmic battle is won. An ultimate sign of shame, defeat, complete dehumanization is the device used to reveal real power. Christ performs the greatest act of empathy the world will ever know. Unwilling to be a sideline savior, Jesus offers himself and reveals himself as the Christ. It gives a greater understanding to the power of prayer, coming together as community and what is possible when the lordship of Jesus Christ is taken seriously. Here we see what happens when what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Our tendencies are challenged. Our worldview is subverted. Every misconception of what power actually looks like is destroyed. Victory is found in the blood of the lamb.

I am mystified by verse 12. It is easy to create a perennial parallel here; rejoicing in heaven and running through the earth with my woes. The evil that we face on this plane is deadly; you don’t need me to tell you that. It is a cost we know too well. But it is not the end of the story. The devil is no match for God. Evil, no matter how ubiquitous, has not received a blank cheque. This hell we are catching is nothing more than the death throes of a system that is falling and cannot get up. Every lash it makes against us, another proof of its demise. It cannot last, it will not last, it does not have the victory.

Brothers and sisters we must live victoriously. Not guided by the boots on our necks nor seduced by tales of alternative means for power. New Testament scholar Eugene Boring notes “If Revelation teaches anything, it is that the power by which God brings the kingdom is the power of suffering love revealed in the cross.” Our Lord stands at the door and knocks; calling us to participate in God’s life. Live passionately for justice. Let your life testify to who God is, what real power looks like. Amen.

Between Two Worlds…The Good Life

Image

My best friend died on the 23rd of December. I’d just got off the road with my wife, home for the holidays.


I was going to make a joke, someway of announcing my presence. Part goofing, part holiday cheer. I walked in and found her sleeping. My aunt told me that she had dialysis earlier in the day and was not feeling well.


No worries, I thought, I’ll just wake her in the morning.


I was doing my best to be upset with my wife. We had a mild argument earlier and I was holding on to my indignation. Trying to maintain silent treatment even when I knew she was burying the hatchet. Then I heard my mom call me to come downstairs. Her voice was alarmed but steady.

I came downstairs to find my aunt standing over my grandmother’s bed. She was blue. They had called the paramedics already but it was clearly too late. I didn’t feel like there was any point to praying. Not that resurrection of the dead is beyond the realm of possibility with an unencumbered God. But it felt selfish. Like such prayers were more for the giver than the subject. I even believe that she had finally gotten her desire. Rest.


I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to kiss her, say something meaningful but all I could do was watch her. Watch as the EMTs went through the motions, watching even after she was pronounced dead, unable to believe that any of this was real. Certain that I saw her chest rise. Uncertain of where we went from here.


I couldn’t do anything all week. Nothing mattered. I was vaguely thankful that her pain was over, routinely gracious to God that she went home peacefully.


I’ve had the luxury of training in pastoral care so naturally I reassured myself of the various ways I was grieving. The numb feeling and low affect were normal. the guilt over not waking her up would pass. This was yet another example of how not in control we truly are. Bursting with potential but miserably powerless.


By Friday I knew I was channeling my grief through anger. Nothing was satisfactory. That body in the coffin was not my friend anymore. The pictures that showed my grandmother in her full vitality, not laying in state or exhausted from dialysis, moved me to release the tears I longed for.

 Tears she taught me not to waste.


I kept trying to remember happier times. Us watching action movies, basketball, professional wrestling. Eating Chinese food or rice and peas. Listening to her stories and laughing at her jokes. It was all bottled up. I had always feared this season and anticipated that it would make me burst. I’ve found my grieving for her is a leaky faucet. A thousand cuts bleeding me dry.


Interestingly enough my time in two Trip Lee albums form my lens for grandma’s Twilight. I moved to Charlotte in July of 2010. The weekend of my move is the same time she went to the hospital. I was tethered to my phone in the following weeks as I heard updates. News that she would need dialysis drove me to tears. I wanted to give her my kidney. I knew she wouldn’t accept it and was told it wasn’t an option for her. At her health and condition the surgery alone would be fatal.


My  apartment was anointed in tears. The loneliness of a new city was suffocating enough without the dread of every  phone call bringing unfortunate news. I listened to Between Two Worlds alot that summer. And I remember the song “prognosis” being exceptionally capable of making me sad. The beat and chorus were matter of fact “it ain’t looking good for me. Nah it ain’t looking good for me. ” eventually, grandma was healthy enough to talk and I intentioned in every conversation thereafter to make it count. I could never be certain if I’d get another chance to speak to her so I had to make each conversation count. Needless to say this became very taxing.  I grew to loathe the telephone and considered it a poor shadow of how things used to be.
Over the next two years I did my best to make the most of our interactions. Phone calls and facetime did what they could. Visits home were filled with equal parts appreciation and apprehension. As my own health challenges were requiring me to be close to home, I looked forward to more times together. Perhaps even recapturing the magic of our interactions before health made life more complicated.


My mom tells me that grandma was excited I would be closer. I think she knew it would be this way. Home again, beginning a New chapter, allowing myself to go through the motions of grief as Trip declares, “even the sun goes down. Heroes die eventually…”

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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