Brokenhearted Theology, California, Contemp Culture, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

The Slow Suicide of Donald Draper

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From the first season, the opening credits of Mad Men told us how this story would end.

Our eyes are drawn to a silhouette slowly falling to his death. Even with the dishevelment of gravity, the silhouette is incredibly well-kept, almost calm. Slim-fitting suit, neat tie, a graceful free-fall past the icons and idols of advertisement and consumption.

So calm, so graceful that you almost forget the silhouette is falling.

Almost.

Mad-men-title-cardThe credits close with the same figure, cigarette lazily at his side, no longer falling, simply an observer. Waiting for the inevitable to occur. An object in motion stays in motion, a body falling continues to fall until it hits rock bottom.

Much has been written (eloquently, thoughtfully, truthfully, beautifully) about the closing of Mad Men’s story. I love a story that leaves room for our own. The best stories are so intricate and true that we find ourselves inside of them, leaving us wondering how much, if any, distance there is between fact and fiction. I love the thick, stubborn nature of redemption – that even in the most tragic characters, even in the most tragic circumstances, there lies the potential to find hope. So I’m grateful for those who saw redemption in Mad Men.

But the silhouette is falling and, in Mad Men’s closing scene, Donald Draper hits bottom.

The bottom isn’t the concrete of a New York sidewalk or the barrel of a smoking gun or the bottom of an oft-filled tumbler.

That’s what I expected. That would have been too obvious.

The bottom is a return to the thin illusion of happiness.

The bottom is a return to the suicide-in-progress that has slowly unfolded since the opening credits of Episode 1.

The writers saved us the dignity of watching the gruesome end.
Our cigarettes can still hang lazily from our fingers as we watch the fall with a curious ambivalence.
We can hum a catchy jingle while waiting for the train.

But don’t we all know how this story ends?

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Brokenhearted Theology, Crazy Bible, Global, Homiletics, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Resurrection

The Three Migrations of God

You’ve probably heard it; I can almost guarantee it.

It’s been called the most overused piece of music in history. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is an iconic composition, comprised of twenty-five movements using medieval imagery and poetry to explore themes of fate and fortune.

But you probably wouldn’t recognize it if you heard one of the twenty-three middle movements. Most are obscure and unknown to a popular audience, but the opening and closing movements  – O Fortuna – have been used in countless commercials, campaigns, and scores. Like I said, you’ve probably heard it.

But have you really heard it, if you’re only familiar with a single movement of a multi-movement piece?

Each of the twenty-five movements of Orff’s masterpiece look, sound, and feel different as they move from beginning to middle to end, but it’s all Carmina Burana. Only a few measures of the piece have become memorable, but it’s the movement throughout the entirety of the composition that makes it a masterpiece (if you have an hour and four minutes, check out this recording. It’s terrific.).

When you think of movement, you might think about Carmina Burana. Or you might think about airplanes and transit. Or you might think about dance.

Movement is a necessary and vibrant reality of life – to be alive is to move.

I believe in a God who is living, which is to say I believe in a God who moves – a God who migrates! The scriptures unveil the story of this movement-God who is revealed through three migrations.

The First Migration is the Movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Scriptures’ opening words proclaim that “In the beginning, God!”

In the beginning, before anything else happened, God was.
God existed.
God filled the expanse.

The Poet of Beginnings does not suggest we imagine anything, in the beginning, but God.

In the beginning, when God began to create, there was inhale (Go ahead and inhale. Feel the rise of your lungs and the contraction of your belly.) and there was exhale (Slowly let it out – as your chest sinks and your stomach settles, call out a name, sing a note, breathe a breath).

When God began to create, creation was called into existence with voice and life was breathed into the first humans. This is the first migration of God, the movement of the God who inhales and exhales.

The Second Migration is the Movement of God to God-in-Flesh.

The opening chapter of John’s Gospel is a work of mystic-poetry, describing Jesus as the Word that spoke creation into existence, the Word that was both Life and Light. That Light, John writes, came down to the people of God, making a dwelling (a tabernacle, a roaming outpost of the holy – light, life, beauty) in the common place of their neighborhood.

Studies of human movement will often talk of the dual factors of push and pull. A person is pushed from a place, often because of less-than-desirable conditions, and pulled to another, because of a hope or promise or hint of something better.

This second migration of God, though, reverses that push/pull. The Word moves from a place of God-dwelling to the place of dust and dirt. The Light migrates into darkness.

The Third Migration is the Movement of God as Wind and Whisper.

Acts 2 records the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the people of God.

Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

This movement, the third migration, is a return to the God who breathes, yet in this movement God is described as the essence of breath itself. Breath is a movement that happens naturally, often without thought or conscious intent or noticing. Yet it is movement.

Throughout Acts, we see the Spirit moving outward beyond the bounds of Jerusalem following Jesus’ mandate to go outward to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. God-as-Wind-and-Breath beckons the early Jesus followers from the upper room to the ends of the earth. This Wind and Whisper of God is a force of movement and migration.

The church has struggled for centuries to adequately name the experience and portrayal of God-as-immigrant painted in the scriptures.

Early on the church landed on the idea that there’s one God but three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. This three-yet-one reality has been described with the Greek word perichoresis.

peri: ‘around’ like perimeter or periscope
chorei: move, advance, go, or to dance like choreography

This is our God, a God of Movement, a dancing God.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remember that God is not an eternal throne sitter in some palace far away, but a God who roams untamed in our world. This is a migrant God we follow, one who crosses boundaries and hops borders and moves down and out and in and up. This is a God who cannot be put in a box!

The story of the Scriptures – and our story – is a story of movement. We’re not to long for the olden days but to move ahead into the woven-together world God is making. The end of the story is not Eden, but Eden surrounded by a beautiful city, a new city.

God’s moving, and we’re invited to join in on that movement!

I put these thoughts together as part of our exploration of the Immigrants’ Journey at Open Door. 

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Immigration as Crisis, Immigration as Opportunity

Immigration is one of the most polarizing issues that presents itself today. It’s the stuff of debate and divisiveness more often than open-minded dialogue. We have mental pictures or words and labels that spring to mind to describe and identity the 41 million immigrants who live in the US. We’re astounded by the large number (11-12 million) without documentation.

For some, the state where I live – California – is the butt of scornful comments and jokes. We have the largest number of immigrants in the country, the largest share of an immigrant population when compared to the overall state population, and the largest absolute growth of immigrants compared to the state population in the entire country. More locally, the Bay Area is particularly affected with immigration as we have high profile touch points everywhere, from immigration courts in San Francisco to detention centers in Richmond to the incredible diversity of neighborhoods in Oakland and the Monument Corridor in Concord. Immigrants – lots of them – live in California.

http://www.ibtimes.com/immigration-reform-2014-48-percent-americans-oppose-obama-executive-action-poll-finds-1726342

This past summer the media focused on the large insurgence of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America attempting to enter the US. This summer a similar wave of unaccompanied minors is expected.

Listen to that phrase – unaccompanied minors. Recognize that in most other contexts we’d just call them kids.

I spoke with a local leader who catalyzes faith communities into the local story of immigration who shared a story of a child who, at the age of 14, came to the Bay Area from Guatemala to work in order to financially support his mom and little sister. He’s 14. He’s been in and out of immigration detention centers. He’s told he needs to be in school but, without work, he’s not able to support his mother and little sister. This is the reality of his story right now.

At Open Door, we talk about the dream of seeing heaven and earth woven together again here in the east bay and beyond. Seeing that dream come true involves caring well for those whose lives and stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey. Seeing that dream come true requires each of us – regardless of our status, birthplace, or documentation – to recognize how our lives and our stories are shaped by the immigrants’ journey.

There is far less distance between “them” and “us” than we often admit, and immigration is something we need to talk about. But we can’t to just talk about it as a current political crisis. It’s a bigger story than that.

There may be 12 million in our midst without legal residence status, but 98-99 percent of us living in the US have a story of immigration in our lineage. As often as we like to forget, all but a very small percentage of us are here because of immigration.

As followers of Jesus, we are invited to see not stranger, immigrant or “other” but neighbor, sister or brother. One of the more common Greek words in the New Testament for immigrant or sojourner is the same word that would be used for neighbor, from the same root as our word parish. The stories of immigration that surround and encompass us are lexically and intimately woven together with our ability to care for a place and fulfill what Jesus called the Greatest Commandments (Matthew 22).

We can’t simply think of immigration as a crisis.
Immigration is a reality that shapes all of our stories.
Immigration is an opportunity for faithfulness and formation.

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Books, Equipping, Meaning, Pedagogy, Ramblings

The Six-Step Emotional Arc of Creativity

makespaceI’m making my way through a terrific book – Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration – based on the ideas and shape of Stanford’s design school (“d. school”). Every page in the book has a thousand ideas worth considering, implementing, and sharing.

One insight that jumped out at me this week is their mapping of the emotional arc of creativity. On page 176 of Make Space, six fundamental steps of the creative journey are laid out:

  1. A sense of excitement and limitless possibility.
  2. Overwhelming complexity.
  3. Unifying insights.
  4. Complete loss of confidence.
  5. The brutal realities of implementation.
  6. Completion and reflection.

Seeing this mapped out was a good reminder of the difficult, emotionally taxing, and potentially treacherous journey that is creativity. It’s so often that I linger on Step One or get overwhelmed by Steps Two and Four!

Where do you get stuck in the creative process?

What strategies have you found to move all the way through the process to completion?

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California, Global, Meaning, Narrative, Peacemaking, Ramblings, Urban

Hollywood, Your Neighborhood, and The Great Material Continuum

My wife, Krissy, is in the midst of a beautiful writing project which is giving voice to stories and lessons and joys and heartaches from the last few years of our life. She wrote this piece last year while we were living in Hollywood and it resurfaced for her this week as she’s been processing through #TheLentProject Extras Purge this week with our friends at Open Door.

The Great Material Continuum (Krissy Kludt)

When I was younger, I bought few clothes, and I kept them forever. I still had clothes in college that I had worn in middle school. I had a closet full of things at my parents’ house that I never wore, but kept just in case they would come back into style. Sometimes things do: in high school, Nikki and I gave my dad the hardest time about his too-tight jeans, begging him to get something looser; ten years later, jeans got skinny again. As my dad put it, delighted, “I lapped myself!”

When we moved to Hollywood, I found a new system for clothing. Trends change more quickly here, and thrift stores have an abundance of (almost) current fashions. In Wisconsin, Goodwill has mostly XXL T-shirts; in LA, it’s full of Forever 21, H&M, and Urban Outfitters. Angelenos acquire more often, and they get rid of things more often. I found myself inheriting clothes from friends all the time, many days wearing entire outfits that were cast-offs of Abby’s or Bethany’s. Rather than “keep forever, never buy,” my new motto was “hold all things loosely.” I, too, acquired things more often – at yard sales or thrift stores or from friends – and I got rid of things I stopped wearing, trusting that I wouldn’t regret it.

Dave and I have our geeky moments, and in one of them a couple of years ago, we watched a whole lot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. If you are less geeky and therefore less familiar with Star Trek, you may not know about the Ferengi aliens and their pseudo-religious belief in economics. The closest they have to a god is their belief in the Great Material Continuum. They call it the “Great River,” believing that all places have too much of one resource and not enough of another, but that all material things flow in the “Great River,” eventually ending up where they are needed. (Ideally, of course these material things flow through the Ferengi and provide them with plenty of cash along the way.)

I have started to believe in the Great Material Continuum. I cannot tell you how many times I have needed something, asked for it (or not asked for it), and waited until it came to me. I needed clipboards for school, but not badly enough to go out and buy any. (This was in our early Fuller days when we lived and paid for Dave’s school on my new teacher’s salary, and cash did not feel particularly abundant.) One day we helped some friends move, and they were throwing out a box of clipboards. I’d wanted an old wooden chest for years, and one day one appeared at a yard sale next door to HomeState. Dave needed more pants, and one day he found a pair of H&M jeans on the sidewalk in his size. It happens to us all the time. I am starting to believe that what you need will come to you if you are willing to wait.

One of my (Dave's) favorite sidewalk finds

One of my (Dave’s) favorite sidewalk finds

There is an economy in East Hollywood of which we were once completely unaware, but we began to observe it and participate in it. There is an economy beyond that of cash and credit cards, when you begin to look.

A few weeks ago there was a family sitting outside of Burger King across the street from us with several large suitcases. They had two small children with them. It is unusual to see homeless kids in our area, so I assumed they had some other story – ended up in our neighborhood off the metro, waiting for a ride from friends, something like that. It turns out they had just gotten off the Amtrak from West Virginia, and were waiting until Monday (this was Saturday) for the homeless shelters to open for intake.

I brought them diapers and a few groceries, sat on a suitcase and chatted with the mother. Their son wore the same sized diapers as Everett. My heart broke for this mother. Our instinct to take care of our children is so strong, and this family was struggling so much to do so. I prayed with them. While I sat with them, one man gave a few dollars to the little boy, a woman dropped off cereal and juice, and another man called the police for them, assuring them that the police department could probably get them into a shelter that night. These people were strangers here, and so alone, and yet their most basic needs were being met by the people walking by.

The next night we went to the Manna Room after our church gathering. The Manna Room is a food pantry that brings in and sorts almost-expired, dented and otherwise unsellable Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s food, and it opens for the church on Sunday nights. After Everett was born and I left my job, we were tighter on money than we had been in a long time, and we were grateful for this abundant provision. Some weeks we found more in the Manna Room than others; some weeks we needed more than others. On this week, we had bought groceries for several people besides ourselves. That night, the Manna Room was overflowing, full of things that were on my list for the grocery store, where I was headed afterward: pesto and goat cheese and diced tomatoes and fiber cereal for Everett. I was full to the brim with gratitude.

We live in an economy of grace. Somehow, our needs continue to be met, again and again, in the most unexpected ways. When I worry I’ve overspent our food budget for the month, the Manna Room happens to have everything we desire. Just when I think I don’t have energy left to make it another few hours until Dave gets home, Everett decides to take a three-hour nap. When my house is a disaster and I haven’t had a moment to think and Everett doesn’t seem to want to ever nap again, one of our housemates shows up and plays with him in our yard so I can do the dishes and sit down for a few minutes.

An economy of grace is an economy of abundance. When we live out of abundance, like the loaves and the fishes, what we have multiplies. We have enough time, enough food, enough money. We have more than enough love.

Am I the woman – the mother, wife, child, friend – I wish I were? Not even on my best days. But I live in an economy of grace, an economy of abundance, and in that economy, by owning my own insufficiency, I become enough. When I choose to live in the economy of grace, when I do the hard work it takes to believe in abundance, joy grows within me, sending roots down deep into gratitude. I have enough. Roots soak in nourishment from that fertile soil and send stems skyward. I have more than enough. Leaves unfold, open to the sky. By grace, I become enough. There will be space enough for growth. There will be room enough for love. There will be time enough for revelation.

One day I stopped to chat with a homeless woman named Amariah who lives in the park up the street. She told me she needed toenail clippers and a jacket, and asked if I had either to spare. She told me her story. Then she pulled me over to her pile of belongings and asked what I needed.

“I don’t need anything; I have enough,” I said.

“How about shampoo? Do you need shampoo? When I get it I pour it out into smaller bottles and give it to the other women in the park. I asked the salon over there if they needed it, but they said no. I gave it to them anyway.”

I smiled, “That’s ok, I really don’t need anything.”

She started rummaging through a suitcase. “Here,” she said. “Take these.” She handed me a pair of jean shorts.

“Really, you don’t have to. I don’t need anything.”

“Take them. They’re nice – they’re Lucky brand. If you have two, you’re supposed to give one away, so that’s what I’m doing.”

I didn’t tell her that I was walking back home from Goodwill, where I had tried on several pairs of shorts without finding any that fit.

“We’re neighbors, you know,” I said to Amariah as I hugged her goodbye.

“No,” she shook her head. “We’re sisters.”

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Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Eucharist, Global, Meaning, Quotes, Ramblings, Reading Reflections, Teaching

Being Consumed: A Vision for Economic Discipleship

At Open Door, we’ve been making our way through a series of teachings, practices, and conversations related to economic discipleship based on our desire to follow Jesus in all things, including our money and finances. It’s been a challenging, inspiring, and forward-pressing journey that’s hitting home for a number of us and inciting really good questions and opportunities to live into and practice new answers.

One of the resources I found myself coming back to over and over again in the last couple months is William Cavanaugh’s Being ConsumedCavanaugh’s work (especially Torture and Eucharist) has been particularly formative for me as I’ve considered the ways we’re shaped and formed by the systems surrounding us and the invitation to choose a way of formation and life outside-and-yet-within those systems.

I posted an overview of Being Consumed on the Open Door blog but am cross-posting it here as well.

William T. Cavanaugh is a Catholic scholar who teaches at DePaul University in Chicago and has written extensively about formation, liturgy, and the way we are shaped by the culture that surrounds us. His book Being Consumed is an incredibly helpful guide for thinking about how we’re shaped by economies and what faithful discipleship looks like in the 21st century world. It’s a bit heady at times but constantly moves back to practical, everyday questions, examples and stories of an economic way of being faithful to God in the world.

Freedom and Desire

In Being Consumed, he addresses the way capitalist, consumer-driven economies shape and form those residing within it. He explores the ideology of free-market economics, and suggests, contrary to their name, free-markets are not actually free. Because they create, shape, and perpetuate desire in such a way that maintains a certain status quo, their end goal is freedom, but only in a very limited sense of the word fitting within the market-shaped and -enforced rules and norms of society.

In contrast, Cavanaugh explores the work of early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo, who (Cavanaugh suggests) names that true freedom is “fully a function of God’s grace working within us. Freedom is being wrapped up in the will of God, who is the condition of human freedom” (8).

Connecting freedom and desire, Cavanaugh distinguishes between arbitrary desire and intentional desire. Arbitrary desire is desire for desire and consumption’s sake (e.g. the economy is in trouble, buy something – anything!) or for a shallow end (I have a deep longing and no idea how to fill it, I’ll try television). Intentional desire is shaped by a vision for the ultimate purpose or goal, a desire not divorced from a vision for greater/ultimate meaning and purpose.

Consumption and Participation

“Consumerism is an important subject for theology because it is a spiritual disposition, a way of looking at the word around us that is deeply formative” (35). Unique to our American context is detachment. As a country, we’re more in debt than almost anyone else and, as individuals, we save less than almost anyone else. We continue to, ourselves, produce less and less of our own ‘stuff’ and instead consume what others are producing, and our system is designed such that those who are doing much of our producing are invisible to us.

Yet Cavanaugh recognizes “there is no question about whether or not to be consumer. Everyone must consume to live. The question concerns what kinds of practices of consumption are conduce to an abundant life for all” (53). So the choice is not whether we consume or do not consume. Instead, we must ask the right questions about what our participation and consumption in the world looks like.

Abundance and Our Place the World

Cavanaugh suggests our default way of interacting in the world is as a tourist“detached from all particular times and places…[craving] what is different and authentic…the tourist can go anywhere, but is always nowhere” (74). In contrast to the always-but-never-present tourist, Cavanaugh points to the paradox of Jesus who is both fully universal and particular: “Christ is the infinitely integrating one who makes room in himself for everything truly human” (78).

Cavanaugh writes that, as followers of Jesus, “we cannot stand back from the world and survey it; we must simply take our role in the drama that God is staging and give ourselves to it” (81). We do not become fully universal/particular in the same way that Jesus is, but we point to him with actions that “‘realize’ the universal body of Christ in every particular exchange” (88). Examples given include types of co-ops, fair trade, and community-supported agriculture.

Miscellaneous Snippets and Quotes

What really characterizes consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things. (34)

Many people do not see their work as meaningful, only a means to a paycheck. One’s labor itself has become a commodity, a thing to be sold to the employer in exchange for the money needed to buy things. For many people, work has become deadening to the Spirit. (38)

We desire because we live. The problem is that our desires continue to light on objects that fail to satisfy, objects on the lower end of the scale of being that, if cut off from the Source of their being, quickly dissolve into nothing. (90)

Possession kills eros; familiarity breeds contempt. That’s why shopping itself has taken on the honored status of addiction in Western society. It is not the desire for any one thing in particular, but the pleasure of stoking desire itself, that makes malls the new cathedrals of Western culture. (91)

The Eucharist tells another story about hunger and consumption. It does not begin with scarcity, but with the one who came that we might have life, and have it abundantly…The Eucharist effects a radical decentering of the individual by incorporating the person into a larger body. In the process, the act of consumption is turned inside out, so that the consumer is consumed. (94-95)

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Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Quotes, Race

Remembering Martin, Remembering Malcolm

Having just finished James Cone’s Martin and Malcolm and America, having just watched Selma, and having been listening these last months as continued racial tension is expressed, aggravated, and not resolved in our context, I’m thinking today not just about the past – about how far we’ve come and how much has been overcome – but about the present and how far there is to go.

As I learned of the civil rights movement, I always saw a stark and strict contrast made between Dr. King and Malcolm X.

One was non-violent, one was violent.
One was Christian, one was Muslim.
One was seeking integrated peace, one was seeking separation.
One incited hope, one incited hate.

Cone’s book and the film Selma both demonstrate that, to some degree, while Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X traveled different roads, as their work progressed, their paths were converging. In Selma, this is shown subtly by a meeting between Coretta Scott King and Malcolm X. Cone teases this out further, suggesting the two grew in admiration and recognition of other despite their public distance and even that they were each a necessary corrective and companion to the other.

Cone writes:

Martin and Malcolm are important because they symbolize two necessary ingredients in the African-American struggle for justice in the United States. We should never pit them against each other. Anyone, therefore, who claims to be for one and not the other does not understand their significance for the black community, for America, or for the world. We need both of them and we need them together. Malcolm keeps Martin from being turned into a harmless American hero. Martin keeps Malcolm from being an ostracized black hero. (315-316)

So as we mark the birthday of Dr. King, I’m continuing to listen to his words along with the words of Malcolm X. To do otherwise seems to miss a necessary way forward in the midst of our continued struggles with race, class, inequality, segregation and a pursuit of justice in America.

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