This past week, just on the heels of the massacre in Las Vegas, I attended the regular meeting of the service club to which I belong. Like in most places where people have been collectively impacted by a tragedy the mood was pensive, uncertain, reflective.  When we inhabit the ambiguous liminal space on the other side of some unthinkable threshold we live somewhere between here and there, a somewhere that is often nowhere.

What struck me was the inability of normally articulate people to say a word that made any sense.  Rather than naming the elephant in the room, the president made an oblong reference to the past week and then proceeded to tell some jokes he hoped would lighten the mood. He is a really fine person. I admire him in many ways. Then, during an announcement about a forthcoming event, another person promoted the occasion by saying that with all that has transpired it will be good for us to get together make merry. After all, she continued, this just means our work at building relationships is not done.

No breakfast conversation at my table actually reflected on the tragedy at hand. There was no collective action that addressed it. We left the meeting in the same fog through which we entered. It occurred to me that that they were utterly unequipped to deal with a tragedy and deal with it together. They had no language for such a thing.

I contrast this with a mid-week prayer service our congregation provides in which we prayed for brokenness, unspeakable loss and the strength and power to overcome evil.  I think of the difference between the vacuum of my service club with a Saturday night Bluegrass worship service in which we talked about the hypocrisy of praying for the families of those affected by the shooting but not pursuing a courageous solution that would stop this plague of gun violence in our land. I compare my service club to worship yesterday morning and the direct ways that we named the tragedy, provided for expressing sorrow, told stories of hope, and even suggested that creating beauty is the right response to hate and ugliness.

In the tradition of the church we have an advantage, admittedly so. We actually reflect on suffering and death. And we have a very specific response to suffering, loss and tragedy. It is called lament. We carve out space to outwardly lament, give voice to our sorrow, fear, bewilderment and disillusionment. Lament is scattered all over the Psalms. It is found on the lips of Jesus on the cross as he quoted Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Those same Psalms and Christian scriptures combine lament with hope. We sorrow but not as those without hope.  It is scattered through our hymnody. The season of Lent and Holy Week major in it. People often say, “Oh, Lent is just too depressing.” It can be heavy. It looks sin, violence to others, suffering and death right in the eye without blinking. Which is exactly why it is so important. This language, these clear and unflinching truths about life, are exactly what prepare us for Las Vegas and anything like it. We have a language, a narrative and symbol system for this.

I do not harbor any kind of contempt for my friends in my service club. They were simply out of their depth. They had no language or even ideas to deal well with something that terrible. Expecting them to be fluent with suffering in a moment like that would be like me expecting a non-Spanish speaker to translate events in Spanish.

There actually is a language we may speak following events like Las Vegas. This language has a grammar, syntax and vocabulary. It includes words like evil, suffering, sin, hope, restoration, redemption, healing and justice. It is a sturdy language, sturdy enough to speak after the shooting has stopped. It is insistent on ways to prevent such inhumanity. And in the end it is a language that we, the ritual makers, use to walk the path of life in a particular way.

For those who are interested, this way involves a person named Jesus who was and is the way, the truth and the life. You should get to know him. He’ll teach you how to understand and speak a new language.

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Beatle Bob at the 2017 Roots and Blues Festival

As I made the long walk from parking to Stephens Park for the recent Roots and Blues Festival in Columbia, Missouri who should be walking directly in front of me other than the now iconic Beatle Bob (Robert Matonis, b. 1953). This well-known fixture at scores of concerts dresses in a retro Beatle wig and coat and is reported to have seen over 10,000 bands in the last decade. He attends at least one concert a day somewhere in an unbroken chain of concerts.

Bob is so well known that he gets shout outs from the on-stage performers who immediately recognize him stage side. Grooving and moving through the whole performance, Bob is a part of the whole experience. What is it like to be permanently in attendance at concert after concert, life as one long performance?

Of course, for Beatle Bob it is a matter of identity; he has cultivated a specific persona through decades of being the true fan. He is known by and has a place for this identity. Others regard him so. In terms of belonging his position is secure, part of the social concert landscape. He has become this character and more than simply accepting his eccentricity people welcome it. They say what I say, “Look – it’s Beatle Bob!”

In Liminal studies we would say that a concert is liminoid space, a space between the ordinary structures of life. This is artificially designed space at the edge, the border, the margin of life. Different kinds of things manifest there. You have the freedom to become something else. Insight, feeling and experience may be revealed in unique ways.  In this regard, attending a concert in today’s highly technical production provides a temporary alternative reality, a Liminal space and time. In this regard a concert can parallel church, without the doctrine, prayer and communion. It holds multiple rituals, togetherness, and moves the emotions from one place to another.

Liminal space, however, is occupied differently depending on who is doing the occupying.  For Bob his life is defined by permanent liminality – a continuous habitation of liminal space. Like the other great traditions of the permanently liminal – monastic life, the wandering vagrant itinerant, people living at the edge of society – Bob lives in the permanent liminal space which has become his primary space. He does so voluntarily, unlike the liminality of prison, for instance, which is involuntary permanent liminality.

Bob reminds me how our reality is so very much determined by the kinds of spaces we inhabit. Landscapes provide the boundaries, safety or confinement that make them and us what we are. When we  dare step outside the structure of the ordinary or are pushed out of that space by unexpected circumstance, we discover what it is like to become a liminal person. For most of us that is usually a temporary state of being. But for some, like Beatle Bob, it is ongoing and permanent. Though Bob and I stood a mere ten feet from one another at the foot of the stage we were actually in very different space; I was passing through and he was there to stay.  Which is why two people can inhabit the same location but be in very different dimensions at the same time.

Look! It’s Beatle Bob!

 

Gun laws in Nevada

Posted: October 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

Nevada state law does not require the registration of firearms. Following the passage of SB 175, handgun registration (or registration of any kind), is no longer required in Clark County or anywhere in the state of Nevada for handguns or long-arms (which already did not require registration). Governor Brian Sandoval signed this bill into law on June 2, 2015.[25]

Nevada is a traditional open carry state with complete state preemption of firearms laws. Effective June 2, 2016 SB 175[22] and SB 240[23] (duplicate provisions) is legislation that prohibits counties, cities, and towns from enacting ordinances more restrictive than state law. The legislature reserves for itself the right to legislate all areas of firearm law except unsafe discharge of firearms.

 

Dealing with Trauma

Posted: September 28, 2017 in Uncategorized
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The upcoming edition of COMO Living includes a feature article on dealing with trauma. I am included as one who helps people address it. You might want to take a look at Rethinking PTSD.

 

It has rolled around once again – the Roots and Blues Festival in Columbia, Missouri.  On the weekend of September 29-October 1, thousands descend on the city from around the country to take in non-stop music and all manner of spectacle. It has been the proud distinction of Broadway Christian Church to be the exclusive church sponsor of the Sunday Gospel Celebration, which means we sponsor a nationally known Gospel group. This year it is the Fairfield Four.

imageOne of the opportunities Broadway Christian Church enjoys is sending our own Browadway Blues to perform on the main stage at the Festival. Our hour-long set is scheduled for Sunday, October 1, 11:30 am. This will be the third time BB has participated in R&B.

Our lineup will include thirteen gifted musicians playing an eclectic set of everything from Gospel blues to Bluegrass to vocally-driven a’capella ballads.

One of the traditions we have established is a Festival pre-concert in our own sanctuary and we always pack it. This year the concert is Wednesday, Sept 27 at 7pm. It’s free and open to the public so if you are in town come and bring a friend.

Our congregation is extremely engaged in our community on many levels. The arts is one of those locales where we plug in big time. Let the music begin!

To plug or not to plug

Posted: September 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

Just yesterday I sat in a discussion group of clergy from across our region and talk turned to the ways that being connected to news cycles either helps or hurts our emotional selves and leadership selves. And the unanimous conclusion was … Yes.

To be responsible and effective we need to stay connected to the world in order to speak a relevant word. But to remain spiritually centered we ought not allow our minds to be dominated by fleeting news of fleeting events. So as in most things, yes and no, plugged and not plugged.

More than a few of us shared times when we needed a real sabbatical from the 24/7 deluge of news and commentary.  And the challenge is more than raw accounting for the events of the day; commentary, biased commentary, carries with it a spirit of hostility that can be contagious.  Our circle shared stories of Facebook postings gone toxic.

And of course there is the posing of erroneous information as though real: “Oh, I’m not saying I really believe it or not, I’m just passing on what I’ve heard because it might be something to think about.” No, you are complicit in passing on lies and misinformation, that’s what. You are no better than the Russian cottage industry of misinformation. To do so is to participates in the ideology war, the war of ideas and the war of worldviews.

We can’t keep our wagon hitched to that communication star all the time. As in most of life, balance is the thing. Those deep philosophers and theologians who spun out wise council through the centuries spoke from a source that transcended the transient occurrences of the moment.  But they were also generally educated into human nature by being careful observers of the way humanity acts in the public sphere. Both of those things.

As for myself I do not want to allow the data dump to determine my state of mind day by day. At the same time I do not want to be ignorant of what real life is transpiring in my world. I will be more selective, however, and will shut down and even expose purveyors of clear distortion and lies. I will continue to seek understanding of the issues of the day by tuning in, but the answers to those thorny problems may actually be found elsewhere. Oh, yes, sometimes solutions will also appear with identification of the problems – the thoughtful expose, the careful research. But there is also the wisdom of the ages and the prompting of the Voice still whispering among us. To that, I believe, I will plug in first and also last.

Daring to Dream: Truths about DACA

Posted: September 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

In the interest of dealing with facts rather than ideological fantasy, here you go:

These young people were brought into this country as children.
They are not here illegally.
Every two years their papers are renewed.
They are documented.
They cannot remain if they commit a serious crime.
They cannot receive welfare.
They are here and have been here, contributing to our society, our economy, our country.

Okay, now that is out of the way, it’s time to cut through political double-speak:

There is no emergency that requires some kind of action now. All deadlines are purely arbitrary.
This repeal does not address the predicament of the nation or the immigrants.
This will destabilize families and our society.
It diminishes one of the great skill pools in our midst.
They do not take the jobs of Americans away from them.
Companies really do want their skill and commitment.
Cutting this program before congress legislates is immoral and unnecessary.
The “base” that pressured the Administration to take this action does not represent the majority of the American public. It does not represent me.