Wednesday, January 22, 2014

my two cents on income inequality

David Brooks wrote in the New York Times this past Friday on "The Inequality Problem", taking issue with recent rhetoric from the Obama administration on the issue. This morning, a response appeared from Robert Reich on Salon (and elsewhere, I think) with a title and tone that only served to support Brooks' argument that the topic is polarizing and should maybe be dropped. Since I think it definitely should not be dropped, what follows is an attempt to mediate the debate without the name-calling.

I started studying economics at the University of Maine online in the spring of 2012 in order to be able to weigh in on this conversation from a more informed place. In 2011 I had watched the culture war screaming contests intensify, sort of wished I could join my friends at Occupy Oakland, and had a few great conversations with family members brave enough to gently tell me where they thought my sound analysis ended and liberal hogwash began.

The microeconomics class I took first was great fun, tables and math I was able to make some use of this year as Art started selling paintings and t-shirts. (I also learned why a tax on yachts falls almost entirely on boat builders rather than on buyers.) There were not, as I feared there might be,  assumptions with which I fundamentally disagreed. Then, a few semesters later, I moved on to macro (there was a human resources class in between). I was able to take the underlying assumptions in stride there, too, except for this one: more and faster economic growth is always best for everyone, because "a bigger pie" means more real income for anyone with income. It  doesn't and it hasn't, in this country in the last 30 years (graph published by the Atlantic, from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities numbers):

So today's debate is between this guy, who I look forward to hearing on All Things Considered every Friday, with whom I think I would have no trouble finding compromise if we ever had to work together:

...and this guy, who I think has a good record (if you remember Clinton Labor Department decisions you didn't like, I'd like to know about them. honestly.) I usually agree with his analysis, but I've been getting increasingly frustrated with his rhetoric:

Back to the graph, to start, a point of agreement from both corners: something is not okay at the top. "Perverse compensation schemes on Wall Street" and superstar economics (Brooks) have led to a very few getting very rich in an age-of-the-robber-barons, pre-antitrust law sort of way.

Hey, lots of jobs in my town require the presence of one-percenters, many of whom are lovely people. No one's getting out a guillotine. I think Brooks probably supports shareholder resolutions that have come forward in recent years attempting to reign in executive compensation. To my mind, there's no way that an executive of a U.S. firm is hundreds of times better at her job than her 1950s counterpart at the same firm, or than a leader at a Japanese firm today (for this argument, remember not to confuse said Japanese firm with that country's government in the "lost decade"). Put another way, productivity gains have not all been due to the genius of top management.

"If you have a primitive zero-sum mentality," Brooks said, "you assume greater affluence for the rich must somehow be causing the immobility of the poor."

The zero-sum thing is important to understand. Conservatives often say, "look, we shouldn't be talking about who gets how big a piece of an existing pie. What we need is to make a bigger pie. When we do, everyone gets more." To the extent that the "bigger pie" conversation reminds us that we're talking about very complex systems, that's great. Gains from trade can work that way. A dollar of investment generates many more dollars of total economic activity.

But as Reich points out and Henry Ford famously understood, you've got to have purchasing power in the middle class in order for an economy to grow. I can agree to look at the bottom and top of the graph separately; at the bottom, real wages have not kept up with GDP growth as promised in the textbooks. If that has nothing to do with executive compensation, fine. I can even buy some of the arguments that changing the federal minimum wage may not be the way to change it. But it needs to change.

Brooks likes to talk about the poor, and he's well versed in relevant social science. "The primary problem for the poor is not that they are getting paid too little for the hours they work. It is that they are not working full time or at all." Hear, hear! I'm not sure how to go about changing the culture in big-firm HR strategy (the not-full-time thing predates the Affordable Care Act). I agree with Brooks that the "human capital problem" is a better bet for bipartisan legislation than a minimum wage bill, but I'm not aware of a human capital lobbying firm on K-street, so I'm not hopeful that they'll get to it.

As Reich points out, whatever we come up with for policy to address what Brooks calls human capital problems, it will cost some money and "the fiscal cabinet is bare." That missing middle class needs to be making money in order to pay taxes, too.

You're both right, gentlemen. Could you cut out the name-calling?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

awareness and hell

Proper 21, Year B
Blessing of the Animals Sunday
St. Mary's by the Sea, Northeast Harbor, ME

When I was running a church summer camp, we had a camper-led evening prayer service every night. The small group responsible for worship on a given day had a period of the afternoon where they met with the chaplain to discuss the readings we had chosen and decided how to present them. I remember one night at dinner I checked in with the chaplain, who was someone I didn't know all that well and definitely hadn't ever discussed theology with. I asked how her planning time had gone that day, and she said, “well, when we were reading through the parable we forgot to stop at the end of the reading and the gospel goes straight into a bunch of hell stuff, about weeping and gnashing of teeth. They really wanted to talk about that, so we didn't end up with much time to plan a skit of the parable.”
“Hell stuff.” I think the campers' ears perked up because “hell” is a word very rarely heard in their, or our, Episcopal churches. What does it mean? Is it a literal place with literal unquenchable fires and literal undying worms? What sins are bad enough to land you there, and who decides? The idea, the cultural idea that my campers wanted to pick apart, is that the afterlife contains rewards and punishments for what we've done and left undone in this life. Good behavior = eternal life in heaven, bad = hellfire. Like Dante's Inferno. Notice that while today's passage says, “it's better for you to enter life lame than have two feet and be thrown into hell,” it doesn't end with “when you die.” All three times, Jesus says, “it's better for you to enter life/the kingdom of God (blank—this way), than be (another way), and be thrown into hell.” It seems to me that if we assume he's talking about a Dante-style scorekeeping system and giving afterlife travel advice, we're assuming an awful lot.
Since I believe God desperately loves the whole world, bad behavior and all, the Dante way of looking at hell doesn't ring true for me. Here's another perspective that's well rooted in our theological tradition, and I find more helpful: hell is separation from God. The Prophet Muhammad is remembered to have said, “heaven is closer than your sandal strap. So is hell.” We experience some days in this life that are heavenly and some that are hellish and fiery, and spiritual maturity is a lot about being able to distinguish the bad pain, or fire, from the good. Jesus talks in today's gospel both about the fire of hell and about the fire of sanctification, that which cleanses us from sin and ignorance and gets us closer to God. “Everyone will be salted with fire,” he says. Sanctification, getting clean from mistakes we've made, or working to restore harmony in relationships with God and with each other, is hard work. It can feel almost as painful as “hellfire,” as the pain of separation from God and from each other.
I have a very early memory of learning that some pain can be good for you. I remember whenever my mom patched up my scrapes and cuts, she explained to me what she was doing and why. Like “this is peroxide, it's going to sting a little bit, but it's good because it's killing any of the germs that may be in there.” I remember being very proud of myself for coming up with a theory of why this was: “Oh, that makes sense, Mommy. Because it hurts when you die, right? So if the little germs are dying in there it would hurt me a little bit.”
I'm not a parent, but I know that being a caregiver to a human or animal can come with huge amounts of good and necessary heartache. My boyfriend and I have been planning and preparing for months to welcome a dog into our little family, and he has told me stories about the last time he had a puppy, a Shiba Inu named Izzy. This particular breed goes through separation anxiety when very young and first leaving their pack. Izzy spent most of her life as a sleep-in-bed-with-the-people dog, but first she needed to be crate trained to help her learn that she could sleep on her own and she would be okay. As she was learning that, she did some of what's known as “the Shiba scream,” waking up scared in the night like some children do and making blood-curdling sounds. Art says it was incredibly hard to hear, but he knew she'd be happier in the long run if she was able to face her fear. The fire of sanctification takes many forms. Little Izzy was certainly learning to “have salt in herself, and be at peace.”
I read a theologian who said this is how God teaches us, like a parent who stands just out of sight of the toddler learning to walk, but close enough to intervene in case of danger, silently loving us and cheering us on.

But as parents and caregivers also know, the line between good pain and bad pain can be very thin indeed. Sometimes we, like the disciples, want to teach or comfort or help others but don't understand what they really need. Sometimes feeling good about ourselves for trying to help is more important to us than whether we've had a positive impact, whether we've succeeded in casting out the demons.
We find the disciples at the beginning of today's gospel feeling just that way. They're nearing the end of their journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, and they're starting to hear his warnings about how they'll have to go on without him before long. They're hoping for validation from the Teacher, both individually and as members of the group. One very human way to do this is to draw some boundaries that separate insiders from outsiders. They come across someone they don't know doing the good work they've been doing with Jesus, easing the suffering of his neighbors, and rather than celebrating that they've found a kindred spirit, the disciples get a little mean. “We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
They may have thought they were being good teachers, and would be helping their new friend by keeping him from blasphemy. But Jesus very clearly pointed out that they had crossed over from good pain to bad pain: they weren't practicing tough love, they were just being jealous. And Jesus knew that jealousy eating you up from the inside feels like hell. Feels like having a millstone hung around your neck and being thrown into the sea.
We heard about someone else this morning, too, who crossed that threshold without knowing it. Queen Esther stood in a fire of righteous indignation to stand up for her people and free them. But later in the story we learn that her anger was not quenched. Like many others with deep wounds, she stayed angry and felt she needed vengeance. She asks for a second day of retribution against the enemies of the Jews and gets it. “We seem to be in a time like that of the Judges,” says commentator Telford Work of this story, “in which God raises up deliverers whose lives are puzzlingly and distressingly unfaithful to and even ignorant of the covenant.” It took great courage to turn her fear and anger on behalf of her people into a way to use her power to help them. But the fire of her courage and toughness also threw her into the hell of vengefulness, and helping and healing others wasn't enough for her to heal herself. This is a very familiar story, isn't is? Kings and queens, of the Jews and every other nation, who defend and rescue their people from danger, sometimes feel they haven't done enough, and ask for their second day of retribution.

So for all of us, wholeness and holiness comes with some pain but it mostly comes with awareness. All the awareness we can muster. Asking all the questions we need to see if we're speaking and acting with integrity, or if we're just being jealous disciples. Bringing ourselves back, over and over again, restoring our deep unity with God and one another, against great odds. Today's readings have beautiful images of getting overwhelmed, by fire in the gospel, and by waves of anger and hatred in the psalm. Then the psalm ends with a beautiful contrast to those: a bird, flying free away from a broken snare that had held it hostage. In the name of the Father and the Son and that free-flying Holy Spirit, let's get free.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Occupy families

Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday Year B
June 3, 2012
St. Saviour's, Bar Harbor

Based on the day's readings (linked here to NIV versions on biblegateway):

The most useful thing I've ever heard about the Holy Trinity is this: the words “father” and “son”, the way we normally use them, are not people's names. They are names of relationships. God is in-- or God isfather-ness and son-ness. Focusing on relationship as the reality of God, the mystery I'm trying to get to know, helps steer the conversation away from sticky debates about whether God is an old guy with a beard in the clouds, or about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, relationship thinking invites deep questions about personal experience. It's one reason I like songs and art that refer to the Trinity as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” It's easy to think of stories of when you created something or were created, when you redeemed something or were redeemed, when you sanctified or were sanctified.

A fun vocab word for this conversation is perichoresis, the dance of the Trinity. It means “round dance” or “dancing around,” and is used in theology to refer to the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a dance wherein each dwells within, and transforms into, the other.

Last fall the Occupy Wall Street movement made news. It was unprecedented in my lifetime for a popular protest movement to get this much airtime on the major news outlets, and become something everyone in the country knew about. Not everyone felt they understood what it was about, and not everyone thought it was a good idea, but everyone heard the cries.

In our reading from Romans, Paul says When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit.”
Whatever your own feelings about Occupy, I ask you to explore with me for a few minutes the shape of the relationships involved. Not the politics, but the possibility that cries of “Abba! Father” and “This is what democracy looks like!” might have the same shape, the same deep source. That a rising up of part of a generation might, like the Holy Trinity, be about co-creation, relationship, and transformation.

I didn't go to New York to see the home base of Occupy Wall Street for myself, but I heard a story from a friend that made me think of these holy relationships. Chris is a group process consultant and workshop leader. He was working in New York for a few days in October, and took a walk down to Zucotti Park. There were many police on duty making sure the encampment and protest didn't spread outside certain boundaries. Chris saw one policeman and one protestor talking with each other over this boundary. It sounded like a debate about some of the Occupy issues, but they were deeply engaged in their conversation, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. When the protestor took a step closer to make a point, the policeman stopped him. He said, “Please don't step over that line. If you do, I have to arrest you, and I'd much rather keep talking to you.” A relationship was built, and as each of them shared his ideas and experience, their roles that might have led to conflict began to blur. Began to dance.

As a community organizer I was taught to always ask questions that will help me learn about the other person's self interest. What's important to them, what motivates them, why they do what they do. Without these conversations, I might assume that the protestor is a lazy kid who would rather protest than get a job to help pay for school. I might assume that the policeman is a grumpy, cold-hearted control freak. But I wouldn't know unless I talked to them. If I asked questions, I could look for ways in which both are motivated by wanting to be of service to their community. As long as I don't assume I already know what I'm going to hear, and am ready to share something of myself, I can join the dance. One of our principles was that political agitating can be healthy and productive, like an agitator in a washing machine, but only if you educate yourself and build real relationships first. We said “agitation without relationship is irritation.”

Along with listening well and asking good questions, sometimes speaking and crying out are the steps in our dance. The letter to the Romans urges church members to cry to God. Paul advises us not to be whiny in our cries, with a pessimistic “spirit of slavery.”
Instead, we are to speak, cry, and pray with a “spirit of adoption,” with knowledge that each of us is a member of the holy family, an heir to the eternal kingdom. We have a right to be heard and, what is more, we love our hearers and know they will continue to love us no matter what we say. The “spirit of adoption” might be what Isaiah received when the angel touched the coal to his lips. He was terrified to speak for his sinful self and sinful generation, but received a gift of divine love that opened the way for his prophecy. That love was so powerful that he became a prophet we remember to this day. If we cry with this spirit, what we say will be much wiser and more loving than we ever thought possible.

Remember Ram Dass and his book from the 70s, Be Here NowWriting in another era with young people in the streets, he took this idea one step farther. He wrote
hippies create police
police create hippies
if you're in polarity
you're creating polar opposites
you can only protest effectively
when you love the person
whose ideas you are protesting against
as much as you love yourself.

love and coercion can never go together
but though love can never be forced on anyone
it can be awakened in him through love itself.
love is essentially self-communicative.

If you think back on our sacred stories, love is the fuel for the dance of the Trinity. For God so loved the world, Father became Son so that we humans could have someone to relate to, to love better. Son became Father in an act of love that was self-sacrificing but not coercive.

In his debate with Nicodemus, Jesus draws distinctions between things of the flesh and things of the spirit. Pharisees like Nicodemus were famously concerned with rules and regulations, with what can be pinned down. I think when Jesus talks in this story about earthly and fleshly things to be transcended, he meant rules that have ceased to be life-giving, and attempts to put the Holy Spirit in a cage. He tells Nicodemus not to try to predict where the wind is coming from or where it goes, but to stay open and pay attention. When you're dancing with God, relationship is more important than goals, deadlines, or rules. No matter what happens, we've got to stay connected. In the bonds of love lies our perfect freedom.

Let us practice the dance with a prayer from the New Zealand Anglican tradition:

Eternal Spirit, living God, in whom we live and move and have our being, all that we are, have been, and shall be is known to you, to the very secret of our hearts and all that rises to trouble us. Living flame, burn into us. Cleansing wind, blow through us. Fountain of water, well up within us,
that we may love and praise in deed and in truth.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Not quite as big an about-face as Susan G. Komen?

A few months ago I deactivated my Facebook account. I spent several hours copying information from my account, such as email addresses for folks I wanted to keep in touch with but don't normally email. I sent this email to a long list of family and friends:

Hi, friends and family,

I wanted to give you a heads up, since I'm only in touch with many of you on Facebook, that I'm in the process of deactivating my account there.

My reasons are:
1) I spend much too much of my day on Facebook, and often don't feel good about how I've used the time.
2) I'm concerned about my role in Facebook's business model. My understanding is that we users are not the customers, we are the free content providers. Our desire to connect with other people and groups is exploited to get advertising in front of us, and to generate data about us that can be sold to advertisers.

If you're getting this email, I took some time to make sure I still had a way to contact you besides on Facebook, and would really like to stay in touch. Please, if you think of it, email me that awesome article, video, or picture that you posted on Facebook that you think I'd like/benefit from/be glad to see.

I received a wide range of responses. The one that stuck with me most was a friend who thought I was fighting a losing battle in trying to opt out of social networking in general (“It's how we communicate now,” he said). He also shared that he has a software configuration that allows him to use Facebook without seeing any ads.

What changed about my life when I got off Facebook? My email response time improved, and I communicated with my mom (most important person in my life not on Facebook) a lot more. I was hoping to become a more intentional consumer of news and media, and that sort of worked. I have a hard-copy subscription to the Economist, but I don't have long enough breaks in my workday to get through very much of it. I use my iPhone New York Times app, but the Top News Stories tend to be not all that much more in-depth versions of the headlines I've already heard on NPR in my car on the way to work. I'd love to have access to the “Most Emailed” articles section, but you have to pay for that.

A couple of things happened recently that helped me decide to become an active Facebook user again. I heard a Commonwealth Club of California program about “Social Networking on the Brain,” which reminded me of two important things. One, my large “Friends” list reflects one of my core competencies, namely connecting with diverse groups of people and knowing with whom to share a question or an idea. Two, from Tiffany Shlain, director of the documentary “Connected,” it's possible to adopt personal practices that can reduce the addictive, dopamine-hit habits of checking Facebook too often or finding it difficult to log off and get something done or go to bed. She and her family do a “digital sabbath”, where everything with a screen gets shut off every Friday night and stays off until Saturday night.

While the Commonwealth Club program reminded me about the benefits to me of using Facebook, it didn't address the “I'm uncomfortable with my role in FB's business model” issue. It was the news and conversations this week about Facebook's upcoming IPO that changed my position. It became clear to me that Zuckerberg&Co have never been out to maximize ad revenue at the expense of users' experience. Some pundits were disappointed with the current revenue numbers, but their highest expectations would have given Facebook a huge share of the huge media advertising market in this country. That seems not to make the list of what Facebook is trying to accomplish, and I respect them for that. I also respect them for setting up the IPO in such a way that they won't cede control to interests that will exploit their data and their users even more.

So here (there) I am. 6 days a week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

unsaying the word "God"

my friends are divided about in half, between those who personally and/or professionally (mostly professionally) talk about God sometimes or often, and those who never do. most of the latter tense up remarkably when they hear the word. i have been reading Barbara Brown Taylor's When God is Silent slowly this summer, when i've not been feeling much like talking about God or hearing anyone else do so. it's comforting, and it strikes me that spiritual effort, a relationship with G-d, does not have much to do with talking about G-d. at least, you can say a lot with no spiritual weight, or you could say nothing and it could be deep prayer. i think it's about effort.

when i was little i was always very flexible. i was always stretching, since i started ballet when i was 4 or 5. i was never very strong. these days i'm stronger and a lot less flexible. i've noticed that in any given season i seem to be either strong or flexible but not both.

when i was younger i had a very rich inner life. i drew pictures and wrote poems and letters to the flower fairies in my yard, i loved Holy Week church services for the way their drama affected me, and i was always imagining how to change the things i saw. these days i am so occupied with my tangible work and the people around me that some days i worry my imagination might be wilting. i like that i now more often have the ability to change things the way i imagine, but i also have such a thicker skin that i'm rarely drawn into awe and wonder. is it true that i'm either imaginative or effective but not both?

last week i took a break from my very thick-skinned, getting-things-done job and went to a meditation retreat with my dad. i meditated very little, but that's not exactly the point of this post. what i want to reflect on here is that as i've become more skilled and effective and focused in my work, i see God less. i hope to heck that is not a direct result.

we humans are complicated and noisy systems, so who knows. like strength and flexibility, this spiritual dry season is a pendulum swing, and when i take time off this fall i can meditate and journal my butt off. but wouldn't it be nice to have both?

i'm not going to start talking about God all the time. but i pray i make some effort, to be flexible as well as strong, to sit in silence and wait for awe to meet me, to come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.

Monday, August 31, 2009

che on st. aidan's day

today was my first day off in milwaukee. i wore my che guevara t-shirt, which is apparently a good way to start conversations around here. first all my shipmates asked me about it at breakfast. (oh right. bit of a change since my last several blog posts: i'm working this fall as bosun on the schooner denis sullivan)

this afternoon i walked north along the lakeshore and explored the east side of milwaukee. i stopped for lunch at a restaurant/bar, and settled into a booth to read the novel i've been slowly working my way through for ages. i was facing a guy sitting in the next booth over, working at his computer. when i ordered my glass of zinfandel, he looked over and said, "how can you be wearing a che guevara shirt and drinking that? that's not a people's drink!"

i discovered he was from scotland, had just resigned from teaching poetry at one of the UWs, and deduced that he had already had several beers. he had a book of philip larkin poems, and was surprised to learn i had never heard of him. during a lull in his and my conversation, one of the waitresses came up and asked me about my che t-shirt, saying she'd lived in argentina for awhile and you see his picture everywhere.

drunk scottish guy had offered to give me the philip larkin book and pointed me to a poem called "Church Going." i allowed as how my next stop was going to be the cathedral for evening prayer, and my two conversation partners both turned on me in disbelief. scottish guy said he could have predicted i was "a religious person," and both of them said they think organized religion is nonsense. it was a common conversation for me but seemed higher stakes--it was more important to me to find common ground with them because we were strangers.

i did take the philip larkin book. here's the last few stanzas of Church Going. the church is,
"A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much can never be obsolete.
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round."

i only read this once i got home. i had spent some of the last hour hearing stories from folks at the cathedral after the eucharist on the feast of st. aidan, stories that did in fact involve rood-lofts. i got to this last stanza and really wished i could discuss it with scottish guy, because i agree perfectly with this perspective and it makes me itch--to let the sheep into the churches, to plead to keep the incense, to get rid of sniggering and frowsy-ness. i gravitate to church largely because i once heard it was ground proper to grow wise in. my work is helping it stay that way - i like that i spend my days both with the folks who mistrust and look sideways at the church, and with the faithful remnant keeping up the 150-year tradition of daily mass in the cathedral of all saints. my place is between them, like Jack Sparrow at the end of the first recent pirates of the caribbean movie, showing that we're not as far apart as we think and bringing into relationship. or, as I added to my facebook profile awhile ago, helping people who have stopped talking to start talking again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

stations of the cross: jesus dies

reflection for a good friday service at st. mark's:

Jesus dies.
and then, on that day whose every movement we remember, it is quiet for awhile.
brother roger of taize says “in the long silences when it seems nothing is happening, we strengthen ourselves within, it is there that the best in us is being built up.”

it's certainly true that death creates space. sometimes we say we have a friend-shaped hole in our heart when a friend has died. those holes, those long silences, bring us to a thin space, connect us to the ground of our being, like holy wells—the hole is painful but it provides access to intimate feeling and knowledge of the Holy.

i'm a person who tends to see both sides to everything—how every experience has dark and light, the yin and yang. this makes me less bouncy on easter, but hopefully provides some hope on good friday! in fact, the last time i gave a reflection on this station of the cross, i was a senior in highschool, and my grandfather had just died. i was into hindu mysticism and rainer maria rilke, and i gave a happy, chipper reflection about how jesus leaving his body was cause for celebration.

this year my good friday hope is about falling in love. somehow, in a nonlinear, poetic way, jesus' descending to the dead and my own falling in love feel like similar movements. maybe that would sound horrible if jesus had been a friend i knew, physically here, in person, who i had lunch with last week. or maybe not. not that i rejoice in not having him around anymore. but that both events drop me down, make a holy well of my heart. the falling and feeling the depth is painful, but i think that may be only because it cuts away layers of protective thoughts, worries and fears. we worry that all that stuff that makes it hard to know what we're feeling, that clouds over our hearts, like the demons jesus cast out—we worry that's who we really are and we don't want to let it go. the hole that love leaves only love can pass through.

i've been telling the story about why i plan to moving away at the end of this school year. it's an important story so i've wondered how to tell it well. one friend, coaching me on this, said,
“start with the part about 'i'm in love.'”
she was right. if i say that i open my heart and my listener to a place of deep vulnerability and connection. i'll feel how i'm taking a leap of faith, going to join my partner working on a sailing ship. i'll feel how he's taking a leap of faith in inviting me, and how we're both scared. i'll feel how much we want to take good care of our ship, our crew, and each other, and how disappointed we'll be if we fall short. and the feeling that comes to reassure me, even when he's far away, that we're moving in the right direction, has that holy depth, the hole that love makes. it makes a pretty good story.

being in love, trying to step into the role and the work that my love calls me to, feels a lot like being a disciple. love of this dying savior, redeemer, and brother changes a lot of things. when Kent and i were on vacation a few weeks ago i sat at the cabin one afternoon while he was off hiking, and the song from Jesus Christ Superstar came to mind, Mary Magdalene singing of Jesus, “I don't know how to love him./ I don't know how to take this” she says, “I don't see why he moves me/I'm the one who's always been/so calm, so cool, no lover's fool/running every show/he scares me so.” love makes us somehow less in control but more responsible since we're called into caring for more than ourselves.

my love reassures me when i need to be brave, and especially since we're far apart i see that's also how jesus reassures us. it's a challenging reassurance, as jesus left us with work to do. we want to do well by him for he loves us so much and because living more as he did would be so rich and satisfying. brother roger says that in his death “Jesus stands at the door of every human heart and knocks: Do you love me? Will you remain with me to watch and pray for the people of the earth who are suffering?” He asks, can i make a hole in your heart that will be a direct line to the deepest love and suffering there is?