The Call Calling

I didn’t sleep much last night. I cried a lot. In the darkest hour I began to question my call.

That’s a big deal. That’s not something pastors talk about lightly. It is not like questioning if you should leave your job. It means questioning whether you’ve deceived yourself into believing you’ve attributed to God what was actually just a personal fancy. A thought that it might be fun to play pastor. It can quickly become a slippery-slope that lands one in a tepid pool of theological nihilism. By 5 am I was wondering if the last 14 years of my life have just been an elaborate coping mechanism to avoid really dealing with my brother’s suicide.

As someone with bipolar disorder, I have to say I’m really proud of myself for not drinking a drop of alcohol, and I got up in the morning and faced the world. Last night was spent replaying moments from the past 6 months over and over until I had worked myself into emotional exhaustion. It would have been really easy to call in sick. But I got up. I’ll go ahead and give myself major kudos for that one.

I’m not going to share any more details about what was going on mentally because the fact is I absolutely believe I am called to serve First Presby and I know that there is nobody in the congregation who has ever wanted anything but a good, positive, loving relationship between them and their pastor. We love each other, I firmly believe and know that; I don’t want my words over the past few days to be taken as a sign that I don’t care or that I think ill of anyone. I really don’t. When I talk about love in all things and all things in love, that’s not just a catchy way to sign off FB posts.

Relationships are messy. They are especially messy when a sense of call is involved. I have learned that this must be a regular and sacred conversation between a pastor and a Session. I tried to communicate that in the past, but I clearly did not do so well or in a way that people could receive. I accept that and have been quite prayerful about how to rectify the problem.

Here’s how I think I can best explain why I have been in such agony lately. I’m a musician. An amateur musician. Some people claim that I am rather good; I will always know that I am not good enough to make it as a professional. I know because I tried for four years. And after four years I was a great bartender. I did a lot of gigs and sat in on a few recordings; I was even accepted to Berklee College of Music for guitar performance. But I am not a musician like my friend Martin. Or Matt. Or Amon. Or like the countless other musicians who have come out of YS and still live here. So if one of them said to me, “Aaron, I’m a musician in a way that you are not,” I would not bat an eye. It is absolutely true.

I attempted to explain how my sense of call was not being fulfilled through current ministry; in so doing,  I tried to communicate that I am religious in a way that others in the congregation are not; it is not a value judgment. It is not even a controversial statement, one would think, but it was met that way. In very condescending, painful ways. Some nasty shit was said to me. That needs to be owned. I have yet to receive an apology over things that were completely out of line, and that needs to be talked about. I lost a safe space in a meeting and I’m not over it. Because when I am attempting to communicate needs connected to my call, when I am pointing out that I am spending tens of thousands of dollars of my own money to pursue a degree that facilitates me studying the congregation and developing a model of ministry with one of the greatest scholars in the country, that should matter for something. It should mean others listen to how I believe God is operating and working. It should mean that the hundreds of hours I have spent researching, studying, praying, writing, and being challenged so that I can be certain that the ministry is about God and not me, matter. Because that is not only my job but also my calling.

Call is not about money. Not really. I mean, I wish we weren’t broke, but I know that I am wealthy and First Presby is a big part of that; I am fiercely proud of being associated with this church and it is my life’s ambition to have a ministry a quarter of that of Rev. Dr. Buckley Rude, the pastor who led the integration of the congregation in 1948. I can list nearly every member and can recall a wonderful memory about each one of them. The very idea of no longer serving there causes a great deal of pain. It feels like being anywhere else would be going against God. But relationships are two way streets, and my request last Sunday was genuinely about trying to discern if my call really is the congregation’s call.

My call is also writing like this; it is sharing in honest and raw ways. It frightens some, but I cannot let that fear impact me. I wrote a very pained FB status this morning because it was the only way I thought I could get into Dr. Tony’s car and go forward with the day. I had to express my pain and despair because I felt like I was going to spend the day playing pastor. I was questioning everything. But God is so, so good. There was an outpouring of love and support, of people encouraging me to be honest. To continue following my call because they see it as good. A car ride with Dr. Tony filled with intellectual conversation and passionate reflection on the nature of call prepared me to spend the day with the cohort on the campus of Wesley Theological Seminary, right next to American University. Our session was filled with challenging, in-depth conversation about scriptural exegesis and hermeneutics. We broke bread and prayed. Dr. Tony and I had a very long, traffic-filled ride from D.C. to Baltimore. For another two hours, I had the exclusive attention of a truly great scholar who loves to talk. So much learning afoot, friends.

So the call called today. I answered. I’m feeling myself starting to heal, to cast off some of the more extreme emotions and to come back home ready to engage in honest, yet loving conversations with those who want to speak to me. I look forward to worshiping at Central Chapel AME Church on Sunday. I’ve already told them that when I retire from First Presby, I am joining Central Chapel. Most of all, I look forward to hugging Mimi and to returning to where God has placed me. Led me. Called me.

Be well, do good works, and love one another. I’ll try to do the same.

Racial Pain Tourism? One White Dude’s Quandary


I’ve written before regarding what an honor it is to study under the Rev. Dr. Tony Hunt, and to be included in this cohort of incredible people.

I’ve also mentioned that I am the only non-African American.

I’ve always mentioned the two of these facts for very different reasons than I will cite right now.

Dr. Tony and everyone else (save me and one other person) pastor in and around the Beltway. On the first day of the cohort gathering together, we went to historic Pennsylvania Avenue A.M.E Zion Church. Down in the basement were gathered pastors and scholars, all there to listen to the Rev. Dr. Helen Holton and the Rev. Dr. Lester A. McCorn, two seminal, nationally-respected leaders in both religious and civic life.  We had been invited by one of the cohort who was attending the all-day seminar focused on pastors returning to the rightful place of the church in public life, that of advocacy for the voiceless and solidarity with the oppressed.

The fish was on point too, I must say. I’m coming back to Ohio on Friday fatter, there’s no doubt.

We left after inspirational conversations, and my head was swimming having just witnessed the sort of meeting I have previously only read about in accounts of the civil rights movement. Trying to gather my bearings, I looked out the car window to see the remains of the Royal Theater, heralded as the Apollo of Baltimore.


We whipped through streets that looked familiar from watching The Wire, something I learned you should never, ever say to someone from B’more.

Immersion education in action.

We gathered on a corner in Sandtown, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived. Dr. Tony pointed out the details of life in the hood. We were certainly being eyeballed, by both the Sheriff (Dr. Tony says they only come into the hood to serve warrants; they don’t go on chases through the alleyways, that’s for the beat cops) and the men on the corners waiting for the kids to get out of school and take the next shift. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I fought the urge to nod and say “hoppers” and to pronounce “corners” like Avon Barksdale.

I really wanted to start whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.”

And then all of that stopped when I saw the mural pictured at the top of this post. I gasped, and reached for my phone. I’ve spent enough time in cities–I did live in a heroin-infested neighborhood in Dublin, Ireland for over six months, and West Hollywood for a horrendous year; I’m not an idiot–that I looked around to make sure that I wasn’t a target. Then it struck me. There was nothing legit about me being there. It didn’t matter that Dr. Tony brought me, that I was with others from the area. I was there as a tourist. Taking a picture of another community’s pain seemed garish. Obviously, it didn’t stop me. I forced myself to snap one image from a distance. It seemed way too disrespectful to cross the street and inhabit the space.

I made an incorrect post on FB, citing the mural as the site where Gray was arrested. It isn’t. This is, the evidence of which shows that I took yet another picture.


We hopped back into the car and sped away to the safety of Epworth Chapel UMC, and returned to our books and discussions of the biblical texts that will undergird our models of ministry. The men stayed on the corners. The kids got out of school and took their places. Addicts got their fix. Women and boys sold their bodies. Freddie Gray’s family remained incomplete.

Racial pain tourism is ugly. I know that isn’t what I did, but it certainly is what it looks like to anyone who might have been paying attention. Perhaps it is a common occurrence. Perhaps the men on the corner surmised that we were not pressing on turf and would soon make our way out. It is possible that they recognized Dr. Tony, but he said that he never walks though Sandtown unless he has a bodyguard and a gangbanger with him. That’s the only way to have safe passage. And I am certain that I am a major drug habit and some serious melanin short of ever walking the streets, even with aforementioned security.

I feel like the more attuned I am to racial realities the more I become aware how distant I really am to the true pain and experience. To be sure, at this point I can honestly say that most of my close male friends are Black. I’ve been named an honorary brotha by enough lifelong members of the club to know that it means something; I have heard some painful stories about racism that a lot of whites will never hear because…well, there are lots of reasons. You have to earn it. You have to keep earning it.

But let me not fall into the delusion that I am a “good white person.”* Don’t let me believe that I don’t need to listen more than I speak around issues of race; let me remember that no matter how “woke” I get, I’m not a Black man. No matter how much I use my privilege–or how much trouble doing so gets me in–to advance issues of racial justice, I can always walk away. I can cut the locs. I can shave the beard. I can shut my mouth. My willfully not doing that is not an act of courage. It is not something that should be celebrated or lauded.

The truth is, I think I may have crossed a threshold in my life. I am a zealot now. A zealot of love. A zealot for justice. Being here in B’more makes me realize how important it is that a place like Yellow Springs be an incubator for radicals and revolutionaries. That we speak to our youth, take them to mosques, place books in their hands, encourage conversations that are hard. God has not called me to Baltimore, but my call led me here.

I do this in the name of Christ. That is what I do; I follow Jesus, and when I am a tourist I make damn sure that I am aware.

I’m never really sure if anyone ever really reads my stuff, but if you do: thanks. You–or at least the idea of you–keep me honest.

*Please, don’t mistake this for self-hatred. I don’t hate myself. I don’t think that being born this “race” has made me evil, or that others of a similar hue are intrinsically Hitler either. Thats a red herring and needs to stop being thrown at me.


Whose Call?


shutterstock_152172131_lowrez-e1444232197954I believe experiencing the call to ministry is the closest I’ll ever get to being a Jedi.

I don’t know what it is like to pull an X-wing out of a Dagobah swamp, but I do know what it feels like to be so illogically pulled to something that you begin to make decisions that require a full-life, whole-self commitment. Things like telling your girlfriend of two years that you’re going to seminary, despite the fact that you didn’t even go to church regularly when you started dating. Like quitting a job to go to seminary, which adds even more money to an already staggering educational loan load.

Educational Loan Load is the name of my Big Audio Dynamite tribute band.

But lots of stuff like that; more and more decisions made based upon following the gospel. Decisions made because you want to speak less and do more. It is a sometimes incredibly disorientating process.

I’ve spent a lot of my life reciting my CV, often unprompted. That is the training in academia. We build up a persona–from the Latin (via the Etruscans and Greeks) meaning role or actor–that is based upon having the proper initials at the end of your name. Since I fully gave my life to Christ, my sense of self has shifted, meaning that I now longer identify myself professionally as anything other than a pastor. Oh, I’ve got some longer descriptions like pastoral theologian or pastor scholar. But they all begin with pastor. I don’t plan to use my full professional title too often even after I earn it, but when I do it will always be Rev. Dr. I know what comes first. This ego don’t need no more stoking. It was blazin’ plenty big already before Jesus got ahold of it.

I’m avoiding the topic. Dammit, I have to write this.

I must always walk a fine line. It is clear where I work, and for people within the immediate community it could be readily apparent who I was writing about if I were to disclose anything beyond the most general of details. I never want to be doubted by a congregant or anyone who comes to me for care or simply a shoulder upon which to cry; I never want someone to feel that I have violated or might violate confidentiality, or for the governing body of the congregation to feel like our conversations will be replayed for another audience. I think that I have been very responsible and respectful; it seems the people who complain the loudest and the most often never even bother to actually read anything I write. They assume.

Like this: During the first year of my pastorate I had a colleague caution me to be less active on Facebook because a post I made about being in awe of the amazing, strong women in my life ended being told to said colleague as the wild new pastor in Yellow Springs bragging about the number of women he beds. And he’s a bisexual, too! I would have added had I been brought in on the skinny.

But I’ve gotta write about what is going on. Today in worship I informed those who were in attendance that I have been repeatedly told that there are persons who do not come to worship anymore because of me. I’ve been called divisive; I’ve been told that I am–or I will, depending on the time it was said–drive the church apart.

I don’t feel much like a Jedi right now.

I encouraged members of the congregation–and there will be an email in the morning so that those who were not present will be made aware–who do not agree with the direction I have been leading the church to speak to the Session. We are coming up to my contract renewal and I think it is time we did something definitive. I understand the financial limitations of the congregation, and I legitimately believe that I have some solid ideas that are already in motion that could greatly benefit the church. Of course, I am not trying to do this alone. I want to work with the members of the Session and the congregation; this is their church, not mine.

But there are some things that I can’t take anymore, either. I’m not going to list them now. I don’t think it would be appropriate, at least until the congregation has had a chance to read my letter and begin to discern for themselves what the next step should be.

I want to remain. There is a fundamental question, though: is the call I feel on my life the same call the church feels upon itself? Do they share my emphases on social and racial justice; on creating safe space for people who may never step foot in the sanctuary but still need what it is that we can provide; on creating educational programming and partnering with area arts organizations, not only to support each other in our respective missions but also to help convert Westminster Hall into a performance space for the Yellow Springs Theater Company (fresh off an amazing production of Something Wicked This Way Comes directed by the incomparable Miriam Eckenrode Saari), YS Kids Playhouse, and the Beloved Community Project?

We could leave a legacy that will shape Yellow Springs for a generation to come.

It can’t be just me. It has to be the congregation and what they want. I have come to understand that what must be answered before we can responsibly sign another contract is: whose call is it?

Three times last week people came into the office to see me; none of them are members; one is religious in the traditional, if not overtly leftist, sense of the word. The others decidedly not. Each of them said, in some manner, “I’m coming to you because you feel like the town pastor.”

I think that is a good thing. Not everyone agrees. And we need to have agreement, really. For me to feel that I am truly living my call, I need to know that the congregation I serve trusts me and supports me going boldly into the village to serve and represent our faith tradition. I hope that they will join me in being proud of who we are, and secure enough to not even think about trying to convert other people.

Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.

I am trying to make sure that there is not a big mistake taking place. I may have misunderstood what the congregation wants. If that is the case, I truly want them to have the pastor they desire. I must also be true to myself. I have no shame in saying that the idea of being pastor to Yellow Springs makes me feel like a fucking Jedi Master.

I love Jesus. Y’all know that, so I don’t need to talk about it when we get together. Most of the people I see in a week are not congregants. That doesn’t mean I ignore the people of the church; not at all. What it means is that membership is not required if you feel there is something I can do for you. All you need to do is ask. And if you wanna talk Jesus, you KNOW I will chat all day. I do loves me that man.

God’s call on my life is clear. It is here. For anyone who requests. For anyone who needs. I have to arrange the details of my life so I can make that happen.

I wrote this to stop any possible rumors. Any conjecture that I am threatening to quit. I head to Baltimore in the morning. I am excited to see my colleagues, but before I leave I am visiting YSHS to speak to the kids about refugees and the history of Yellow Springs.

Or, you know, being pastor to the Village.

I think the time away will be good for me. I will immerse myself in studies and prayer, create new memories with these amazing individuals I am blessed to know and encourage. And when I return we have our November 1 Voter Suppression event for the BCP ( Then I’l look up and be ready to hear what needs to be heard, and to say what needs to be said.

Next time I rap atcha, it’ll be from B’more.





I Sing Because I’m Happy: On Hannah, Mary, and Ethel

Samuel 1:9-11, 19-20; 2:1-10

I’m not a native of YS. The first decade of my life was spent growing up elsewhere. Dad started working at Antioch College when I was 6 or 7, so I came to my future home around the time I was forming memories that would prove to withstand the years and consequences of perhaps unwise decision made in my 20s. And I was not impressed. It was funky. Kinda dirty. Frankly, though, it was the fact that the family of five I had known was becoming a family of 2, at least in terms of living arrangements. Mom stayed in Cincy so that Stephen could finish up his final year at Walnut Hills High School. Sis was at Purdue. So I was going though a pretty huge change for a kid of 10. Dad knew it, too. He had a plan.

Until I made some of those questionable life choices referenced above, I had a nearly eidetic memory, at least in certain areas. I could remember and recognize melodies within three of four notes, like the bygone days of Name that Tune; I could remember actors and actresses and their filmography; albums and albums of lyrics. I could close my eyes and see pages of course notes, replete with doodles in the margins. To be sure, I was not Sheldon Cooper. My memory was less photographic and more steel trap. I recognized melodies and lyrics because I spent hours sitting in front of the record player. TV was restricted in the house. Books and music were not.

My parents hooked me up with a pretty rad childhood, yo.

Dad asked me about how I was able to memorize so many lyrics; I shrugged and said something like, “I just decide I want to know them, so I sit there until I do.” This was not an innocent or aimless question for Dad, though; he had in his mind something that would prove to dramatically change my life.* I walked through the doors of Center State** for the first time, a place that would come to shape and define so much of me, and I auditioned for an Antioch College production of Member of the Wedding.

Carson McCullers‘ mistressful play is perhaps best known for the film version starring the captivating  Julie Harris, the ephemeral Brandon DeWilde, and the incomparable Ethel Waters. The story is one of transitions, of shifting times and confusion; of racial prejudice and violence; of love formed at the fulcrum. It is a story that sadly is still prescient and timely today as it was in the 1950s. A plot summary will not do it justice. All I can say is, see the film.

Seriously. Make this a priority. 

I was cast as one in what is essentially a three-person show. To be sure, there are other actors and characters other than John Henry West, Frankie, and Bernice (pronounced as “bear-niece” when you’re doing the accent right). But we were onstage nearly constantly, and the show is very physical. It requires timing and awareness, trust and dedication. I did art for the first time in that show. Real art, you know. That kind that helps you tap into the pulse of why the Greeks got this whole things started. It was also during this time that I met Big Homie–all my YS peeps know who I’m talking about–because he and my man Justin who is doing the branding for the BCPYS were graduating middle school. His sister was starring as Berniece. I still have a picture of the two of us from the show that hangs in my bedroom. 

This was the first sustained time I had ever spent with persons of color. Over half of the cast and crew was non-white; I was one of very few white males, and I was a boy. And the content of the show is all about race relations, and I heard the heated discussions that took place in the green room and out back during cigarette breaks. Connecting the play to what was happening then. Gangsta rap was just about to explode into white America. I was gettin’ woke.

This was the same time that James Farmer came to visit Antioch; read about some of that here. Tl;dr: the great man had a heart attack, but still reached out to me in an act of compassion. My understanding and consciousness around race was being expanded by two things: art and Yellow Springs. So when people ask me why I am so tenacious and committed to issues of race I sometimes don’t know what to say, at least not as a sound byte. I think that’s ultimately why I started the Beloved Community Project.

Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words. 

Because like Hannah and Mary teach us, sometimes you just gotta sing. Especially those songs that come from having started in a place of deep pain. Hannah knows. Before there is the Delta Blues there is Hannah. She sings to God about being bereft. Barren. In a society that largely values women by their ability to produce sons she has no standing. She feels her sense of purpose and place slipping from her grasp. She is desperate. She begins in confusion and end ups in a place of joy. Of light. Of freedom. If only for the moment. Oh, we pray for such moments. When we feel connected to God, that we have glimpsed completeness. But notice that Hannah has not forgotten where she started. Her song is about hanging on in hope as much as it is about the glory of God delivering her the fruits of her prayer. The song points us toward redemption and transformation but gives no promise of time. No guarantee of delivery method.

I am beginning to see everything in terms of community. It is at the heart of The Project. We all need a place where we can bring the whole self, or at least as much as the self as we can muster in the moment. The BCP (yeah you know me!) is about all the songs we sing in our lives. The ones out of pain and the ones out of gratitude. All the ones that come through tears. Are the ones that are sung with smiles. All the songs we need for the journey.

I’ll leave you with this. At the end of act one of Members, Frankie, John Henry, and Bernice are sitting in a rocking chair and John Henry begins to sing. Now, people tell me today that I have a good voice. I…yeah. I have a love/hate relationship with my voice. I have literally spent thousands of hours teaching myself pitch, control, tone, and everything else because, frankly, I was totally tone deaf when I started. I have a pretty deep voice now, and it is big. Loud. I know my instrument; I can get you there and bring the people along. But not singing. I still pretty much hate my singing voice. I am no Martin Bakari, but like my dear friend I don’t need a microphone to get to the people in the back.

That’s now. I was 10 years old then, though. The poor woman who was trying to teach me finally asked, “Hon, do you think maybe just Bernice and Frankie sing it?” I looked at her and I said, “I don’t think it is about hitting the right notes; it’s about feeling the song. She blinked and responded, “It’s about hitting the notes.” I burst into tears. Part of it was hurt feelings and pride, but most of us it was sense that the art would suffer. The act must end with John Henry starting, and the three of them singing in harmony.

So I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. Nothing. Finally, the director–the incomparable Denny Partridge–took me out back. A space where Directors did some of their most magical work. She asked, “Aaron, what is the song about?” I started reciting the lyrics. She shook her head. “Aaron, what is the song about.” I thought about it. I thought about no longer having the full family under one roof anymore or ever again. I thought about how Yellow Springs was becoming my home and I was getting to learn so much about people of a different race than me. “It’s about feeling safe even when things are tough,” I said. Slowly. Twice. First as a question. Then as a statement.

We nailed the song on opening night and every night of the run.

*You’ll look back on that sentence and realize it is a proleptic pun.
**That is a completely different post for a different time, but no worries; it will come.

If Racism Don’t Live Here, It Sure Do Visit A Lot


I know only what Ms. Brown has reported. I am not speaking to the facts. I am responding to someone in my larger community putting out a call. Until there is any provable reason to think otherwise, I take this as something to which I must draw attention. I wasn’t there, and this blog is more about the issues the story raises rather than litigating the narrative.  

The door of the car that Dietrina Brown worked so hard to acquire, now a daily reminder of a recent trip to the Kroger on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road that so many of us frequent. You can read the whole story here. In full disclosure, I do not know Ms. Brown. Her story was brought to my attention by a member of the Beloved Community Project (BCPYS), of which I am Founding Director of Interfaith Spirituality and Education. She’s my neighbor, though. Our towns are right next door. She’s a child of God. She is someone who has to drive by the hundreds of Trump signs in every corner of our county.  She has to think about her race each and every moment of the day because we have a society that won’t let her forget it, but shuns her when she talks about it. It is stuff like this that requires we say Black Lives Matter. This, and the bodies left in the streets while communites reel in disgust, grief, anger, and desperation. 

The denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has called for its majority white membership and clergy to stop with the thoughts and prayers. To stop with damaging theology that asks the oppressed to suffer for a greater glory and yet does nothing to afflict the comfortable. This is not about demonizing people. I am tired of hearing that I am ashamed to be “white” or that I am advocating self-hatred. I am not trying to guilt or shame anyone; I used to think that dealing with my own racism and implicit biases meants admitting I’m a bad person. Luckly, growing up in YS, being surrounded by diversity and living in a place in which social justice commitment is in the water, I learned that no one wants guilt. It does nothing but destroy. Awareness and compassion, though, are vital; when they replace guilt and shame, persons get in touch with their own call to this movemet. To this transformation of consciousness. They own their own part in being within a larger community that rises up in love and solidarity around issues such as stopping racial terror. 

I believe that we all are created imago dei. If I want to see God, I cannot hold out for a burning bush or theophonic speech. I have to look into the eyes of my neighbor. I have to be so counter-culture that I actually love myself. Not engage in Trumpian narcissism. But love myself. Understanding that God has planted within me, within all of us,, something divine. Our bodies are made with star dust and our minds can unravel mysteries and bring things into creation. My denomination has called for me to use every ounce of privilege I have in standing up and shoutin’: ENOUGH.
In our neighborhood, this has happened. The n-word scratched onto a car. The open disdain that is being boldly paraded around our streets is new only in its audacity; for those of us who have lived here for decades, we have always known. Every single one of my friends of color from here or who have visited here has had a racist incident in Fairborn. I am not claiming that Yellow Springs doesn’t have racist incidents; we do. Generally of very different flavors, but racism just the same. And I certainly am not saying that all people who live in Fairborn are racist. So let’s not get it twisted and start arguing against things that are not there. I know, not all white people. Not all Fairbornites. 

But the car-scratching type of racism visits here. A lot. I know because I see it every weekend when people who obviously despise everything we as a village stand for, come in and gawk at us and talk loudly and point. Who glare at me, pastor of a congregation that has been around since 1855, when I go bounding down the steps of the church because…well, I look the way I do. They take pictures of “hippies,” and we locals always laugh because those aren’t hippies and they don’t live here. YS cosplay is real, except the only people in on it are the locals. We don’t dress up. We live up. These types of tourists walk by each shop and say, “that’s diff’rnt.”They glare at two men holding hands, or feel it is incumbent upon themselves to bring Jesus to Yellow Springs, seeming to forget that we have a house of worship for every 300 or so citizens in the village. We’ve got spiritual life covered, and Jesus is well-represented. Come find out on Sundays, 10:30 at First P resby. Or visit any of the other wonderful  spiritual communities to which we are home; the pointing tourists don’t care to actually learn about this, though. They shout “All Lives Matter” at us because of our BLM signs and T-shirts. They generally try to do a beeline to D.C., one of our favorite sons, and then townies like me gotta jump in and let them know that this is not a photo op. This is home. He’s not Rick James, bitch. We hear the snide remarks about Obama, or how drugs are legal here, or how if you order the right way Ha-Ha’s will give you psychedelic mushrooms on your pie. I know the owner. He is way too cheap to ever do something like that 😉 Each weekend we are visited by people who make it known how the abhor us. Again, not all tourists. Not saying that. Let’s not go tilting at windmills.

Our local commerce is not important enough for us to tolerate some of the behavior that is going on; the racists don’t really care anymore because too often there are not consequences. I know that I am going to be accused of being racist or prejudiced against white people, but I am not casting aspersions. There are well-meaning whites who feel so attacked and backed into a corner, and their internalizing of racist fallacies is so deep they feel like they are losing something that belongs to them; they feel heard and understood by someone like Trump. They genuinely don’t see their own racism, and their own circumstances are challenging enough that learning you play a role in other people’s oppression is not exactly great leisure time activity. I get it. It is because white supremacy thinkimg is so ingrained in our culture and sense of self, extricating oneself from it is hard work, yo. 

I thank Ms. Brown for sharing her story. The attention should be on her, helping her to feel more safe, more heard, more empowered, more confident that this will not go unchecked. I am asking for everyone who reads my blog and lives in this area, share Ms. Brown’s original post. I don’t want this to seem like an effort to up my own traffic. The spotlight needs to be on the incident. If you do repost this blog though, thank you and let’s make sure we keep our eyes on the prize.

For those who cannot help Ms. Brown directly, there is something you can do. I can’t tell you exactly what because I don’t know your life and situation. But there are organizations thatcan help, like BLM or SURJ. If you are interested in being part of something new, the BCPYS is in the process of forming. There’s tons of information on our FB page and we are in the process of launching a website; we are also proudly affiliated with the national boycott to end police brutality that starts December 5.

Speaking up is hard. Not looking away is hard. But white people, we have got to step up in the real world. That is scary which is why we all need to be talking to each other on the regular. We have to talk about race. We have to listen to our friends of color bear witness. God is calling for us to be present and acknowledge the very real pain and fear that traditionally marginalized and oppressed people bear. These experiences are literally written onto the body. If you have never held a 300 lb black man with a PhD as he sobs into your embrace because the latest racial slight from the academy is final proof that he would never actually be accepted, you might not understand why I cannot be silent. I cannot look away. God has blessed me with so many friends. And it is like the rainbow coalition up in my social world. If you can’t do it yet, if you can’t speak out or take a lead that’s okay. But I ask that you start doing a little work each day.  We cannot shrug this off. Black people are literally begging us to not be indifferent to their murders and marginalizing, and we’re like, “Well, I’m not racist so I don’t know what else I can do.”

This happened in our neighborhood because we have a culture in which it is allowed to happen. I’m not saying the police; I’m not saying Kroger. I’m saying us. The people who live here. We are letting is happen unless we release a primal scream that will make the devil himself shift uncomfortably in his throne.

To Ms. Brown. I hear you. I see you. I thank you.

All things in love, friends, and in love all things.


Stop Killing Us: Privilege Don’t Cure Bipolar Disorder

Trigger warning: real, emotionally-charged talk about fears of violence; mention, but with graphic details embedded within a link, of persons with bipolar disorder being killed by the police; and discussion of fears in calling police for help as a person with bipolar disorder. Hopeful payoff: resources and encouragement to help bring about a change. Also, the International Bipolar Foundation passed on publishing this; I am not going to comment or speculate as to why, other than to say that I am deeply disappointed with this decision. But the organization does great work, so I post this in its original version while lamenting that it sat for a week only to be rejected. Alas, such is the nature of writing and activism I guess. 


 I can be annoying. I won’t shut up about things like race relations, GLBTQ+ issues, mental health awareness, Muslim-Christian relations, and a whole host of other issues that tend to be hot button. And also tend to be fraught with threats of violence. My hero is MLK, and my life is dedicated to Jesus. I just don’t shut up about things I believe God requires of me. Suffice it say, I am used to being threatened with violence.

Let me be absolutely clear, though. I am a “white,” Christian, American cisgender male married to a woman. My bisexuality can easily be hidden, although I do not hide it, so I do not face many of the same dangers that a vast majority of my community faces. I wear a Black Lives Matter shirt, but not Black skin. I have grown a beard and wear a head covering to act in solidarity with my Muslim and Sikh brothers, but can always shave both my beard and my locs. I have an incredible amount of privilege, including from my education and the cosmic lottery I won to get great parents and an amazing community of people focused on justice, love, equality, and truth. My brother in Christ Rev. Ramone Raschad Billingsley, writing from the margins, has helped me develop my own hermeneutical positioning: rooted in the center, I choose the margins. That is privilege, too. I can, at any point, retreat back to the center and reassume all of the privilege available to me.

My approach to life is pretty much about the opposite of that: I am going to use my privilege until I don’t have it any more.

When I write something like “Stop Killing Us” I am not in any way trying to supplant or deflect the very real conversations that need to happen in terms of addressing the terrifying plague of police violence on citizens of color, trans* persons, and other highly vulnerable populations that experience little to no privilege of any kind. And I most certainly am not attempting to thrust myself into a position in which I am claiming my fears are on par with those in said marginalized states.

What I am saying, though, is that violence against people with mental illness is at shocking levels. We are sixteen times more likely to be killed by police than are people without mental illness. I cannot lie and say that I don’t think about that every single time I leave my little village. To wit:

On September 30, 2016, Shainei Lindsay awoke with a fright in her Pasedena, California home because her husband, a man living with bipolar disorder, had called the police for help. You can read the heartbreaking details by clicking here. For those who want to continue this conversation but not be subjected to the terror of the situation, it will suffice to say that the man was killed. A father. A child of God. A man who had had interactions with the police before, but had never turned violent, at least according to initial reports. Brace yourself, but apologists and blind defenders of whatever police do will say that there weren’t other choices; that he should have been on his meds; that he should have complied; that he should have… Brace yourself, and then push back. Hard.

There is immediate, substantial, proven training for Mental Health First Aid. Where I live, police officers, bartenders, pastors, teachers, dispatchers, business owners, teachers, village employees, members of government, and nursing home professionals took a class together. Some people got scholarships provided by our local NAMI chapter. In fact, I lift up into the light our local NAMI chapter as an example of what can be done by a group of committed and educated citizens. Please, use these links. Familiarize yourself with the services already in your communities, or identify a need and discern if you are someone who can do something about it.

Because here is the truth. We can take our meds; we can be responsible with our mental health; but we cannot always predict what is going to happen to us. Sometimes a med stops working like it once did. Sometimes we can forget a dose, or our manias or depressions are stronger than they have been before. And sometimes we’re just terrified because, let’s be honest, living with bipolar disorder sometimes is terrifying. When we call for help, when we reach out, when we are being honest about the fact that we are not in our right minds, you have a fundamental responsibility to not kill us. There are so, so many more options before a gun needs to be drawn. And don’t be so quick to suggest the taser. I can almost guarantee that if I were tased in a mania, I would likely have a heart attack and die. But it doesn’t have to come to that; there are effective, proved methods of helping a person through a crisis. There are ways to create conditions that are safe for the afflicted, the officers attempting to provide help, others who might be in the area or involved in some way. We are not dealing with a great mystery. I personally know three dozen people I am very confident would have been able to resolve the situation with little to no violence. Why? Because they have the training. They have the relationships. They have the understanding that a person in crisis asking for help is holding a fire extinguisher because his mind is a landscape of terror I would not wish anyone to see. But I have seen it. And I will see it again.

Sadly, a friend and longtime resident of our village was killed in a police standoff.  We called him PaulE, and he had several diagnoses. Anyone who had lived here for more than fifteen years likely would have known that, and a whole bunch of people who have lived here for less time knew it. Didn’t stop his death. I have held the hand of PaulE’s mother as we both cry, and I have spoken with many of the officers who were there when the tragedy ended. They are haunted. They felt beholden to a process rather than attending to a person. When the tanks came and the helicopters flew overhead, and yet Paul’s mother was not allowed to speak to him and friends of his who are professional counselors were kept away, I wrote on a message board, “PaulE is never going to be taken alive. They have just given flesh to his deepest fear.”

No good police officer wants to kill a mentally ill person in crisis. We owe it to them to do everything we can to make sure these decisions only used as a last resort. Don’t accept the argument that a mentally ill person’s disconcerting, but not immediately lethal behavior is enough justification to shoot them. We cannot accept that low bar for a use of deadly force. It is time to demand, as Shaun King has eloquently set forth in his recent work, that police officers have four year degrees. That there be consistent and updated training in areas involving mental health assessments by officers. If the sight of a mentally ill person in distress is presented as sufficient cause for fear and bullets, we are going to see more and more tragedies. I have had enough of them for one lifetime, frankly.

I won’t shut up. And I know that we come to this place to feel better. I so appreciate the International Bipolar Foundation’s website, work, and witness. I’m honored to be a featured blogger. But I don’t shut up, friends. I’m annoying. I get it. But I also love deeply and passionately, and I care about the people in our community. Our lives matter. Our lives are not just to be lifted up as a reason for why we don’t need gun control. Right? How many times have we heard that? We need more money for mental health and more training. Great! It is available, but communities have to act. We have to push our legislators. We have to do what we can when we are healthy to make sure that when we’re not, we aren’t shot to death asking for help.


About a Pastor: Five Things I Need to Be Able to Say or I’m Going to Burn Out

I’ve had a regular job since I was twelve. I grew up in a family business; to be clear, said business did not provide our livelihood. But it was not a hobby. My father spearheaded the efforts to save one of the few, independent art movie houses in the country, the Little Art Theatre, and we all worked there. Mom baked lemon bars and other treats for the concession stand; my brother was a projectionist; Dad was a hands-on owner; and I began delivering the paper program guides from business to business with my red flyer wagon.  Over the years I worked my way from concessionaire to ticket seller to projectionist. One weekend when both Dad and our amazing, incredible longtime manager Jenny were out of town, I was the manager on call. I was so proud of that moment.

It is so goddamn small, midwestern America it just makes you wanna spit, don’t it? Where the hell is John Mellencamp?

But don’t get it twisted. Most of my friends who worked at the Little Art were much better employees than were I, at least after I left for college and came back for the summer to make enough money to fund a period of heavy psychedelic drug use (but still rocking a 3.6 GPA). I used LSD for spiritual development, although I probably couldn’t have put it in those terms at the time. I imagine though that the compadres who co-sojourned would attest to the veracity of the statement. I have always been a seeker.

I had a job in a factory where I got chemical poisoning, so they moved me into the shipping department. I had the job all to myself for about two months, and I loved it. Then, a sexual predator was hired by one of the owners. The boss claims he did not know. To this day I call that bullshit. This person would come to work high on crack, and the owner would not do anything about it because he “liked having a guy my own age around here for a change, instead of all these women and kids.” The grooming behavior started slowly. There was a very attractive woman working in the factory, and she and I were friends. I certainly thought she was wonderful and beautiful, but I knew she had a boyfriend. I tried to not stare. Sadly, my sexism was so deep that I needed to know that another man had “claimed” her before deciding to not leer. But in the mailroom, with just two guys, I engaged in sexist banter of which I am not proud. I won’t pretend that I didn’t, though. Being woke means that you fight sleep. You fight ignorance. I was 19; my journey had just begun. Anyway, the predator established a relationship in which we spoke freely about bodies. It was not long until talk turned to mine. “She has a nice ass, but so do you, man. Seriously. Ladies like a good ass.” Seemingly accidental or socially casual touch started. For those who don’t know, I don’t like to be touched unless I have given you clear and present permission. My bipolar presents as incredible sensitivity to touch. (Again, important to know if I am ever in crisis: Don’t. Touch. Me. I am a big, strong dude and I don’t want to do what I am capable of doing.) After the predator cornered me and told me he was trying to arrange with the owner a road trip in which he would keep me supplied with drugs as long as I stayed in the same motel room, I complained. Loudly. I was not believed. I had a problem with authority. I was melodramatic. I was a whole lot of things except someone who was probably going to get raped. I quit. A year later the predator was arrested for multiple counts of rape. I cried tears of vindication and rage.

I have never written about that and have told the story less than half a dozen times. To be clear, I am not presenting myself as a sexual assault victim (well, not for this story, and sexual assault is a complicated thing). I’ve told you about these jobs–add food service, retail, office settings, temporary clerical positions, being a freelancer for a large educational publishing conglomerate–to say that the words that follow are not without the benefit of great experience.

Here are five things I wish people could know about being a pastor, but when we say them the blow back can be fierce. Perhaps here, in a space in which you are present only because you want to be, the statements can exist one step removed from the immediacy of the emotions that often arise in pastoral situations. Posts like this can be dangerous. If you are in the congregation I serve you may want to think about whether you can handle reading this; if you think your response is going to be defensive, please stop reading now. I submit to those conversations in the proper space and with the proper procedures when they need to be about my professional conduct. This is my safe space. My area to be honest and seek support. My personal expressions of my own experiences. This is not yours to police. I make no reference or allusion to any specific person, but not all experiences I have in my life are bound by pastoral confidentiality.  

thing1_2.jpg      I’m really fucking religious. And I’m all in on this Jesus thingReligion is not a competition. God does not call everyone to the same expressions of service and devotion, and not everyone lives out the fullness of their call. This is not a value judgment, it is a statement of fact. One would think. But at a couple critical times in which I have felt that I was being grossly misunderstood in ecclesiastical situations , I’ve pointed out that I am religious in ways that the others involved are not and I’ve been called off-putting. Egotistical. I do not mean that statement as a value judgment but simply as a fact. Why is this even up for debate?

I have made decisions that have major consequences. I follow Jesus Christ, yet had to go into massive debt to do so within the structure and discipline of my denominations. I make very little money, but that’s fine because I am dedicated to ministry. I believe that God puts me in situations and brings people into my life so that we may together serve our community; may show the ways in which love and dedication to the gospel can bring about a joy and peace no drug I ever did gave me. Don’t get me wrong, I have very few regrets when it comes to my drug exploration. Because it was an exploration. All in search of God. I’m ever a seeker. And once I finally realized that God was with me all along, I stopped using. Now, I dream about God. I say good morning to Jesus every single time I get out of bed. I don’t care if this seems odd. My relationship with God is all-encompassing. You cannot and will not find a single area of my life in which my faith has not been placed at the center; again, not a competition. But the casual religiosity of others cannot be discussed in the same way as the intense devotion I display in my thoughts, words, and deeds. I can’t believe that this has proved to be so controversial; one would think that people would want a pastor who takes this whole discipleship thing seriously. What appears to some as frenetic, confrontational energy is actually being on fire for God. It is submitting so fully, so completely, that I often play different roles. Pastoral. Priestly. Prophetic. Profane. It is being really fucking religious.

dr_seuss_thing_one_and_thing_two_baby_shower_invitation_digital_diy_03671044.jpg Sometimes I am the expert in the room, and when I have to keep pointing it out I feel deflated and disrespected. I greatly appreciate the polity of both the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Presbyterian Church (USA). It vests most of the power to the congregation and the respective Council/Session of each. These wonderful, dedicated, passionate, giving people are the Church. Without question, they are the life of this thing we do called church. Effective Sessions and Councils–and I have worked with both, and continue to work with a fantastic Session, thanks be to God!–facilitate fruits of the spirit being directed to areas of need. Each individual person brings with them (it is still hard for me to do the single “them,” y’all, but I do so because my genderqueer friends have lovingly shown me why it is so vital; “him or her” is alienating, if not grammatically superior; I know, I’m a snot, but ugh I’m trying) gifts that serve the church. Some members have a long memory and great knowledge of past ministries. These are invaluable, not only to the community at large but to the pastor as well. I feel so blessed to be able to sit and listen to hours of stories about this place God has made.

But I went to seminary for a reason. I went through the arduous tasks set before persons who go through the process of ordination. The exams. The profiles. The ordination papers. The crafting of a complete systematic theology that is both scriptural and internally consistent. A theology I can talk about, without notes, with scripture citations, through each relevant area. I’m not unusual. Most of us can do that. Why? Hours and hours and hours of study. Prayer. Reflection. Pushing other things away; deciding that some areas of our lives must be fully subsumed by the gospel and that means leaving certain things behind.

One of the things I fear that has happened in certain Mainline Protestant denominations is that the radical leveling, so positive and useful in many regards, puts pastors in situations in which we literally have to say, “I know much more about this than anyone else in the room, but I am being shut out of the conversation.” Or, “I think this is best handled by the pastor and I can report to you as things unfold.” Had I wanted to be a dictatorial or adulation-driven pastor, I would not be a UCCer or a Presbyterian. If I were after that, I could have a megachurch and make millions. This is not boasting. Really. If you’ve met me, you know that I can captivate a room. That shit is dangerous. That is why I constantly try to deconstruct my ego. I do not want to serve me. I serve God. And really following God does not pay well most of the time, but man the benefits are unrivaled.

Pastors have to be so many things–solo pastors with “part time” charges perhaps even more so–within very small windows of time. Our training prepares us to shift gears quickly, and to utilize our knowledge and skills to address myriad situations. Yes, congregational input is vital. It is what makes the church go. But pastors exist for a reason and sometimes I think in any other job context I would be able to say, “Y’all, this is my department and I’m going to make the call on this one.” I am sometimes astounded at the things that are said to me by people who, with the best intentions, need to stay in their own lane. Just because a discussion can be had about a topic doesn’t always mean that it needs to happen. Showing a little faith in the pastor without having to litigate everything to death can go a long way.

3things.jpg     You do not own me or my life. I cannot tell you about some of the conversations about me that unfold, both in front of me and when I am not around. I am offering no details because this is not a blog post aimed at my Session. Please hear that loud and clear. I don’t do passive aggressive. Not anymore. I am up front and honest, often to a fault. So if anyone thinks that there is a coded message in here, please know such is not the case. I could not ask for a more wonderful church to serve, and the people are so dedicated it is an absolute inspiration to me. And when I do have issues, I go through the proper procedures as required by the Book of Order.

With that said, churches do not own their pastors. If you hire a pastor for less than full-time, you do not get to decide what they are able to do to make ends meet. We could banter back and forth about extreme examples that belie the statement–of course if I were a sex worker, we might need to have a talk; but I would argue that the talk should be about how a community allows a religious leader to feel so financially helpless–but I had thought this is not controversial claim either, but apparently it is.

You don’t get to police our Facebook pages. You don’t get to give us an approved list of second or third jobs while we hold a seminary loans bill that should essentially read, “You’re never going anywhere every again, motherfucker!” You don’t get to determine if our hairstyles are okay, or if we should cover up our tattoos, if we are putting on too much weight, or if we are able to be involved in social justice actions because it might reflect “poorly” on the church. These conversations just really shouldn’t happen unless there is a clear violation or conflict of interest.

thingIf I’m doing my job correctly, you’re going to be uncomfortable at times; that’s the nature of following the gospel. I spend a good deal of my time thinking about worship. There is so much work of the people (liturgia) to be done each week. A hymn that helps the caregiver release some of the pain and frustration. A prayer of confession that helps unburden hearts with words they could not fashion on their own; a sermon that illuminates the Word (logos) but also slams it right down in the middle of our collective community and shows us that God’s work is not in the past. Not in the past alone, anyway. It is ever present. It is always leading us from the future by acting on our experience of now.

Following the gospel is hard. And this is not meant to be tough-talk about how Christianity is a way of sacrifices. I mean, it is in some ways but it is also gentle. Loving. Compassionate. Patient. And that can be really hard. The gospel does not make suggestions. Not to me, anyway. Not the way I live it. I am never going to stop talking about race and God. Gender and God. Orientation and God. What is means to be embodied; what it means to connect with our spirits. Sometimes my sermons are going to be preached from the streets or even inside of jail cells. Make no mistake, I will not back down. I will not compromise my commitment to the gospel. If you don’t understand that, such is the point I am trying to make. I’m all in. And if you hang out with Jesus, you’re going to have some really tough moments. But you step into them because God is with you. Always.

thing5.jpg I know I’m a lot to take; I know this; but never, ever, ever throw my mental illness in my face or spread gossip about me. Jesus tells us to not be afraid; I appreciate that and all but I often wonder, is my dedication to the gospel going to get me fired? Am I too much, too intense, too loud and insistent and driven? Is my passion and commitment alienating people? I honestly believe that some people simply cannot handle me because they don’t know how to frame up someone who is so painfully honest and transparent; seemingly humble yet egomaniacal; confident but dreadfully insecure; highly intelligent but sometimes staggeringly stupid; open-minded although at times ultra-sensitive and defensive. While I appreciate all the wonderful things people say about me–and, really, y’all will make a boy blush like Marilyn with a beach ball–but I know that I’m not easy. I have to know this; it has to be at the center of my mind almost all of the time, because believe it or not, very few people actually see me going full bore. I tone shit down a lot.

I know, right? Believe me, I want to break up with myself every six months or so.

Here’s the deal. I’m so bloody transparent because I’m trying to communicate something clearly: my bipolar disorder is mine. Mine alone. Unless you are my psychologist or I see your signature on my Lithium prescription, you don’t get to speculate about how my mental illness is impacting my ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I have empowered people around me to speak honestly about how my behavior impacts them. That is crucial. I often don’t know that I’m doing some things, and I try to make it as easy to talk to me as possible. For some, that’s not possible. I get it. There are also several avenues in the denomination that allow for these things to be discussed. There are multiple ways to make it clear in a timely manner that something I am doing is making you uncomfortable, and 99% of the time I want and need to hear about it.

But there are lines.

I am currently the subject of gossip. I know, we all are. But I am the subject of gossip in ways that are deeply hurtful, incorrect, and counter to the gospel. And I see the waters becoming more choppy, so I am going to put out there that a distinct line is being drawn. I am medicated. I am in therapy. I have accountability partners. I have peer advocates on speed dial. I have three dear friends who also live with bipolar and we share some deep, scary, real shit with one another. Sometimes at 3 in the morning because one or all of us are in mania. Or depression. Or, whatever. You don’t need to know. Because I’m on this. So blase speculation about my very real condition based on an abnormal psych class taken in college, which then spins into a rumor that I am confrontational and wild and mentally unhinged is not okay. It just isn’t.

I’m always a pastor. And I have had some massive failures over the past three years. I imagine that I will have them again. Not one of them has gone unnoticed, unexamined, unrealized. These five things are me pastoring to myself. It is me reaching out and saying, please don’t let this conversation be about anything other than these things I need you to know. If you disagree, hold the tongue this time. Maybe examine why you disagree. Is it an emotional response? Are you feeling that maybe you’ve done this stuff? Or are you feeling that this is out of line? Why?

There are incredible things happening in ministry right now. God has showered so much goodness on this little corner of the world and I am so excited to see what is going to unfold. But I had to say this, just once. It is now out there, and I can do no more. I am not interested in any fights, but I am interested in people knowing that pastors have frustrations, too, and sometimes people around them need to know that. Sadly, we often are told not to speak up because it will be embarrassing to the church. To which I respond, “And that’s why people don’t want to join us; we pretend to be something other than what we are.”

Well, that, and also you know how I feel about that whole keeping my mouth shut thing…

“They Say Bread is Life:” Moonstruck, the Passover Narrative, and Why Judaism is Just Fine

Some I am technically writing on these Scripture passages, but it is a wild ride to get there: Exodus 12:1-12; 13:1-8

And, there are plot spoilers to Moonstruck  contained herein but if you haven’t seen it by now I can only offer a double tsk, a shake of the head, and a single hand flicking you away until you have joined the civilized world and have seen the greatest romantic comedy of all time ever; don’t try to argue with me because I will not stop talking and I will win.  

You gotta watch this or the article won’t really make sense, unless you are like me and have the whole film basically memorized. 

I joke around that I am a Mama’s boy. I don’t think many people understand how deep that statement runs. When I was a kid, I had Sunday dates with my mom to watch Moonstruck and Baby Boom before closing out the day with Sixty Minutes and Murder, She Wrote. I think we went through two VHS copies of Moonstruck, and then at least two DVD copies before getting it on Blu Ray.

I’m probably gonna watch it tonight before heading off to Bedfordshire.

I have friends with whom we can, in person or on social media, drop a line from any point in the film, pick up the dialogue verbatim, and go until people make us stop.


Mom and I did other stuff together, like go for night rides in our 1969 VM Beetle with Beddar Cheddars and Orange Crush for snacks (it might be an Ohio thing, I dunno). But watching Moonstruck was always an event for me. The whole film is perfect–except for the one, terrible glaring exception: the goddamn soft jazz in front of the fire; my Struckies, as I have just dubbed us, will feel me–because it takes you on a journey. And I’m not just talking about the narrative arc, the lovable buffoonery of Ronny (Danny Aiello); the haunting, oh-so-sexy darkness of Johnny (the sight of Nick Cage in that wife-beater may have been the moment I knew that my pendulum swings in at least two directions); the hilarity of the family, including an aged patriarch with a gaggle of dogs and shame toward his son; the caddish, but childlike flirting of Perry (John Mahoney) to a long-suffering, but fiercely loyal Rose (a transcendent Olympia “Who’s Dead?” Dukakis). The plot, written by the masterful John Patrick Shanley, author of the greatest play in the history of ever, Doubt (don’t even get me started, because remember I will talk forever and win; oh, I am so good at talking), is satisfying because it takes our characters from a condition of slavery to one of liberation.

Loretta stops being a prisoner of her fear; her regard for Ronny seems like death compared to the life-affirming connection she has with Johnny. The brothers are able to reconnect and put aside the bad blood, perhaps to travel to Palermo to visit the mother who won’t die. Rose refuses to be made a fool of anymore and claims her worth; and Cosmo…well, he’s still a jackass, but one with great lines like this so we still love him, if not believe him unworthy of his family; and Olympia Dukakis, with a single line, channels the pain and humiliation and strength that Italian Catholic women have born for centuries. (As ridiculous as it is, I am crying right now just because the memory of that line give me all the feels: “Your life is not built on nothing! Ti amo.” Oh, it slays me every time.) Moonstruck is about breaking the chains that bind us to pain. To fear. To anger. To disappointment.

Moonstruck says that the fear written on our bodies and minds (I lost my hand! I lost my bride!) that continually convinces us that we are not worthy of love and understanding.

It is such a beautiful film because it tells an ancient story. One that is told first through as Passover.

Here’s what I don’t want to produce. What I don’t want is yet another supercessionist, Christian appropriation of a Jewish story. I’m trying to be clever by connecting it to Moonstruck, but I’m doing that for a reason: Passover is, first and foremost, a Jewish narrative. And not just because it is about Hebrew slaves being liberated by a God identified with the tetragrammaton (please note: Exodus-based historical claims have issues), but because it establishes a fundamental understanding of God that makes possible Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i. It is a radical, reality-altering claim: that at any moment, our liberation can be initiated. And while we could go over a lengthy discussion of the significance of the the lambs, the bread, the manner of eating, that doesn’t help us to understand why the Passover narrative must be retained and respected as a Jewish narrative.

And at its center is bread.

For Christians, we see the bread of life provided to us in Eucharist, as being our unleavened bread. The body of Christ. The bread of Life. We imagine Jesus as the unblemished lamb sacrificed on the cross for us; we see our liberation from slavery to sin to the freedom of grace as the crossing of the new Reed Sea. There are many, many different ways we can interpret each of these themes as Christians, and while we might not agree in the details we agree in the thesis: what God has done through Jesus is like an exodus for Gentiles.

That’s cool. Let’s claim that. But not as the culmination of God’s work. We don’t get to take the Passover narrative and say to our Jewish siblings that the first event was insufficient. That somehow there is an Exodus Part Deux. When we say in communion service that bread is life, we don’t get the right to act as though that would make any sense without the Passover narrative, without the bread taken so fast it didn’t have time to rise. Without the unleavened bread taken into the wilderness because there was not time–bread without leaven because the journey will be so long–Jesus being the bread of life is nonsensical. It means that our savior should be sold in a plastic bag with a twist tie, and while that might work for the Scientologists, our religion is a bit more sophisticated (and an actual religion)

We don’t get to say that our bread replaces the Passover bread because if it does, God’s story no longer has a meaning. If God did not act for the Hebrews as an act unto itself, God is not God. We do not get to treat the Jewish people as though they are God’s stepping stone to the people about whom God is really concerned. While seeing the powerful nature of God’s grace, we can look at our Christ and see his life as a living example of God’s work throughout history. This does not and cannot be seen as a mitigation or a commentary upon the incompleteness of God’s work in the Jewish people. We don’t get to do that as God’s people. We don’t get to act like we are God’s favorite. And frankly, people who want a scripture reference right now need to read more scripture.

I try not to condemn or castigate. I really do, but I know that I fail. And this might be one of those examples. But as First Presby and I make our way through the Narrative Lectionary, I feel like it is incumbent upon me as pastor to encourage our community to respect the Jewish roots of our faith, but not with the intent of finding it insufficient. The Passover narrative is powerful, puzzling, disconcerting, contradictory, beautiful, hopeful and violent. It says so much about God that we really don’t run out of things to talk about so we need not bring up Jesus. Not here. Not now. We’ll have our time when we get there. But for today, for now, let us affirm this most Jewish of narratives, and how it can assist us in the tikkun olam, the repairing of the world.