Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Confession

I must confess that in a world of wounds and war
I have contributed to division

In a world where people are wrapped up in their own pain and fear
I have allowed my own fear and anger to control me
putting up walls between myself and those I disagree with
those whose opinions anger me
sadden me
and make me fearful

I’m heartbroken by opinions and politics that propose great walls 
to keep out the immigrant, demonize the refugee
And yet I do the same
turning those with whom I disagree into an enemy
allowing perspectives and politics I deem as hateful
to stop me from seeing a fellow human being

It’s easier to create stories
than to listen
So I’ve written stories about those people
decided they are evil, racist, hateful
These stories are safer, easy
then I don’t have to see real, hurting people

I must confess that in a world divided by pain, fear, and loss
my words have not been invitational, my actions push away instead of draw near 

I want to rage
I want to scream
demonize the other
and not see a fellow hurting human
not pause long enough to acknowledge that pain renders us irrational
and perhaps we’re all just hurting too much to function clearly

I have to be honest that
I don’t want to listen
Don’t want to stop and hear the stories
Don’t want to ask questions
Don’t want to seek to understand
those it would be easier to simply hate

Because it is easier to keep “those people” “over there”
where I don’t have to know them
understand perspectives, sympathize with pain
If I choose to see brother instead of enemy
I suddenly must see the violence in my own heart
No longer can I blame and say “how dare they” 

I must confess that my heart does not always desire unity, and that I have not always pursued it
But my first step towards peace, is saying I’m Sorry

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tired of God

Tired of God

photography & poetry © katy owens

Sometimes I’m tired
of a God who just cares

As the world dissolves
in pain, injustice, and tears
I demand to know 
where God’s been all these years 

And with every 
Where are you God?
The answer always an infuriating 
I’m right here with you

And sometimes I’m tired
of a God who is just with us 

I want more
I want what I deem as better
I want action and grand displays of power
from the stable-born humble babe in a manger 

Come down from that cross and
they taunt while silent Jesus
surrenders spirit and dies

He invited our violence, met insatiable power-thirst
with radical display of surrendered power and love 

Prove yourself, I continue to demand
Your mere presence doesn’t show it enough
And he looks me in the eyes, says
kill me, in three days I’ll rise

But God don’t you know they see you so poorly
And I scream for great displays of glory 
from a God with no need 
to satiate their ego

And humble human killed-on-a-tree Jesus is here

God with us. God with you. God with me.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Jesus and Voting for Donald Trump

Everyday my newsfeed seems full of Donald Trump. Now because he is officially the Republican nominee for president of the United States. This alone is unbelievable and horrifying, but far more harrowing is the resurgence of Facebook posts and blogs from people asserting that God told them to support Donald Trump.

Now I'm pretty sure if Jesus was here on earth he wouldn't be engaging too much in politics. I am quite confident if Jesus was here today he would be spending time with those in poverty, seeing the people often unseen by society, acknowledging and validating people's humanity, and engaging in the lives and stories of those marginalized for their skin color, sexuality, or religion.

I'm not sure if Jesus would vote or not, so I'm not going to be one to say who he would vote for. But I'm very sure that if Jesus were to vote, he would not vote for Donald Trump. 

You can tell me that I don't know that, because I'm not God. And this would be true. I cannot speak for God. But I can talk about the Jesus I know, and I can assure you the things that Donald Trump says and does are vastly out-of-line with the way of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus spent his time with those hated most by society. He spent time with the hungry and sick. He spoke to women, which was already radical because he actually stopped to acknowledge their equal humanity, but he went even farther and spoke to the women no one associated with. He touched people who were sick and dying, often making himself "unclean" according to the religious tradition of the day just to with with someone cast out by society. He entered the homes of the "sinner," and spent so much time with those on the margins that the people in power whispered about him behind closed doors. 

Jesus spoke with such radical love and inclusivity that it threatened hierarchical power structures and got him killed. Donald Trump sits at the top of a pyramid of power, using his power to further marginalize, using fear to control people, and spreading hatred and lies. 

Jesus went to those cast out and built relationships with them, the very ones Donald Trump promises to keep and kick out of this "great country." 

In fact, in line with Donald Trump's racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, lack of compassion for the poor, and so much more, Jesus probably wouldn't even be allowed to enter the United States. 

But if he made it in, I think Jesus would spend time with Donald Trump. Not out of support, because nothing about the way of Jesus in line with what Donald Trump stands for, but because Jesus acknowledged the humanity of everyone. Jesus ate dinner with the oppressed and the oppressor. He ate dinner with the tax collectors too, the ones taking advantage of the system and using it to further themselves while stealing from those already too poor to pay taxes to the government, much less the additional "fees" added on by the tax collectors that went into their own pockets. Jesus spent time with them too. And his love for them, willingness to engage with their humanity also, changed the hearts of the tax collectors (like Matthew) who followed him. I do not believe Jesus would ever vote for Donald Trump, but I think he'd at least try to have dinner with him. 

Whether Trump would ever accept the invitation to dinner with a Middle Eastern poor man is another question entirely. 

Monday, July 18, 2016


Up and down Broadway
Passing along Colfax
This broken, battered world
Is close enough to touch
In the shirtless man
Pushing a shopping cart
Still groggy from last night's
Watched a group of three
Cross busy street
Sleeping bags dangling
From bags overstuffed
With all their belongings
A man unfolds himself
From a pile in a doorway
A concrete corner can't
Be a restful place to lay one's head
People passing by, shouting, prodding
Sharing insults to remind that
In their eyes you're less
Than human

Battered souls
Living on hard concrete floors
Beneath benches, under trees
Holding cardboard signs on street corners
Begging to be seen

Just broken beings
Hurting humans same
As you or me
And once you've stopped
To truly see them
They will remain forever seen

Because we're all just
Broken beings
Divine in you
Divine in me
So take a moment
Stop and see
The man in the doorway
And pushing shopping carts down Colfax
The group of three

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Anything Helps

I drove by a shopping cart as I turned onto my street, full of someone’s worldly goods, brown cardboard sign poking out from the top. It was haloed in light from the street-light above. I didn’t see anyone nearby.

Last night I passed the same shopping cart piled high as I got off the highway. It was just a few hundred yards away from where it sat tonight. 

Someone “lives” in this area, parking all their belongings as they try to catch a few moments of rest. Likely struggling to truly sleep, racked with anxiety their cart will have been taken away come morning. I wonder, as the owner flew their sign earlier today, did they make enough money to find a cheap place to stay? Some shitty motel with a low rate, anywhere slightly cleaner and more comfortable than the hard concrete. 

I simply cannot fathom keeping everything I own in a shopping cart. Honestly, I can’t fathom owning so little it all fits into a shopping cart. 

I can’t imagine what it is like to have to fly a sign all day, standing at the corner of the exit off I-25, not only wanting to make some money, but also longing for someone to look my way and acknowledge my presence, my humanity. Standing there as people are waiting at the red light. Awkwardly fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, praying the light turns green so they don’t have to sit here and pretend I’m not there because they don’t have any cash, or they don’t want to give it, or they think I’m a lazy bum, or they just feel guilty that they have while I have not. 

I can’t imagine what that’s like. 

Yesterday I was driving back from my shift at Network, a coffee shop centered around providing a safe, humanizing space for Denver’s homeless. A place to just be present, enjoy friendships, drink too much coffee. I’d just spent hours practicing presence with the homeless, and as I drove down Grant and turned a corner, I realized there was a homeless man standing on the corner with his sign who I had barely seen until I’d already passed by. 

I spend my weeks engaging with the poor and building friendships with the homeless and I still barely saw him. 

We’re so conditioned in our society to ignore what makes us uncomfortable, to pretend that which is not right simply does not exist (for to acknowledge it would mean having to address it). It’s far easier to dehumanize the “other,” because if I have compassion and begin to actually see another human being, I can no longer excuse their suffering. 

There is so much injustice in this broken, hurting world. When these injustices are happening to a far-off group of “others” who I have no personal connection with, I can speak in lofty terms, pass judgments, and create grandiose hypothetical solutions for the human beings I’ve never met. But when someone goes from a nameless, faceless being to a person I know by name, the hypothetical solutions and lofty conversations are now about my friend. 

We must begin to see the Imago Dei in each and every human being we encounter - whether we love them or not. There are people in this world who I would rather hate. I want them to just be evil, because that would be simpler. Bad people are bad, therefore I do not have to love them. This releases me from humanizing my enemy. But the truth of God is that every single human being in this world is a Child of God, made in God’s Good Image. Even if they are deeply broken and twisted at this time, the core of humanity is still a Good Creation. And when we acknowledge this, that we are all Beloved Children, then I can no longer demonize the other or the perceived enemy. I can no longer hold those I deem bad at arm’s length, because we have the same core identity.

When I see the shopping cart glowing in the late-night street lights, and I pause to think about the Child of God who pushes it around, holding a cardboard sign reading, “Anything Helps,” I must begin to also see myself. 

I too am a beggar. While my physical needs are met and I have been afforded much in my life, my beggar is within. What would my sign say if I stood there on the street corner? My shopping cart full of my insecurities and bad relationships, piled high with poor decisions and all the ways I try to earn love, affection, and worth, all covered up in a blanket of doing good things for the wrong reasons because I’m afraid I won’t be loved if I don’t. My sign begging for love, pleading to be wanted, asking for security and success. “Help, I’m addicted to affirmation. Won’t believe I’m enough on my own. Can’t seem to get clean.”

We are all human beings created in the Image of God. We’re all beggars in some right, suffering from loneliness and racked with addictions trying to fill the void. The question is if we will choose the humility to see it. 

That shopping cart could so easily be mine, on the corner of lonely and hopeless under a street light in the foggy night. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

People Are Dying: Facebook Reflections on the Orlando Shooting at Pulse

Last night 50 people were killed because of their sexuality. In 5 days is the anniversary of the Charleston shooting, when 9 people were killed because of the color of their skin.

These are not isolated incidents, yet our culture and government treats them as if they are, punishing individuals who commit these violent acts of hate, instead of seeking to change the world that created these people.

Our world is full of brokenness, systemic racism, homophobia; and countless other forms of oppression run deep. We cannot continue to treat these brutal deaths and tragic losses of beautiful lives as one-time things, the actions of singular people filled with evil and hatred. It is time to turn inward and find the racism, homophobia, sexism, and privilege embedded deeply in ourselves, open our eyes to see the ways these oppressions run deep in our society, and pursue change.

Lives are being lost. What world do we live in that being black, gay, trans, Muslim, the list goes on and on, could mean a death sentence?

Will we choose love? Or will we continue to hate? Lives depend upon it.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016


We’d asked him to leave a few times, given a 15-minute warning, a 5-minute warning, and finally a we-are-actually-closed-now-please-leave warning. He wasn’t going. I left the room for a moment and when I came back, he was in the cleaning closet, facing the wall.                                                                                     
“Come on, Charlie,” Margo said as she gently grabbed his arm and steered him out of the closet. She guided him, stumbling, out the door. I followed, carrying his jacket and scarf, which had fallen to the floor. Ryan was on the phone, “No, no, we don’t need you anymore. Looks like he is leaving.”

We try not to call the cops on our Network folks, but if a client is clearly and possibly dangerously under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is violent or using violent language, or refuses to leave after being asked and warned, sometimes we have no other choice. This is never to get one of our folks in trouble. It is a last-resort when we have no other options.

We walked Charlie outside and kept checking to see if he was okay. I wasn’t sure what, but he was clearly on something and long-gone. I tried to give him back his stuff. I wasn’t sure he could keep ahold if it, his arms didn’t seem capable of grasping the bundle. His eyes wide open were only half visible from under the black beanie pulled down low, and they didn’t seem to really be registering what was in front of him.

He stumbled off, veering and tripping down the sidewalk. He didn’t seem okay. I felt worried. I watched for a moment, and was about to turn back inside when I saw him stumble while crossing the street. He pitched forward, falling headlong across the white lines marking the crosswalk. He didn’t move.

I froze for a second, then sprinted over to him with a sense of panic. He was lying on his back, feet on the ground and knees bent to face upward, eyes open wide and unmoving. I tried to grab his hand, but it was limp, he wouldn’t grab on so I could help him up.

It was like he wasn’t there, just a wide-eyed body with no mind operating it.

I’ve quite possibly never felt so helpless in my life. Laying in the middle of the road, he was clearly in danger, and I could not lift him out of the way. I thought maybe he'd had a seizure, with the wide, unseeing, unmoving eyes. I hollered for someone to get Ryan and then Brad came over to help Charlie to his feet. I again gathered all his fallen things and we walked him over to a building where we could prop him against the wall. We tried to help him sit down, but I don’t think he could. So Brad just stood here, holding him so he wouldn’t fall back down. He couldn’t even stand on his own.

We waited while Ryan called 9-1-1.

Charlie was a shell. He never looked at us, his eyes still wide and just staring off. He looked paralyzed or petrified, like I imagine a character from Harry Potter would look under a spell or enchantment. It was as though the human inside his body had disappeared.

When the fire truck finally came and the medical responders piled out, I felt oddly reluctant to leave him. I asked multiple times if he’d get to keep his things, which I was still clutching like a safety blanket. Hesitant, I finally handed them over.

My mind went to Michael Lee Marshall. My memory selected the buried image of frail Michael Lee restrained by a number of large police officers in the sheriff’s department where he later died from asphyxiation induced by the brutality of his restraint. I recalled a comment by a Network staff guy about how hard it is to call the police when sometimes our guys don’t make it out of the jail alive.

I know paramedics and fire department aren’t police, but they all have sirens and authority and I get worried and scared sometimes.

How to navigate this broken world?

Where Charlie was getting high on an aerosol can of Old Spice and there’s nothing we can do but call 9-1-1 because we aren’t trained to help someone who is overdosing. But sometimes the very ones tasked to “serve and protect” don’t because the system is so deeply riddled with racism and injustice, and you never know what could happen to in those places, especially to someone black and homeless.

How awful, to be the one who called the cops on someone who just needed help and detox and ends up dying in custody. I couldn’t live with myself.

All those thoughts raced through my mind as I tore myself away from the red and blue flashing lights and the men in navy blue shirts checking Charlie’s vitals.

What are we to do? When we aren’t equipped to help someone overdosing, mentally ill, or violently reacting to their fear or mental illness, we should be able to trust the people we call. I’ve met some really amazing people serving on the police force, like the homeless outreach officer who drove two of our folks to Network a few weeks ago because she didn't want them to have to walk such a long way when they've been sick. But in a world where policing is run by a system so deeply entrenched in systemic racism and oppression, people get churned out reflecting those systems. So what sort of cop will show up when we call, and will this homeless black man live?

It’s overwhelming.

I’m left unsure of where to go and what to after days like this. I want to curl up and cry in my hopelessness, I wanted to while I stood beside Charlie. Standing there with this far-gone man, this precious human being in front of me who I so wanted to help, yet all I could do was stand by and obsessively ask the paramedic if Charlie would get his things back before I surrendered them.

How to be the living room of Christ in this hurting world wrecked by racism and injustice? How to be the living room of Christ in a world that doesn’t often see our homeless folks as humans? How can I trust my friends to actually be cared for if they are viewed as dispensable nuisances?

Sometimes all I can do is cry. Submerged in an overdose of my own helplessness and weakness in moments of incredible brokenness, all I can do is speak out the one thing that’s left…


Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Nicholas, who I wrote about in my last post let me take his photo. The light behind him was unbelievably beautiful. I wanted to capture our moments and the perfect light around him so badly, and I am so grateful he allowed me to to do so!

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  • 

On Being and Presence

Sometimes days really don't go as planned.

Rolling with life's punches is something to be learned and leaned into. It provides beautiful opportunities and experiences, but at the cost of control and plans, something that deeply pains my plan-loving self who lives for expectations and having some (at least perceived) sense of control over a situation.

It was one of those days.

I had lovely expectations of going home from a nice meeting in the morning to go for a bike ride or a hike, just to enjoy the spectacular "winter" weather we've been having (sorry not sorry to all the skiers and snowboarders wishing for a real Colorado winter...though I guess this is a pretty terrifying example of global warming so maybe I am sorry).

I hopped on Facebook when I got home (never do that) and saw an invitation to an event that had just been planned for later that day. It pertained to issues of social and racial justice I care deeply about and I just had a feeling I needed to go. Making myself presentable, I grabbed my camera and ran out the door.

Soon after arriving at the event downtown, organizers began walking around the park offering coffee and fruit to the homeless who routinely use the park as a place to rest their weary eyes and catch a moment of respite. I quickly joined them, wondering if I would see any friends from Network.

One of the first guys we asked requested a piece of fruit. I handed him the banana and knelt down to shake hands and exchange names.

"I'm Nicholas."

"Nice to meet you, Nicholas, I'm Katy. How's your day going?"

He started to tell me and I just did what seemed like the most natural thing in the world - sat down cross-legged on the ground and gave him my undivided attention.

I stayed there for about two hours, listening. I heard much of Nicholas' life. He told me about his various struggles and events in his life, many stories were told two or three times. I really said very little in those two hours, I sat and listened. Many times I wondered to myself, how long has it been since he had someone to just listen to him? He probably hasn't talked like this, talked about these things, for a long time.

When the sun had begun to set and my meter was about to run out, I finally tore myself away. I told Nicholas how absolutely wonderful it had been to meet him, thanked him for sharing his story with me. The banana I'd given him hours before was just a peel now, and I offered to throw it away for him.

"That would be the kindest thing you could possibly do."

The mere act of throwing away his trash for him, was the kindest thing I could do for him. That struck me deeply in a way I'm not sure I fully understand yet. Such a simple act.

There was something so unbelievably beautiful about sitting there for hours in the chilly grass with Nicholas. The dipping sun behind him framed his head in light, illuminating his hazel eyes.

There was something about just being present. Time flying by because you weren't worrying about the hours passing, but focused entirely on the moment with another human being.

How often do we do that?

The phone is always there in my back pocket, ready to be attended to the moment I feel the buzz of a text message or Facebook notification. I'm ever-aware of the time and how long I'll be here, when I'll leave, how long I'll be in the next place. My days are often planned out down to the hour, when I'll workout and how long it will take me to drive from one meeting to the next.

Yet some of the most beautiful moments are the ones where I don't know the time, because what time it is doesn't matter. What matters are the beautiful things I am seeing when I'm in nature, or the person sitting across the table from me, the moment I am in.

How much life passes by because I am worrying about what comes next, or dwelling on what has already passed.

Someone said to me recently that God is not in the past or the future, He is in the present.

That paused me. Stopped me to stay in the moment and think about this. I cannot encounter God in the past or the future, the only place I can be with God is right here, right now. Planning to be with God later today is not being with God, thinking of the times I have spent with God are not being with God.

How much God passes by because I'm thinking about if I pleased God yesterday, or if I will find time to pray tomorrow. In all that worrying and planning, I missed the God who is right here, right now, hanging out at this coffee shop with me while I write up this blog about being with Him. Whoo. Irony.

If I could put down the phone, stop filling all my time with mindless activities and stupid TV shows and movies, perhaps I could encounter the God whose greatest desire is to simply be with me.

Perhaps if I could stop being so concerned with pleasing God and all the things I am doing to "glorify Him," I could actually pause long enough to see and feel and experience and be with Him. 

But this pausing, this stepping away from the endless cycle of doing into the so simple but so difficult being requires me to believe that God is not most pleased by my actions, but most pleased by my presence.

Henri Nouwen talks about this, saying,
"I am beginning now to see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the one who Is looking for me while I am doing the hiding. When I look through God's eyes at my lost self and discover God's joy at my coming home, then my life may become less anguished and more trusting. Wouldn't it be good to increase God's joy by letting God find me and carry me home and celebrate my return with the angels? Wouldn't it be wonderful to make God smile by giving God the chance to find me and love me lavishly? Questions like these raise the real issue: that of my own self-concept. Can I accept that I am worth looking for? Do I believe that there is a real desire in God to simply be with me?"
It is so hard to be present with people, to be present to our lives.

I learn this through yoga. It is virtually impossible to practice yoga without being present. The moment your mind wanders to what you'll do (or, more likely, eat) after lose balance, wobbling and toppling over on the mat. You cannot fully engage in the workout if you are not mentally present to the moment you are in. And in that it ceases to be merely a workout and becomes a meditation.

Life cannot be engaged in without being fully present. Relationships with other humans and with God cannot be deep and true and formative without being there, at the table, hands open wide to receive the love.

This comes down to what we believe, what I believe.

Do I really believe that others want to be with me? Do I, am I willing to, believe that God simply desires to be with me?

Am I willing to believe this, that is even deeper of a question. For this belief ultimately is a demand to surrender all control. When I am earning the love of another, whether that is the love of God, a friend, or a significant other, I have control. I can do or not do things that will influence the relationship.

But when that person, or this God, simply loves me for nothing more then the delight they receive from loving me, I have nothing left to give. I am left in a place of simply receiving, knowing that nothing I do or fail to do will ever change or lessen the infinite love I am offered.

As I saw with Nicholas, I wasn't worried about the time, or how long until I could leave. I was truly glad to just be there with him, and hear his stories. That being, that presence, that stillness, was everything. And if I enjoyed the simply being with this poor man, how can I not believe God also loves simply being with me, an equally poor spirit?

I believe, with everything in my being, that God is always present offering His love. He is the Father running towards the son who left home and surrendering all dignity just to be able to embrace his son sooner, before the son had even said a word. The son may not have even been sorry, for all the Father knew, but all that mattered was embracing the son he loved.

God is right here, right now, sitting across the table from me in this sun-filled coffee shop. The question is if I will pause long enough to sit with Him and be loved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Pass Through Under the Mercy

I get to see Jesus a lot. On Tuesday I got to see Him in a woman named Sparkle.

Sparkle is probably in her 70s, I'm terrible at gaging people's age. She comes into Network often enough that we've developed a friendship, I sat with her for a long time last week and we talked about faith.

It's really incredible to witness truly childlike faith, and I see it the most at Network. I guess there's something about being in a place in life where you honestly have nothing, that you learn to rely entirely on the only One who has ever really loved you. It's a faith that I struggle to access, because I have people and possessions, a home, work, to fill the huge gap loneliness leaves in our souls.

Sparkle has really beautiful faith. She grew up Catholic. She told me on Tuesday she's still trying to work it all out. "I'm really good at giving other people advice, telling them how to trust God. But then I doubt, I don't know how to take my own advice."

Her short, white, frizzy hair was stored under a red felt winter hat that day, grey sweatpants pulled over Ugg-style boots. Her black skin is actually quite smooth for someone who has been on the streets for over 20 years, maybe she isn't in her 70s. I'm so bad at guessing ages.

Sparkle sat over in a chair at a square table near the window. She was talking on the phone loudly and excitedly, drawing my attention away from washing mugs.

"I've got my housing! I've got my housing!"

On various waiting lists for months, years, in and out of temporary places to stay, Sparkle was learning she could finally be inside. Just last week we were talking about how hard it is for someone of her age to live on the streets.

She came over to the counter and I leaned over it to talk with her. We talked about how hard it was to be a woman on the streets. A black woman on the streets. A black, elderly, disabled woman on the streets. "I'm tough though," she told me, explaining that she can hold her own.

As we talked, tears squeezed out of her eyes, sliding slowly down her cheeks. "I'm crying because I'm happy! I just can't believe it. I hope nothing goes wrong..."

So afraid something would go wrong. We talked about her fear. I held out my hands to her, held hers in mine. I reminded her of my favorite Bible verse, that "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."

It's really hard for folks to get off the streets, for a hundred reasons. Not only is it simply difficult to get the proper documentation to get permanent housing, but many folks self-sabotage. There is so much fear of ending up back on the streets, it paralyzes people from actually progressing forward. See, the streets harden a person. You have to be tough, you endure endless abuse - physically, mentally, and spiritually. One homeless friend told me about the bruises his soul receives from people's hateful actions and words towards him, the "homeless drunk bum." (This friend happens to be taking college courses, studies all the time, does not abuse any substances, and we attend the same church). To get off the streets you have to let go of some of that hardness, but in doing so, you lose the protective armor that saved your life. So what if the housing falls through, but now you are defenseless?

This fear, this self-sabotaging, this being one's own worst's not something only homeless folks do. It's simply more visible in their lives, in the addictions they can't let go of because those addictions are saving them from something deeper and far too painful and vulnerable to address.

But we are all addicts, we are all lonely, we are all searching for belonging and unconditional love. We are all filling those voids with everything possible. We get promotions that mean we are now worthwhile humans, we wither away when our job isn't good enough. It killed me to work at Starbucks as a college graduate who was supposed to be "doing great things," until I learned that working there and building relationships with my co-workers and customers was a great thing. We stop up the loneliness with friendships, family, significant others. Or pretend we don't give a sh** and are wonderfully fulfilled being on our own. Independence is a mask. Our titles are facades.

And we sabotage ourselves. The fear of being alone causes us to destroy relationships because we are so afraid they'll leave anyways. Afraid we won't succeed in our work, we do a bad job and do ultimately end up failing.

It all come down to fear. Such deep, penetrating fear that if we were to access it we believe it would tear us apart. Fear of losing everything, everyone, and being completely and utterly worthless and alone.

But this fear comes from a wrong identity. It comes from a view of ourselves that says our worth and value come from what we possess and what we can give. That no one could ever love us apart from what they can get from us (this, at least, is the lie I must battle).

But then, there is no fear in love. In fact, perfect love has the power to remove all fear because it is not love based upon merit or earnings. It is love that deems ALL as worthy, all as worth loving, and that to all this great, deep, unfathomable love has been given.

I was so grateful to see Jesus in Sparkle on Tuesday. To talk to her about this perfect love, because I knew I was really preaching this message of deep worth and love to myself, because I too am very afraid.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wrestling with the Ruler Passionate for Justice

Guys, I'm wrestling.

Every time I see/type/say that phrase I hear it in the voice of my pastors from St. Louis, "I'm wrastling! Are you wrastling this mornin'?"

Well yes, Pastor Tony, this evening, I am.

This afternoon I received word that there will not be justice from Denver's "Justice Department" for my friend Michael Lee Marshall, who was killed while in the Denver Sheriff's custody in November.

I mourned the loss of this friend, who I and other dear friends knew from Network Coffee House. You can actually see Michael featured as the first photo on Network's website.

I mourned yet again a few weeks ago when the Michael's autopsy was finally released, bringing fresh grief and a deep sense of horror at the brutality of his killing. His death was ruled a homicide, which essentially just means he did not commit suicide. Even death by lethal injection as a result of the death penalty is considered a homicide on the autopsy report...which says something very significant about the death penalty, but that's another topic for another time.

So as I mourned again today, it was not fresh grief, but something slowly built and deepened like the deep cracks embedded in the hands and feet of my homeless friends - cuts never allowed to heal continually broken over until they will likely never fully repair.

The Bible states with abundant clarity God's hatred of injustice and His deep care for the poor. Proverbs, the book of wisdom, declares, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker." Those who spend themselves on behalf of the poor will have lives that light up the darkness and cast away the night. 

As I read through the prophet Isaiah's words tonight, I was struck by the promise of a ruler who was passionate for justice, one who would set things right. 

"'When this is all over,' Judah answers,
'the tyrant toppled
the killing at an end,
all signs of these cruelties long gone, 
a new government of love will be established
in the venerable David tradition. 
A Ruler you can depend upon
will head this government, 
a Ruler passionate for justice, 
a Ruler quick to set things right.'"
-Isaiah 16:4-5 The Message 

Oh! My first emotion was joy. A Ruler who is passionate for justice? One quick to set things right? This is a promise that brings hope, it means these injustices and these power-hungry people taking advantage of the weak, poor, and powerless will not rule forever.

But then I think more and find to places of wrestling...

Why, if true religion is to care for the widow and orphan in their distress (read: care for the poor,  marginalized, and oppressed), are so many people who call themselves Christians failing to follow Christ's religion? 

And why, if God is one quick to bring righteousness and bring justice, does our world look so very wrong? Why is there still such great injustice? Why was Michael Lee killed? Why did he have to live in a world where being black, homeless, and mentally ill was a death sentence? 

These are not popular questions, there is no answer. I'll be the Christian that admits, I do not know.
And I can tell you also that no other Christian actually knows the answer to "why is God good but the world full of evil?" Everyone has an answer, but no one actually knows. If we did, we'd understand God, and I just don't think it's up to me to understand and answer for God.

So here's what I'm wrestling over. 

Perhaps (some of) the answer to my second question is found in the first. I believe in God's sovereign love, He grants us free will. And as we all learned from Batman, "with great power comes great responsibility. And perhaps we have misplaced, misused, and greatly abused this powerful gift of freedom. With it, we have not chosen the right path of generous love, selves spent on the poor and oppressed, and the choice to see first with compassion and last with judgment (as a side note: I believe if we were to truly lead with compassion, we would never get to judgment). 

Perhaps we can never know the answer to why God does not stop all bad things from happening. I could theorize and have ideas of why I think this is, but this isn't the time or space for such thoughts. Rather, I will share my choices when faced with these thoughts I wrestle through. 

First is that I will choose to believe that God is loving and that His very being is good. I will choose to believe that God is passionate for justice, that He is in the process of righting all wrongs, wiping away all tears, and setting every captive free (another blog post will be about who exactly is the captive, and I think it's a broader term than we'd like to admit). 

Second is that I will choose to live the life called for in Isaiah 58. I will not fall by the wayside, so entrenched in my internal debates and wrestlings that I am paralyzed from action. I will choose to spend myself on behalf of the poor. I will choose to fight for the rights and lives of those marginalized, whether they are oppressed because of their poverty, sexuality, skin color, religion, gender, or more. I will choose to share my food with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into my home, put clothes on the shivering ill-clad, and be available to my own family (Isaiah 58, paraphrased from The Message).
So at the end of all this wrestling, this thinking, these prayers, is a choice.

What will you believe, and how will you choose to live? 

I implore you, do not be among those who pretend to do what is right, who say the right things and go through the right religious steps all the while failing to see the poor human being on the street corner, holding a cardboard sign and asking for a little help. 

"Cardboard Sign"
by Katy Owens

Cardboard doubles
as shredded sheets
"Spare a little change,
trying to make ends meet

Just seeking refuge
from the cold and sleet"
Well, the Savior didn't have a place
to lay His head
So maybe they're closer to Him
than I am
But people see the signs
All they do is stare
Wonder, what's he done
and where's she been? 
I couldn't cast the stone
cuz my record ain't clean
No one gave me
the judgement rod
And you, sir, don't look like God
Driving by
rolling up your windows and
down your nose
"Probably for drugs,"
your judgments say
"Lazy bum will
squander it away"
As if you and I
never fail, please don't forget
we've just been given
a better circumstance,
missed some unfortunate
Do you squander love?
Waste your privilege? 
We're all the same
Skin bones and blood
And I know I'm
begging for change
on the streets of human love
Forgetting I've been given grace
from the Divine
Covered by love that looks like
water blood and wine
Maybe my friend
the "homeless bum"
is really a bit closer
to the One