We know that Tyler Clemente and Trayvon Martin are dead and we are not naive about who else will kill whom else. We know about Colorado killings and Tucson killings and Newtown killings and we know we don’t want to even have to name everybody. We know about the sting of death, especially that worst kind of death, useless death, the kind that has no point and just stings and stings and stings, the way a bullet first hurts a child and then goes on to haunt a family.
We also know that the dead alert and compost the living into new ways of being. The dead help us get clear, clear enough to live beyond the sting. While haunting us, they also fertilize us to unsentimental appreciation for life and breath. We get unstung and we almost never know how. We know the process of release from pain and marvel at why it took so much death to get changes in gun laws or a tad of release from racism. We muse on what a useful death can be in a world of such extensive uselessness.
We begin to see that death had its name on our own resume before we even got to update it. Someone asked Arianna Huffington if she was going to write a memoir and she quipped, “Aren’t they for dead people?” Yes, they are for dead people but once you write the story down, you don’t have to carry it around any more either. Once you write the memoir, by dying early to an achieving self, you are lighter. You might even begin to have a useful life heading towards a useful death.So many people say to me: “I don’t feel good about what I’m not getting done.” The best advice I ever got as an organizer was to go lie down in a field and watch a carrot grow. When I could do that, people were willing to trust me as a leader. Before I could do that, I was just pushing them around, packaging them into justice and peace packages, all destined to assuage my own terror about my unwritten memoir. Teja Cole calls this the White Savior Industrial Complex. When you live there, you are already dead.
The second best advice I got from another organizer was that the pace of coveted change was directly proportional to the pace of trust. People who have been violently harmed – stung by senselessness – move slow towards trust. Like a carrot grows. They move from useless to useful death.
How does death become useful? By helping us get over our own memoirs and accomplishments and terrors in time for our own dying. By getting our own dying and living far enough out of the way that we can attend each other in the rebuilding of broken trust. “Great art suspends the reversed eye..releasing us from the coil of ourselves,” says Ken Wilbur, the poet. When we coil, we can’t care. When we uncoil, we can care. Native Americans would say that the only real danger in life and death is the breaking of the circle of trust. Useless death tries to do that. We intervene whenever we enter the circle of trust, making even death useful.
March 30 Devotional “Loosed from Pharaoh’s Bitter Yoke”
I believe in the insurrection. Resurrection comes after insurrection, not before. Resurrection is that lift out of the basement, after you empty your attic. You live in the main house on the main floor with the stuff you need for living, not more, not less. You become simple, just like you always said you wanted to be.
Insurrection is the Saturday before the Sunday. It is your way to resurrection. Insurrection is your uncanny way to its freedom. You die to your old ways, your constant obedience to Pharaoh’s bitter yoke, your compliance with the rules about who you must be and what you must do. You even die to the complicated fantasy that if you just do everything right, then everything will be ok. Even the most free among us, the artists, the dancers, even those with the most Zen of personalities and the least reliance on self-medication, even we can be cluttered with death. We can feel like we are living the wrong life, or someone else’s life, or our mother’s life, or our father’s life. We can yearn for the main floor of life only to be stuck above or below. We can live in the attic with our memories or in the basement of our fears. We can keep our windows closed, even when it is warm outside. We can work at a job that doesn’t have our name on its paycheck or stay married for the health insurance. We may not be the victim of Pharaoh’s bitter yoke, so much as its quiet but faithful servant. We object in our spare time to our marching orders and then we pull up our bra straps or gird our loins and go out to march in his parade. Recently the commandments have become to answer your email and post on your face book: Aye, aye, captain. Imagine what an insurrection could do to the Internet!
If resurrection is that great sense of surprise that the women knew at the grave at dawn, insurrection is the refusal to keep looking for the living among the dead. Many activists work hard at changing the system that makes us work hard. The time famine among do gooders is a perfect example of worshipping Pharaoh while thinking you are not. I was just with a magnificent group of activists who after a few hours of honesty began to tell each other something like the truth. Our truth was summarized in our final report as “fighting for a little stillness.” We had a great belly laugh about FIGHTING FOR STILLNESS. Insurrection is the refusal to fight for the grace we have been given.
What grace, you will say? I can’t afford grace. It would mean I wasn’t in charge. I think I’ll be in charge and go out to fight for stillness and demand justice or declutter my house. Is there not insurrectionary grace in Jesus’ questions? Have you not seen? Did you not hear? Your people crossed the red sea. Have you not seen? I fed a lot of people with a little. Do you not know? I take care of birds. Will I not take care of you? Do you not remember? You will know me in brokenness of bread and spilled wine. You will know me because they will kill me and I won’t be afraid. Don’t tell me you need more evidence than that to live on the main floor of your life?
Loose us again and again from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke. Amen.