An Animated Movie, Fatherhood and Theology

*Warning movie spoiler for Sing contained*

This is my oldest, Joshua aka J-Shwa. I took him to see Sing the other day. He loved it. But probably not as much as his dad did.

In the movie there’s a gorilla named Johnny who’s a “natural born singer” according to the koala who evaluates him. His father is a leader of a gang that robs banks and other things.

Johnny is supposed to be driving for a big heist his dad’s gang does but he tries to make it to rehearsal for his big show and on his way back gets stuck in traffic so his dad gets arrested.

Johnny visits his dad in jail and his dad tells him he’s disappointed in him and Johnny thinks he’ll never talk to his dad again.

Fast forward to his performance. Johnny is singing his heart out. Doing what he was “naturally born to do”. His dad, in jail, sees him on TV. The dad rips the bars and the wall off (he’s a big gorilla remember) and begins jumping across buildings and dodging police helicopters just to come tell his son that he’s proud of him.

When the dad had the moment where he realized this was what his son was born to do I got a little emotional. When he ripped the bars out of the wall I had to wipe tears away.

OK so maybe I’m a little sensitive but this really got to me because this is the kind of father I long to be.

No, not one who gets arrested and blames his son for his own bad decision, let’s try to forget that for a moment. I long to beat father who will rip apart a cage or jump across buildings to let my kids know I’m proud of them.

There’s nothing more beautiful than a person living from their passions. Perhaps that is part of what made me emotional. Seeing Johnny singing his heart out in spite of what his world has told him (you should be a gangster).

I think the other thing that got me emotional when the dad began jumping across the buildings is that this is my theology. I believe that God has always been leaping and bounding over obstacles just to show Divine love to humanity.

Wow are we good at setting up obstacles. Greed and materialism and imperialism and hate and racism and sexism are all obstacles to God showing Divine love to us humans. But God leaps over it. God dodges racism and steps over genocide to reach into the mess we create and say “I’m so proud of you son” or “I’m so proud of you daughter”.

God leaps over theologies which paint God as rigid and nationalistic to show immense love to people of every nation.

We set up obstacles, and God leaps over them. God is relentless when it comes to love. Unfortunately, we are relentless in setting up obstacles.

Fortunately, Love…always…wins.

God always makes it past the obstacles to show the love of the Divine being to His/Her children.

God is Father. God is Mother. God is with us. Always. God is proud of us. Always.

When I look into the eyes of my son I only want him to know that his dad is for him. I only want him to know that his dad supports him 100%. Isn’t that what we all long to know for ourselves?

So chase your passions. Live your dreams. Deal with the failures and pick yourself up when you get knocked down. Because God is with you. God cares for you. God is proud of you.

Keep going. Keep singing. Keep dreaming.

Unwoke

The following poem is a Cinquain. The format is that the first line of each stanza must have two syllables. The following line four, then six, then eight, then the final line in the stanza returns to two syllables. Enjoy!

UNWOKE

Message
Do not sit down
Unless we too sit down
Only march if we are leading
Stagnate

Message
Do not be loud
Unless it’s for our songs
The songs that tell how great we are
Anthem

Message
Pledge allegiance
Pledge love for this country
But don’t ask it to change for you
Free land

Message
Do not divide
Don’t sit or stand or speak
If your words aren’t praise be silent
Unite

Message
Doze off now please
We are trying to sleep
We do not see this oppression
Unwoke

Parenthood

Breathe in

Breathe out

Watch the kids play

Listen to them shout

Be here

Enjoy the now

Tomorrow they’ll be driving, graduating, moving out

But today they continually talk, hysterically laugh as they learn to walk

Enjoy the now

Tomorrow they have heartbreak, find the one, get married, begin again

But today they’re here, completely dependent

Breathe out

Breathe in

God Heal Our Land

Abba, Father, Daddy.

Help! Hear my cry!

I want peace. I want love. I want reconciliation among races, classes and sexual orientations!

I rip my clothes and beat my breast, because every word I say, it’s like I’m wasting my breath.

My nation is cloaked in death,

And the debt of our unfathomable bloodshed is that more blood, must be shed.

Well that’s what they say. That’s what they think. I say they but they is me and I am we.

Intrinsically, we are, tied together no matter what the weather.

United States divided by hate but united is nonetheless, our state.

The hour is dark, I wonder, have we met our fate?

But under the circumstances, I would think we could take our chances.

Take our chances with peace. Could we take a chance and be meek?

What if we used our power to help those in their hour of need.

We’re in our hour of need. We need one another. Need to see that man as my brother.

There’s no other way we will survive this violent mimesis,

This mimic of Molech we liken to Jesus this,

Time in the desert that we think is oasis it’s, prosperous poverty.

Or maybe impoverished prosperity,

I doubt the sincerity, of everyone who lusts for control of me,

Is it because I lack the ability to trust? or are we not trustworthy?

America, you’re hurting me! And by me I mean we and by we I mean us.

Us.

Us.

The us who refuse to go silently to the grave.

The us who are no longer slaves.

Though you try to return that us to their chains.

There’s too many of us now,

for you to wield your dirty power making they’s with your thy’s and thous. It’s over now.

I am only one man. Doing the best that I can.

Lord Jesus come.

God heal our land.

I’m a Christian

I’m a Christian.

I believe in Jesus Christ we see the fullness of God revealed.

I’m a Christian.

I do not believe that if you aren’t, God will send you to a place of neverending torment.

I’m a Christian.

I believe, in the words of Thomas Merton, that, “love and mercy are the most powerful forces on earth.”

I’m a Christian.

I fully affirm and support my LGBT brothers and sisters.

I’m a Christian.

I think I have much to learn from my Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Atheist etc. brothers and sisters.

I’m a Christian.

I don’t believe that God condoned the violence the Bible says God condoned.

I’m a Christian.

I don’t think God is a man, but rather that God transcends sexuality and gender.

I’m a Christian.

I believe in the deity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and I believe His teachings hold life within them.

I’m a Christian.

I see God in the beautiful eyes of my wife, my sons and my homeless friends.

I’m a Christian.

I see God in a beautiful painting, an amazing song, and even in the skyline of my city

I’m a Christian.

But I cuss a little.

I’m a Christian.

But I drink a little.

I’m a Christian.

Even though many of my friends no longer believe that to be true. I assure you,

I’m a Christian.

Jesus rescued me from drug addiction and violence and changed everything about me.

I’m a Christian.

I love.

National Gun Violence Awareness Day

20160602_202333.jpg“I can’t wear this,” I told the lady dressed in orange as she handed me an orange pin with the word survivor printed on it. Last night I attended a Moms Demand Action rally for National Gun Violence Awareness Day and when I walked through the door a lady asked me if I or any of my loved ones have been affected by gun violence. I told her yes as the names of Nick Cole and Marty Farias ran through my mind followed by the image of my best friend’s hand which is now missing two fingers and another close friend who was shot in the stomach but survived. Those guys are survivors of gun violence. Those guys took bullets. Sure I’ve been shot at, but the bullet never found its mark on me.

The very kind lady told me the buttons were for anyone who had lost someone to gun violence, so I took one even though it felt uncomfortable and wrong for me to claim to be a survivor of gun violence. The more I thought about it though, and as I listened to others tell the stories of how gun violence has impacted them I remembered the time I was shot at in a moving vehicle. I remember the times I had guns pulled on me. I remembered the times I was around when guns were pulled out. I remembered the time I sat on my mother’s porch with her gun in my hand, waiting for the drug dealer who supposedly wanted me dead to pull up.

Any one of those incidents could have ended with me in the same situation as my two friends who survived being shot or worse, I could be in the same situation as Marty and Nick. So yes, I am a survivor of gun violence. I eventually did place the pin on my shirt not just in recognition of my own survival, but also in remembrance and solidarity for my friends.

I heard the story of a woman who lost her sister to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I met a mother who lost her son at the barrel of a gun. I listened to a pastor tell us that in his neighborhood a gun is easier to acquire than fresh produce. We ate and we hugged and we laughed and we all just sat with each other and enjoyed being in the company of others who have known the horrors of gun violence. It was simple and it was small and it was beautiful.

Then this morning I read a Dallas Morning News story that gun rights activists had planned a counter protest. I was pretty shocked. How can you protest someone’s grief? How can you protest a group of people at a BBQ joint sharing their stories with one another? How can you protest a mother who has lost a son?!

At first I was glad these gun-toting protestors were rained out. It was such an enjoyable, peaceful evening that I would not have wanted to deal with that sort of craziness. However, much like the button, as I thought more about it, I wish they had been there. I wish these people could look into the eyes of mothers who had lost their children and hear their stories.

Stories pull us out of dualism.

Stories enable us to move from opposite sides of a line and truly see one another, truly hear one another.

Do you see me?

Can you hear me?

Do you see the pain in this mother’s eyes? Do you see what violence has done to our world? To our nation? To our community?

Yesterday we remembered our pain together. Many in the group want laws changed. I no longer care about that as much. I want hearts changed. I want my fellow man to recognize that those who live by the sword STILL die by the sword and a nation that lives by the gun will die by the gun and we are indeed dying.

Our nation has stuck the barrel of a metaphorical pistol down our own throat and we have our finger on the trigger. If we do not wake up and realize that every time we end a life we are taking our own life we will eventually pull the trigger and take our own societal life and we may not even realize it.

Choose life my friends.

Lay down your arms. Do not wait on a law. Lay down your arms. I beg you. On behalf of the dead children littered across our blood soaked land. Lay down your arms.

A better world IS possible. What sort of sacrifice are we willing to make to create a better world? Will we sacrifice our comfort? Will we sacrifice our perception of safety?

Would we sacrifice our lives?

The nonviolent way of enemy love is the only way forward to a more healthy society. This is the message of Jesus. This is the message of Gandhi. This is the message of Dr. King. This is the message of the kingdom of God.

Our land, which was taken at the barrel of a gun, is soaked in the blood of both friends and foes who have died from a bullet piercing their skin.

I wear a bullet around my neck. It is called a love bullet and it is a company in the UK which takes items traditionally used for violence and makes art out of them for an expression of love over violence.

Thomas Merton once said that a Christian is committed to the belief that love and mercy are the most powerful forces on earth.

I am committed to this idea.

Can we commit to this idea?

Can we create a better world for our children?

I sure hope so. Because I have two small boys who I hope are never impacted by violence the way I have been.

Choose peace friends.

Choose life.

Choose the light of the world.

Amen.

Memorial Day (Reblog)

The greatest man I’ve ever known was a war hero. It was a part of who he was, but it could not come close to defining him. He was also a lawyer, (one of the best), a storyteller, an amazing husband and father and my grandfather. My granddad, in many ways, was the stereotypical patriarch. He loved to sit around and tell stories. He passed a love for storytelling on to the rest of my family. When we get together there is rarely the need for games or television. We tell stories. It is what Robinson’s do. It is our heritage. My granddad loved his country but he also just loved cultures. I know I inherited a love for experiencing different cultures from him. There is no man I have ever looked up to as much as my grandfather.

My grandfather also walked with a limp. He took a bullet in the knee from a sniper while getting his men to safety in one of the Pacific battles of World War Two. I have heard the story many times of him getting shot in the knee, as well as his subsequent time in the hospital and when he awoke to the beautiful sight of his big toe, letting him know his leg was not amputated. I have heard this story so many times that if I close my eyes I can picture the setting. I can picture the sniper in the trees, I can picture the bullet tearing into my granddad’s knee and I can picture my granddad being the last man to safety so as to ensure that his men were safe.

I loved that story as a child. Sometimes I would pretend I had not heard it, just to hear my Granddad tell it again. We all need heroes in our lives. My granddad was mine. However, recently I began thinking about the stories my granddad would not tell. As a child wrapped in the cultural ideal of good guys killing bad guys, there were several times I asked my granddad questions like, “how many bad guys did you kill?” or “tell me about when you shot the bad guys!” I remember vividly the look on his face when I would ask him about those things. Now, you need to know that my granddad would always maintain eye contact with me while he was telling stories. He knew that his facial expressions would pull you into his stories. But when I would ask him about killing “bad guys” he would break eye contact, stare off into the distance, and say something to the effect of, “I don’t talk about that.”

You see, there was something in my grandfather that knew that the worst thing he ever experienced was not being shot. The worst thing my grandfather had experienced was ending someone’s life at the end of his own gun. He never told me this obviously, but it can be inferred by the fact that a man who loved to tell stories, held back the stories that he knew would have been most interesting to his grandson.

My granddad knew I was wrong in how I felt about the glory of war. He was proud of the fact that he had saved lives. He was not proud of the fact that he had taken life.

War destroys lives. The evil hand of war reaches far beyond the battlefield, affecting soldiers who have gone home, as well as the families of those who have lived and died. When war happens, even the victors lose.

Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day we remember our soldiers who were lost on the battlefield. I have heard some Christians with a nonviolent stance like my own saying that they will not take part in Memorial Day festivities. I disagree with that sentiment. We should for sure remember every soldier lost in battle.

But our Memorial Day is too shortsighted. We must begin to move beyond remembering only our own people lost to the evils of war. We must think about the Iraqi child who became a victim of “collateral damage,” the Vietnamese child who was coerced into strapping a bomb to their chest, the fatherless Afghani teenager whose dad died fighting for the Taliban, the German soldier who was brainwashed into believing Hitler had the best interest of his country at heart and anyone else we may view as “enemy casualties.”

In Christ, there is no enemy other. Our culture divides everything along the lines of good guys and bad guys. But as followers of Jesus we must learn to look upon the enemy other and pray, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus beckons us to forgive. Our culture beckons us to remember “our boys” who died. There is nothing wrong with remembering our guys. Families of the fallen deserve that. The problem comes when we give more importance to our tragedies than we do the tragedies of families in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan etc.

This Memorial Day, remember the fallen soldiers you know. Remember the goodness in them. But also, my friends, remember that had they been born in a different place, they may have been the enemy soldier, and their death would have been no less tragic.

Never forget. Never forget the pain war causes. Always remember those we have lost to our violent ways. Always remember that every human on this planet is intrinsically tied together. When an Iraqi family loses a child, we lose a child.

Hold your children close on this Memorial Day, and remember the children affected by war all over the planet. Let this Memorial Day be one of sober remembrance instead of yet another celebration of our empire’s military might. Pray for peace my friends. Forgive, as we have been forgiven.

Happy Memorial Day.

The LGBT….issue?

As many of you who follow me on social media know, I have become a strong supporter of my LGBT brothers and sisters over the last few months. It was a big step for me to come out and openly support them and now I am committed for standing up for this still largely oppressed group of people.

Often, however, these conversations turn to the language of LGBT “issues” and for a long time that’s what all this was for me. It was just another issue to be discussed and debated.

No longer is this some issue like atonement or the foreknowledge of God or even prayer. These are my friends. When I speak of LGBT people I am not talking about some ideal or some abstract concept. I am talking about my friends.

LGBT people are people I go to church with. They are people I have learned from. They are people I have laughed with, cried with and prayed with. They are people who have motivated and inspired me and they are even people who have annoyed me.

LGBT people are normal human beings just like anyone else. So I have had LGBT friends who have gotten on my nerves or even made me mad. I do not see my LGBT friends as perfect or beyond the same level of criticism that anyone else is susceptible to.

However, I will defend my friends. I will continue to speak for their full inclusion and affirmation because that is, simply, the right thing to do. When I hear people refer to gay people as sinful I think of the couples in my church who have so inspired me. I think of the people at the Resource Center in Dallas who have given their lives to care for those with HIV/AIDS. I think of people who I have seen do amazing things and who hinge their life on their faith, same as myself.

When people say that trans people are mentally ill I think of the trans woman who patiently explained to me how to use language that is not offensive. I think of the trans woman at my church who literally volunteers for anything and everything that is needed. And I say, if they are mentally ill, I support them in their illness.

I care more about my friends and their freedom than I do about your laws and your judgements. The same people lauding a psychiatrist saying trans people are mentally ill are generally the people who don’t believe archeologists who say the Exodus probably didn’t happen on the scale the Bible says it did.  The same people lauding this supposed “bombshell” are the same people who refuse to acknowledge that the creation accounts in Genesis are metaphorical. So which is it? Do you trust science or not?

For me, I appreciate the contributions of scientists, psychologists, anthropologists etc. but I always want to side with compassion. So if science tells me someone is bad, well I’m not so sure I’ll swallow that. Also, we must remember that less than fifty years ago the American Psychological Association not only listed homosexuality as a mental illness, but they even supported aversion therapy, known to be downright abusive today. When I look at a history like that which has changed course before, well, I want to err on the side of acceptance and compassion, if indeed I will err.

So go ahead and post your links and your arguments and your disgust with my friends. I will stand with them. Go ahead and condemn them for being something you do not understand. I will stand with them.

I do hope, however, that their capacity to love, and my capacity to love, will wear you down, and that you will come to see my friends as they are, beautiful, loving, creative individuals who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual. Once that happens…once you see their humanity, hear their stories and understand their struggle, I have no doubt that you will join with me in affirming and supporting them. And then, to steal once more from Dr. King, “our victory will be a double victory. For we will have won you in the process.”

This is not an issue. These are people. And it is far past time for us to stand with them.

To My Beautiful Friends Who Struggle With Depression

Thank you.

Thank you for showing us what courage looks like.

Thank you for not giving up.

Thank you for being such a bad ass.

It seems as though I have been interacting with a lot of people who struggle with depression recently. I am not sure why it has been at the forefront of my mind lately but it has. As I have learned more about this extremely complex sickness I have had two reactions to it.

The first is frustration that there isn’t more I can do to help my friends who struggle with this.

The second is awe. I am completely awestruck by the courage and strength and beauty of my friends who deal with this.

To you, my friends, I want you to know I see you. I see you when you bust out of that dark cloud and are able to be fully yourself and I see you when the cloud feels too thick for you to do anything.

I also want to say I am sorry. Though I don’t think any of you knew me then, there was a time when I thought depression could be beaten with a little bit of prayer and determination. I am sure many of you have heard the accusations. If not from someone you know then maybe in your head. Those who would say that depression is demonic or that you are just lazy or whatever the lie is, I want you to know I am sorry for the times I perpetuated it.

To those of you who have shared your struggle with me, even some as a 2 AM text message, again I say thank you. Thank you for helping me understand. Thank you for trusting me with your pain.

I do believe God heals. I do pray for you. But I will not oversimplify this battle you fight. I recognize the beautiful complexity that is your daily life though I know I could never understand it.

I know you, my friends, will beat depression. You DO beat depression. Every time you laugh or make others laugh, you beat depression. Every time you crawl out of bed when every bone in your body is telling you to stay right there, you beat depression. Every time you use your pain to create beautiful art, you beat depression. Every time you brighten someone else’s day when yours feels as dark as can be, you beat depression.

But let me be quite clear about something. On those days when you can’t cope. On those days when you can’t handle anything and you shut down. On those days when you hate the world and maybe even yourself, on those days, you still beat depression. As long as you have breath in your lungs and love in your heart you are a champion. Depression is a nagging challenger that keeps coming back, but you are victorious. Not in the hyper-spiritual sense that that you are victorious so get over it, but in the sense that you are constantly having victory over that sickness. And I am so proud of you. All of you.

You are beautiful souls.

You are dearly loved.

You are stronger than most of us could imagine.

Thank you for your courage.

Thank you for fighting.

Tent City and the Problem of Relocation

In the end we just stopped and prayed.

We did not know what else to do. It seemed as though the emotions of the day had overwhelmed all of us. I have spent a lot of years working with the homeless, and I never felt as overwhelmed and helpless as I did today.

For the past few months I have partnered with an organization known as The Human Impact, which consists of two unbelievably passionate women, Elisabeth and Elissa. The way they love and care for their homeless friends has inspired me so much. Their lack of fear and ability to get past rough exteriors and false fronts that people put up has even enabled me to make friends in tent city much more quickly than I would have on my own.

Just a couple weeks ago we had a birthday party for one of our friends and sat around laughing and enjoying the community which had developed out there. Today, there was no laughter. Today, there were tears.

The city of Dallas has made the decision to “close” tent city. In some aspects, I get it. Tent city can be a violent place. Drugs are prevalent and there is a criminal element there which is unhealthy. However, there are also beautiful, vulnerable people there who are just trying to make it through life one day at a time. Closing tent city is not a solution. These people are still homeless. Many organizations are doing a lot to house people from tent city, but it is not enough. There are still people waiting on housing as well as people who are falling through the cracks. For those people, today felt like we were standing on Native American soil, as the Indian Removal Act was about to be put into action.

Many Native Americans died on the trail of tears. I wonder how many of Dallas’ homeless will lose their lives as they are forced into the unknown. Today felt like a trail of tears. Everywhere we turned people were in distress and crying. These aren’t hyper emotional people we are talking about either. These are tough, street-hardened men and women who have been taught to suppress their emotions yet simply could not do what they had been forced to do for years. Today, the tears flowed.

On one corner a man was folding his clothes neatly before stuffing them in a trash bag. On another corner a man stood just looking around blankly. He had just been fired from his job for not possessing a cel phone. There was a giant gap where a couple used to have a make shift store. Everywhere I turned there was confusion and hopelessness and despair. The air felt heavy. Our words felt empty.

What do we do? This seemed to be our common thought. How can we help our friends? Elisabeth, who is generally quick with a plan and optimistic, began to weep with one of our friends. It was at that moment I knew that today was different. We searched our hearts and minds for a plan or a course of action, but sadly, the decision has been made. The stage is set for yet another step in what has sadly been the story of American history which is far too often swept under the rug.

We are a people of relocation.

Our ancestors relocated here from Europe and immediately began relocating those they found here. They claimed this land as their own but it was not our land to take. We relocated Africans to our stolen land and forced them to build and farm it for us under unspeakable violence. Today, we enact laws that make the rich richer and push those at the bottom further down. Then we look at those on the very bottom of our society, the homeless, and we push them around and around and pretend we are dealing with the issue of poverty and homelessness when really all we are doing is pandering to our own aesthetics.

They say they are closing tent city because of the drugs and the violence, yet they are not solving the drugs and the violence, just moving it somewhere a little more out of our view. People lost their lives in tent city is a reason being given for closing it. Well why don’t we deal with the violence in our culture that is only mirrored in tent city rather than evicting those who already have no homes?

What if we as a people began to see the immense value in every life and began to see our own lives as interconnected with those who live on the streets, or in a tent under the interstate? What if we stopped being so overly concerned with our own safety and began to believe that the only way we can have true safety is if we rise together, as a community? If one of my brothers or sisters is left vulnerable on the streets then my own family is vulnerable as well. We will never solve poverty until we begin to see the least of these as one of us.

I feel that my words are fairly inadequate to explain to you the depth of the hurt, pain and hopelessness I experienced among my friends in tent city today. Yet words are all I have to try and paint this picture for you in the hope that hearts will be moved to step outside the deadly independence our nation has fallen into and search for the interdependence we so desperately need. We need one another.

I will leave you with one final story. As we were about to leave we ran into one of our friends we know fairly well. He told us that he just did not know what to do or where to go which was a familiar story of the day. This guy is built like a house. His voice is one of the deepest I have ever heard but he is always so kind and polite to everyone. Elisabeth read him a Bible verse about troubles not lasting forever and God being close to us and he turned away from us quickly. He did not turn quickly enough, however, for me not to see the tears flowing freely from his eyes and down his rough leathery face. This big tough man was completely broken by his situation. The streets have hardened him, but our policies have broken him. What a dilemma.

After that situation we were all at a loss. Finally, we stood on a patch of dirt and looked around and decided to do the only thing we knew to do. We prayed. Several of our homeless friends joined us as we prayed for God to deliver them and protect them and sustain them and to remind them of their great value. I think now though that the most pertinent prayer we could have prayed was already prayed by Jesus as he hung from a cross over two thousand years ago.

Abba forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Indeed Abba, forgive us. We still have no clue what we are doing.