Video: There is Smoke in the Air, And Blood in the Soil

Published : Wednesday, November 21, 2018 | 5:15 PM

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood in the ground.

All this has happened before.
All this will happen again.

In the beginning, our scriptural mythology tells us, there were only two things – land, and all the life living in harmony with it – and people.

Land and people. We have the earth. We have each other. That is the heart of what God gives us. God dwells with us in the land. God dwells with us in each other. And our only task is to live in harmony. With the land. With each other.

And yet that is not the story of humanity. Humanity is the story of the rise and fall of great civilizations.

Each think their greatness lies in what they can build and achieve and conquer.

Each builds and achieves and conquers by plundering the land and subjugating the people.

Each thinks the towers they build, the armies they muster and the technological leaps they achieve assure their invincibility and immortality.

And each, one by one, falls to dust.

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood in the ground.

All this has happened before.
All this will happen again.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are leaving the Temple and one disciple cannot help but marvel at what humanity has built.

“Look, Teacher! What huge stones these are! What wonderful buildings!”

The Temple is wonderful. The grandest of monuments built to the glory of God. And that grandeur leads the disciple not to praise God but to marvel at the edifice.

“Look, Teacher! What huge stones these are! What wonderful buildings!”

Look, Teacher! Look at how great we are! Look at what we can do! Isn’t it amazing!

Jesus doesn’t deny the Temple is huge and wonderful, but neither is Jesus seduced by it. Jesus says “You see this Temple. Not a stone will be left on stone.”

Yes, this Temple is amazing. Enjoy it while it lasts. Because it’s going away. Not because it isn’t grand or beautiful. But because all things pass away. Every time.

The Temple was destroyed. And the empire that destroyed it fell. And the empire after that.

Because this is what we do as human beings in our deep beauty and profound arrogance. We build great beautiful things, our own Towers of Babel, hoping that if we can just build high enough, we can be like God. That we can create the thing that will never pass away. That we will achieve immortality. That we will defeat time.

Yet time waits patiently for us all. And in the end what remains is land and people. And we begin again.

And so, we come to today

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood in the ground.

All this has happened before.
All this is happening again.

The fires in our hills testify that we are approaching and have already reached environmental tipping points from which there is no return without catastrophe.

The unrest in our land and those heading for our borders testify that the centuries we have spent colonizing and destabilizing societies around the world and stealing their resources, human and otherwise, has consequences we ultimately cannot escape.

We have created dehumanizing poverties and chasms between us. The mass migrations are just the beginning. And there is no wall high enough for us to build. No army of troops large enough for us to send. No number of “good guys with guns,” or NIMBY-fueled restrictions on affordable housing or militarized police forces or for-profit prisons that can protect the dwindling number of the haves from the swelling ranks of the have nots.

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood on the ground.

Each day brings fresh news that makes those of us accustomed to being sheltered from such reality want to run and hide. To build the walls or maybe just immerse ourselves in the anesthetics that civilizations heading into decline always provide their people.

And we wonder.

We wonder with our ancestors in every era in civilizations who thought themselves invincible and yet found themselves on the precipice of mortality.

We wonder if perhaps we have reached the mountain we cannot scale, the ocean we cannot cross.

We wonder if it is the words of the prophet Jim Morrison that are written on the subway walls and tenement halls

This is the end
Beautiful friend.
This is the end
My only friend, the end.

“Is this the end,” we wonder? Because some days, it kind of looks like it.

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood in the ground.

And yet …we hear Jesus’ words in the shadow of that great Temple:

Nation will rise against nation and empire against empire; There will be earthquakes throughout the world and famines – yet this is only the beginning of the labor pains.

It might look like the end. So much that we have known and love is passing away. But truly this is just the beginning of the labor pains.

And that means that as we look into that future, we are invited to cultivate new gifts and skills and identities.

For what this world needs now is not so much builders and warriors who will preserve and defend what is, but tenders and cultivators of the soil and of one another who will lead us in returning to the land and returning to each other, embrace the healing of the land, embrace the healing of one another, and coax out of both the new life that is to come.

Cultivators of land and people who are not afraid of the blood and the smoke that fills the land and the air.

Cultivators of land and people who will reach our hands deep into the earth and look deep in each other’s eyes and feel the pain and tears and brokenness that have seeped into it and not look away.

Cultivators of land and people who know that there are those who have been buried under that soil, and who know the truth of Greek LGBTQ poet Dinos Christianopoulos that has been adopted by Latinx activists: “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know that we were seeds.”

What this world needs now is cultivators of land and people who can hear and proclaim the truth the land is forever whispering – that life is always more powerful than death. That new life is on its way, and we get to bring it into being together. That those seeds that have been buried are even now reaching for the surface.

Land and people. Land and people.

This is what God gives us. All else will pass away. We have the land. We have each other. And as everything else recedes, as even these stones tumble from on stones, we can either choose to fight over the scraps of what is passing away or rejoice that in the God who dwells in the land and the God who dwells in the people, we have all we need.

And it is the very land and the very people among us who have been most impoverished and displaced who are the Sherpas who will guide us all through the days to come.

It is the refugee who knows how to build a new life as she flees the burning ruins of her old who has the wisdom for those of us who have been safe in our palaces.

It is the mother who has gathered up the body of her lynched son who has the wisdom for those of us who have never had to worry when we kiss our children goodbye.

It is the person of transgender experience who has the gift of an identity that is rooted in change and becoming who has the wisdom for those of us who have enjoyed lives of safety and stability.

It is the very land whose resources we have plundered that has the wisdom of patience and resilience for a world that increasingly cannot see past the next quarter’s profit projections.

And what those among us who have lived in the trauma before and know the difference between victim and survivor will teach the rest of us is that what will matter in the days and years to come is not how high we can build but how deeply we can love.

What will matter is the strength not of our battlements but of our relationships.

The smoke will continue to fill the air. The blood will soak into the ground. And we will be there. And we will hold each other. And together, we will put our hands in that soil, and from it new life will grow.

This summer, I went with our youth choristers on their civil rights choir pilgrimage. For me, the power of that trip was that even for short periods of time I, who always has the privilege of choosing to avert my gaze, was challenged to look deeply into the pain and injustice not just of the past but of the present.

I was, we all were challenged to listen to each other’s stories and feel each other’s pain. Above all, our amazing young people were challenged to breathe all of this in … and to breathe out songs of hope. And, Oh, my God, they did it. And we learned the tears were not to be feared. The tears were hard. And the tears made the music soar even higher.

The first afternoon, we visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama where the lives of the thousands of black men, women and children who have been lynched are memorialized. We walked beneath 800 hanging monoliths bearing the names of those who were hung from trees and dismembered and burned.

As happened eerily so many times on our journey when we got to a spot like this, or the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham, or left the church where we spent two hours with Ferguson activists, as we entered the memorial, thunder began to roll and the skies opened up as if God’s tears themselves were pounding down upon us.

At one point, walking through the memorial, I turned a corner and stopped short. In front of me was a great glass case full of dirt that had been gathered from more than two dozen sites where lynchings had happened.

There was blood in that soil.
Blood of those who had died horrific deaths at the hands of their fellow human beings.

There were tears in that soil.
Tears of those who could not even collect the bodies of their beloved but could only go there to weep days or weeks or years later when it might be safe.

There was deep brokenness in that soil.
The deep brokenness of the guilt and shame of a nation that turned lynchings into picnics and that continues to incarcerate and enslave and lynch in new and insidious ways.

And yet … there was something deeply beautiful, something even more powerful.

Someone had realized that soil, with all its blood and tears and brokenness, was sacred ground.

Someone had realized that this was the way that with tears has been watered.

Someone had realized that this was where so many had come, treading their path through the blood of the slaughtered.

Someone had reached down into that soil. And lovingly gathered it up. And brought it to this place and challenged us to gaze on it. Not to turn away. To let it convict, convert and consecrate our hearts anew.

And then I saw it. You have it in your hands right now, it’s on the cover of your service leaflet. Out of this sacred soil, with all its blood and tears and brokenness, a tiny green shoot was growing. Out of this death, came life. Life to tend. Life to love. Life to try once more.

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood in the ground.

And we need not look away. We must not look away and we must not build more walls. Because it is when we go to the wound. It is when we meet each other’s gaze in the deepest places of pain. When we take the soil in our hands and let it run through our fingers, learning the lessons the blood, the tears, the brokenness have to teach us. When we take our shoes off and walk on and water and till it as holy ground it will convict, convert and consecrate our hearts anew.

And as we do, together we will coax the tiny green shoot out of this world of pain. A new world from the old. New life from death. Life to tend. Life to love. Life to try once more.

There is smoke in the air. There is blood in the ground.

We see it every day. We feel it deep in our bones. And while it might look like the end, I swear to you it is not. Truly, this is just the beginning of the labor pains.

And so yes, the smoke will continue to fill the air, and the blood will soak into the ground. And we will be there. And we will hold each other.

Every moment of fear will be an opportunity for hope.

Every wound from slight to tragedy will be an opportunity for grace and healing.

Every threat to another will be an opportunity to stand together in love.

There is smoke in the air.
There is blood in the ground.
All this has happened before.
All this is happening again.

We will not fear. We will not despair.

Together, we will put our hands in that soil, and from it new life will grow.

Amen.

All Saints Church is located at 132 N Euclid Ave, in Pasadena. For more information call (626) 583-2741 or visit allsaints-pas.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

blog comments powered by Disqus