Wearing the Armor of God
August 15, 2019: Wearing the Armor of God
The cicadas are so loud this year! The ones buzzing in my neighborhood right now are Neotibicen linnei. And what fascinating creatures they are.
Nymphs hatch from eggs laid in slits cut into tree bark, then drop to the ground, burrowing as deep as eight feet. They grow for a year…some species grow for seventeen!…sucking xylem from the roots of trees. Then they burrow up, climb a tree, and molt. A molting cicada is a bizarre, slightly disgusting, surprisingly beautiful phenomenon. It bursts out of its armor, leaving that exoskeleton stuck to an obliging tree trunk, and emerges bright as any butterfly.
Cicadas are one of the pleasures of the late summer, and I’ve been savoring their buzz this year as an antidote to the relentless bad news. Mass shootings that are no longer shocking; Republicans peddling fear and isolationism; Democrats tearing each other apart; so many people hurting. But we cannot afford despair, so I’ve been looking for the beauty that I know is always present, too.
Today was Meet the Teacher day for Emma. She has the same two teachers she had last year, so that part was underwhelming. But seeing friends we hadn’t seen all summer and unpacking the school supplies into their proper containers and getting a popsicle…well, first grade is off to a good start. Plus, she’ll get to eat school breakfast this year because brother moved up to Middle School and won’t be stealing (I mean, sharing) her pastry.
Emma was hot from playing soccer when I picked her up. She was also hot because of a playground incident. “Some kids were making fun of a boy, a black boy, and that’s just wrong, so I played with him! Then I was mean to the mean kids so they’d know how it feels!” Being black made it worse because the mean kids were white, but she thought the meanness was wrong by itself, too.
I stopped, and stooped, in the blistering parking lot to give my pixie warrior a hug and tell her I was so proud of her. I love and hate, am proud and sorry, that race factors into her consciousness, her sense of justice. And that, in a nutshell, is white privilege; because in America, every kid that’s not a white kid is aware of race early, early on.
We talked in the car about being mean to the mean kids. How that never works. How being mean just makes the mean kids meaner. That being mean to someone might change their behavior in the moment, but it never changes their heart, and that’s what we’re really aiming for. How standing alongside the injured party is always right, always helps, because feeling alone is sometimes worse than being teased.
It’s pretty much the Jesus story, right? Befriend the helpless, the marginalized, the outsider. Stand up to the bullies without emulating their hatred. Turn the other cheek. Don’t cast the first stone. Eat with the outcasts. Touch the lepers. Listen to the women. Welcome the stranger. Visit the prisoners. Feed the hungry. Do unto others…
When I hear people say they want America to be a Christian nation, that’s the Christianity I’m always hoping they mean. But that’s never the Christianity they mean. Because the Christians that would mean it that way would never need to call it a ‘Christian nation’. We’d just let everyone know we’re Christian by our love.
America doesn’t feel so loving these days.
As an antidote to the ever-present fear and venom and division, I’ve taken to seeking out instances of the beauty and resiliency of the human experience. Not in a Yes-But way (“yes, that thing is terrible, BUT, quick, look at this cute animal video!”), but rather in a Yes-And way (“yes, that thing is terrible, AND, here is also an instance of great human generosity”).
One good source is the Goodnewsletter. “The Goodnewsletter was not born out an attempt to avoid the reality of the world’s greatest pains, but to find the helpers and hopeful stories happening right within them. We’ve found that in seeking good news, we’ve been able to come out of sulking and actually take action, becoming good news ourselves.”
Did you catch the Mr. Rogers reference, there? I signed up about two years ago and now I get five good news stories every Tuesday. Three headlines this week: 1) Ebola is now Curable, 2) Lady Gaga plans to fund more than 160 Classroom Projects in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, and 3) Largest-ever study of coral communities unlocks global solution to save reefs. That’s some great news!
Science always cheers me up, too.
I’ve been geeking out a little about the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, which I don’t remember because it’s my 50th (life)anniversary, too. So I’ve been listening to a captivating podcast series called The Political History of Apollo. It’s a deep dive but well worth it.
But there’s also the successful launch of LightSail 2. LightSail 2 is a CubeSat (which means a small satellite, in this case about the size of a loaf of bread) that is the first spacecraft in Earth-orbit propelled only by sunlight. Yes, sunlight. The mission demonstrated that by adjusting the angle of the sail, we can raise the orbit of the spacecraft. That means that the spacecraft is being propelled by the Sun. Photons hitting the sail pushing it along its orbit. First. Time. Ever. (Johannes Kepler in 1608 was the first to consider vessels “adapted to the heavenly breezes”.)
The really cool part is that this opens up the possibility of launching spacecraft that can go beyond our solar system, then be propelled by the light of another star, and on and on and on—negating the need for a continuous on-board power source. Plus it’s just freakin beautiful to see the shiny silver sail in black space illuminated by our Sun.
But the really, really, really cool thing is that this project was partly crowdfunded. Of the $7 million the project has cost since 2009, at least $1.5 million was donated by individuals. The Kickstarter campaign alone was supported by 23,331 people. I wish I’d been one of them. Because it means that space exploration is not just experts and professors and good-at-science-and-math people. It’s us, people! I joined the Planetary Society. I hope you’ll consider It, too.
I’ve been seeking out human resilience and the beauty of God’s creation because I refuse to let the horrible define humanity. We don’t have to be small-minded, narrow-futured, mean-spirited hominids. We can live into the vast, loving, grace-filled creation that God calls us to be. The keepers and tillers. The stewards. The one-among-many divine children of God. God of the expanding Universe. Limitless, yet willing to be known.
I’ve never liked that Ephesians passage about putting on the whole armor of God. You know the one. It seems to contradict everything Jesus, the least militaristic guy around, taught us about how to live. Maybe we do have to do battle with spiritual forces of evil, but I never see where Jesus calls us to attack. In these days where, at least in my lifetime, our world seems so broken and fragile, I’m reading that passage differently. I think what Paul means is this: with God we are defended no matter what. With truth and righteousness, faith and salvation we can “proclaim the gospel of peace.” Not to obliterate the attacker, or make peace be everyone going along with my vision of peace, but to stand strongly with the victims, and incorporate their vision of peace into our collective Peace.
Only with God’s protection can I hope to withstand the evil. Only with God’s protection can I stand—or kneel—with the hurting. God’s children who are hurting. God’s creation which is hurting. Godself hurting.
This is the opposite of that awful church sign I once saw that said, Jesus avoided bad situations. No. Jesus transformed bad situations and calls us to do the same, using the armor of God, our own good judgment (I mean, don’t be stupid about it), and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Like Emma did.
When I asked Emma about the kid on the playground, she said she was teaching him some soccer moves. I feel like a better mother would have known that Emma had some soccer moves to teach, but I decided to ask about that later. What I did ask was, “What was his name?”
“The kid on the playground!”
“I don’t know. What’s so funny?”
“Well, that’s usually one of the first things I ask someone. You know, Hi, I’m Julia. What’s your name? That’s not what you do? What’s the first thing you ask?”
“Well today I told the mean kids to stop and then I said, Do you want to play?”
I think that’s the gospel of peace. I think she’s wearing the armor of God.