In the face of intolerable injustice, my instinct is war. Had I not been a warrior I’d be either a crack whore or dead. The problem with being a warrior is that most situations call for finesse that I have the maturity to glean, but not the will to exercise. My trigger mouth is not the product of poor self-discipline. I say exactly what I mean, and I often intend to cause harm with my words. I have had countless moments on telephones with underpaid minions in corporations where I’m so incredibly inflammatory that they’ve hung up on me. I’ve said things to people in traffic that I flinch to recall. I’ve said even worse things to my husband and to my son. My mouth is nuclear.
One night, in my unrestrained grief, I inadvertently said to God, discussing my continual rage, “I want to hurt the pain.” The rage I fling like poo onto harmless strangers and onto ones I love, is me trying to hurt my own pain. I feel pain so I start swinging.
The last sentence of my tirade was “I want to hurt the pain.” The quality of God’s voice is unlike any other voice. The Eternal voice is not emphatic. The voice employs no tactic. It is. God’s voice is utter, and when I hear it, I either repeat what God has said to me out loud so that I hear it over and over, or, in rare cases, I shut the fuck up. That night God made no reply at all. I stopped crying. I shut the fuck up. Because God, sitting right there inside of my heart, knew that there was no need to say anything more. I want to cause pain because I am in pain, and there is no excuse for that choice. I’m not entitled.
I cannot hit the pain with my words or with my fists. I cannot kill my mother, or hit her. I wish I could. I wish, when she lowered her vagina into my face that I’d bitten her. She is dead; she is with the dead. As I am typing this diary in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania my mother is enduring eternity with the unmitigated reality of who she is. She no longer has the luxury of lies and delusion. The demons feast on her soul as she once feasted on my genitalia and forced me to touch hers with my mouth. Her agony will be extinguished when God sees fit to allow her soul to be eradicated. Is that justice? Yes. But it is only an iota of justice.
Justice is that what happened is not all that there is. I love my baby, my family. I love my matchbooks, my marbles, my buttons, my fabric scraps, the artists I know in the streets here. I love my old perfume bottles, the smell of my dog, the way the sunlight glitters in the afternoons in Tanzania. I love the persistent little birds who sing because they can. I love the Wachowski sisters. I love Linkin Park and Eminem and Lady Gaga. I love Nora Roberts and Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. I love my aya (housekeeper) Olipa. I love the people in this world who persist, who get up after being kicked in the face. I love children who dare. I love people who choose. I love what is real, what is true, the things that I perceive that make my heart sing. That love is 99.9% of justice. God’s justice is mercy. Chris Hedges, one of the most important believers in this century, writes that the real horror in American ghettos, where he tried to begin his career as a priest, before shifting radically into a different form of ministry, the real horror is meeting people who have nothing to love.
I worked in the ghettos. Chris Hedges is right. The terror is meeting children who, at 13, have nothing to lose. Hard children are terrifying, children whose hearts I could not touch because their betrayal had been too great already. That should have been me. But it wasn’t. That’s justice.
God did not give us all notification of God’s existence in order to enslave, humiliate, or condemn us. God came to distribute mercy, to intervene, to sow love. How do I know if someone knows God? Someone knows God if they love, if they choose to love what they can, if they intervene to make peace, to cause clarity, I know they know God if love is what they will.
Here’s what else I know: I know that God loves people who perform abortions. God loves people who are transgender. God loves the people of Islam and Israel. God loves those who perform same sex marriage. God loves the people of Buddha and Krishna. God loves the people of North Korea and Saudi Arabia and Mexico and South Africa. God loves people who vote for any political candidate. God loves people who get divorced. And God loves people who murder. God loves people who are pedophiles and rapists. God loves. That’s justice.
I do not know how God feels about what people do, although I suspect that the condition of our heart is far more complex than any of us has the capacity to understand. Certainly we are not called to adjudicate. It’s not my job to know God’s opinions about what people do. It is my job as an evangelist to know that God loves people. God’s love is entirely independent of what we do or do not do. We cannot cause God to love us. Nothing, nothing, not even presiding over Hitler-esque genocide, nothing at all can cause God not to love us.
We are not to judge and condemn. In my lifelong study of holy texts, there have emerged a few universal truths. One is this: We are never condemned for the multitude of our sins. But we ARE condemned when we condemn other’s sins. We are not condemned for our humanity, but we are condemned for playing God. This is the scary reflexive of faith. If we point our finger to accuse, we point not at the object of our hatred, but at ourselves. In such cases, God wills not, chooses not to intervene between our self-hatred and our condemnation. If we insist on condemnation God finally says, “Your will be done.” My mother is where she chose to be, where she insisted on going. God loved her up until her death, and loves her even now. But my mother does not want God.
I see, in so many parts of this world, the tyranny of evil people. They bang and crash around imposing their will upon women, upon children, upon the poor, upon the uneducated. They say they do such things because they have a right, or because they are right. Only one test is true. Is it love? I do not mean the kind of “love” that coddles and enables. That’s not love. Passion is not meant solely for war. It’s also meant for love. God’s passionate love is unequalled and would be utterly catastrophic to actually experience unmitigated, such is the strength of it – a nuclear bomb of hate is as innocuous as a sneeze compared to the unleashed, loving passion of God. I’ve seen plenty of hate, but the overwhelming majority of what I experience in my global travels is goodwill. Most people want to help me, want to make sure I get where I am going, get whatever it is I need. There is so much more love than there is hate.
God’s mercy doesn’t need to be imposed or forced. Unlike the tyranny of imposed morality, mercy transcends all of that bullshit; mercy has a way of seeping under doorways, floating right across borders. Mercy has a way of unfettering barriers of religion, custom, and language. In the solitude of my despair a hand reaches through and mercy is in that touch. I reach back. Mercy listens; mercy sees, mercy knows, and when God speaks, the voice is embedded with mercy and unbreakable clarity. Never in my dialogues with God of the past 4 decades has there been a whiff of judgment in God’s voice. Not once. There have been plenty of hard truths, but no condemnation.
No one has God’s voice. No one but God. If you are not sure if it is God who is speaking, assume it is not God. God’s voice is unimpeachable. When God speaks to you, you will have no doubt at all. You can try to squirm around it, but you’ll know you’re just being a coward or a liar, because you’ll know, as you’ve always known, what is actually true. We are not here together to tell one another how to live. God will show us how to live. We are here to love all we can. God, in whatever form God communicates Itself to you, God will show you what love is, what love means, what love does, what love looks like. Love is infinite in variety, its expressions are uncountable. God’s voice does not preach. There is no will inside of the voice of God other than love, the immutable will to love.
I have two favorite poets, one is Rupert Brooke. The other is Pulitzer Prize winner Franz Wright with whom I corresponded when he was still alive. This is Franz’ poem:
The Only Animal
The only animal that commits suicide
went for a walk in the park, basked on a hard bench in the first star,
traveled to the edge of space in an armchair
while company quietly talked and abruptly returned, the room empty.
The only animal that cries
that takes off its clothes and reports to the mirror,
the one and only animal that brushes its own teeth
Somewhere the only animal that smokes a cigarette,
that lies down and flies backward in time,
that rises and walks to a book and looks up a word
heard the telephone ringing in the darkness downstairs and decided to answer no more
And I understood too well:
how many times have I made the decision to dwell from now on in the hour of my death
(the space I took up here scarlessly closing like water)
and said I’m never coming back and yet
This morning I stood once again in this world
the garden ark and vacant tomb of what I can’t imagine,
between two eternities, some sort of wings,
more or less equidistantly exiled from both,
hovering in the dreaming called being awake,
where You gave me in secret on thing to perceive
the tall blue starry strangeness of being here at all.
You gave us each in secret something to perceive
Furless now, upright, My banished and experimental child
You said, though your own heart condemn you
I do not condemn you.