Holy Trash


I think this is the last of them. The church notes.

I started taking notes during church in elementary school, and kept up the practice into adulthood. From 2008 (when I started attending Episcopal Eucharist) to 2019 (when I stopped), I took notes on my bulletin and kept them in a series of three-inch three-ring binders (doubly Trinitarian). I reviewed the notes during the week. Sometimes I typed them up. If a theme was particularly compelling and meaningful to me (some of you may remember the Hagar phase), I wrestled with it with passion and intention. I wrote blog posts I never published. I choreographed dances inspired by Scripture and Sacrament (there was a Sigur Ros piece about Psalm 57:8, and a Bach piece about Baptism). You get the idea.

People often ask me how I know so much about the Bible. I often answer with my standard joke about attending Baptist school until 8th grade. But the truth is that I know a lot because I care about it…kind of a lot. People make time for what’s important to them, and I have spent time thinking about Scripture and theology that others have spent thinking about football or the Kardashians. Or their jobs or their friends… For better or worse, the Christian lens has been the lens through which I have experienced and interpreted my world since childhood.

Art, music, science, literature, and a dash of Buddhism have helped sharpen that lens. For a while I thought of my faith as goblin-madeit only takes in that which makes it stronger. Like the Sword of Gryffindor, my faith became an invincible weapon.

And then it was turned against me. It was used to penetrate and pierce my own flesh.

So I’ve been slowly loosening my grasp, gradually purging the bulletins and notes. I weeded out notes from services I that weren’t particularly memorable, tossing them into the garbage–not even the recycling. Now I’ve pared it down to one last binder.

I thought I would take them camping this weekend and burn them over my little Solo Stove, but honestly, that seems to give them a little more reverence and importance than they deserve.

After all, these bulletins, like the so-called Sacraments, only have meaning because I give it to them–like the Sword, gaining strength from use. And I no longer give them that meaning.

A priest who betrayed me used to emphasize this fact, that we make the meaning. Recognizing that can offer so much freedom, allowing us to step into our own power to reclaim Scripture that has been used to cause death and separation rather than connection and life. In moments like that, the world opens up and we can see that God is in all things, all things have their origin in God, and therefore all the things that we fear and avoid are places where we find God.

For example: last year, when I was still working at a church, my son was the joyful recipient of a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with leftover Communion bread–the home-baked kind. He had about a dozen six-inch diameter discs of soft, sweet Jesus. I put it in his lunchbox every day for a week. He took it to the public school lunchroom, internalizing Christ in the midst of his peers, unaware that they were in the very presence of God.

But I felt nervous about my son throwing the uneaten portions into the garbage can. I asked my priest about it. Would Jesus be offended? We decided that even the trash cannot desecrate the divine. Perhaps Christ’s entering into the rotten garbage heap sanctifies the garbage? No. Christ’s presence in the garbage heap signifies that it is already sacred, in the same way that Christ’s appearing on earth signified God’s pre-existing approval of creation, demonstrated that we were always sacred all the time. And now Christ’s Body is in a landfill, doing the same. Impervious to desecration, only taking in that which makes it stronger.

The danger in making our own meaning is that we have a capacity for making some rotten meanings. If something deathly can be reclaimed for life, it also works in the reverse. That same priest eroticized the Bread. That same priest told me that he held my body in the Body, at the Table, saying the Words. He licked it and held it in his mouth, and wanted to do the same to me.

Is Christ’s Body impervious even to that rotten garbage pile?

So, the bulletins. What meaning do I make of them? Are they symbols of the Church, or of My Investment therein? Are they symbols of this thing that has formed me so completely that I have lost any capacity to form myself? Are they symbols of joy and beauty and hope I’ve found by my own seeking, my own free will? Are they symbols of my compulsive need to make meaning at all, of anything, and my inability to simply let things be as they are?


They are all those things, AND they are pieces of paper taking up too much space in my little apartment. And I would like to let go of them. Sometimes I worry that I’ll forget some beautiful insight held there in the notes. Then I wonder why I still care.

The Sword appears to any true Gryffindor in a time of need. I don’t have to carry it around. It will be there when I need it. If I need it. I’ve found all the horcruxes and hallows. I’ve walked into the Forbidden Forest. I’ve been hit with the Unforgivable Curse. I’ve passed through death, and I’m sitting at the train station, deciding whether to go on. Wherever I choose to go, my hands are empty now.


I’m going to Alaska on Friday,
revisiting a place of significance
and a person, shifted slightly.

Spiraling my way over the earth
(deeper, more distant), I’m backing
away and approaching acceptance

all at once, in the least small ways.
Let’s break Denali down into chunks.
Massive holy mountain surrounded

by smoke and seething fire
(it’s Pentecost, motherfuckers),
Denali, Shirley, and I have all

reclaimed our names
and our places
in the midst of catastrophe.


Who’s driving?

Twittering down the Seward Highway—down, yes, not due East as I’d thought—was exhilarating to Shirley, the driver, the native. In the passenger seat, stuck as I was, I confessed, “I can’t drive a stick.”

As it turns out, nobody’s driving.

Marshall says it well: there’s nobody home. The Self is a construct with no foundation and when the house falls, all that’s left is the earth underneath.

What is the purpose, then, of a human being?

At one time, we were endurance hunters. Walking upright, it turns out, is nothing more than a series of controlled falls. Each footfall is a return to the Self, the Home, the Ground of Being.

Back then, when we saw God, we built an altar. When we saw an altar, we made a sacrifice: we gave up the fruit of all that endurance, all that chasing, all those controlled falls. We took the end result of our role here, and we burned it. For God, and for us, it was nourishing. The blood and the fat ran downwards, returning to the Ground, fueling the next go-round.

Now, when we see God, we build a bench. When you see a bench, you sit on it and look for God in a mountain, a stream, or a great tree. Today, it’s that: bifurcated trunk with rough, furrowed bark (the kind a porcupine would love to sink his iron teeth into), knots and moss abundant. Birds come and go, by wing rather than by foot.

Like me, they are drawn Home. I told Her, I’m lost. I don’t know where I am and I can’t drive here. She didn’t say anything, but breathed the cold air and stretched into her roots. A bird paused to see me before flittering through the understory, and I thought, Home is everywhere my foot falls.


I demand salvation
for myself, for my sons, for you,
for victims of abuse and exploitation everywhere.

El Shaddai, enough is enough.
Enough of this fear and self-protection
on the part of those in power. (Well, I have power, too.)

YHWH, come down from the hills,
break down the walls, open the gates,
exalt the valleys.

Ganesh, clear out a path,
remove the obstacles in the way
of salvation, of justice, of truth.

Set us free. Restore us to
our true identity—astonishing
children of Promise.


Awake, harp and lyre!

Awake, cardinal and chickadee!

I will awaken the dawn.

I will sing the sun back to life, each note a push:

lifting the light over the trees,

pulling the heat of summer onto skin, feathers and hair,

calling the new day up from the deep,

demanding salvation—

here, now, for myself.


I used to live in a little house
tucked away, in Buckhead, in the woods.

When I drove into the city,
I handed homemade bread to the hungry

without asking their names. I saw them:
standing on street corners,

sleeping on hard concrete stoops
in broad daylight. Heading north again,

I even watched a man set up camp
on the Interstate median, blanket billowing

in the roaring wind of indifference.
“If I were homeless,” I thought,

“I’d go someplace quiet—
the trees behind the gas station—

hidden from view. Why do they
let themselves be seen?”

Now I am here. I stand on street corners, roaring.
I parade down Ponce in full view.

I cross double yellow lines.
I stop traffic, cause collisions.

I glare into the eyes of insulated drivers,
daring them to try and ignore me.

Resurrection Stories 2: Presence


As my Lenten discipline this year, I’m working on a project. As part of that project, I’m thinking about resurrection. Yes, about Christ’s, but more about ours. Yours, and mine.

So, while I think about my own resurrection stories, I’m also asking for yours. I made some posters and shared them at my church, at the dance studio, and on the web, thinking this was a straightforward way to ask for what I want:

Think about your experience. How has Christ come alive in you? How have you gotten up out of the grave? What was it like inside there? What does resurrection look, taste, feel, smell, and sound like for you?
Decide how to represent your story on paper: written narrative, illustration, symbol, quote from Scripture, literature, song, etc.
Use the paper I’ve provided. Put your story on it. Or you can e-mail me your story at Lennon.KAC@gmail.com

For the first week, silence was the only response I got. That’s a good answer, actually. What is it like inside the grave? Silent. How do I feel inside there? Unheard. Ignored.

But, last Thursday I got my first story! I was at the dance studio. Normally when my last class finishes at 9pm, I race home. But this time, I felt like taking it slow. I stretched, I changed my clothes. I passed through the lobby, where Marjorie, mother of an advanced student and a fixture in the lobby, and two students sat quietly. Marjorie glanced up at me with her bright, open face, then looked back down. I peeked into the studios, looking for a fellow teacher to chat with, but everyone seemed engaged. Back in the lobby, I milled around a minute, then I checked the box I’d set up for people to submit their resurrection stories. Empty. I could feel Marjorie’s eyes following me. I gathered my things and decided to go.

Marjorie stopped me at the door. She asked me about the project. She had read the poster but wondered why I was asking for stories? How did I come up with the idea?

I was caught off guard! I was supposed to be the one asking the questions, looking for answers, and here was a famous gold medalist in endurance elocution asking me to speak, and pausing long enough for me to do so! Since I was caught off guard, I didn’t go into my prepared explanation, tripping into unrehearsed honesty instead.

I told her of a sermon I heard, about a year ago, and how I felt challenged by it. The sermon dealt with the gospel account of Thomas encountering the risen Christ (John 20:24-29). So often when I read that gospel passage, I identify with Thomas. I focus on my doubts and disbelief. I lock myself in, I shut others out. I make demands and set unattainable expectations. But the speaker in the sermon suggests a reversal: try on the role of Christ. How have I bled and died and risen again? What does resurrection mean? Not hypothetically or theologically. But tangibly, physically.

I want to spend some time answering the question, and I want to engage others in the process. I want to connect with people through storytelling. I want to share stories and share in stories.

Marjorie listened intently, enthusiastically, her eyes as bright and open as ever. She did not disappoint, instantly launching into a story.

She lost her mother when she was 11 years old. The doctors said her mother would have 6 months to live, but she only made it 6 weeks. As a child, Marjorie made sense of it this way:

If my mom was still here, she would be in unbearable pain. She wouldn’t be the mom I knew and loved. She’d be suffering. Death was just a part of God’s plan for her, and I was glad to have enough time with her, to experience Christ’s love through her while she was alive. I missed her, particularly for the big life milestones. It was hard for me to make sense of it as time went on. But it’s not my job to understand. It’s for me to have faith. I believe that she is with God, and so if God was with me when I graduated, for example, then my mother was, too. She was with me all the time.

When she was a kid, she tried explaining these thoughts to a woman at her church. The woman criticized her for making peace with her mother’s death this way, by reasoning that her mother was better off, free from pain. This woman equated that line of thinking with wishing her mother were dead. I imagine an 11-yr-old Marjorie, standing there in a church, holding out her wounded hands and lifting her arm to show her pierced side to this woman: a real-life Thomas, not able or willing to see resurrection when it’s right in front of her.

In the sermon (click that link and listen to it, already!), the speaker elaborates on the fact that Jesus appeared with Thomas and the disciples without having to open the barred doors, suggesting the primary characteristic of resurrection is that its presence “doesn’t swing on the hinge of a door.”

I imagine, for young Marjorie, the grave felt isolated, alone, abandoned. Motherless. It feels that way for me, too, and maybe for most of us. My granny lost her father when she was two. My dad lost his father at age three. The priest giving the sermon lost her mother at the same age. And other friends, like myself, had parents who, though alive, enforced physical and emotional distances.

We know our parents as absent. We know ourselves as lacking. We lock ourselves in and bar the doors, daring anyone to break through, to prove us wrong. “Unless I see, unless I touch, I will never believe.” If we test and trap others long enough, we can justify our giving up. It’s just not worth the effort, we finally say. Everyone abandons me, sooner or later. Everyone rejects me, given enough time.

How easy it is to sit back in the tomb, shrouding ourselves in isolation and abandonment. And how wonderful and marvelous it is, by contrast, for little 11-yr-old Marjorie to take off the shroud, and to walk out of the tomb into freedom, openness, and presence. Leaving the tomb didn’t erase her wounds, didn’t negate her loss or change the fact that she needed her mother to be physically present at times. She still bears the wounds of her loss, she still misses her mother to this day. But she chooses to live under the belief that love and presence transcend physical absence. She chooses to live again, milestone after milestone, moment after moment, day after day.

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

– e. e. cummings

Still Standing

The following is an excerpt from the audiobook version of Tattoos on the Heart: Stories of Boundless Compassion by Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, leader of Homeboy Industries. Boyle (referred to as “G”) has worked with gang members in LA for over 20 years. This excerpt was transcribed and abridged by yours truly, and is shared without permission. I hope Fr. Boyle will forgive me. I highly recommend that you purchase this audiobook for yourself. – Doe


People want me to tell them success stories. I understand this. They are the stories you want to tell, after all. So why does my scalp tighten when I am asked this? Surely part of it comes from my being utterly convinced I’m a fraud. I find Bill Cain’s reflection on the Shroud of Turin very consoling. He prefers frauds. He says, “If the shroud is a fraud, then it is this masterful work of art. If it’s the real thing, it’s just dirty laundry.”

Twenty years of this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success, and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? Great stock these days, especially in non-profits (and who can blame them), is placed in evidence-based outcomes. People, funders in particular, want to know if what you do works. Are you, in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Theresa’s take: we are not called to be successful, but faithful.

This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the daily ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever is sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God’s business. I find it hard enough to just be faithful.

[Story of Scrappy’s death: Scrappy was an extremely aggressive and uncompromising gang member who pulled a gun on Fr. Boyle on one occasion. But finally, he admitted he regretted the reputation he had spent 20 years building, and wanted a new life. Fr. Boyle gave him a job on a graffiti removal team. Soon after, Scrappy was found dead from a clean, execution-style shot to the head. No one knows exactly what happened, but Fr. Boyle speculates…]

Maybe something caught up with Scrappy. Maybe his past, maybe his recent present. Perhaps the prospect of leading a life devoid of reputation, by the rules, and by the slow pace of the right thing, was more terrifying than exhilarating for Scrappy… Quite apart from the tragic blow of Scrappy’s death for all of us who loved him, was the heartbreaking fact that he missed his chance to live in another way. Like a child, thrilled but terrified by his first swim in the ocean—floating, carried, restful, because he was moving in a completely different way—perhaps the new scene, its strangeness, its immensity, had scared him back into the life he knew.

Was he a success story? Does he now appear in some column of failure as we tally up outcomes? The tyranny of success often can’t be bothered with complexity. The toke board matters little when held up alongside Scrappy’s intricate, tragic struggle to figure out who he was in the world.

[Story of Raul’s death: another gang member who gave up his old life, but was shot while on the clock for Homeboy Industries.]

[Story of Victor’s death, after which Fr. Boyle was comforted by an infamously surly gang member with a violent temper. On this occasion, the man sobs with G in his office, expressing his wish that he could “swoop [G] up” and out of his pain.]

Sister Elaine Roulette, founder of My Mother’s House in New York, was asked, “How do you work with the poor?”

She answered, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” It’s as basic as crying together. It’s about casting your lot before it ever becomes about changing their lot. Success and failure ultimately have little to do with living the Gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed, or until he was crucified, whichever came first.

The American poet Jack Gilbert writes, “The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world.” The strategy and stance of Jesus was consistent in that it was always out of step with the world. Jesus defied all the categories upon which the world insisted: good/evil, success/failure, pure/impure. Surely, he was an equal opportunity pisser-offer in this regard. The Right wing would stare at him and question where he chose to stand. They hated that he aligned himself with the unclean, those outside, those folks you ought neither to touch nor be near. He hob-knobbed with the leper, shared table fellowship with the sinner, and rendered himself ritually impure in the process. They found it offensive that, to boot, Jesus had no regard for their wedge issues, their constitutional amendments, or their culture wars.

The Left was equally annoyed. They wanted to see the ten-point plan, the revolution in high gear, the toppling of sinful social structures. They were impatient with his brand of solidarity. They wanted to see him taking the right stand on the issues, not just standing in the right place.

But Jesus just stood with the outcast. The Left screamed, “Don’t just stand there, DO something!” And the Right maintained, “Don’t stand with those folks at all!” Both sides, seeing Jesus the wrong size for this world, came to their own reasons for wanting him dead. Both sides were equally impressed as he unrolled the scroll and spoke of good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to captives. Yet only a handful of verses later, they wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff.

How do we get the world to change, anyway? Dorothy Day asked, critically, “Where were the saints to try and change the social order? Not just minister to the slaves, but to do away with slavery?” Dorothy Day is a hero of mine, but I disagree with her here. You actually abolish slavery by accompanying the slave. We don’t strategize our way out of slavery, we solidarize, if you will, our way toward its demise. We stand in solidarity with the slave, and by so doing, we diminish slavery’s ability to stand. By casting our lot with the gang member, we hasten the demise of demonizing. All Jesus asks is, “Where are you standing?” And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, he asks again, “Are you still standing there?”

Can we stay faithful, and persistent in our fidelity, even when things seem not to succeed? I suppose Jesus could have chosen a strategy that worked better (“evidence-based outcomes”) that didn’t end in the cross. But he couldn’t find a strategy more soaked with fidelity than the one he embraced.