Who We Are

Honoring the legacy of an icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Who would we be if…

we weren’t bogged down with agendas, statistics,
meetings, budgets, lesson plans, data, grocery lists,
problems to solve, disputes to adjudicate,
fallout to manage, needing to comply,

adjust, regroup?

What could we accomplish, were it not for…

circumstances, clashes of character,
economic fluctuation, deadlines, demands,

shortages, failing systems,
manipulated results, inadequate materials,
outdated equipment, unending Zoom meetings,
growing anxiety?

What does it mean to be alive in 2020…

with a pandemic inhibiting every
fiber of who we are,

acrid smoke obscuring our sun,
fires consuming forests, structures,
blackening thousands of acres of
rolling countryside, wildlife fleeing—

without hope of escape,
and all of our hopes for calm dashed,
patience wearing and tempers flaring,
angry voices and violent rage escalating,
hunger for power mirroring
flames leaping from tree to tree?

To be sure, this is our experience; this does not define who we are. We are human, we are connected with the Divine, and we are strong! We choose relationship and embrace, rejecting malice, cynicism, dehumanization. We allow pain to touch our souls, yet not to take up residence. We invite joy, intentionally practice patient and persistent hope, declare that our very breath connects us with God and with each other. Our words and thoughts reflect a higher purpose—one of restoration, reconnection, redemption. 

With voices raised, eyes clear, hearts open, fists clenched—not in hatred but in resistance to the forces that battle for twisted allegiance—we join the ranks of those who throughout history have stood strong. We are those who continue to sing, to dance, to pray, to eat, laugh, and create because we, too, shall overcome. We shall overcome again and again and again. We, too, belong to this abundant, beleaguered yet resilient planet, and we will fight for our human siblings, sojourning creatures in nature, and our Earth. 

This is who we are.

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s eNews
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo credit: Jon Tyson via unsplash.com (open source)

Our Repetitious Prayer

 

It seems we are being presented with more simultaneously occurring challenges all the time; one at a time would be plenty. In addition to staying vigilant in the midst of pandemic fatigue, we are doing all we can to ensure an equitable, humane direction for this country; we work to support our black and brown siblings, demanding justice and peace; we look for ways to respond to the fallout from a quaking economy; we do our best in the responsibilities of work, relationships, and community; and now we are also weighed down by devastating destruction in the wake of an ever-encroaching fire. 

We cry out, “It’s too much!”

As followers of Christ we know we will always be carried—by one another and by God. When words fail us, simple outbursts become our daily mantra—our prayers. 

Be near to those from whom we are separated, oh God.
Be our anchor when we flounder at sea.

Protect your beloved children when they are targeted.
Empower our bodies; give us health in this precarious time.
Watch over us as we pray sleep will not continually elude us.
We need stability; our minds are overloaded.

We need you with us; we are so alone.
Be attentive to us when we pray; we don’t understand.
Remind us of our inherent value even in our frailty.
Thank you that you do not judge us in our distress and fear.
May we be people who care, and give us helpers in our need.
Give us discernment beyond our natural ability.
We need strength to face unrelenting challenges.
We need your comfort in our great loss.
Meet us in these times of devastation.

Thank you that because of resurrection anything is possible.

Amen.

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s eNews
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Simon Berger via unsplash.com (open source)

Movement of Mystery

Whatever happened to movement?
. . . that exhilaration of energy, speed,
progress toward a goal,

the invigorating feeling
of reaching a destination,
exchanging one place—
physical or metaphorical—
for another.
we crave what’s

different.
new.
hope-filled. 

Movement seems a distant memory
in our present state of existence,
which seems more characterized
by static, sedentary drudgery,
stuck in every day’s mire.

And yet, who can deny
the movement of the
firmly rooted tree—

unshakable
immovable—
yet undeniably
bending,

swaying,
reaching toward
the heavens, responding
to strong force of

autumn’s breeze? 

Each time we breathe
in and out, in and out,
we feel the expansion
and contraction,

receiving and eliminating—
delicate balance that
sustains life.
is this not movement? 

How can we forget magnificent
ocean’s waves, the
soothing sound of crashing,

receding, rolling back upon
the shore, only to repeat

without hesitation?
does this not embody the
epitome of movement?

yet it remains. 

Unhurried, unsolicited,
uninterrupted movement
heals body, soul, spirit.
the rhythms of light and dark,
heat and cold,

rest and toil,
laughter and weeping
refill life’s reservoir of
grace over and over
and over again. 

This is the movement of God, for
in God we live, and move,

and have our being. 

©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Khamkéo Vilaysing via unsplash.com (open source)

 

Laser Focus

Our energy is not limitless, nor is our time replaceable. We have to constantly choose where to place our focus. 

When you have a cancer diagnosis, revealing a malignancy that has already invaded vital organs, this is not the time to argue the benefits of regular dental checkups or research the most effective exercise routines to help alleviate seasonal depression. This is the time to fight cancer.

When you’re a swimmer and see a toddler floundering in a pool, this is not the time to scan the partiers around that pool, shrug your shoulders, and assume someone will help; you immediately dive in!

When you’re an EMT called to a crash on a highway beyond a string of wildfires between you and your destination, this is not the time to argue which road is the most scenic or lament that you can’t grab a cup of coffee in a quaint nearby town; you instinctively opt for the only access road open, wasting no time in carrying out your responsibilities. 

When you’re a firefighter you don’t contact the architect of the burning building to learn about the intricacies of that structure before assessing the situation; you choose the best equipment to extinguish the blaze without delay. 

When you’re in anguish because of a ruptured appendix, you don’t ask for a list of surgeons within a 50-mile radius so you can sift through each professional’s profile, then criticize the physician on call for not measuring up to your ideals, demanding someone who is not available. You place your trust in the ER professional who has scrubbed in and is waiting in a prepped OR. 

Friends, this is where we find ourselves right now! 

Our country is battling an advanced malignancy which has been systematically and aggressively injected into every facet of our lives. The time to fight this cancer with utmost precision is now. 

We are drowning in a vortex of blatant deception, tangles of corruption, confusion infused by conspiracy theories, and governmental complicity in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The time to expend whatever energy it takes to help our imperiled nation is now. 

No longer do we have multiple avenues equally suited to save us from national, environmental, economic, medical, and moral demise; it’s on us to choose the only access available at this time. 

Personal preference has a place, but a team with stellar qualifications, ready to take on a formidable task is non-negotiable. 

In this time of crisis we have one job—we must be laser focused on our collective survival, the resuscitation of our democracy, and the protection of every inhabitant on our planet.

©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com (open source)

Delusion and Dystopia

I’ve read a wide variety of things over the years and know it is always important to consider the source!

When I read social media, I consider the source. If it’s truly the discourse of people, not merely the sharing and re-sharing of previously created content, I find this discourse inherently valuable. 

I write from a very specific place in history today; I am not a fact checker or scientist or environmentalist or activist. I continue to value the work these people do, as it helps to inform our understanding.

Today I’m standing up as a woman of faith. I have chosen this course personally, but choose equally not to stigmatize those who have not. Additionally, I have responded to a call to lead a body of faith—which I do out of conviction, carrying the weight of the question: what does it mean to be a follower of the Christ of the Gospel—the brown, nomadic, radical protector of those most hated and most vulnerable, whose challenge to the regime predictably led to his execution?

When (in the discourse of people) I read words such as “the name of Jesus was lifted up” (at the Republican National Convention for example), or “we are upholding our god-given right to choose what is best for our children” (while defying safety ordinances put in place to benefit all people), or people rally to demand that churches be allowed to open (with evidence abounding that these tight, indoor spaces infect us all) I feel a profound dissonance.

The current boisterous, attention-seeking, visible display of “faith” reminds me of Jesus’ words when he quotes the ancient prophet, Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human rules.”

We live at a time where 181,000+ are dead in this nation following an outbreak of a pandemic so deadly it defies comprehension. Yet it was labeled a hoax.

We live at a time where people of color are gunned down in the streets (or in their beds, or in stores, or while jogging)—many times by members of the police force, yet the coded language of “law and order” is applauded as godly.

We live at a time when hate crimes are at a 16 year high.

We live at a time when places of worship are targeted for assault, defacing, and brutal killings.

We live at a time when over 16% of children in the US live in poverty, yet the wealth of America’s billionaires has increased by 20% since the beginning of the pandemic. 

We repeatedly hear that catastrophic events (eg. hurricane Laura’s unprecedented devastation on the southern coast of the United States and the number and intensity of California wildfires) are the highest in recorded history, evidence that the changing temperatures on our globe impact not only our beloved planet but real people’s lives. This too has been labeled a hoax.

The list continues and includes an inconceivable depth of corruption, systematic isolation from forward-looking, responsible international allies, an obsession with the power, optics, and rhetoric of dictatorships. During this time we the people are exposed to an exhausting number of assaults on our personal, community, spiritual, and political lives, and I’m even a white woman. However, it is the constant conflation of what is on full display from this administration with the Gospel of Christ that I speak against today. These two could not be further apart; one does not in the least reflect the other. 

It is these realities that haunt me as a concerned global citizen and as a woman of faith. If we do not consider this the jurisdiction of followers of Christ we have completely missed the mark.

If we believe that things will miraculously change—either by divine intervention or neatly fit into end-time rapture theology—we are victims of projection, gaslighting, deflection, abject lies, blame, and narcissism. These were words once confined to clinician’s offices, but have taken center stage in our culture and in too many churches. These words describe people as well as ideologies; these are words that are used to describe cults. 

If you are equally concerned and are not a person of faith or adhere to a faith different from mine, I stand in solidarity.

If these atrocities do not keep us up at night it may be that we truly are among the few who are privileged and insulated, or we belong to those who have been intentionally misled and used as pawns.

©Julia Penner-Zook
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo credit: Julia Penner-Zook

Reclaiming Jesus the Christ

 

Jesus unleashed a revolution
though he led no uprising.

his strength flowed
unbidden from a hidden

authority sufficient to destabilize
impotent defenders of empire.

his visibility posed a threat to the regime
without offering an official position.

he owned no property,
preferring movement in time and space.

his life of openhearted love
emasculated those clinging to

amassed power which proved
useless in subduing holy insurrection, 

re-harnessing the masses.
their only recourse was

to sell his brown body
for thirty silver coins,

and crusades, wars, crimes
against humanity

—oppression of the very ones
singled out as blessed—

raged in the name of
a pseudo-christ.

one recast,
re-created, reinterpreted

in their pale, polite image.

we reclaim him!
…..we reclaim Jesus the Christ. 

we align with his vision of equity,
     dismantling our caste system.

we commit to tearing down walls,
…..releasing those imprisoned. 

we pursue hope with reckless abandon,
…..despite encroaching bitterness. 

we take up the mantle of nonviolence,
…..living it as a subversive force. 

We reclaim Jesus the Christ!

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness
like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo credit: Echo Wang (open source) via unsplash.com

battle for holy ground


Know your battleground, but do not ignore your holy grounds.”
— Cleo Wade 

holy ground—where
pain and laughter,
grief and longing,

despair and dreams,
weariness and vigor
rest together—
uneasy rivals dwelling
in caverns within the

landscapes of the soul,
nursing wounds inflicted
by the war for
meaning. 

sacred space—where
vision crumbles dimmed,
and air as thin

as silhouettes of
gauze floats to

where horizon’s
ribbon flaunts silent
reminders of memories
faded without
hope of return. 

divine desert—where
fire sears flesh,
scorches all
that lives and breathes
and holds out hope
for relief, praying
torrential floods

will nourish
and not annihilate

with indiscriminate
finality.

holy. sacred. divine.
inexplicable beauty
wrapped in invisible

otherness that both
comforts and disquiets.

be still. rest.
the holy will

carry you on
wings of healing wind,
breath of fire
to enliven what
once lay dormant. 

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
IG: julia_penner_zook
Photo Credit: Stacey L. Rhoades

hope is a verb

when

your writer’s
pen fills page after
endless page
of traceless
nothingness;

the music of your
symphony is
indistinguishable
from yesterday’s
slumber;

the dances that
ignite your soul
show up as statues
pressed up
against next winter’s
firewood;

the poems that
rock your
lullabies are
locked forever
in literary birth
canals;

the oils you
lavish upon
expanses
of gleaming
white remain
invisible

then

be still—
this is your winter.
dormancy of the soul.
seeming death,
yet newness is
brooding,
incubating
in solitude,
shrouded,
enduring isolation,
awaiting resurrection.

exchange
your music for
paints,
write with
haunting melodies,
bend, sway,
leap upon
barren canvas.

fear no new sound.
acclimate to
fragrances that frolic.
embrace what seems foreign.
taste the brave journey.

endure.
stay.
believe.
turn to your left
then to your right.
there are other
sojourners beside
you.

i am one of them.
we are all here.

may hope be our action—
love our fuel.

“I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”— Jesus the Christ (Matthew 28:20; Common English Bible)

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
IG: julia_penner_zook
photo credit: Julia Penner-Zook

psalms of the pandemic

what will become of us?
what can we do about the losses? 
the systematic break-down of decency
and reverence for the sacred? 
what will result from the  
deprivation of healing touch? 
when will we look once more into another’s eyes,
noting the shimmers of hazel and gray? 
will we forget the pleasure of in-person connection,
and will the strain of the incessant glimmer
of a computer screen rather than a 
sky at sunset leave us hollow? 

how can we tame the dreams
—horrors of the night—
that lunge at us in the darkness,
leaving breath constricted and heart raging?
what if our attempts to survive 
leave us imprisoned? 

we have lost graduations, 
could not share anniversaries in community, 
our celebrations have been postponed 
or canceled. 
is it joy if it cannot be shared? 
can we honor, covenant, anticipate
new beginnings in the  
company of one?

deaths and funerals happen without us
as we sit alone—numbed—in closets of lament,
participating as virtual onlookers at best. 
the tears shed without community’s embrace 
demand we rely on the unseen cloud of witnesses— 
those ancients who have passed 
into another realm—
to be our fellow mourners. 

meanwhile
neighbors turn against each other 
in our public places;
the sanction of murder in the streets
seems unthinkable unless one ponders
the color of skin.

refusing to accept
well-documented threat, 
disregarding the vulnerability of entire communities,
wild frenzy breaks out as armed
civilians—your neighbors and mine—
demand liberty or death,
shamelessly declaring their own 
perceived superiority.

despite valiant heroism, each day ushers more 
into the realm of the dead than we can bear;
one moment careens into the next with
little inkling of who will be struck next;
we groan under collective exhaustion,
subjected to endless amounts of
denial soaked in bravado and indoctrination,
hell-bent on deregulation and destruction, 
dismantling any semblance of order.

dereliction of duty 
of cataclysmic proportion
leaves us gasping for air. 

oh God who have we become
and what must we endure? 

then i remembered
the power of one—
if that one rises despite drought,
despair, and discomfort.
grounded in the Divine.
finding solace in this moment
she blooms
gloriously
graciously
contagiously
alone yet together
with all of humanity
who vows:

we will never give up! 

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
IG: julia_penner_zook
photo credit: Julia Penner-Zook

resolved

hubris
struts in
garish lights

heeding no one
but those in
its thrall—
one is

touted as
divine—
in the name
of their g_d

while the world burns
species die out
waters rise
sacred land is
heedlessly
violated

children perish
in cages

in the name
of their g_d.

those wielding
power demand

a display of superiority,
fearing dismissal, removal,

utter humiliation.
grotesque lashing out is
foisted upon the world
with ever increasing
irrational cruelty
in the name
of their g_d.

brutality has replaced
compassion.

life in all its forms
shapes, colors,
expressions
that are not “us”
is deemed disposable—
to be used, abused,
plundered, pulverized
for self-serving purposes.

a clamor for war
and the end of time

reaches a frenzy
dancing around the altar
to their g_d.

our grief knows no bounds.
mourning weighs upon us
like a heavy garment
threatening to suffocate,
subsume humanity in this
diabolical disregard for life,

this stampede
toward annihilation. 

there is a time for horror,
for grief, and mourning
just as there is a
time to exchange

the paralysis of
fatalism

escapism
capitulation
for robust
courage.

refusing
to abandon
hope.
exerting every effort
for all children of the world,

to save our global home
from fiery destruction,

to support every
fellow planet dweller
in our expansive quest for

community,
embrace,
justice.
this is not the time

to be distracted by
fervor for
bloody battles

waged to bolster
that overweening pride
which will surely
destroy all
in the name
of all gods.

a clarion call sounds
for every hope-bringer
vision-seeker
life-giver
to sing
shout
dance
compose music
display art
create images
fling color
write words of
prophetic clarity

march in streets
live with abandon
demand our voices
be heard above
the din of those
who despise
all that is holy. 

resolved:
we will conspire
devise
construct
empower
rally
unite
until
our
final
breath.

©Julia Penner-Zook, 2020
Twitter: @J_Pennz
photo credit: Raj Eiamworkakul unsplash.com