Complaint to a Profligate God

I am sick of God’s injustice.

Everywhere and at all times, the guilty walk free, indistinguishable from the innocent. The blasphemers, the idolaters, the moneychangers, the prodigals—God finds none too rank to be seen with, none too foul to implore. There is no discernment among persons in him. The just are jostled and trounced by the unjust, with never a flag thrown or a whistle blasted.

Why is it that I—stuck in mid-level management—can spot the sheep, know the goats? I can separate them, and do so daily, so why won’t he?

But no; with his Oedipus act, God stands aloof from the counting house; he is too good for the scales, and insists that all are welcome here. His neon sign never goes out—Open—Open—Open—it flashes, and every sort of trash walks in the door and sits at the table.

Oh, I know, I know. It will not ever be thus, I’m assured. One day justice will prevail; there is a limit to this irresponsibility, to this misfeasance. One day, professionalism will be resumed, and the exactions I crave will be doled out.

But that’s not until the scroll of time spools up like a window shade and the vastness of heaven crumples like crepe paper set alight. Even then, it’s rumored that his “justice” is only letting people have what they want—forever allowing them the dark distance that they seek. “Hell has a door locked from the inside,” they claim.

That’s better than nothing, I guess, but how does it serve me now? I, who rankle at the disparities unseen, at the extremities and enormities unpunished?

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Set the Captive Free

I read my friend Dyana’s Art House America essay about her brother “definitely going to prison, and probably for a long time,” and the air went out of my chest. The fear and anger and helplessness were so heavy, almost palpable. I had to turn away from the essay a couple of times during the reading and just look at nothing and breathe.

Sweet quirky Dyana. Her brother. No.

I remember the long shuttle ride from an MFA residency to the airport I took with Dyana several years ago during which she told me about her brother: he was in some trouble, but he was a good kid and she loved him. “I think you guys would like each other,” she said to me. I thought we probably would.

Now he is in prison, probably for a very long time. Dyana has occasionally lashed out angrily at the system, for making her brother feel like less than a human being, for making her and her family feel helpless before a massive, Kafkaesque justice system. I see her posts, and I too get angry.

The circles in which I move these days are full of academics, people who are of as much interest to the local police as the trees lining Rivermont Avenue. If I do a mental checklist of my friends and acquaintances, I cannot think of a single person who has been locked up. The corrections system isn’t something that comes up much.

Only days after Dyana’s essay went live, my wife and I watched the documentary The House I Live In, an indictment of both the so-called War on Drugs and the for-profit prison system. Among other things, the movie argues persuasively that the war on drugs is not primarily about drugs at all, but is a powerful machine for controlling minorities and the poor.

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Spared not Blessed

In the West we have forgotten how the world devours children because mostly when our children die they are defined as subhuman by the law, and so we don’t count their lives when we stop their hearts from beating.

We have escaped an age when half the children born to us die before adulthood, and so we need not live—most of us—with the daily presence of death, prowling as it does like a wolf in tall grass.

When death comes for our children it is an anomaly, and our suffering, no matter how closely those who love us draw near, must be borne largely alone. Our friends grieve for us and in a sense with us, but most of them can’t know, thank God, what it is to grieve as us.

Until, that is, some hell-riddled boy brings guns to a school and blows holes through children whose coffins will be no bigger than your luggage. Until some cult-minded psychopath detonates a bomb that rips off their arms and legs just as easily as you’d shuck corn. Until what surely must feel like the hand of a vengeful God crushes them where they huddle screaming in grade school hallways. [Read more…]