Monday, April 30, 2012

Dandelions Roar.




Wrote this one a little while back, it's for any of you falling in love, or hoping to fall in love, or even licking your wounds from a love lost... And for those of you already in love, forgive me for being a bit childish and over done (but you know how these things are...) and for those of you who write poems, I really am truly sorry.....it rhymes.



Tonight I suppose there will be
Some celestial event
Shooting stars 
Or a pale blue moon
Crawling across night's black pavement

And tomorrow’s sun will surely be 
Breathtaking, I suppose
As it wakes itself 
To dawn the day
And glow the green world gold

And Saturday pigs may fly
And dandelions roar
And fish may wriggle 
From their waters
To walk upright upon the shore

And every month and every year
Will hold in its trembling hand
Some otherworldly 
Wealth of wonder
For all to gawk and awe and grin

But I will miss the sights I suppose
As I always do
Pushing through the fevered throng
Somewhere lonely straining 
To catch a glimpse of you




Sunday, April 29, 2012

Road Trippin' with River, Days 6, 7 and 8: Heard, Half-Heard in the Stillness.


Friday River and I enjoyed the beauty of creation. From streams canopied in spring greens and impossible lushness to the top of the highest peak in Tennessee, swathed in clouds and crisp air. The leaves filter the light like fingers on a fretboard. Touching it here and there to release its song. So skillfully, such grand music. There are moments when you get lost in it, the beauty that is. Moments when you are almost quiet. Moments when words will never be enough, when your heartbeat slowing is praise enough for God. 




It's been a lazy Sunday afternoon. Much coffee. River is reading Sir Author Conan Doyle's The Empty House and missing his home and his cat, Mr. Hopkins, who is named for Gerard Manly Hopkins. (River just reminded me that I named him, that is apparently I gave River two choices. Huxley or Hopkins. The priest poet won out.) And truth is I am missing Haiti. Longing to be back doing something. But we need this time, River and I. To ground each other, sand the rough edges off, laugh without inhibition and such. Tuesday morning we will head back early a.m. and 2 weeks from yesterday I will fly back into Port-au-Prince. 


The rest of this weekend has been quasi-quiet contemplation (and coffee, always the coffee) here in the mountains. Trying to be still in His presence and yet still being so....well, un-still. I am thinking about what that communicates to my Savior, the lover of my soul. That I should be more content to fixate on that which I cannot control than with the tenderness of His presence. When you're in love, there is that point when you trust that other person enough to just be still with them, to linger in each moment, your souls communicating without words that this is where you'd rather be than anywhere else. And how much more infinitely so with Him who is sovereign.


And is it not in the stillness when we can hear him most clearly, when he pours into us most purely, and from where we can best go out into the chaos of life and love a broken world back from pieces?


Here is a lovely poem by T. S. Eliot called Little Gidding (V). The couplet in bold somehow exactly captures how I am feeling right. about. now... 



We shall not cease from exploration 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for 
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


The Voice of the hidden waterfall. The Source of the longest river. The single Note that rises above the cacophony and chaos of life, that which we can tune our souls to. The lovesong of His stillness.



Thursday, April 26, 2012

Road Trippin' with River, Days 4 & 5: Speak Upon The Ashes.




Yesterday we left Rome, GA for Chattanooga, TN. First stop, Lookout Caverns and Ruby Falls. The tour was guided which kept River and I from any real mischief. Boring. But River enjoyed the sights very, very much in spite of the guard rails and the ever-watchful eyes.





I was distracted a bit, still am today, by thoughts of Haiti and her people. Especially her women. The number of victims of gender-based violence there makes my heart ache. And where yesterday the sky was bright and blue and yes and possible, today it sulked and brooded and dampened everything (even threw a little tantrum with hail). I adore the rain, but today...???? Back at the hotel I've been looking through the pictures I took in Haiti. I want you to meet some of the beautiful kids from the Lamb Center where I will be working the next 3 months. The children there are so amazing. So full of tenderness and joy. I am so excited to get to spend more time with them. To see them safe in their new home.










Today I have been reading the biography of Sojourner Truth the fiery abolitionist, preacher and woman's rights activist. She was born Isabella Baumfree and into slavery in 1797 and was sold at least three times. She had 5 children from a forced marriage and fled to freedom a year before New York emancipated all slaves when her last master reneged on a promise to free her early. 


She once beautifully and powerfully ranted: 


"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"


I am thinking that this women who announced that she wasn't ever going to die instead was "going home like a shooting star", would be such a powerful voice in Haiti and anywhere else women find themselves enslaved and oppressed. 


Sojourner Truth
Her faith made her fearless. She proclaimed "I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail." She trusted God implicitly. His sovereignty, His power. She once rebuked Fredrick Douglas for suggesting that slaves use violence to acquire their freedom. Sojourner chided, "Be careful Fredrick, is God Dead?"


She was no respecter of persons and her tongue was as sharp as her wit and ever able to puncture the most pretentious men of her day. She once castigated a "minister" for his sexism which he tried to justify with scripture.



"Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him."


"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, these women together ought to be able to turn it right again." 



One day, while preparing for a speech she was told of a threat that the building would be burned down if she spoke there.  Sojourner spoke quietly in humble defiance, "Then I will speak upon the ashes."


Wow. My kinda woman.


Almost 10:30 here and River is nestling into a comforter cocoon. Sci-fi on his laptop and the Battle Hymn of the Republic drifts sleepily from his whistling lips. He has not stopped whistling it or singing it for 4 days now. Oh my.


But I am not ready for sleep. My mind is reeling, my heart so very heavy thinking about a report out of Egypt where new laws would give men the right to violate their wives after they are deceased. State sanctioned necrophilia. I am desperately hoping and praying that those men in Egypt's parliament, those who hold this legislation's fate in their hands, will consider the prospect of a man having sex with their daughters after they are dead and send this law back to the pit of hell where it came from.  


Please pray for the women of Egypt tonight. For the daughters. Please remember the millions of women enslaved tonight. Pray for freedom, for justice, for hope that they might hold on a little longer. Until God can raise up rescuers. 


Til tomorrow then...









Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Road Trippin' With River, Day 3: Something To Smile About.




Day 3 of my road trip with River began with coffee (you already knew that) and a slow sleepy drive to Auburn Ave and the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. The house is quaint, even idyllic despite its somewhat urban setting. It is every bit as humble as I'd expected and secretly hoped.




It was a lot to take in. I guess the childhood home of a hero places them more on a common plane with us. But I did not feel closer to him. At least not there, not until the graveside. I had tears in my eyes before I even got to the granite monolith. 


River explored the tidal pool and the eternal flame while I thought about the man. He had the ear of the nation and he did not back down from the responsibility. Nor was he any less bold. He proclaimed the gospel and was brave enough, believed it enough to actually live it. 

We walked the 500 feet from the grave to Ebenezer Baptist, the church where MLK co-pastored with his dad and where his mother was shot and killed as she played the organ. 




River sat and I paced in the sanctuary of the church as we listened to one of the most powerful sermons MLK ever gave. I touched the podium he preached from, rested my hands where he must have rested his. It was very special to me, to be there, with River, listening to one of my heroes call the church to action, call me and River to action from the book of Isaiah. Here are the high-points of the sermon. You can read it in its entirety here.


"This morning I would like to submit to you that we who are followers of Jesus Christ, and we who must keep his church going and keep it alive, also have certain basic guidelines to follow. Somewhere behind the dim mist of eternity, God set forth his guidelines. And through his prophets, and above all through his son Jesus Christ, he said that, "There are some things that my church must do. There are some guidelines that my church must follow." The guidelines are clearly set forth for us in some words uttered by our Lord and Master as he went in the temple one day, and he went back to Isaiah and quoted from him. And he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." 


"[T]he church is not a social club, although some people think it is. They get caught up in their exclusivism, and they feel that it’s a kind of social club with a thin veneer of religiosity, but the church is not a social club. The church is not an entertainment center, although some people think it is. You can tell in many churches how they act in church, which demonstrates that they think it’s an entertainment center. The church is not an entertainment center. Monkeys are to entertain, not preachers."


"Now I wish time permitted me to go into every aspect of this text, but I want to just mention a few. Let us first think of the fact that if the church is following its guidelines, it seeks to heal the broken-hearted. Now there is probably no human condition more tantalizing than a broken heart. You see, broken-heartedness is not a physical condition; it’s a condition of spiritual exhaustion. And who here this morning has not experienced a broken heart? I would say broken-heartedness comes basically from the trying experience of disappointment. And I don't believe there are many people here this morning under the sound of my voice who have not been disappointed about something." 


MLK at home with Coretta. I love this shot.


"[W]hen the church is true to its guidelines, it sets out to preach deliverance to them that are captive. This is the role of the church: to free people. This merely means to free those who are slaves. Now if you notice some churches, they never read this part. Some churches aren't concerned about freeing anybody."


"The word of God is upon me like fire shut up in my bones, and when God’s word gets upon me, I've got to say it, I’ve got to tell it all over everywhere. [shouting] And God has called me to deliver those that are in captivity!" 


"It seems that I can hear the God of the universe smiling and speaking to this church, saying, "You are a great church because I was hungry and ye fed me. You are a great church because I was naked and ye clothed me. You are a great church because I was sick and ye visited me. You are a great church because I was in prison and ye gave me consolation by visiting me." And this is the church that’s going to save this world. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to heal the broken-hearted, to set at liberty them that are captive, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.""




Wow. Such passion, such power, such authority. Visiting MLK's humble little church, hearing that sermon about Christian responsibility for the poor, the broken, the enslaved it was gasoline on my faith's fire. And yet I stood there thinking about Atlanta's other churches, the megalithic modern ones in the Metro area. And I don't think the God of the universe is smiling. Not one bit.

I thought about quotes I'd heard from two of the largest mega-church leaders in Atlanta who are both purveyors of the prosperity gospel. I'll leave them anonymous because I am not attacking them, not exactly. It is enough to know that their influence is that large and their gospel that gilded and vacuous.

One is a pastor of a 
30,000 strong church who claims the money he spends is his own, but admits the church did give him a Rolls Royce, which he mainly uses for special occasions. He says. “Without a doubt, my life is not average. But I’d like to say, just because it is excessive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.”


The 200 thousand dollar mega church pastor's Rolls Royce. Not exactly the donkey that Christ rode into Jerusalem on. 
"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49-50) He also said: “My lifestyle does not come out of the church’s bank account." 


No sir, it comes out of the mouths of the starving. Geez.

According to another leader, a "bishop" at another 25,000 member church, "Jesus wasn't broke, and leaders of churches shouldn’t be either." The "bishop", heeding his own advice with religious fervor has earned millions in salary from his ministry. He owns a million dollar home on a 20-acre lot, and also has use of a $350,000 Bentley.



18,000 sqft House of a pastor. 
Mr. Bishop. Your theology is skewed by your lust for things of this earth. Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He did not even have the money to pay taxes, being a carpenter in a city under foreign occupation, he told Peter to "go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

Was it not Jesus who said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven? Who said "But woe to you who are rich, 
for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry."


It is long since past time to divest ourselves from the things of this temporary life. To re-invest our passion, our abilities, our time, love and yes our money, into this world we are called to serve, for the world to come.

And if we did, I mean really did, hearts all in, pockets empty, the world would see the gospel, the world would desire it, there would be real church growth. Not to mention such a profound decrease in broken hearts and suffering and modern slavery and the sexual exploitation of children, the end of starvation, and nakedness, and little feet, disease ridden for lack of shoes. 



It's time to give God something to smile about.


River and I left the church around noon and had Indian food in Downtown Atlanta. Then we walked around a bit as I processed the morning's events before heading north to Rome to have dinner and coffee with my friend Rachel. I met Rachel in Haiti where she volunteered as a nurse at the clinic in Cite Soleil. She is a bundle of joy wrapped in Georgia clay. Our conversation tonight was deeply Christ-centered, as it always is with her, in the most authentic and refreshing way. I feel re-charged. Thirst-quenched. What a perfect end to such an emotional day. I'm still smiling. 


We're back at the hotel now. River is falling asleep to a sci-fi lullaby. I am thinking of the year and a half I was on radio. At the end of every show I would play U2's MLK. A tribute to the man who had a dream, the man who gave his life to that dream. A dream of equality. A dream of freedom. A man who surely made God smile.





It's midnight so I'll go. Til tomorrow then when we head up to Chattanooga and Ruby Falls. Hope you'll come along....



Monday, April 23, 2012

Road Trippin' With River, Days 1 & 2: We are a Crazy Breed.



Tonight the moon over Atlanta is a silver sliver, a Cheshire cat grin. A winking luminous celestial portal cradling its dead dark mass. 




The temperature tonight is half of what it was when I left Haiti Saturday afternoon. My body is out of tune. I have been gone for two months, the longest I have ever been away from my son. I flew in from Port Au-Prince late Saturday and picked River up early yesterday. Starbucks for coffee and we headed North East on an 8 day road tripFirst stop Birmingham, AL. 


Being back in the states after a month and a half in India and 2 months in Haiti with only a week in between has left me a bit disoriented. I am not as anxious as I normally would be as I will return to Haiti by the 2nd week in May, but I feel so disconnected. Although I am so very thankful for espresso on every corner and smooth roads. 


Birmingham is very familiar to me. In the 5 years I had my vintage clothing and record/book store I came here once a month on buying trips. I'd hit all the big thrift stores and most of the small ones. This morning River and I went to a few. Our best finds today were 25 cent paperbacks. Harriet Jacobs Incident in the Life of a Slave Girl for me and Asimov's The Robots of Dawn for River.




Fitting I suppose that I should be looking so far back and my son so far ahead. Who sees farther I wonder as we pull out of the thrift store parking lot. Will men be slaves to machines before we stop making slaves of each other. Only God knows. We leave Birmingham a little after ten and head to Atlanta to hike Stone Mountain.




Being on the road with my son is amazing. Conversation is sheer wonder. He spontaneously quotes Tom Stoppard as the Georgia state line slips by unobserved. He monologues from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.




"We're more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can't give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They're all blood, you see."


He then goes into a heartfelt and affected rant about a store we had went into called Earthbound Traders. They had paraphernalia and other mystical and pagan implements. He says "Dad, that place really bothered me. Even the name. It was like.." 


"Self-fulfilling prophecy?", I say.


"Exactly" he says and then with a sigh repeats, "earthbound." He turns to look out the truck window and thoughtfully quotes part of Isaiah 51:6 "[T]he heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment..."


We are listening to the soundtrack from the movie Into The Wild. Eddie Vedder at his intimate best. The song "Society" resonates with me in a way very few songs ever have. I have listened to it 5 times today already. I sing it like a prayer.



Oh, it's a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me


When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
Because when you have more than you think
You need more space

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me
Society, crazy indeed
Hope you're not lonely without me......

(Pretty please watch the video below and listen to this song!!!)





We get to Stone Mountain around 3 and it is gorgeous weather that touches upon Grace itself. If I had a dollar for every time River said "wow" this afternoon I'd be a rich man. But I am richer still being paid instead with the candid, spontaneous exclamations of my son's worshipful awe.


River stands silent and wonder-filled atop Stone Mountain.
Half way back down the mountain a sight so out of sorts stops us in our tracks. We are both so disgusted by the human stain. This particular monument to human laziness and disrespect seems a perfect summation of that.



On the power poles that feed the Skylift atop Stone Mountain hikers have stuck gum from the ground up to as high as they can reach. There are three poles that are covered. We walk on in silent disgust. I am thinking of all the things that come out of people's mouths that soil so much. The lasting stains of ill spoken words, the denigration and character assassination of lies. We are a crazy breed.

Back at the hotel we are making plans for tomorrow. That is I am making plans and River is playing samples from otherworldly instruments, both archaic and futuristic. Some stand alone as art without even sounding their utterly fantastic music. Do yourself a favor and spend an hour looking and listening to Bart Hopkin's amazing creations


Tomorrow we are visiting the birthplace, the grave-site, and the church of Martin Luther King Jr. before heading North to Chattanooga. MLK is one of my heroes and I am so eager to make these connections with him, and to share them with my son. Hope you'll come along.

It's almost eleven here now. River is settling in. His nightly ritual of sci-fi has begun with an old episode of Stargate SG-1. The couple in the hotel room next to us are hurling epithets and accusations at each other. Unscrupulous observations of each other's maternal pedigrees. We truly are a crazy breed. But I am far away. I am thinking of Haiti, her sea, and her soul-mending sunsets. Thanks Bob and Darin for the picture of tonight's sunset in L'acul.


Til tomorrow then...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

December.




I was in Birmingham, Alabama, two, maybe three Decembers back. I walked into a coffee shoppe and there was this angel in moccasins and bell-bottoms with the longest, curliest dirty blonde hair you've ever seen. Anyway I wrote this for her. 






December
And the spy-glass blue
Sea of the sky
Is frozen still
Against its will

December
And the spun-gold sun
Sleeps longer
Dreams more often
Of his mistress spring

December
And the quick crisp fingers 
Of the mischievous wind
Undress the last
Of the modest maples

December
And I am thinking of your knit cap
And how you looked like
Winter’s only princess 
With a crown of freshly fallen snow


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This Book Of Us.



Wrote this one a few years back. It's been begging to see the light of day.....





The gilding is gone
From the binding
Of this book of us
Our pages are torn
Our edges worn
And all our corners
Cut or creased

I should have seen
How often it stayed shelved
How even the flowers
Pressed between our pages
Had turned to dust

I guess I should’ve noticed
Chapters growing shorter
The dialogue drying up
The language terse
And tender less

And so I shouldn’t have been surprised
When as I turned to the last page
The story of us
Stopped suddenly
Summed up succinctly
So moribund
So matter-of fact
In those two little lonely words 
The end



Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Stillness In Between.



For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
-e.e. cummings




Sometimes sailboats look like 
Butterflies lighting on the sea
And sometimes the wave whoosh 
Bent by the wet wind sounds like 
A sonogram heartbeat slowed way down
And sometimes silver bait-fish scatter 
Like so many skipped stones
Like cast wishes caught in coins
And sometimes the sun sets a little slower 
Watching its reflection stretch out across the sea
(And sometimes it seems the sea 
Blushes a little at the sun's vanity)
And sometimes the wind over the water 
Is a bloodhound frantic on a lost scent 
And sometimes when the sea laps at the shore 
It hurries back to wash its mouth of the taste
And sometimes the wave crash on the wet sand 
Sounds like the dull thud of a great tree
Felled to the forest floor
And sometimes the sea moans upon her bed
About the power of the moon to move her
That relentless pull, his insatiable longing 
Her oh so lovely highs and lows
And all the stillness in between 




-L'acul, Haiti 4-02-12






Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Jesus Didn't Say.


It is at this time every year when the thoughts of Christians are most on the crucifixion and Resurrection. It is the darkest day of eternity and then three days later the brightest. God crucified. God risen. And this is our hope. That Jesus died our death so that we may live eternally His life. 


Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Christ before Pilate.

Much has been made of Christ's last words, and rightly so. But what has always amazed me, what has humbled me and broken my heart, is what He didn't say. He stood silent before His accusers scripture says, He who was guiltless did not defend himself and all the while the guilty, in hellish accord, screamed crucify him. And what is more He did it for them, bore their sickness, their shame, and their iniquity. Still they mocked Him and they cursed Him, but he never said a word.


He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? - Isaiah 53:7-8

He could have pointed His finger at anyone in the room and exposed their darkest guilt, every loathsome deed they'd ever done. But He was silent. And not just silent but willing to take the blame. And of course mine too. And that crushes my soul with sorrow.


Here is one of my very favorite bands The Welcome Wagon performing their rendition of an old spiritual. The video clip is Jesus before Pilate from the movie Passion Of The Christ.




May we who call ourselves followers of Christ take His defenseless posture. May we turn our cheeks, may we be makers peace, may we love those who have made us their enemies and may we bear their burdens that they may see Him and His love in us. 




Husband and wife Vito and Monique Aiuto are The Welcome Wagon. All the proceeds from their e.p. Purity Of Heart go to an organization called Freeset, a fair-trade business in India that helps to liberate and empower women escaping the sex trade in the largest red-light district in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.