Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Island of Kefalonia





It might have been the Island of Kefalonia
Sitting in an outdoor cafĂ© 
You said “Look at their clothes.
Listen to their conversations.
They are extras in the film of their own lives.
They don’t believe a damn word of what they’re saying”
All the while the waiter walked on water
With his dark Adonis eyes
And you let your words trail after him
Absentmindedly asking me
Why I was being so quiet
And I realize maybe it wasn't Greece at all
But all I could mutter under my breath
Barely daring to say my next line was,
 “Artemis, I’ll have the wild boar”


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sometimes I'm Just Lost



Sometimes I switch it up a bit. Take the wrong way to the right place, the long way round to a close one. And sometimes, sometimes I'm just lost and have to find my way back. Saw this church sign the other day on one such very long way wrong way round.



Geez. Of all the obnoxious, smarmy, stupid and banal ways to paint the need for Christ in our life to obtain wholeness of mind. Sometimes when I read these I want to go inside and scream why the particular message is catastrophically misrepresenting the Gospel and God's tenderness that draws the lost to His heart. But alas, business hours were 9-5 daily. I sat there, numb and dumb and full of a greater sense that we are failing in our dialogue with the world. 

My thoughts were all one way or the other after that. You know how you get, the pendulum of emotion. Your heart and will rally behind a noble thought, some great cause, and the next minute your mind waves the white flag of cynicism and surrender. 

Cotton clouds over cotton fields distracted me for a moment.



As far as I could see in every direction, cotton, fields white and ready for harvest. I pulled over to take this picture then closed my eyes, other pictures, creased and faded and colorless, workers harvesting the cash crop 150 years ago. Slaves, fingers raw from the prickly plant, picking next to their precious children. Lives stolen for what? Greed, ease of life for those that won a light skin lottery? 

I am reading Avengers Of The New World. It is the story of the Haitian Revolution, but the author Laurent Dubois does so much more than recount the details of the first successful slave revolt, he chronicles all the historical nuance, all of the minutia of the moment, the pulse of the people who were the prime movers in the French provincial slave trade. He recounts how laws were passed to keep anyone with so much a percentage of African blood from holding office or having other full citizen rights. He details how many of the descendants of Africa were much lighter skinned than some persons of European descent. And that the whole process was as convoluted and circumspect as one can infer by its idiocy. Businessmen and women, professors, even politicians having to prove their pedigree to the ridiculous godless blood-hounds bent on finding out light skinned impostors. Peoples of African descent whose dark poisonous blood would apparently be societies death, an acid bath of blood that would somehow corrode away and crumble the very foundations of white entitlement.

Geez....

So much of history is mired in the subjective. The viewpoint of one country or culture vs. another. So that the truth is hard to really know. But not this, never this. Slavery is evil, will always be evil. And anyone who didn't, doesn't fight against it, they are and always will be complicit. The garment industry has more slavery than any other industry. From forced labor in cotton fields to forced labor in factories. There are millions of children enslaved for the making of the garments that we all wear. Please buy fair trade, direct trade, slave free certified clothing (you can see which companies are doing there part here). And please read this book, it is so very very important as a historical narrative and more, a commentary on the perpetual state of fallen mankind.



I drove away thinking of the church sign, the cotton fields, the guilt of so many so called Christians in the enslavement and abuse, the murder and rape, of countless Africans. I thought, if someone can look at a darker skinned person and not see the image of God, well then they have never seen God. If someone can be so full of hate, well scripture is clear isn't it? They do not know God, who is love.

I drove and drove and then a grey rain came and stayed for hours but also a rainbow...



My thoughts are grey again today, grasping at God in the aftermath of the typhoon in the Philippines. There are 10 thousand feared dead. 10 million displaced, 4 million of them children now greatly susceptible to kidnapping and exploitation. The needs are so great as those island communities search frantic for water and food. Please if you can, donate to our friends My Refuge House in Cebu, Philippines. They will use the money in country to buy food and supplies and get it to families much quicker that way.

I leave for Haiti Monday. Soon I will be near again her sea. I will be back close to the country I love dearly, one that has suffered so long, so needlessly, that others might profit. It is a country still repressed by the lasting affects of political embargoes and aid policies that deconstructed a resilient indigenous Haitian economy while simultaneously creating dependence. It is heartbreaking and was to my way of thinking completely avoidable. I pray the next decade will be one of renewal for the indefatigable people of Haiti and for her unfathomably wonderful children. I'd like you to meet a few...






And meet my godson, Marc Finley!! Who shares my name and has stolen my heart. Oh and the loving lovely Madame Emmanuel, who spoils me so, with home cooked meals and warmth of home and heart.


And the proudest dad you've ever met! Fedeme, my dear friend who works harder everyday with such decency and determination. Can't wait to see him and his beautiful family.




Sometimes I do take the wrong way, the long way round. Sometimes, on days like today, I just feel lost. Sometimes I lose my grip. But Christ leads me round right again, He is The Way, in Him I am found. His is the grip that never slips. And sometimes when I spend my days on a diet of destruction and sexual exploitation and all the other bad news, when I start to wonder if it's a little too late in the history of things to do any good, well I try and remember mine is not to hold the whole world right side up, to keep it spinning on its axis. No mine is to realize the sorry state I am in and let the One who is in control do what only He can do. I guess I just needed to write today, to bleed off a little. Clear some cobwebs, some shelf space, make room for another days ramblings and rants, poetry and pretense. Thanks. Hope you enjoyed the pictures of the kids. Hope you're keeping it between the ditches. Hope beyond all hope you're holding on to Jesus, and if you're too weak for that, that you know He's holding onto you. xoxox




Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Undiscovered Moons




Did you know that your name
In Arabic means noble and kind
Same for in Slovakian
And German I think

And in Dutch it means alone
Which I love and in Celtic it’s fair
Gaelic, bright, in Irish, beautiful
And in Greek it roughly translates pity

But I had the most wonderful thought
That at the end of days
After the blood runs bridle deep in Megiddo
And the swords are pounded to plowshares

That after the feast of hidden manna 
After you get your new name
The one written on the water-worn white stone 
The name no one knows but you

If you might not mind too terribly much
If while you and I are out riding giant seadragons through outer space
With heads full of names for undiscovered moons
You’ll let me name one after you



Monday, November 11, 2013

The Colossal Weight Of Everything





What was it you really wanted to say 
This morning when we first met
It was perched there
On the precipice
Of a mountainous thought
I could sense something
Unutterably profound
In that millisecond
Where we shared that indefinable something 
Deeper than the distance 
Between down and up
Yes!
Somewhere in that pregnant silence
Worlds were birthed
Lived out their long illustrious lives 
And returned to the graveyard of worlds
To be born again
All of eternity gave pause in that moment
And the colossal weight of everything
Waited with baited breath for your confession
Somewhere, I believe, right between
“Hello.” and
 “Can I take your order?”


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Walking Without Words







It was the kind of slow, white, homogeneous jazz that worked on the mind much like warm milk works upon the body. The light of the room, cast in a series of concentric circles due to an intermittent build-up of dead bugs in the fixtures, only made it worse. And it was a yellowed light, the circular glass globes stained from years of cigarette smoke, such that it jaundiced everyone, everything, and gave the whole place the impression of badly developed film.

The quartet finished a little after midnight and the room’s lights were dimmed further so that the neon from the street bathed the front half of the bar in soft reds and oranges. The band sulked in the back, nursed their watery cocktails and blamed the crowd, the sound-man, the dead room for their flat performance. 

A broken-hearted bard at the bar mumbled into his beer, "Love is all tightropes and balancing poles and teetering high above the sawdust floors of life's incessant circus." And then to the rest of us, "Like being born again blind, like being a blind man led around a noisy foreign city, white-knuckle gripping a stranger’s unfamiliar hand."

I followed you out into the street. It smelled hot, like an overworked engine. Some guy was lighting your cigarette. The moon hung low, like the slow curve of a sickle’s blade. We walked toward downtown. Walking without words

The train station was poorly lit and too dark for easy reunions. Lovers squinted across the crowded platform looking for little flickers of recognition to flame out, and when I turned to you again the ticket puncher was punching your ticket. And then the train whistle wail, the horrible shuttering of steel, and the great groan of the griefward lurch.  




Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shooting Star



I love to read about writing, what authors say about writing. The whys and hows of their craft, the secret bits of their art. Last night was sorry and sleepless and so as a distraction I fed myself a steady diet of it into the wee and weary hours and found myself conjuring, contemplating these whys of why we (and I) write.


Writing, although it is somewhat a solitary art, anticipates a readership for sure, but by the time a story or poem is in the readers hands, the writer has traveled miles beyond it. The exception I suppose, is the writer's muse. Some say they are always there, haunting the pale perimeters of the page, a specter in the shadows of the keys. 


“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.” —William S. Burroughs, slightly more pragmatic and opportunistic than his contemporary Orwell...
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Mr. Orwell calls his muse by a much less flattering name.
And whether the muse writes through the writer or the writer writes to woo (or soothe) the muse, well who is to say for sure. Sometimes muses are real people, lovers, mistresses, wives, Hollywood starlets, or a stranger on the street. Very often the object of some unrequited longing, so that the expression of the artist becomes one long arduous, sometimes tortured, confession of their desire. 


Writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller were each other’s muses.

I suppose I write, have always written, to quell the fester of feelings that buzz and hum and rise to a fevered pitch in my soul. But along the way I too found a muse. I say found, if that's how these things work and not the other way round. It was a happenstance (again, who can be sure?), a google search and stumbling upon the most poetic of words, fluid and wild like mercury, heavenward and earth-worn wise. Old like the stillness of deep water but new and present like your reflection in that same pool.

Not sure the moment, but at some point I realized that for the last couple years, almost every poem, every story, every wayward wandering of words that I fitfully spilled or spat upon a page, well they've been, at worst a clamor for attention, but always an earnest offering, a plea whispered for my muse to approve. It feels at times as silly and strange as staring at a star in the dead heavens and waiting for it to fall. In fact, now that I am writing those words, my muse is a shooting star (which is just a meteor they will tell you), otherworldly for sure, and talented and full of faith and wonder. And sometimes in the middle of the night, in whatever country I find myself in, when my world is muddled in mediocrity, when I am landlocked in this body we don't keep (to poorly paraphrase the utterly perfect Miss Newsom), when I cannot turn a phrase to save my life, I'll see if maybe my muse has some new words, I'll "squint skyward and listen" to see if my star is shooting, speaking in the beetle black and boundless night.  



Friday, November 8, 2013

Killing God







I woke with a word on my lips. I spoke it into the cold grey morning as I wiped the night from my eyes. 

"Cross."

Partially because my mind was tired, and perhaps partially because it is a word so threadbare, so shop-worn with use, I sorta ignored it. But all morning it followed me. Into, out of the shower. It was in the first scent of coffee, in the bottom of that first cup. And then the second and third. It rode with me down the highway to pick my sister up for work, and then sat patiently waiting until I finally listened to what it had to say.

And so listen I did and wonder and listen and query and listen some more and I've thought about it for the rest of the day. And here are some things it said.

In an age of spiritual self-determination, where spirituality's highest law seems to be "do what you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else", the cross, the notion of atonement, the belief in a need for atonement have been so dismissively, so condescendingly deemed irrelevant, archaic, and unenlightened. And yes sin, and shame, and suffering were nailed to the cross. Death and it's power destroyed there. But for a world that doesn't much believe in sin, that doesn't see themselves as sinners, doesn't see the need for such horrible a sacrifice, maybe, beyond all these acts of reckless mercy, is something bigger still. Something people of every age deeply desire, and desperately need: that God be killed.

Scripture says it pleased God to crush Christ. God the Father killing God the Son and finding pleasure there. Why? Of all the grotesque and macabre ways...?? I think it's two-fold. God needed to be killed. That is, what everyone that has ever existed thought of God needed to be crushed, ground to bits and blown into oblivion. Every false premonition we collectively share. That God is far off, that He is cold and unfeeling in the face of our suffering. That He is a moral cop, judge jury and executioner. That He is a cosmic killjoy. That He is ethereal and unknowable. That He is a self-absorbed ultra narcissist. All of those false God's killed on the Cross, and secondly only the real God remaining, resurrected and ever living.

Dead the far-off unfeeling God, risen the God who is as close as our own skin. Who felt on that cross what we feel, all of our hurt and fear and shame and suffering. God who is as close as our own spirit where He comes to live when we believe. 

Dead the moral cop, risen the fair judge whose wrath is stayed, who Himself took the punishment for all wrongdoings on that cross. Who condemns no one that calls on Christ. 

Dead the cosmic killjoy, risen the one Sacred Heart where we can finally find true happiness. That place of total acceptance where we are finally free to find our deepest greatest joy.

Dead the unknowable God, Risen the God who gives His Spirit to allow us to know Him as we are known by Him, to lead us into all Truth.

Dead the infinite megalomaniac, risen the One who puts all others above Himself.

Dead every false God of our invention and risen our Hope, our Peace, our One True Love. 

So then the Cross, as foolish as it seems, does not stand in antagonism of modern man. No in fact it answers the heart cries in us all. And the cross itself is not it, it is just a symbol. Nothing magical or mystical about its shape, if Christ had come in these times a firing squad, gas-chamber or an electric chair would have been the altar God used to sacrifice His Son. The thing itself is not it, the whole point is that we were created with an eternal curiosity, it's what makes us distinctly human, and God, on the Cross, answers all our deepest questions, calms all our darkest fears. If only we will believe.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ventriloquist


























Berlin was a barista at this socially conscious coffee shoppe. She didn't take my order she just said, "Tell me something about you." 

"I'm a ventriloquist". 

I don't know why I said it. It was like someone else was speaking through me. I should have said ventriloquist dummy. 

But she didn't balk, didn't bat a single one of her long and liquid lashes. She just said, matter-of-factly, "Well, I can't swim anyway." 

Only she wasn't talking to me, and she said it real tired, like she'd been treading water for someone, for a really, really, really, long time. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

Lesser Angels





She walked as if windswept, with great, gusting steps. I only looked up from my book, because with her agitated gait came the shrill sounds of plasticized rubber creaking, chaffing in rhythmic muffled shrieks -her raincoat, in spite of the bright and cloudless day. 

To no one, or no one in particular, she smiled the most capricious grin, did this sideways sort of curtsy and then waved with a playful flick of her wrist. The dark riddle of her eyes scanned the room and finally found him, oblivious, at a table by a window. 

She was just off work, a tan and hair salon, with a name meant to conjure sun and sand and perpetual adolescence. Her coed coworkers all studies in bleached out blonde and simulated tan, a sorority in hot pink performance fleeces. And her with her long black braids, a Pocahontas in pigtails.

She floated toward his table, I say floated, because of course angels float (and glow), and she gave me at that moment the strangest sensation of imminent martyrdom. The kind portrayed in paintings with lesser angels attending, ready to carry the slain saint into the bright bosom of their Savior.

Needless to say, I’m no saint, and no one died, though at one point, when she slid her ivory hands slowly across the table, when the country of her affection rested quietly in the firm grip of his fingers, I swear I heard the archers string their bows and felt one swift arrow pierce my heart.


Among Other Keys




There’s a new sheriff
In the tumbleweed town of 
Your one-horse heart
He pulls you from his pocket 
Polishes you up
And pins you on his dusty leather vest
This beautiful brass badge of you 

But you are also the straight backed chair
That he sits in, 
Leans back in all day
And the railing 
That he rests his boots on 
The ten gallon hat that shades his eyes
And the smooth round peg that holds his coat

You are the tune he whistles, 
Whose name he forgets
And the hobbled old hound
Licking his outstretched palm
He calls and you come
Wagging your tail 
Whenever he needs someone to blame 

But mostly I think you are his prisoner
Curled up on a cot 
In a windowless cell
And how I long to be hanging there
From that little loop 
A key among other keys
But the only one that can ever set you free


Makin' Mischief


Makin' mischief with my son is prolly one of the highlights of being a dad. One recent Saturday morning was spent googly eyeing various objects. But then we were quickly sidetracked. River put googly eyes on his chin and a mustache wrong way round on his mouth. We shot an hours worth of videos of crazy googly-eyed chin man monologuing Shakespeare's Richard III and Chesterton's "Man Who Was Thursday". Then Tom Stoppard and Monty Python had their turns and finally a Macbethian soliloquy on mortality. We laughed til we ached and tears streamed down my face. There is something healing about that kind of laughter. Couldn't get the video loaded but here are a few stills. 






Monday there was more mischief. We bought some over-sized post-it notes and made messages for strangers and slipped them slyly into the appropriate books at our local Books-a-million. 





I'll be heading back to bel Ayiti soon. I am excited and miss her so very much. But it is always bittersweet, leaving my son again. I am not a great dad, somedays maybe not even a good dad. Never claimed to be. But I love my son desperately and times away from him can be brutal. 

A few weeks ago I read a book called "A Million Miles In A Thousand Years" by Donald Miller. It is sort of a companion book to "Love Does" by Bob Goff. In fact the two authors are friends and the books reference the friendship and each others books. I read "Love Does" first and recommend it the other way around I suppose, but either way they are both well worth a read. The basic premise in both, is that our lives are a story. A story that should be whimsical and wonderful and yes, even full of mischief.

I have a friend Kerry. He used to hitchhike when he was a teenager. Kerry wasn't a restless soul looking for a ride out west, no, Kerry was a prankster. He would get into the vehicle with whatever poor soul had unwittingly picked him up and then once they got going good he would start to talk about the strangest, most ridiculous things, acting all sorts of goofy just trying to get kicked out. He also would hitchhike in his tightey whiteys, just for kicks and giggles. Anyway, he never died doing it, but one time a guy picked him up and no matter how strange Kerry acted the guy wouldn't pull over, wouldn't let Kerry out. Finally Kerry threatened to jump out of the speeding car and was released onto the highway shoulder once more. Listening to Kerry recount the mischief of his youth re-ignited memories of my teenage years. When I was full of mischief, when I was willing to do just about anything for a laugh.

I don't know exactly what I am trying to say, only that life gets in the way of living. That as we grow big our wonder tends to grow small, withers in the shadows of our grown up world. It is with more than a tinge of embarrassment that I admit there are times when my son must remind me to lighten up. Anyway, this is not a treatise on levity in an age of brokenness, nor a call to a cavalier lifestyle when there are so many deeply disturbing injustices that need to be urgently addressed in our hurting world. It is perhaps just my way of verbalizing, to myself mostly, the need for joy, God's joy, unspeakable and full of glory in these so often grief gray days. And that a life of loving God and others should sometimes, at least once in a while, be filled with belly laughter. And that there is a really profound reason why Jesus wants us to come to Him like a child, full of awe and maybe just a little mischief.