They Came Marching: Charlottesville

They came marching,
heels clicking perfectly
in step with the most shameful shadows of history
while disbelievingly,
we watched
and were awakened
to a rank and
wretched evil,
a cabal of hell. 

They came brandishing torches,
marshaling the vilest of forces,
their faces contorted
with sordid
fear cast in the flickering fire
they held in hand
and eyes
and hearts.

I could not comprehend
how I was witnessing these men
in my own time
and not in one resigned
to archaic and tedious tomes
and black and white photos.

But no,
these scenes blaze
with beet-red bigotry,
with white-hot hatred and insanity,
with blue-flamed depravity,
all under the tri-color banner
before which we cover our hearts and laud,
One nation, under God.

Again, don't scenes like these
belong to other chronologies,
back when we
were less enlightened,
more frightened
by bogeymen,
superstitions,
and folklore fictions?

And... by the color of other skins? 

Yet these scenes
confront us upon the glowing screens
of the little machines
we hold in our hands.
They are not estranged
by grain,
or glossing
and monochrome processing.

We cannot dissociate
due to a veneer of black and white,
for black versus white
is still a fight, and even bigger and broader now than then.
Really, it always has been.

Because our world has always been willing
to accommodate hate,
a manifold spate
of vitriol
toward any and all
manner of men and women.
Black, brown, and every other color is ground in
to the soil of which we were once formed
and then adorned
with His image.

Color and hue,
heritage and views,
beliefs and religion,
sexual identification,
and gender
continue to render
us as something less than human,
the targets of the most craven havens
of hate, slander,
murder, and all manner
of reprehensible
and untenable
confederals.

So I will march,
in step with the God who trod this earth,
giving birth to the flame of hope.
For love—
that eternal torch—
can surely forge
a way through the scourge
of evil.

I don't yet know the way,
but I'll follow,
trusting this:
there will be a day
when the hate-filled hollows
of those mouths that stretch wide like open graves
will reckon with a God who blazes
with Love and also with Justice.

The Privileged Avenue

There’s a peace lily on a stand in the corner of our dining room that’s twice the size it was the last time I took notice of it. It has new, white flowers unfurling themselves. I stopped and admired it for a few moments. 

I stopped and looked.

The alarm goes off. The day flies by. Breakfast together. Drive to work. Home from work. Dinner together. Stories. Bed. Our rhythms are the stuff life is made of, but the familiarity means I can all too easily miss the beauty. 

Looking and seeing aren’t exactly the same thing. Everyday I look at my family, my kids. I don’t always see them. This week I’ve had a few moments when I’ve stopped and really admired my kids for a moment. I’ve seen them. 

Finnden: Dad, can I tell you a joke?
Me: (Half listening) Sure. 

My expectations were low. His jokes are usually ones he makes up, things like What did the moon say to the sun? Stop shining! You’re too bright! They’re not really funny because they’re not really jokes. But this one…

Finnden: What do you call a pirate with two eyes, two hands and two legs?
Me: I don’t know.
Finnden: A beginner. 

A little laugh escaped my lips, not so much at the joke but at my astonishment. When did you learn to tell a joke?

I came home from work and Ona, the youngest, barely two, came running from the kitchen, yelling, Daddy, hurry, I hungry for dinner!

I paused in the process of putting down my bag and looked at her. That was a full sentence, I thought. Sure it was a garbled mess, unintelligible to anyone but Karen and me, but she’d given us a glimpse of just how much her mind was at work. 

The most profound moment came while I was putting together a little photo book to send to both grandpas for Father’s Day. I scoured through all our pictures over the past year or so and put them in an album, and as I looked at them all there together I was seeing my kids anew. I saw them when they thought no one was watching and when they were putting on a show. I saw them being silly and being kind. I saw them being pensive and deliciously weird. Each of them came through so clearly, and in a way that was so definitively them, that it took my breath away. Frozen in place like that I finally stopped and saw and admired them in all their created glory, marveling at how much they were not mine but their own.

Perhaps there is nothing in this world as powerful to break selfishness as is the simple act of looking at our own children. In our love for them we are given a privileged avenue to feel as God feels—to burst in unselfishness, in joy, in delight, and in the desire to let another’s life be more real and important than our own.
-Ronald Rolheiser

Rest

Sometimes ideas are borne out of inspiration and sometimes out of desperation. Ideas rooted in inspiration come most often when I feel I've been given something, something I can also give, something to say, something I can audaciously add to the world. 

But the ideas that come from desperation, while not being more true, are certainly more raw. Those ideas are often what my heart most needs to hear, the messages I need to receive, and the process of making them gives me the very selfish opportunity to repeat them to myself over and over and over again.

Life has felt like a blur lately, everything moving quickly past, and I’m not sure if I’m the one running or the one standing still. 

In the midst of it I’ve been reminded of an invitation Jesus extended to his friends, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Those words feel like some kind of sigh, an unwinding of tension, a chance to press pause. 

I wanted to make a piece that felt like a release, an exhalation, a sense of quiet, and even prayer. 

Thank you to Jenny Potter, Andrew Schuurmann, and the incomparable Meena Cho on cello. Even the process of making this with all of you felt like an invitation to a quiet place.

(Don't) Trust Your Instincts

Throw open every window. Stir up the dust from every ledge and let it dance in the glancing sunshine as it blazes in and draws honey-colored grids elongating themselves along the floorboards. Breathe in the blend of grass and dirt and daffodils—death made life—as the breeze blows in through the screens, turning the inside sweet with outside scents. Sense the warmth fall over your shoulders as you sit with your back to the big window taking in a book. Shine a light in every dark corner, beat out the musty upholstery, and shine up every window pane.

Spring has finally winged its way to us in the midwest. And with its lightness springs up a lightness in me.

Except, well, this is always when I get sick. Inevitably, each year just as the world is breaking open with life, I start to feel a little like death, and it causes me to do the very opposite of what spring beckons us all to do. Instead of throwing wide every window I find myself wanting to shut them tight and bolt the sash, pull closed the curtains and keep the sunshine at bay as I try and nurse away a headache or the sniffles or the vacillating sensations of a fever. When I feel sick I want only to sit in a dark room by myself. And don’t dare disturb my hermitage or risk certain churlishness or childishness.

In the 18th and 19th centuries doctors often advised their sickest patients to spend some time away, prescribing a stay in the countryside or by the sea. Sitting on the beach is just about the very last thing I’d like to do when I have the flu, but I wonder if they might have been on to something. When I get sick, popping a pill or two and holing up in a dark room somewhere feels like the right thing to do, but I doubt it does much to make me better. Pulling apart the curtains and opening every window might just be the best thing, reminding me how good and bright and beautiful the world is beyond these walls. I may not feel like seeing sunshine when my bones ache with fever, when my body groans against every movement, but might getting better be a bitter pill?

This spring my sickness is of another sort. I’m heartsick. Heavy. The words of the Psalms have rarely read so true.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4

Everything that felt effortless is now effort-full, exertion holding up all the heavy things that once felt light as air. Cynicism has been scratching at my thoughts. I’m tired and feeling a little sick all around the edges.

Thus far my instinct has been to retreat, to hide, to seek out dark places. I’ve been craving more and more time alone, longing for the dust to settle, drawing closed the curtains on friendships. I think it’s a self-preservation reflex.

Our reflexes don’t always reflect what’s best for us.

This prolonged retraction is not producing what I might hope it would. I’m not becoming better. In fact, the opposite is probably more true. Yesterday I was reading an essay by the visual artist Makoto Fujimara; he wrote about a time when he had followed his instinct and allowed his art to become his world, to define him. He said:

The more I focused on myself, the less I could find myself. A schism grew inside between who I wanted to be and what I did.

I find the same to be true as I try and define myself in this diminution, this instinct to make my world smaller and safer and more controllable. I’m discovering an even wider gap between the person I want myself to be and the person I am. I become a version of myself that I like less and less. As I retract, as I retreat, I find myself being less of a husband, less of a father, less of a friend, less of a follower of a Jesus, less… full. As I try and grow greater I am less.

That sounds familiar.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

There’s little room in grace for self-preservation. Grace gives. Grace gives even when we feel we have little to give. The widow’s mite makes little sense if we believe in scarcity, but nothing good is scarce in God’s kingdom. Everything is rather upside-down when it comes to the gospel. Or inside out. So I’ve been wondering if I need to let more of the outside in.

When I give away what might be hard, might I uncover what is easy? When I die to the things I feel I want, might I live a life that feels more full? When I want only to curl up on the couch and sleep, might I find rest in heading to the basement to play make believe with the kids? When I want to take a path to my office that promises peace and quiet, might I stumble into life by bumping into a friend? What if I tried giving more? What if I expanded rather than retracted? What if I left the front door open with a welcome mat outside?

There’s a little voice inside me that has been telling me to open up the curtains and let the light in, unlock the windows and let the breeze blow, remind myself what’s past these walls and feel some lightness again.

Last week, as I was knocking out the storm windows and opening up the house to spring, I saw a spider on the windowsill. It lay upon its back with all eight of its legs pulled in tight, curled in toward its abdomen, dead. I think I can do better.