Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Water Glasses

They were perched 
On the stand
When I woke up today,
Your water glass
And mine,
Still sitting from just
Two evenings past,
When our mouths
Were dry
And emptied of
Their secrets.

I stared at them and
Thought of all
I said and did
Not say
And wondered if 
You were somewhere
Thinking the same.
They looked so natural,
Resting there.
We were quite 
The attractive pair.

But there is no need
For sets of two
In this room of one,
So I washed them off
And put them up 
Where they can be
Upside-down and empty,
No longer streaked
With foretastes of
Our separate, salty

Monday, November 8, 2010

"There There" by Radiohead

In pitch dark I go walking in your landscape. 
Broken branches trip me as I speak.
Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there.
Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there.

There's always a siren
Singing you to shipwreck
(Don't try, don't reach out
Don't try, don't reach out) 

Steer away from these rocks
We'd be a walking disaster
(Don't reach out, don't reach out
Don't reach out, don't reach out)

Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there.
(There's someone on your shoulder)
(There's someone on your shoulder) 

Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there.
(There's someone on your shoulder)
(There's someone on your shoulder)

There there!

Why so green and lonely?
And lonely
And lonely

Heaven sent you to me
To me
To me

We are accidents
Waiting, waiting to happen.

We are accidents
Waiting, waiting to happen.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

For Atlas, When She's Tired

It's all in the knuckles, 
You see,
And that knot 
In the middle 
Of your back.
As long as you 
And keep it still 
And taut
And controlled
When the water 
Starts to creep 
From your eyes
And your lip 
Like a mutinous
Little spy - 
That's when you have to
Squeeze tighter 
And harder
Just a little bit 
Because it's all resting
On you, 
You see,
And you won't break 
If you don't want to,
And if you falter
Then everything, 
Falls to the floor 
With a splash 
And a thud
And the crowd 
Just stares at their shoes
While you stand there, 
Shivering -

Just another naked girl
With nothing to hold on to.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What We Don't Remember on 9/11

On this eve of 9/11, I am overcome with sadness.  Not only because this day, 9 years ago, was so painful for my country, but because 9/11's anniversary sparks an overwhelming wave of patriotism... and patriotism can be very frightening.  

The simple definition of patriotism is love of one's country - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating your national identity and heritage.  But why don't we see a surge of this type of patriotism on July 2?  It's the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a monumental piece of legislation that proved democracy works when people band together to boycott unjust systems and march peacefully to our nation's capital.  Why don't we wave our flags proudly every August 18th?  On that day in 1920, women in this country were given the right to cast their ballots alongside their husbands, fathers, and brothers.  These are the moments in our country's history where we see American ideals like equality and freedom truly triumph over oppression and ignorance.

But, despite the fact that these dates ought to make us "proud to be an American", they mean nothing to the majority of our citizens.  We would rather wave our flags on the 4th of July or D-Day or, as of late, 9/11.  In my opinion, this is where we need to be careful.  When the days that define us are days characterized by bloodshed, war, and terror... who does that say that we are as a people?  Our national memory, like all nation's, is skewed: we are always, always the good guys.  Unfortunately, the facts of history do not always align with our perception of it.

When we think of the 4th of July, we envision a small group of determined colonists who, against all odds, overthrew an empire.  This is partially true... but we conveniently forget that, in the eyes of the Native Americans who already inhabited our "colonies", we were the empire.  The US government put the Native American death toll conservatively between 1 and 4 million during those years.  Other experts describe a genocide of greater magnitude than the Holocaust.  We look to Hollywood films starring attractive actors for our perspective on the 2,500 or so Americans killed at Pearl Harbor, yet I doubt we would pay to see high-definition footage of the over 200,000 charred bodies that blanketed the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after we dropped not one, but two atomic bombs.  We also conveniently forget the 110,000 Japanese Americans that we forced to live in internment camps following the attack.  

And then there's 9/11 - a day when 2,996 Americans were suddenly and tragically killed.  I remember watching the news footage in my high school classroom and seeing the streets of New York coated with ash and tears and death.  It was traumatic.  Psychologists have even done studies on the effect that 9/11 had on my entire generation.  This is why I can't even conceive what it would be like to live in Iraq and watch as 100,000 of your civilians are killed - not in one tragic day, but over the course of many tragic days and years.  The majority of these men, women, and children do not receive news footage or memorials built in their honor.  They are merely collateral damage.  They are the "price of freedom"... or so we say.

I do love my fellow Americans, including quite a few soldiers.  They are in my family, in my neighborhood, and among my facebook friends.  But we're supposed to be honest with the people we love.  Maybe, just maybe, instead of blindly supporting our troops on this day, we should gently question them.  Maybe we should grab our young engineers by the shoulders and say, "Don't work for Lockheed Martin and devote your talents to building smarter bombs!  Design devices that make dirty water drinkable!  Show us how to make strong and safe houses that the poor can afford!"  Maybe we should go into our churches and say, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!   When evil men come to destroy you, put your hope in God - not horses or chariots!  You may be fed to a lion, you may be thrown in jail, but you'll be in good company!"  In light of all the "God Bless America" stickers I see, I can't help but think of the Amish school shooting a few years back.  Within a few hours of that soul-destroying event, members of the community reached out to the shooter's family and extended forgiveness to them.  They even set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.  Can you imagine?  How would the world react to that foreign policy?  If Jesus was a radical, and we are a self-proclaimed "Christian" nation, why do we continue to follow the worn tracks of anger and violence?  Even the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" mandate was intended to keep justice restrained so that we do not respond to a few thousand murders by committing a few hundred thousand more.  

And, so, on this day, I remember.  I remember the brokenness of humanity and the wounds we inflict on each other.  I remember my own capacity for hatred and violence.  I remember my nation's history, both the noble and the obscene, so that I do not repeat its mistakes.  I remember that a willingness to die for something does not require a willingness to kill for it.  I remember the 1 in 8 American soldiers who have returned from war with PTSD.  I remember all of this on this day... and I pray for peace.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." - Martin Luther King, Jr

Amish response to hatred and violence

Monday, September 6, 2010

Outwit, Outplay, Outlast

"Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion." -Brennan Manning

I hate feeling useless.  My best days are days when I climb into bed at night and know, unquestionably, that I offered something unique and valuable to the world.  In turn, my worst days are when I can't seem to justify why I matter... why I'm still worthy of love when I didn't fill a niche or "pull my weight."  My life is like a series of Survivor episodes, and I end each day before a panel of skeptical judges who must decide whether or not I'm worth keeping around.

In our "tit-for-tat-I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine" culture, I've grown used to grounding my security in my competency.  I'm usually not the smartest person in the room - but I'm rarely the dumbest.  I'm not an expert at anything - but I'm at least average at almost everything.  And, on most days, in most situations, that's enough to convince the imaginary tribal council in my head that I deserve to stay a little longer before I'm kicked to the outskirts of society where the worthless and the marginalized go.  

And that's where my problems with God begin.  When dealing with an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-complete entity, there's not much you can bring to the table.  My ability to "talk a good game" is useless in the presence of the One who created speech.  So how can I be secure in a relationship where I hold no power?  How can I be loved by someone who doesn't need me?  What do I have to have to offer when I have nothing to offer?

I've yet to figure out how this plays out in community.  On one hand, community has to be transactional on some level.  After all, somebody has to pay the bills, cook the meals, mop the floor.  If you are doing these things, you can still curl up in bed at night and say, "I matter because of XYZ."  The tribal council in your brain will be appeased for the time being.  However, I truly believe that God knows how much we struggle to grasp His non-transactional style of love and gives us community to serve as a model.  If, over time, I can see what it is to be loved collectively and indiscriminately by a group of people who still know my individual shortcomings, maybe I can begin to grasp the "furious longing of God" for His children whom he loves both personally and en masse.  Maybe I'll begin to rest in the security that, no matter what I do or how little I offer, He's not going to vote me off or cast me away.

"We unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves... But we cannot assume that He feels about us the way we feel about ourselves -- unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely, and freely." -Brennan Manning

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Do We Fear Community?

If you ask the average postmodern twentysomething if man is inherently good or evil, they're going to say "good" 9 times out of 10.  If you ask that same twentysomething if they'd be willing to open a bank account with a stranger who shares their worldview, they're going to look at you like you're crazy.  Americans perpetually preach the doctrine of autonomy and independence while statistics show that we're lonelier than ever.  We want to be loved and known, but we maintain our relationships via 140-character tweets rather than engaging in meaningful, face-to-face interactions with the people around us.


I've been pondering that question quite a bit lately.  Why
is the idea of community... of interdependence... of a collectivist mentality so terrifying?  Some may point to recent examples of "communities gone bad" (Jonestown, Branch Davidians, etc.) to explain their misgivings, but I think our fears run much deeper than that.  

Lately, I've been exploring the works of
Marina Abramović, a performance artist from the 1970s who examined the complex relationship between performer and audience.  The video below describes a controversial piece that was performed in Germany but ultimately proved too provocative for US galleries.  (Disclaimer: This clip contains a bit of nudity...)

The comparison I'm about to make is far from perfect.  Actively engaging in community is a far cry from passively surrendering to a crowd of strangers, but both do require you to put your life and your well-being, at least partially, in the hands of others.  This is, in my opinion, why we fear community.  Despite our hopeful platitudes on the benevolence of humanity, on some very real, instinctive level, we know better: People are evil and, if given the chance, they will destroy me.  We would prefer a kinder summary, but our behavior (and our history books) betray us.  The audience members of Rhythm 0 were not animals - they were likely upper- to middle-class, educated patrons of the arts.  The undergraduates chosen for the Stanford prison experiment were probably good kids from good families.  And, yet, when allowed to exert power over others, even "civilized" individuals are quick to abuse and terrorize.  As much as it's nice to talk about peace and love in theory, the thought of really living as one is simply not an option for most of us.  Charles Bukowski said it well: 

beware the average man the average woman
beware their love, their love is average
seeks average

but there is genius in their hatred

I think this is why, of all the things that Jesus could have prayed for His church, he prayed for unity.  It is in our close, interdependent relationships that we reveal who and what we really are.  Nice people are not uncommon - I meet at least one or two every week.  But truly loving communities are rare indeed... and our deepest wounds are usually inflicted upon us by the ones who are supposed to love us the most.  I think Jesus knew that the most powerful statement about who He was couldn't come from an army of "nice people."  There's nothing especially unique or inspiring about that.  Jesus knew that what the world needs most (and sees least) are people who love each other like family when they're not... who carry each other's burdens when they don't have to... who sacrifice for each other when there's nothing to be gained.  This is the type of behavior that points to something transcendent and other-worldly in the lives of everyday, broken human beings.

And the early church understood this.  In his book Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community, Phillip Kenneson describes the reputation of Christians in their early days:

Because the Greek word for Christ (christos) was so similar to the word for kind (chrestos), apparently many people mistakenly (though perhaps fittingly) called Jesus' early followers not "Christians" but "the kind ones."

I don't think that most Americans would feel comfortable calling today's Christians "kind ones."  A recent study conducted by the Barna Group, an Evangelical research and polling group, found that the majority of Americans view Christians as "judgmental," "hypocritical," and "homophobic."  Perhaps it is because, unlike the early church, we do not practice what we preach by sharing our possessions with each other and the poor among us... or opening our doors to strangers who need shelter... or loving one another deeply like brothers and sisters in the family of God.

If we did, maybe community wouldn't be so scary after all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Albuquerque (posted late)

Today I got off the bus in Albuquerque, NM.  It is beautiful here, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’m wandering around in a cheesy 1970s TV sitcom.   I keep expecting a police officer with aviators and too-tight pants to stop me on the street and say, “You’re not from around here are you, little lady?”

I’m spending the night at the Route 66 Hostel , a quaint and quirky little house a few blocks from the main strip.  So far, I have made two friends.  Stone, the lanky doorman that gave me a discount because I recognized his Philly Love T-shirt, and Cyrus, an out-of-town salesman who ate the last half of my chocolate cake after telling me never to move to Cleveland.  The hostel is quiet now, and I am sitting on the porch watching passers-by and smoking a clove.  I’ve smoked quite a bit on this trip.  Sometimes, it’s because I’m someplace seedy and I want to look less vulnerable and sometimes, like now, it’s my own shallow attempt at appearing mysterious and interesting.  My legs are tucked underneath me because the porch is crawling in beetles and, although I’d rather not come into contact with them directly, I sort of enjoy watching them wander.

I had quite a few interesting conversations while roaming the strip today – mainly with men.  I think I fall into a category that I like to call “approachably pretty.”  I’m attractive enough to turn a head or two, but not so attractive that your average run-of-the-mill dude considers me out of his league.  With my camera slung over my arm, it’s easy to strike up a conversation.  Is that for a class or something?...Why don’t you take my picture?...What kind of lens are you using?  Most of the time, I don’t mind.  Why not be friendly for 15 minutes and enjoy a free beer when you can?  The bartenders at the place where I had dinner tonight seemed sad.  They were all skinny and tattooed with unnaturally dark hair, and I wondered if they wrote poetry on their skin to make them feel more comfortable in it.

I passed by a greenhouse of sorts and bought myself a bouquet of mystery blossoms.  I’ve never been able to identify flowers outside of your generic tulip/carnation/rose variety, but these small blooms were red and orange and a little wild-looking – like they’d just moved up to the weight class above "weeds."  I took to them instantly.  Carrying them around the strip all afternoon made me feel feminine and free and grateful to be exactly who I am, exactly where I am… at least for today.