Friday, June 29, 2018

The Beast That Stalks America (two poems)

Three months
ago I stood with those
who swore "No More"
And raised our voice
as one to say
But it was not.
In fact
the Beast creeps closer
this time
a parishioner says to me
"We knew one among the dead."
A friend
fondly and sadly
remembers another.
The killings took place
not far from my house
Across the street
from where we shop
and eat.
The Beast fed there yesterday.
How long
before it makes it's way
To me

Trump did not create the Beast
it has been prowling America
for centuries.
This mix breed mutt of hatred
Showing the markings
on it's fur
of racism and fear of strangers.
An animal know
for savagery and violence
that attacks
with little provocation.
Trackable by the steaming
feces left behind:
Slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow,
Internment Camps.
No, Trump did not create the Beast
But when it came
to the back door of his campaign
He fed it scraps
scratched it behind the ears
Then invited it in
to eat off his table
and sleep at the foot of his bed.
He goes for a walk and whistles
so the Beast will tag along.
Trump does not put it on a leash
"It's not mine," he says, "it's
just a stray. Besides, some of
these Beasts are very nice animals."
And when the Beast
leaves a pile
of gun violence, racially charged
police brutality
And children snatched
from families fleeing horror,
In the middle of our nation's lawn
He does not scoop
the shit left by the pet he does not claim.
And when the neighbors complain
he says
that they are being uncivil,
that Beasts have rights too.
Trump did not create the Beast
it's true.
And we must find ways
to make the breed extinct.
In the meantime he'd better leash up
his Beast
and read a bit of history
about those who thought
that keeping such as house pets
was safe for the ones
Who thought they were in control.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ghost Me Up Lord Jesus

Ghost Me Up Lord Jesus
Light a fire in me
as I struggle thru the work
of making centuries old
Sacred Texts
live and breath.
Ghost me up Lord Jesus
Let me catch a spark
Maybe by following verbs
Maybe by grasping context
Maybe by being reminded
of some story from
my own journey
Ghost me up Lord Jesus
Start a fire in me
That will burn all week long
That will heat and shape
the iron of my own soul
And continue to alter
the landscape of my own heart
long after I preach on Sunday.
Ghost me up Lord Jesus
Send Your Holy Spirit
and fan the flames
of this burning in me
So that
Sunday morning
Can walk away
With some Light for their path
some Warmth against
the coldness of their world
some Fire in their own bones
To wage holy war
against Injustice.
Ghost me up Lord Jesus
who said that You had come
To light a fire on the earth
and wished that it was blazing.
Ghost me up Lord Jesus
I give myself to You
as tender for the flames.

[I heard Jeremiah Wright quote his father saying that, "if you don't meet the Holy Ghost in the study, don't expect'em to show up in the pulpit." This poem is my reflection]

Monday, June 18, 2018

I'm Gettin' Bitter Lord, Just Sayin'

My sermons and
My poems
are becoming the wrenching sobs
and crippled questions
Of an awareness that my country
is determined
to take it's own life.
To slash it's wrist
with racism's straight razor
Before shooting itself in the head
with it's inability to control gun violence.
I am going numb
with the fear
That there may be
nothing I can do
To stop my grandchildren
from having to slosh through
the blood of Lady Liberty
And find her body
on the sofa in front of the TV
When they
come home from whatever
What-the-fuck Con
they were at that weekend.

Dear Jesus
did You ever
on those times when You escaped
the crowds and went
Off by Yourself to pray
Put Your head in Your hands
and cry out,
"Holy Father, Abba, Daddy,
What the fuck?!"

O God
Give me some sign
That I'm just
being bitter and maudlin
in a brief moment of fatigue.
Pull me up
from where I've collapsed
on the front stoop
And let some Hope
kick my ass back on down the street
To where the struggle goes on.
Sweet Jesus
This shit is getting old
And so am I.

(With apologies to any who find my language offensive. God and I have this agreement; I can be brutally honest with Him cause He is the only One who I can trust with all that I feel.  I just figured there might be some other folks feeling the same who would benefit from my sharing my prayer.  This prayer and the passage from Luke 5:17-26 pulled me out of a dark place as I struggled with the sinful behavior of my country toward migrant children....and, no, I don't always use a male pronoun for God, but when I picture who I am praying to in moments like this, when my language is saltier than otherwise, I do have a male's a product of being raised in a generation that watched our language around women, I think.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Was The Leper On The Road A Father?

Was the leper who met Jesus on the road
a father?
When everyone else
but Jesus
like dead leaves before the wind
from his cry of "unclean,"
Was he looking for a glimpse
Of his all but orphaned children
and his all but widowed wife
Locked with him in this limbo state
Never knowing when, or if
they would be reunited.

This man whose culture treated him
Like a dead Man walking,
Forced him to dress in mourning clothes,
And should he be lucky enough
to somehow be healed
Performed a cleansing ritual
like a mini Day of Atonement.

Threw himself face down in front of Jesus
and spoke the truest think he knew
"You can fix this if you want to."

Then Jesus
Himself the Son of a Father
Touched the untouchable
With a holiness more contagious than any disease
and said, "I do want to"
In a voice thick with compassionate anger.
"I do want to fix it, I do want to touch, I do want to send you home.
I do want to see you united with family.
Your children un-orphaned, your wife un-widowed."

And if I
as Christ's Body should meet one day
a father at some boundary
some border
some point of separation
Straining for to be reunited with those he loves
And should he look at me and say,
"if you want to, you can fix this,"
Will I say,
"I do want to,"
and touch him?
Or will I quote
the Apostle Paul,
and walk away?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Am I Willing?

I mean no disrespect
To the brave 9
who were arrested for the heinous crime
Of praying on the Supreme Court steps.
Their treatment was despicable
designed to intimidate
not just them, but any other
who might dare to think
Of leveling prayer at the Supremes.
Rome did it by lining the road with crosses
We're just not there

But stop
Just for a moment
And realize:
This is what it looks like
When privilege disappears
White privilege
Status privilege
Clergy privilege
We trade on privilege to make our point
And this is good.
But this is what it looks like
When privilege goes away.
It is a shot across the bow
"Do not fuck with us," they say,
"or we will fuck you up."
Why else put these 9
In belly chains and leg irons?
Except to force them
and us
To count the cost
Of rebellion against the Empire.

before we move on in rightous indignation
Stop yet again
And realize
That this
Is the daily life of hundreds of thousands
The daily life
For those who could not make bail
Who made bad plea deals
Who could not afford a K Street lawyer.
Remember that while
The 9 were there for 24+ hours,
Some live this way for years.
While Manafort is out on bail,
Just sayin'
"Equal justice under the law" indeed.

I proudly marched
And would again
To the White House and sang
"This Little Light Of Mine"
But that did not number me
with the poor
I am numbered with them
When my cross actually looks
like theirs
and His
That hasn't happened yet
But it may well be coming.

Am I willing to do that?

Apartheid fell because some were willing
Civil Rights took a step
across the Pettus Bridge
Because some were willing

Do not be surprised
if blood is spilled
And time is served
And bombs go off once again
Before it's over.
This may be only the beginning.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Theology From Anthony Bourdain That He (probably) Would Not Claim

I've been trying to figure out why it was that Anthony Bourdain's suicide hit me the way it did.  True, it was the second "big" suicide in a week, following Kate Slade.  But that didn't seem to be it.  And, frankly, the suicide of a father from Honduras after being separated from his wife and children at the border was deeply wounding in a totally different way (and a topic for a different time).

But something about Bourdain rattled me deeply.  I wasn't an avid fan of his show, though I enjoyed it when I watched it.  There was something about his openness regarding his struggles with addiction that moved me, but that still didn't seem enough.

Then I read Connie Wang's article "The Pain & Privilege of Traveling With Anthony Bourdain" and had a beautiful "Aha!" moment.  Here's a quote from the article:

He writes in his book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach: “Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

My current struggle is to be the pastor of a multi-cultural congregation.  It's a struggle that I welcome, love, and would not change (okay, maybe a little change).  But right now I am in the process of peeling away the layers of my own personal, unconscious, racism.  Of reading and listening and watchin and being with people in ways that challenge all my old "I'm beyond racism" self descriptions.

It happens when I read a book like Austin Channing Brown's I'm Still Here; Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness, and then watch my interactions and the interactions of others in my congregation thru the lens of her writing.  Connie Wang caught what that feels like in her article about Bourdain.  "It isn't always pretty, sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body."

I know that Bourdain's views about faith diverge wildly from my own.  But my sense of his understanding of how the table, and hospitality around it, create a sacred space that changes us, marks us, and sometimes leaves us in a sobbing heap leads me to believe we might have more in common that one might originally think.

And so I grieve his loss.  I'll probably go looking for more of his shows to watch.  I think he has a lot, even now, to teach me about how the table can change us all.  At any rate, he have me, in the quote above, a picture of what it means to pastor in my setting, and I'm grateful.

RIP Anthony Bourdain.  Shalom

When The Suicidal Darkness Beckons

The suicidal darkness beckons
And depression whispers in your ear
"you've fucked up everything,
they'll all be better when you're gone. Jump
into the calling dark. It can be over."

I do not judge
those who have leapt.
I know that sometimes
pain becomes too much.
And I trust God's love reaches out
to catch those who leap
Even beyond the grave
In arms of healing love.

But this I do know,
and know from my own walk to the edge;
Depression is a liar.
Say it again;
Depression is a liar.
It is possible to step back from the edge,
Even a few inches,
just for right now.
And the love
of a child, a friend, a lover, a spouse,
Or some small act of kindness
given without even knowing,
Can help us slide our foot
those few inches back.

For all who stand
at the edge
There is hope,
You can always come back here tomorrow
But for today
Step back.
Slide your foot
Reach behind you
for the hand reaching for you.
Just for now
step back.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Owning My Blindness

Mark tells the story in his Gospel
of a blind man Jesus healed
Had to touch the man more than once
so he could truly see.
Nobody blamed the man
for needing a second touch.
And he didn't tell Jesus
"My sight is just fine,
why don't you go heal
some really blind people."
Jesus give me the grace
To stand still
and let You heal the racial blindness
than I still suffer from.
Touch me again
and again
and again
Til my sisters and brothers of color
Are more
than just "trees walking."

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Song Of The Clay

There are things in the mud
that makes up the clay of my life
That you don't want to know about.
Just leave it at the fact
that everything,
and everyone,
That has touched the soil of my life
For 65 years,
Has left behind
Some piece of themselves.
There are even bits
From years before my birth
Mixed in with the mud of my days.
Constantly turning on God's wheel,
Periodically needing
To be pounded and kneaded
Into workable clay.
Moistened with God's tears and my own.
I cannot tell what final shape I will take.
So many beginnings have collapsed,
Or simply needed to be re-thrown.
I am dizzy on the Potter's wheel;
yet grateful to be still spinning.
Fearful of the kiln,
anxious about the glaze,
Trusting of the Potter.
We spin on.
Rejoicing in those moments,
rare though they be,
When Potter's hand 
and clay
Seem to merge
In the whirling of the wheel.