Archive for the ‘ social justice ’ Category

On Worth

What is the worth then
of rain glinting silver
when it falls, or boys
split out with laughter?
We banter on the word
weird, while the huddle
of science texts, glowing
invitational, stuns me as
deep as our planet’s
gravitational stability.
.                If I study lips
lined with chocolate
cake, or sobs that rock
the souls of the oaks,
have I saved a child
from the plague—have I?


Entering into Suffering and Emergence into Wellness

Emerging, I imagined, would be like bursting — something like the crocus buds, whom everybody loves because they are the first to color the Spring. I should have watched the tree outside my window more carefully. It was ugly so long. I kind of gave up on it, honestly, because its knobby buds were brown far after everything else had submitted to life and color. I knew it would bloom, but I was tired of watching.

I had not planned to get sick — not like that. I launched into April like a freight train, light staring far down my uninterrupted track. A poem a day would not be easy to commemorate National Poetry Month. But I needed to have courage and perseverance in writing! (Oh, yes, and I still do.)

However, my formal plans wavered mid-April, as if to foreshadow that they could never be my own. We lean into rhythms sometimes, but we never own them. Sickness hit me April 22, and except for one poem in the chute, the surprise of my poem featured on Morgan Guyton’s blog, and a new free-verse poem on (you guessed it) sickness, I lost the ability to publish poetry. I couldn’t even think in the language of words. That was unexpected.

I watched movies. First something silly, the first six episodes of Once Upon a Time, and then the two movies that may have changed me forever: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and 12 Years a Slave.

It wasn’t on purpose that I watched movies on suffering, not like Bill Coyle, who in his recent Image article, confesses to listening to Leonard Cohen’s haunting lyrics for weeks on end during a long depression. I watched a Holocaust movie and an American slavery movie because they looked like high-quality work.

The young Bruno of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas pays stealth visits to discover another boy living in a nearby concentration camp during World War 2.  Schmuel becomes Bruno’s friend, and they learn about each other through the barbed wire fence. Bruno’s curiosity bars him from ignorance, and in only one point in the film, his curiosity (or shall we call it honesty?) takes a step back, enabling the abuse of his enslaved Jewish friend. Bruno rallies; in the end, it is his stalwart curiosity that remains, that faces humanity and holds it as a precious thing. In that, Bruno enters suffering on account of his friend.

12 Years a Slave is another close look at oppression. Solomon Northrup enters slavery by being abducted out of prosperous American freedom. He does not choose to enter that suffering, and not being born a slave, he feels what it is to have life and comfort snatched from him, and brutality shoved into his hands. For twelve years, identity is lost, dignity is ground into the dust, and Solomon emerges a changed man.

Is time ever lost? The time we all hope for — those where we plant gardens and play, those where we watch our children grow and choose to learn the very best things — those moments are lost. Instead, we are handed time that we did not choose. If there could be another way, we would have chosen a different path. But slavery and oppression have a way of stripping everything but our soul.

I wanted to emerge from sickness a changed woman. I wanted to emerge with a special energy and superhuman power to do the things that I was too lazy to do before. I had hoped that I could say something profound about suffering, but that was before I realized the oppression that has scourged this land and this century. The 1800s and World War 2, it turns out, are not so far past. What do I have to say? What do I know of slavery?

I am not yet well.

But I am well enough to read and write, to make some meals, to play with my children. I am well enough to dream. And — thank you, Jesus — I am well enough to look at the slow-budding tree and the little buds of poems that have pushed out like baubles all over this blog.

My soul is well enough to say: doing is a gift. And gifts? It is in the nature of a gift to never be pushed.

What can be done about oppression? I can gather up my skirts and demand justice for the whipped slaves, justice for the cremated Jews, justice for the trafficked women of my day. I can say so many words. 

Or, I can wander, on a good day, like Bruno, through the forests of my freedom until I know what this hell is of which people speak. To know truly what suffering is, I will have to enter it. And until I wander and wonder, I will not find the door.

I am unfolding slowly.

Poem 19, National Poetry Month: “What will we do with the babies?”


Poem 15ish, National Poetry Month: A Fanatic Mercy Grows

A Fanatic Mercy Grows

I excuse the sidling mud dauber—
I do not wish to fraternize—
but not without a glance
aside, as if I soon may hear
some heckle for my prop of him
upon my paper—
to spill him out alive.

Advent Darkness

It was almost a comfort to see our Christmas tree without lights and trimmings. Almost. It just grated at me a little bit, with the town decked out in lights and all, to have such dimness in our home. I told my boys we have to buy some new lights because the old strands are getting so faulty. They’re probably ten years old — is that a long life? But I was holding out, avoiding the dreaded act. I was remembering what I’d learned eight years ago about the production of many of America’s Christmas lights. A little research landed a year-old article reporting the same. Stories of forced labor are hard to shake.

I long for the light, not bottled up in miniature bulbs but the Light from the manger who lit up the whole world. He brings freedom to us — we who buy chains of lights and we who choose not to, and He brings freedom to those forced to assemble them.

Oh, Light of the world, come!

How can I be merry and dance about the tree in a flurry of paper and ribbons? How can joy be the resounding cry in this thickness of blackest darkness? A slave at work for my freedoms shivers me deep inside, and I’ve pressed myself past apathy. I can taste the injustice.

As we cry out “Justice!” and “Freedom!”, where are you, Emmanuel?

It was a night of injustice that escorted Jesus into the world. A woman whose every instinct must have been crying out for shelter and comfort was offered a barn, likely with nothing to use for cleaning up the mess of birth. The Baby pressed hard into her cervix. Anyone have any towels? What did Mary and Joseph do with the placenta? Did they eat it? Give it to an animal?

Born to the woman who said “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1.38), Jesus also demanded no justice; He brought it instead. No, more than justice, He brought gifts of grace.

But where are they, King Jesus? Hidden in the darkness? In the starkness of an unlit tree?

Let it be to me. Those are words of the humble — a mother who accepts squalor as grace. Whatever God has for me is enough, is great and blessed, she testifies (Luke 1.48-49). Let it be to me.

And on me, too, the gifts of grace have descended. Instead of a wishlist, my boys and I made another list — “Gifts We Already Have,” prompted by Ann. The names of gifts are flowing out of my sons’ mouths, and there you are — Jesus — written in big letters at number 30. In our bounty of gifts I wait, Holy Spirit here in me, prompting me toward acts of justice. But not in any obligatory sense. In my freedom, He allows me to offer justice to the prisoner.

The prayer “Let it be to me” sent the Holy Spirit, not only Emmanuel — God with us — but the constant Comforter — God in us, God through us. He was better than we all expected. There is no longer need to long for the more, more, more of the consumerist Christmas when the Most has already arrived. We may still light our trees in celebration, but a brighter Light has dawned in our world. The sunrise has visited us (Luke 1.78).

In the end, I do hang lights on the tree — the old ones with burnt out bulbs. Here a patch of light, and there a patch. The broken can remind me of what we already have. We will celebrate –hearts full! — in the coming Christmas. We can!  Our strings of lights give promise of illumination — one night and winter and imprisonment will not snuff out any longer.

Let it be to me, Jesus. Your light is already piercing the blackest darkness.

In These Days Before Feasting, Hunger

The plea comes again: “Mommy, I’m so hungry!”

“We just ate,” I say.  I’ve tried this logic a hundred times.  Will a-hundred-and-one flip the switch?

“I’m still hungry!”  He’s desperate, pleading.

Did everything that makes me a mama just threaten to collapse?  What is this trembling and twisting within me?  Is it my heart breaking at being unable to appease this insatiable hunger?

So much of my perceived worth as a mother is wrapped up in this providing, satisfying, this feeding and filling bellies.  And that cry peppering my day accuses:  You are never enough.  You can never fill this need.  I know it’s a warped accusation, but I hear it all the same. I feel a wedge of tears building up inside my throat, and I feel desperate to be what I am not.

“Did you have any water today?  Maybe you’re dehydrated.”

“I hate water!”

I take a deep breath.  “I need you to drink some water before you have any other food.”

“I don’t want water!”

Oh, my son Ari, where do we go from here? I am in panic mode, because I know where things often end up. In his disrespect of my authority, there are consequences. Or if I give food at his first and every request, how long would this go on? Would he eat himself sick? I struggle with how much to control. At times, I may as well stand with lock and key at the kitchen cabinet for all the reproof I spew forth.

When Ari was three, we had him tested for food intolerances, and we were handed a list of over 30 foods to eliminate. I was daunted but determined to prevail and protect. At least with the knowledge of cooking and whole foods, we could survive this two-month protocol toward healing. But after two months, as we reintroduced foods into his par-healed gut, the reactions were confusing and questionable, and we landed in a sloggy bog of what to do next.

I hadn’t understood the allergy doctor’s protocol and the science behind it, so I began to study for myself. The book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) blew my mind, as I learned about healthy gut bacteria, and how, the author purports, allergies and intolerances begin, and how the gut reacts to different types of food. The gentle, grain-free diet — reminiscent of diets of generations long past, before big business over-tinkered with food — looks so hopeful to this desperate mama.

But they are hopes laced with doubts. What if I can’t maintain the diet that’s so counter-cultural? What if the conclusions of the GAPS doctor’s research are wrong? And how can I stand up against the wagging heads of those who must see me as a radical dreamer, or worse yet, someone who makes trouble of nothing? I want to grab them by their shirt collars and hiss between my teeth, “Don’t you know what it’s like to be a mama?”

And below all of these, there’s another barrage of unanswered questions: What has happened in my son’s past that has carved his attitudes toward food? What mysteries still cannot be explained by a look inside Ari’s stomach? I have to keep coming back to the master designer who formed Ari’s stomach and mind, the God who walked with him as a baby before we could even attempt to give him our version of what was best for him.

And the third barrage perhaps strikes harshest of all: Why should I worry so intensely about food in a house of plenty? What do we know of hunger?

I remember what Jesus said on the mount, assuring us of our value as living creatures, creatures clothed and fed by His very hands. Don’t worry, He’s saying. Don’t worry. And what of my responsibility as a mama? It’s a bit crazy to think of not worrying about food at all. But I have to believe that it’s possible for the ones covered by the blood of the man who fed thousands from one small basket of food.  Jesus knows food.

Jesus asked His disciples to take the miracle-food and pass it around.  With what was in front of them they fulfilled their responsibilities. What Jesus asks me to do as a mama is always in light of my larger calling to let Him be the provider for my children.  I struggle to hold my authority and responsibility with an open hand — an open hand ready to receive the miracle of healing and nourishment that I cannot force into reality. I pray for open eyes to see our daily cornucopia. For even with my handfuls of questions, we are handed basketfuls of provision — food and drink and energy and new mornings — and they strengthen us to keep walking forward.

i interrupt this silence with an important message…

Church lasted half an hour today, and since we were fifteen minutes late, it lasted fifteen minutes for us.  Pastor Pete preached on love — the kind of love by which people will know we are disciples of Jesus.  We didn’t know it was coming, but at the end of his message, Pete asked our church to help fill the local food banks.  Metrocrest Food Pantry was full at the beginning of last week; today it is empty.  There is need.  And the body of Jesus Christ — we are the need-fillers. 

Ushers handed out a little paper, mapping out nearby grocery stores and a list of most needed items at the food bank.  We all huddled together and said, “Break!”  And then we were commissioned to storm the local grocery stores to shop for the people who can’t afford to shop for themselves. We’re taking food to an empty parking lot, where trucks are sitting until mid-afternoon today, being loaded up to take the food where it needs to go.

About ten area churches partnered with ours in this effort to feed the hungry.  It is not only our church, but the Church.  The hands and feet of Jesus do not keep themselves within the walls of a church building, or even within the walls of a denomination.  Tonight, we are praising Jesus together.

I just had to tell you because I had this surge of excitement to really be part of feeding the hungry right now.  Not next month, or next year, when I’ve gotten my act together and my theology on giving all straightened out.  But now, together with my brothers and sisters.

I wonder what it would look like for the Church in every city — big and small — to break out their wallets and feed the hungry, on the count of one… two… three.  Would it endanger hunger itself?