on words before time

March 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm (Poetry) (, , , , , )

I.

I (*pause, inhale deeply, sigh it out*) am in love.

These words?

Ignited me.

Burned in me before I’d ever heard them uttered..

These words?

Isolated me.

Marooned me till I, woman, became an island, impossible and glorious.

Their cadence?

Tore through my soul and re-introduced me to myself.

Spoke my humanity.

Sung my desire.

Whispered my heartache.

Shouted my fury.

Caressed my soul.

These words breathed me into being.

From words I was formed and to words I return.

I love their all in all.

Power conveyed to nothing-me

to grasp the intangible,

to describe the invisible,

to fold into myself the inevitable,

and lay at your feet the indescribable.

Oh, but how I hate.

I hate that these immutable words preempt my every thought.

I hate that these interminable words spoke me before I ever uttered them.

I hate that these words were before me and before all time.

I hate how they have been spun and caressed,

wooed and seduced,

breathed out and breathed in a billion times before my first.

Every word.

Every line.

Every intimation of intimacy

Sucked out of them til I.

I am left breathless,

Speechless.

Wordless.

Powerless.

Each expansive, enigmatic, enticing utterance leaves me

envious, embittered, and empty

Words, promised me, cheated on me,  failed me

Words, leave me panting, anticlimatic

As all the passion seeps from my soul, my marrow, my lips

Until I am silent and still.

Mellifluous and cacophonous.

Ellipses to the eternal noise

of words, words, words

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on cherry blossoms

February 20, 2014 at 2:02 pm (Poetry) (, , , , )

Why do cherry blossoms in this neighborhood surprise me?

As if grace is insufficient

As if hope is impotent

As if love is insipient

As if mercy cannot triumph over judgment

As if dancers cannot dance upon injustice

As if redemption is a lie; restoration a myth

As if the dividing wall of hostility were never torn down

As if sorrow will last beyond the night

and joy is stifled by the morning

As if we are not truly being changed from glory to Glory

As if only some things are brought together under Him

As if the rocks do not shout out

and the trees no longer clap their hands

As if death never lost its sting

As if the grave was victorious

As if darkness dispels light

As if the oil of gladness slips over and past these rivers of mourning

As if the fullness of Him who fills all things, leaves these streets dry and empty

As if there is no freedom for these oppressions

and the cords of these yokes cannot be loosened

As if these chains cannot be broken

As if there is no reconciliation for these divides

As if there is no provision for these griefs

As if there is no garment to cloak these despairs

As if beauty cannot replace even these ashes

 

As if roots cannot push their way up through this concrete

As if life cannot break forth unexpectedly

And be magnificantly, phenomenally, shockingly unsurprising

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On dreaming

October 30, 2011 at 4:38 am (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about) (, , )

It’s snowing today. This snow’s beauty lies in its falling down, reflected in the street lights. But that beauty fades as it hits the ground, mixing with the messiness of the lives which have passed this way throughout the day. Its promise dies as it becomes tied up inextricably with the dirt, trash and discarded mess which are mere symbols of structural inequality, poverty, cycles of abuse and destruction and violence, marginalization, and isolation from centers of power. The debris of the American dream.

I live in an inner-city neighborhood called Kensington in Philadelphia. Over 42% of our neighbors live below the poverty line, 46% have less than a highschool education, and most are unemployed. The neighborhood’s primary industry is the drug trade. Ours is a community full of violence and chaos, addiction, abuse and poverty – but it is also full of hope and beauty and good people trying to improve their own and neighbor’s lives. We are not naive about the challenges Kensington faces; nor are we overwhelmed by them. Fundamentally, we believe that another world is possible and that maybe it starts by dreaming, by relocating to the broken and neglected places of empire, by living with our lives what we speak with our mouths, by being good neighbors. We seek to re-spark imagination in our interactions. We have built a beautiful neighborhood park at the end of our street, and a neighborhood garden where folk can grow their own vegetables, we run a food distribution, and give out blankets and toiletries and bedrolls when folk knock on our door. We do homework help three days a week with kids from the neighborhood, throw holiday parties, hand out school supplies to over 550 kids, celebrate birthdays, put bandaids on scrapes, share our chocolate sprinkles, make popcorn, open up opportunities for summer camps, and play in the fire hydrant in summer. Most importantly we try to live our lives on our streets. And we always seek to dream.

A few short weeks ago, I thought that most of our neighbors had lost their imagination, their ability to dream of a different way. Many have. In places of violence, war, conflict, poverty, destruction and despair the privilege of dreams is often secondary to the necessity of survival. For others, years of walking a trail of broken dreams has only served to crush any hope for a future. I do not doubt that there are many in my community who have lost their imagination, their daring to hope and dream.

But I have also learnt that I have not had ears to hear the many dreams that do exist on my block. These are streets of pain; but they are also fields of gold. Some are dreaming of an orchard at the end of our road. Another longs to see an aquarium where children can learn to run their own businesses. Someone wants to paint all the post boxes on the block. There are dreams for a compost business which will serve Kensington, a vegetable garden which will feed our block and provide low cost healthy food to our broader community. A neighbor has a file full of contacts for emergency services, heating, food, jobs and education which she pulls out anytime anyone is in need. Someone else has a file full of clippings from magazines and printouts from online – of fences and parks and benches around trees. Someone sweeps our streets each morning – and each day it fills again with trash. But for those few hours this is another world. And slowly others are joining in.

I dream of the day when these dreams become stories celebrated not regrets mourned. I pray these dreams breathe life into the here and now, in the time when these dreams are not…yet. I dream that the debris of the American dream can be swept off our block so that the snow can fall, creating a new world on our streets.

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on heroes

May 3, 2010 at 6:06 pm (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , , )

Husband-man and I have just, delayedly, finished Heroes Season One. As I was thinking about dreaming and the ‘individual call’ question, I think I found a pretty good analogy in the series. On Heroes, everyone is special –  each with a distinctive special ability – and most of them feel the call to “Save the World”. So they set out, on their own, to fulfill their own personal destiny. In the process they cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate all the other ‘heroes’ whose tasks, also, are to save the world. In so doing, they very nearly screw  things up entirely ending with that dismal picture of the world in five years time.

I think we tend to do that. We stand with our own unique abilities, character, talents, or giftings (if you want to use Christianese). And we set out, by ourselves, to save the world – believing that we are the destined one, the chosen one; rather than the destined ones and chosen ones. The church. And so we set out longing to hear the specific call and to see the unique path layed out before us that will lead us to “hero-hood” and saving the world. And we cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate everyone else who is doing the same. The church.

I don’t think this is necessarily intentional or spiteful. I think it rather comes from a fundamental misunderstanding and misreading of Scripture, combined with a world-view which puts the individual at the centre and elevates self-hood. In light of these two, the quest for “God’s  individual plan for MY life” becomes completely understandable. A re-reading of Scripture, I believe, clearly demonstrates that while God does on occassion work through individuals (Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, Esther, Daniel etc), His primary concern is with the destiny and path of nations, societies, people groups and communities. Secondly, I believe that God’s overall ‘plan’ – the coming of His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven – can most efficiently, effectively, and exquisitely be achieved through individuals acting in their special capacity/ability/talent/gifting or dream IN COMMUNITY. I’ll do my little part, you do yours, and together we will have done something GREAT.

Shane Claiborne puts it this way:

Shane: Early in my youth, I spent a lot of time thinking, `What is God’s will for my life?’ You know how it goes – as if the whole universe kind of revolved around me. One day, I caught this idea from a priest: “Good things come to those who wait, but great things come to those who get off their butts and go find God at work.” That’s a very different way of thinking of things. And it’s very liberating to know that I don’t have to wait for God to write a magical formula on the wall for me, but I can look around for where God is at work and join in. Instead of staring at my sandals, I walk out my front door and look into the eyes of my neighbours.’

Sometimes it’s harder to be a part of a community than it is to just be a lone ranger or a vigilante. It can seem easier to be a soloist than part of a choir – but ultimately this is a story about community. I’ve got a quote on my wall that says, “I know you’re strong enough to do it alone, but are you strong enough to do it together?” …  Here’s another one: an old African proverb says `if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ In a sense, leadership is a choice to go far together rather than just to run as fast as you can on your own. Being someone who is always going fast, I am tempted to do things alone, but I have chosen to do life together. I have intentionally joined with others. Ultimately, we can do more together than I can on my own.” Excerpt from `Follow me to Freedom’ – Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins

So stop. Stop waiting for God to reveal the individual plan for your life. Find where what you have to give intersects with what the world needs. See, God ‘may’ have a specific path laid out for you (a Moses-plan if you like), but in the meantime while you are waiting for Him to reveal it to you, I think He has laid out enough general ground rules to keep you occupied – love mercy, practice justice, go into all the world, preach the good news, baptise, make disciples, love God, love people, pray unceasingly, always be ready to give an answer for the hope you have, be salt, be light, spread the aroma of Christ…. the list goes on. Find somewhere God is already at work, and join Him and the others already there. Take out your crayons, and draw. Dream.

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stolen words

April 26, 2010 at 1:15 pm (Things I want to see changed) (, , , , , , )

This is cheating isn’t it? Not my own words, but there is something tearing at me, something that must start to be written and worked out and shared and grappled with. This is that start. I’ll be writing more on social justice and creativity and strategy in the next few weeks and sometimes I will repeat myself, because I’m working it all out too.

Quote from Jim Wallis’ response to Glenn Beck’s attack on social justice

“But we do say that while social justice begins with our own lives, choices, and sacrifices, it doesn’t end there. Those of us who have actually done this work for years all understand that you can’t just pull the bodies out of the river, and not send somebody upstream to see what or who is throwing them in. Serving the poor is a fundamental spiritual requirement of faith, but challenging the conditions that create poverty in the first place is also part of biblical social justice. In countering Beck’s misunderstanding of social justice on The Colbert Report, James Martin, an editor of the Jesuit America magazine, quoted a Catholic Archbishop as saying, “When I feed the poor they call me a saint; but when I ask why people are poor they call me a communist.” He suggested Beck has that problem.

Private charity, which Beck and I are both for, wasn’t enough to end the slave trade in Great Britain, end legal racial segregation in America, or end apartheid in South Africa. That took vital movements of faith which understood the connection between personal compassion and social justice. Those are the movements that have inspired me and shaped my life — not BIG GOVERNMENT. And my allies in faith-based social justice movements have wonderfully different views on the role of government — some bigger than mine and some smaller than mine — but we all believe social justice requires changing both personal choices and unjust structures. Apparently Beck thinks social justice ends with private charity, but very few churches in the nation would agree with him.

Listen to what we teach: you start by practicing social justice in your own life, then you act for social justice in your family, your congregation, your community, in the most local way possible. The Catholics call that “subsidiarity” — look it up. And you only work to change government when you can’t accomplish things on a smaller scale. Churches were the very best in responding to Katrina, for example, but churches can’t build levees. And Glenn, voluntary church action can’t provide health care for millions who don’t have it, or fix broken urban school systems, or provide jobs at fair wages, or protect our kids from toxic air, water, and toys, or fix a broken immigration system that is grinding up our vulnerable families, or keep banks from cheating our people. All that requires commitments to holding governments accountable to social justice, and advocating for better public policies.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/what-glenn-beck-doesnt-un_b_511362.html

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creativity

April 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm (Things I want to see changed) (, , , , , , , )

“The bottom line is that to turn information into strategic action, we need people/groups who are ready to take responsibility for what happens at teh intergroup level of mission, a level at which we can talk beyond reacting to needs and focus on teh factors that create and maintain those needs. It takes a system to intentionally transform a system, and I beleive that is what the church is for 🙂 ”

I have been grappling with the micro/macro split in the church’s approach to social problems and social justice. On the one hand we tend towards taking the moral highground on many issues and become known more for what we are against than for what we are for. So we vehemently oppose prostitution and abortion and gays etc. But we very rarely have viable solutions to the ’problems’ we so readily identify. As a result, the church often ends up taking the back-seat to international aid organisations, government and ’secular’ civil society groups.

On the other hand, where we do attempt reconciliation and to rectify social issues, we often limit our effectiveness by haphazard (albeit well-meaning) and often naive responses. As noted above, we often fail to do our research and find out what is really going on and what the issues at stake are. We go in with small-scale micro-level programmes attacking the symptoms, but very rarely having any effect on the causes and the macro-level systems which are causing, for example, gross human rights violations (human trafficking), HIV/AIDS, poverty, and gender inequality. We are very effective at changing individuals, but less skilled at transforming peoples, groups, societies and culture.We do need to start talking beyond “reacting to needs and focus on the factors that create and maintain those needs…that is what the church is for .”

As an example, South Africa is currently caught in a national debate around the decriminalisation of prostitution. For the most part (and I stand to be corrected), Christian response to this issue has been in the form of well-intentioned letters to the editor or the Commission, or to government, lobbying for prostitution to remain illegal. I too, vehemently oppose the legalisation of prostitution. But in our vociferous responses, and through a severe lack of information and understanding, the church in South Africa has come across as callous and unconcerned. In reality, prostitution in South Africa is very often a series of gross human rights violations (and again, situations do vary so this is a generalisation but highlights some of the issues at stake). Women, often struggling to support families in a context of severe poverty, are raped by clients, picked up by police and raped, locked up in jail overnight and raped, and in the morning released for the process to start again. They have no recourse to the law or any protection. Instead of providing alternative and creative solutions and ’strategies’ to impact this state of affairs, the church has often taken the moral highground in condemning the symptom rather than addressing the system.

I passionately desire to see us step into the FULL CREATIVITY of our Creator God! I desire for strategies that blow the world away. I desire to see the church at the forefront of creative strategy and engagement with the concerns of society. We have a God who is more than able to provide solutions that fly in the face of conventional wisdom, and which transform society, people groups and culture. How to tap into that creativity and those strategies is the question…

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