Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sabbatical poetry: on perceptions

Others have named you -
some hope-filled, some presumptuous.
But what do you call yourself?

From the corner of Malcomb
we've watched you live on for almost
4 years - from too far away,
from up here.

Has it taken too long for me
to open eyes, admit the not-knowing,
emerge from myself?
Admit I don't know you,
and I never will this way.

Others have named you -
hopeful future, yet a desert.
But what do you call yourself?

Is there any future besides statistics,
any hope beyond the corner store?
Will the gunshots ring out

Will the color of skin determine
our words, your ability
to ignore me completely?
Will the pattern of history
dictate your tomorrow?
Will you name yourself before others can?

Others have named you -
and I am the other.
Can I let you name yourself?

Friday, September 23, 2011

beginnings: a Nashville sabbatical

The basil grows tall at the end of the sidewalk.
The front porch is bathed in the sunlight of early eve. The fresh air of North 2nd Street floods in through the screened door.

Novella Carpenter's urban Oakland farm and Frederick Buechner's notes on telling the truth are spread on the floor in front of me, alongside journals for Scripture reflection and scribbled lyrics.

Though I've never started a sabbatical before - intentional space for hearing, seeing, knowing - this doesn't seem quite too bad of a way to do it. I hope to offer to you some outpouring from this time, if I do in fact get filled up to the point of being able to pour out to you.

But more than anything else, I'm here for this - to be present.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

growing up in wisdom

"...the foolishness of God is wiser
than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God
is stronger than man's strength.
Not many of you were wise by human standards;
not many were influential;
not many were of noble birth.
But God chose the foolish things of the world
to shame the wise.
He chose the weak things of the world
to shame the strong."
{1 Corinthians 1: 25, 26b-27}

When do people start naming someone as "wise"? And how do you get wisdom? Do you pray harder and longer? Just ask for it once? Does it happen overnight?

As I've read through Paul's first letter to the Corinthians many times this year, I can't get away from wisdom. It is clear that we need to be seeking that which is wholly other than man's wisdom, so much so that this human wisdom isn't even comparable to the foolishness of God! How much more, then, shall the wisdom of God outweigh human wisdom?

God is giving me wisdom - day by day, trial by trial, question by question. In reading this morning, I believed it, felt it, understood it a bit more. Where did it come from? When did this wisdom start growing in me?

Our friends, our Family, are surrounded by difficult circumstances, people touched by real life, who often lack the insulation of privacy and great wealth and power (the kind of power that gets you out of tough spot for the right payment in return). And in these circumstances, helplessness is easy to feel - all too easy. In fact, helplessness is what I always begin with.

And in this helplessness, only the Giver of Life, the One who has food and drink that will forever satisfy, can speak into our brokenness, our helplessness. We collapse on the floor to cry out to God. We lie awake in the middle of night, interceding. We sit in dimly lit living rooms, helping our sister hold on.

And it is in those circumstances, God's wisdom is growing in us. We can't help but become wiser when we enter into the Real World of walking with God's children - both those who know his Name and those who have yet to follow the Way of Jesus.

May you also be given the grace to enter into the the lives of those around you, carried only by the Love and Wisdom of God.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

stories at bottoms of stairs

Every day bears new stories, new faces, and difficult decisions. There are children whose school uniforms are two sizes too small; grandmothers raising grandbabies; cabinets stripped of food; and houses smothering their occupants after a cut-off notice went… unnoticed.

Though every day bears new stories, somehow they start sounding the same. Our hands get weary, our ears turn deaf, and our hearts turn to something like stone. Which stories are true? How do we help without hurting? What is the right response – and when is ‘no response’ the right response?

I have lived, alongside many others, with these tensions for many years now. I’ve dropped my head to my desk, cried as I write down phone messages, and stormed down those stairs to a persistent visitor who rarely tells me the truth.

And I cannot say I’ve got good answers. Oh, I’ve got some answers… to a very few number of questions. And most of those answers came after the telling of the story, after the writing of the check, after the wiping of the tears. Some would even say those answers came too late.


She’s around my age – mid-20s – with three children. She’s relentless, chases after things, tries until she can say she’s tried with everything she’s got. And this time, all she needed was $50 to keep her air conditioner running in the 110 heat index of Memphis. I like this girl; she’s kind and seems honest. She might even remind of myself – bright eyes, high hopes, more optimistic than is sometimes good for us.

Maybe that’s why, with one hour to go until cut-off time, we hugged, made small talk, and I handed her a check, for a measly $50.

I wanted to sit down and talk; I needed to know more about her story. There are other things we need to address. What about next month? What about school? Is your brother ever going to contribute to the household income? But those questions have to wait. Transportation and children and “temp” agencies hold a firm grip on her schedule. And so I will wait, too.


Life can start feeling a little worthless, a little like all these things don’t matter - $50 and hugs and prayers and follow-up phone calls ending in, “I still don’t have a job.” The dead ends and disconnected phone numbers can wrench the compassion right from your stone heart.

But I cannot quit; I cannot forget my own dead ends, my own fruitless pursuits, dark decisions, and faith-killing sin. I cannot forget, and so I’ll keep walking down those stairs.