The Basket Weaver

“I do not believe your stories,” she thought to herself. “All the promises of Father Abraham, the promises of Israel — how we are a mighty nation, more numerous than the stars.”

“And yet,” she thought, “Here we are — enslaved. Here we are, building monuments for kings we’re not supposed to serve, for gods whose names are not supposed to rest on our lips.” 

“Perhaps you grow angry when we choose to worship other gods we know to be grotesque or fickle, other gods we know to be made of stone.”

“Perhaps you would also forgive us our frustration for generations of silence.” 

“My father’s father did not hear you. He sowed love and reaped nothing. He toiled, and prayed, and grew crooked with work, and he did not hear from you. When he died, he told us of the words his father’s father heard from you — those words passed down from his father’s father.”

“See how far we must reach back to speak of when we spoke with you?"
"See how trembling our hands are as we reach back into dark?”

“How more joyful might we be to hear your words fresh on our ears as rain — like hot coals might your presence seem to our unaccustomed skin.” 

“But I can learn, Elohim. We can learn if you speak to us.” 

“I am not proud of these bricks, but these are the things I see. I am not proud of these idols, but these are the things I know.”  

“What is worse, Adonai — to worship a God you know is false, or to love a God you know to be real but who refuses to speak?”

“We are told our ancestors wrestled angels, and saw visions of ladders ascending to heaven. You gave them dreams that saved from jail and protected us from famine. They made covenants with you and built arks for you. They walked with you in gardens.” 

“You turned us to salt and provided a sacrifice to save Isaac.”
“You flooded the earth and painted colors across the sky.”
“And now, we are steeped in mud. We are entombed in lives that are not our own.” 
“Still, we pray. And our masters think us foolish.”
“Still, we pray. And I think us foolish also.” 
“But I believe, still.”

+    +    + 

She thought as she wove, and she prayed, and she wept. 

The child fought against the swaddling. She tucked the cloth back and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Peace, Moses. Peace. Your mother loves you. Your mother loves you so much.”

She paused, and noticed her hands, scratched and coarse due to the weaving of the reeds, held against his soft skin; against his unblemished face. “Though I will not see him grow,” she thought, “at least he will have something in common with me…”

“…He will not know the touch or voice of the one who claims to love him most…”
“…He will have to believe as I believe.”

And then, still weeping, she closed the basket. 

Dear Emma

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (b. 1849, d. 1887)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

+    +    +

Dear Emma, 

You wrote a beautiful poem. You passed away before your words became famous, before your words became so connected to the statue for which they were written. At the urging of a friend, you wrote the poem as part of a fundraiser for the statue’s pedestal. 

A work of faith, so to speak, for an unfinished statue.

Your father’s name was Moses. Moses’ story is found in the book of Exodus. He was born at a time when the Hebrew nation was enslaved under Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In an effort to control the population, Pharaoh demanded that all Hebrew boys be killed upon birth. But Moses survived. His mother hid him for the first three months of his life, and then she placed him in a papyrus basket. She placed the basket in the Nile, and Moses’ sister kept watch. 

Pharaoh’s daughter had come to the Nile to bathe, and when she saw the basket, she opened it and found Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter brought him back with her, and she raised Moses as her son.

Moses, drawn out of the Nile.

Years later, he would lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. 

+    +    +

Your last name is Lazarus. Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, one whom he loved. Lazarus became ill, and when he died, his friends mourned his passing. “I am the resurrection and the life,” said Jesus. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

Jesus was taken to Lazarus’ tomb. 

And here, Jesus wept. 

Then, Christ commanded the stone be rolled from the tomb. 

And then, He brought Lazarus back from the dead.

+    +    +

In the opening line, you reference Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Colossus was a statue of the sun god Helios, built at the harbor of Rhodes. The statue was erected in the 3rd Century B.C. to commemorate a military victory.

Synonyms for brazen include “unabashed,” “shameless,” “insolent.” Antonyms include “humble,” “meek,” “modest.” You reference Colossus because you wish to contrast the ‘brazen’ quality with that of The Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty does not wish to mimic the conquering spirit. Rather than a male sun god, you venerate a woman who’s captured the light, and wields it as grace. 

Instead of proclamation, an invitation. 
Instead of gloating, she guides. 

+    +    +

The “Mother of Exiles” — Adam and Eve, exiled from the Garden. Moses and the Israelites, cast out into the wilderness for 40 years. David, exiled and hiding; once from Saul, and once from Absalom. Elijah, seeking shelter from the wrath of Jezebel. 

Mary, Joseph and Jesus — fleeing to Egypt in order to escape the reach and wrath of King Herod.

You wrote in response to the stories and experiences of your own people, the Jews, fleeing persecution and violence in Russia. Running for their lives, you hoped they could find a place in America. 

With “mild eyes,” a “world-wide welcome” the statue commands. Her light, shining — the only speaking necessary. And the light is bright enough for all who seek the shores of America.

Liberty. A welcoming. A Grace. 

+    +    +

When your poem was etched on a plaque in 1903, someone dropped the comma at the beginning of line 9. Instead of “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” It read, “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” This dropped comma changes the meaning of the poem. With the re-instated comma, the exhortation to the ancient lands becomes far clearer.

The New Colossus needs not the storied “glories” of old wars, the braggadocio of conquest.

For those who boast and flaunt and thrash in the public square, they shall have their reward. 

Colossus of Rhodes is a far cruder, far more grotesque expression. It speaks of opulence and the glorification of humanity. It is one more attempt to build the Tower of Babel.

But the New Colossus, with “silent lips,” prays.

She pleads — for the feeble, for the frail. Those who “breathe to be free.” Those “huddled masses” — infants, children, youth, parents, grandparents — bunched together and turned inward, protecting themselves from the cold. All of them, witnesses to each other’s breath, over and over again. All of them, witness to each other’s desire to live, over and over again. 

She pleads for those considered garbage, the storm-battered and those left for dead.

“Peace, beloved. Come sit by the fire.”    
“Peace, children. Be still.”
“Peace, children. Welcome.”

+    +    +

Dear Emma,    

You knew full well the United States of America’s history reeked of thievery, racism and fear.

But you believed in something, Emma. 

You believed in the capacity of the nation’s soul. You believed we could be a greater nation — you believed we could be large-hearted, larger than the ancient Grecian statue. You believed that amid our strife, amid our tension, that we could choose love and openness. 

It was our heart that was meant to be the New Colossus, not a copper statue in New York Harbor. It was our love that was to be our National Anthem. 

Our slow and steady affection, our defiant embrace of the other, our capacity not to see “other” but instead “another,” our resolve to maintain openness and welcome a stranger into the family — our ability to withstand trespass, forgive violence and hold a posture of penitence, of clemency — that was supposed be the New Colossus.

And I lament, Emma.
 
I lament — for the way we’re not what you hoped we would be.
I lament — for the way we’re not what you believed we should be.
I lament — for the way we’ve sown fear and hatred.
I lament — for our sins of silence and complicity.    
I lament — for the way we’ve demonized the other.
I lament — for our blindness and arrogance.
I lament — for the dual spirits of anger and greed which steer the United States of America.

+    +    +

Dear Emma,

Pray for us and weep with us, as the statue weeps as well.
Pray for a sweet love to shine and break through this acrid, hating pitch.
Pray for us, thieves. Pray for us, sinners.
Pray for us as we sing in defiance. Pray for Grace.
Pray for the tired and poor in spirit.
Pray for a brave home. Pray for a free land.
Pray for who you believed us to be.
Pray for the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. 

Amen.

porcelaing

     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change — scares the hell out of me, and I feel like hiding.
     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change, Donald Trump’s impending presidency and the threat of nuclear war — scares the hell and the ever-loving shit out of me, and I feel like hiding and burying myself alive.
     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change, Donald Trump’s presidency, the threat of nuclear war, plane travel, the web of responsibilities associated with home ownership, my near-crippling negative self-view, my dissatisfaction with the eat-drink-be-happy-but-if-you’re-not-happy-here’s-netflix-and-that-should-do-the-trick-until-tomorrow idea of living, my near-constant Eeyore-cloud-heart-steering belief that we’ve broken the world and that I broke myself along with it, and no one, myself included, is ever going to be fucking okie-dokie, a-okay, right-as-rain regardless of how hard anyone tries— all of that scares the hell and the ever-loving shit and the absolute fucking life out of me, and I feel like hiding and burying myself alive and wishing I could give back every breath I ever-ever-ever took.
     Sometimes I am so scared of everything being so much bigger and faster than I am that I feel like the only logical response is freezing and letting everything else pass me. 
     Sometimes I’m so scared I’m PETRIFIED.
     But you know what helps?
     Cereal.

+ TWO +

     Yeah, I mean, the kid’s stuff — Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, Honey Nut Cheerios, etc. Cereal makes me feel better, because it’s sweet and delicious and it reminds me of a time where none of the things that scared me dominated my thought process. It makes me think of a time where one of my best friends and I split a whole box of cereal over the course of an afternoon. We talked and laughed and ate cereal, and that was as complicated as the day got.
     It’s a defense mechanism, a comfort food, and emotional concealment.
     But sometimes, the wolves are bigger and badder and huffier and puffier than any castle of cereal I could make. Sometimes the wolves cross the moat without any problem and tear a hole in the cereal walls, and Tony the Tiger hurries back with a report, raving to me that “They’re Grrrrrrowling at the door!! They’re going to break in any second! Wwwwwwwwwhat do we do?!”
     And then I’m gone, hiding again. 
     Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. 

+ THREE +

     Writing — storytelling — aches and dreams shared with a community — a campfire. 
     It’s what I always go back to — it’s been my love language for decades now. There’re journals filled with stories, stories I haven’t shared. A library of caged birds. And why?
     Because of the wolves, that’s why. 
     The wolves are the ones who piss on the campfires and swallow the birds. If I let the birds go, the wolves will devour them, and they’ll put out the fire, and I won’t have anywhere to go. I won’t have anything to say.
     I love to write, and I love storytelling, and I know storytelling’s in my marrow — but I’m afraid.
     Why?
     Because it feels like the world needs storytelling like it needs a hole in the head — because it actually HAS a hole in the head, and it needs a medic, and it needs a top-flight surgical team to put it back together. It needs higher walls and more skilled sharpshooters. It needs antidotes to the viruses spread by the enemy, and then it needs viruses that the other side doesn’t have antidotes for yet, and it needs something loud and snarling and foaming at the mouth.
     Because it feels like the only thing the world needs is more wolves.

+ FOUR +

     And then Padre shows up. “Hey,” He says.
     “Oh, hi.”
     “Bad day?”
     “Yeah.”
     “Sorry about that.”
     “Thanks.”
     “Might I suggest something?”
     “Sure.”
     “Read the Psalms.”
     “Excuse me?”
     “Read the Psalms. It’s the one after Job.”
     “Who do I read them to?”
     “Yourself. In time, the Wolves.”
     “Why?”
     “Wolves love Psalms. Didn’t anyone tell you that?”
     “No. Why should I read them to myself?”
     “Because I know.”
     “Know what?”
     “That feeling in the back of your jaw — the feeling like your mouth wants to wire itself shut, lock the door and throw away the key. Because I know every thing you think of saying feels incomplete and off-target and late-to-the-party. Because I know you’re afraid to address the world — your neighbor — your reflection — because you think your words have to be the skeleton key that unlocks all the sorrow and vitriol of this age. All of that’s very admirable.”
     “Thank you." 
     “And it’s also profoundly, utterly foolish.”
     “…Yes.”
     The Almighty crouches low, His eyes meet mine. “Dom. I know it feels like your love is insignificant.”
     “…Yeah.”
     “I know it feels like you need to be a medic, or a sharpshooter, or a wolf.”
    “…Yeah.”
     “But you don’t.” He wipes a fallen tear from my eye. “You’re not a medic, and you’re not a sharpshooter, and you’re not a wolf. You’re Dom. And that’s because I made you like Dom. I made you Dom-shaped, with that Dom-laugh and that Dom-smell. I made you to look like Dominic. To sound like Dominic. To breathe and weep and dance and laugh and love and hope like Dominic.”
     “And,” He adds, “I did it on purpose.”    
     I nod. Another tear. “That’s what scares me the most, Padre — that you knew exactly what you were doing when you made me. I feel it in my chest.”
     “Yeah?”
     “Yeah — that forest fire — that burning bush, that lion’s den — that heart of mine — you put it there. You were sloppy.”
     He smiles. “How so?”
     “If the cops dust my heart they’ll find your fingerprints all over the place.”
     He nods. “Guilty as charged.” 
     “I forgive you.”
     He kisses my forehead. “Ditto.”

+ FIVE +

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

infancy

      ”It is cold,” she thinks. “And dark.” 
     Her cloak frays at the edges, the long journey and excessive wearing having taken a toll on the fabric. Her husband cleared several small manure piles in order to provide a clearing, and now she sits, cross-legged, against a beam. Rings of dried blood stain both their fingernails, on account of handling the newborn. Joseph regrets not asking the innkeeper for a wash basin. He glances over at the trough, but hesitates before suggesting they wash their hands in the oxen’s drinking water.      
     Despite the chill, sweat appears on Mary’s forehead. She trembles, and chastises herself for doing so. “Don’t shake,” Mary tells herself. “You’ll wake the baby.”  
     “Don’t shake,” she intones, again and again. “Be still.”
     Bits of hay stick to the cloth. Joseph wrapped it, his hands steadier than hers, but his palms felt coarse on her neck and she brushed him away soon afterward. “Carpenter hands,” thinks Mary. “I don’t need carpenter’s hands. I need soft hands; steady hands prepared for a child.” Mary examines the crimson prints on the cloth, wondering which belong to her, and which belong to her husband.
     Joseph, though young, already bears marks of apprenticeship, having worked under an older carpenter for several years. He stands over Mary, who holds their child close to her breast. His eyes shift from the child’s face, to Mary’s crown, and lastly to the beam supporting both wife and child.
     Joseph notes the knots in the wood and guesses internally at the age of the beam, as well as the stable itself. He steps away, as quiet as he can, and examines the pieces of wood which form the stable wall. “Good choices,” thinks the young carpenter, “though many pieces will need replacing soon, especially if it rains as much as it did last season.” His hand traces the lines in the wood.
     He spies a crack in one of the pieces, just below the ceiling. “Ah,” he thinks, proud of himself for noticing, “there’s a piece that needs fixing right now. Maybe I’ll fix it in return for allowing Mary and the baby to stay the night. It wouldn’t take long at all to repair.” Joseph pauses to take in the night stars, shining through the slits in the stable ceiling.
     He hears the baby coo, and his eyes fall down to wife and child. Joseph remembers the steam rising from his child’s infant skin; a chorus of smoke plumes, as if he was born on fire. “Is everything alright?”
     Mary lifts her head to Joseph and nods. “Fine, Joseph, fine.” Her eyes focus on one rose print in particular; one she knows as hers. “Joseph.”
     “Yes?”
     “Did the…the…” The words lodge in her throat. They feel too sharp, too large to speak. 
     “What is it, Mary?” His hands return to her neck, but this time they feel softer, more tender. Mary inhales, exhales. Her eyes turn from the print and meet his stare. 
     “Did the — angel — when it — when he spoke…did his words make sense to you?”
     Joseph’s eyes don’t break from Mary’s. He smiles, and kisses her forehead. “…No.”
     Mary nods, and smiles. And then her sight returns to the baby, whose palm tumbles down the back of her fingers; tide by tide, learning the hand of his mother. A tear falls, landing square on the baby’s forehead, in the exact location where Joseph kissed her own forehead. She laughs, and the baby stirs.
     Mary, warmed by the child, whispers. “Peace, child. Peace.”

Homeward Sound

For Christmas, all I want are two fixed coordinates; X and Y.  Also known as a point of origin. 

I want to have come from somewhere ancient; to be able to first point to a very old place full of very old buildings, say “There, Then.” And second, point at myself, a heart full of trembling hands, and say, “Here, Now.”

Why do I desire roots, and by extension, Home? “This is where I come from,” I long to say, “This red dirt and these sounds of Blue Herons, these smells of lavender and this amber ray of sunrise — here and here and here.”

More than Los Gatos, California — more than Scotland and Italy — more than dirt and air.

Beneath the desire, a lament — that I wish to possess the virtues of age and place, but without any of the cost or process necessary to acquire them. I want to have roots, but I don’t want to grow them. 

In this way, I’ve forgotten what ‘growth’ even means. Nothing around me grows. Instead, everything around me — from coffee to money transfers to entire seasons of TV to air mattresses to an exact timeline of the French and Indian War to new homes — is Instant, Instantaneous, infinitely swappable for the next model and always — always at my fingertips. 

And not to say that speed is inherently evil — because it isn’t — But it’s not always good. 

Roots require growth. And growth hurts. Roots seep out from within my trunk, and dig deep into the earth. Into a place. Roots demand abiding and endurance, neither an idea with much sway nowadays.

Perhaps I take pride in having left ‘Home’, or having re-arranged the building blocks to the point of not recognizing it as home at all. 

I burn bridges as if it’s a rite of passage. I re-develop mangers into shopping malls. Re-configure cradles into convenience stores into coffee shops into co-working spaces into into into… 

Everything looks familiar, but nothing feels familiar.

Vintage is now virtue. Distressing material is now an assembly line directive. Grain and Dust are incorporated into clean pictures and used to displace, or de-place, ourselves. Wear and tear, brick and wood, Edison bulbs like sand on the seashore. Shiplap and hardwood floors. Rust and frayed edging, amen.

Yes, I am cynical of Time and Age’s mass commodification, but not of the desire. The desires are in me too — the desires to belong to somewhere, to someone — to yearn continually for Home — for a land you know yet cannot describe — a place you’ve never been, but have always known — and that is Good. 

But I cannot build Time, and I cannot manufacture Place. I cannot create Age. Rather, the best humanity can offer is the comfort of dust — from dust drawn out, and to dust destined for. but not of the desire. 

I build my pretty frames and admire the bark on the wood without stopping to acknowledge the deeper truth: I — We — are not made of bark.

We are made of rings. Which are, in turn, made of time. 

+ TWO +

What a beautiful truth — Yes, I come from a very old place.
What a strange truth — Yes, I belong to a current I neither created nor control. 
What a difficult truth — No, it is not a place to be bought, sold, subdivided, redeveloped or repurposed.

What a frightful truth — I am home in the hand of God.
What a loving truth — You are home in the hand of God.
What a painful, graceful, mysterious, burdensome, vibrant, wondrous, transformational-if-we-let-it truth — We are home in the hand and heart of God.

+ THREE +

One of my favorite movies is Hook, for the scene where Peter Banning — now an overweight, overwrought adult — has been rejected and disavowed by the Lost Boys. 

Until the last boy. He approaches, looks Banning up and down, and calls Peter to his level, down near the soil. And the little boy smooshes his hands against his face, pulls back the eyelids, and like magic — “Oh, THERE you are Peter!”

There I will be, in what the world considers my greatest success, me at my best and biggest, and there my beloved will smoosh their fingers against my face, and they will know me as no one else knows me, as only God Himself knows me more — “Oh, THERE you are, Dominic!” 

And there I will be, in what the world considers my greatest failure, me at my worst and weakest, and my beloved will smoosh their fingers against my face, and they will know me as no one else knows me, as only God Himself knows me more — “Oh, THERE you are, Dominic!” 

+ FOUR +

The world, like Saul maladapting David into a soldier, will drape you with ill-fitting armor and demand you fight battles you don’t believe in, for reasons you don’t understand.

"Be a soldier, not a shepherd. Be a warrior, not a lover."

But the Lord, the Shepherd who made me well, sees through all worldly adorning and shaming. It’s Padre, palms open, “There, Then…Here, Now.” 

Here, I’ve always been. Here, I’ll always be. 

Who sings the song I've heard all this time?
What is the still, small voice which has always stirred me -- which has sparked simultaneous dream and terror?


Does Home fill me with dread? With imagination?
Does Home dig deeper and wider than I'll ever know?

What King -- What Shepherd --
Where am I walking? 

What Lion -- What Lamb -- 
Whose steps are these? Whose blood in my veins? 

What Maker -- What Love --
Who are you that calls me Home?

Home might never be a single place, but it is always a Presence; less of an establishing and more of a knowing, where all of you is welcomed, at all times, for all time. 

Home again, home again — in the hand and heart of God — who holds the dust of the earth, who traces canyons in the lines of His palm, and as we bow low, in tenderness, a voice — 

“Son — daughter — child — to the river, to the table. There you are…Home.”

Blue Light Specials

I attended a church in Philadelphia that would, mid-service, include a prayer of confession/repentance. We would read the prayer aloud, and then would bow our heads in a period of silent prayer and reflection. 

After a few moments, the person leading the time would say something to mark the end of the silence; 

“My friends, look up; these words are for you.” 

They would then speak of words of encouragement or glad tidings; a psalm perhaps.

For example:

CONFESSION/REPENTANCE

Lord God, you have shown us such love,
and stretched out your arms
to draw us into your embrace.
Yet we so often fail to show that love
within our lives,
or recognize its source.
Forgive our short-sightedness,
for the times we've failed to see your love
in the generosity of friend
or stranger,
the shoulder to cry on,
willing ear to listen,
a word of encouragement,
holding our hand that extra mile.
Forgive us for failing to notice
how much you care for us.

PRAYER/REFLECTION

“My friends look up, these words are you.”

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

(PSALM 65:5-8)

+ TWO +

There’s ache bound up in every person — crack them open and they erupt like volcanoes. They love in furious gushes, like Texas oil wells. More grief and more dream than sand on the seashore. 

Every attempt I make to measure out a heart — yours, mine, a complete stranger’s — will be incomplete. Every attempt I make will be flawed. It will miss the mark. 

Pardon me, Lord, for my incomplete, opaque words.

Keep me loving, Father. Always, keep me seated at the table. Keep me asking questions. Keep me listening to that melodious, drunken ramble. Keep me listening to the trembling, anger-filled screed.

+ THREE +

I’m an introvert, and I don’t do well in crowds. I’m not terrible, but I’m far from a social butterfly. That said, I love a conversation with another person. I love the ebb and flow of a good, unpredictable dialogue with a friend or stranger. 

This is what breaks my heart about digital addiction — when people choose their phones over other people. When we seek communion on online walls and not with other people. 

Other people are full of their own thoughts/ideas you can’t control. They’ll act one way on Monday, and then Tuesday they’ll seem like a completely different person. If you open yourself to someone, you’re liable to be hurt or let down by them. You’re going to be disappointed and it’s going to be difficult. 

But with the devices we use nowadays, with technology and its infrastructure, we can craft relationships that’re wholly reliable, that won’t change from day to day, moment to moment. We can pull whatever we want and however much we want of it. And if we don’t like what we’re hearing, it’s not like we have to sit with it or work through anything. We don’t have to abide or endure. 

We can walk away at any moment. Unfollow, unfriend. Swipe left. 

We’d rather pour ourselves into our devices because we think we make our world bigger, better. We can create our very special echo chamber, full of our very special intimacies, full of very special Everyones who looks like us and sounds like us and loves the things we love and hates the things we hate and loves as we would love and hates as we would hate. 

Higher and higher go our walls. And we think we make our world bigger and better with every click and touch, but yet it feels like we’re nesting our hearts in bigger and better porcelain prisons, as if our hearts — fervent, burning-bush vibrant — existed at the core of all our emotional nestings — but every thing we do, every interaction is one more nesting, one more hiding, one more obscuring.   

There’s so much tenderness and face-to-face engagement we’ve lost, so much grace we’ve willingly forfeited — so much compassion we’ve forked over — so much intimacy we’ve rejected in the name of ‘connection.’ 

I believe there’s so much more to be had from a pure engagement — from time given, which — when two people do it, becomes time shared — honest time. Love-full time.

+ FOUR +

“My friends, look up; these words are for you.” 

Forgive me, Lord, I’m biting the hand that feeds me — anyone who’s reading this, you’re reading this because I posted a link on Instagram, on Twitter. I don’t know what to do.

Forgive me, Lord, I’m broken and busted. I’m aware there’s often a gap between the aspirations of my words and the works of my hands. 

Forgive me, Lord, when I seek to make intimacy and relationship out of parts that were never meant for the spirit and weight. Forgive me when I choose the thing over the person. 

“My friends, look up; these words are for you.”

I hope to see the light glow from within your eyes, not the blue glow of a screen bouncing off your face.

I hope to learn how to endure and abide with you. I hope to ebb and flow with. I hope for fast and slow with you. I hope for hurt and for the strength to lovingly slosh through the muck with you. 

I hope to be revealed with you, to de-nest hearts. Layer by layer. Grace by Grace, open space by open space. Heart given to heart. Hope giving way to hurt giving way to hope. 

“My friends, look up; these words are for you.”

Do I Believe in Love?

Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. 

Hate: It was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. 

Love: These five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. 

The Right Hand: The Hand of Love. 

The Story of Life is this: Static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished… 

But hold on! Stop the presses! The right hand is coming back! Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Yea! Boom! It’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Ooh! Ooh! Left-Hand Hate KO’d by Love. 

If I love you, I love you. But if I hate you…

— Radio Raheem, from “Do The Right Thing” (1989) writ/dir by Spike Lee

II

Do I believe in Love today? 

To believe in Love — to open my doors and say ‘Today I Love and am Loved,’ simultaneously giving the world opportunity to accept or reject me and my handsome heart — is not a singular act, but a daily, action-by-action orientation. Today I believe in Love, and today I choose to Love.  

Because I can believe in Love, but I can also believe in Hate, and added to such belief, is the opinion that Hate is stronger than Love. Hate is more profitable and more accessible than Love, I might say. 

Hate doesn't weigh as much, doesn't cost as much. Hate doesn't charge extra when you travel, and it fits through all doorways. Hate doesn't ask questions, and doesn't require you to listen. 

Hate is more understandable than Love and affords me more armor than Love, more shields and more reasons with which to defend myself. Hate assures me of rightness, and righteousness.  

Love, though — Love be that heart in full bloom, that blessed open door without conditions — the only condition being that the door stay open. 

III

How do I summon Love from barren soil? 
Christ have mercy.
How do I be still in the pupil of the beast and show Love?
Christ have mercy.
How do I take in venom, bitter fruit and waste — and conjure that ribbon — that melody — that blaze — that mysterious and wondrous Love?
Christ have mercy.

We are flame, and we are flesh. 
The spirit is willing, amen and amen, and the spirit is weak, amen and amen. 
Help me Father, to speak like the rock — break me and bring forth water.
Ayúdame, Padre, to burn and yet not be consumed.
Help me, Lord, to die and be born anew.

How Do Angels Get Their Wings?

 

MOMMY, MOMMY, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

When they hold onto babies who shake and shiver in new-hot-birth,
rattling lungs speaking in tongues discernible only to the Lord of Hosts
and the bleeding mothers.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

DADDY, DADDY, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

By Christ’s calm in maelstrom,
through child-laughter in an earthquake,
the holler at the snap of the bough-break, 
scaling cloud-faces and swiping at angels’ heels.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 

BROTHER, BROTHER, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

The soldier, dying in the foxhole, 
as petrified as childhood trees, 
lost amongst metal-swirl
and snow-dirt-blood-blast, 
his heart shouts for God but his tongue calls him a motherfucker
and a vengeful sonuvabitch.
He screams and he screams, and his heart is as open as ocean water,
and by the time his whelps have clipped the treetops, 
they are rid of dross and come forth as gold.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” 

SISTER, SISTER, HOW DO ANGELS GET THEIR WINGS?

The old man with the little girl — the child.
Gray eyes meet green flame, his hatred of self passed between them —
Here he makes himself known and here she makes herself nothing.
Here he is most and here she is least.
Here he is cannibal and here she is feast.
He cloaks himself in the body of the licorice-black hair and tiny, unknown hands.
His exposure and her concealment,
his sound and her silence,
his living and her dying,
and all the while every move is the shriek-violin-bow over tuned strings, the lung-swell animation of clarinet, oboe, bassoon, flute, french horn, trombone, trumpet. 

Every move is scream and song and symphony.

Every evil sits side by side with every grace, 
every groan and scowl and howl and heap of chuckles and lover’s throbs,
every teardrop and tremble, every smile and every finger of every hand pressed to every back as part of every hand as part of every embrace, transubstantiated, from morsels of love and hate and longing and dying and dream and cowardice and despising and lament and shaking awake-awake-AWAKE and thump-thumping and blood-spewing sword-flash fire-breath —

All dutifully borne on the wings of angels.
And such glorious, voluminous wings are they —
that fearfully, wonderfully, thru night and day, them angels proclaim —
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

 

 

 

 

      

     

     

the cowardly lion

"My son, my son," Padre's kiss on my forehead. 
"My love, my love," My body borne up by His. 
"My flame, my flame," His finger held to my sternum.

“Heal, Lion."
 
“Roar, Beast.”
“Love, Beloved.”

The lion; wounded and shivering, cowering in tree-shade at the river’s side.
The lion; half-cleaning its wounds of caked mud, dried blood.
The lion; terrified, filthy, shorn of pride — muscle — indwelling.

Padre kneels and speaks in hymns.
Padre matches breaths with the lion and speaks in dreams.
Padre combs his hand through the lion’s mane and speaks in tears.

He holds the head of the weeping lion in His hands.
He whispers and sparks fire in the lion's heart.
His eyes glow and He claims the lion —

"You — all of you — you are mine."
Now the lion sees its wounds slipping from its flesh as beads of water.
"Your story — your song — is mine all mine —”
Now the lion sees its wounds transferred to the lamb.  
“I make all things new, lion. You are mine all mine.”
Now the lion sees its shadow — held in the shadow the lamb.

The lion feels its frame renewed, and the lamb embraces the healed Lion. 
     "Feel them new bones — oh Lion —”
The lion hears sounds renewed, and the lamb holds fast the healed Beast.
     “Hear that new music — oh Beast —”
The lion sees its wounds closed and cleansed, and the lamb loves the healed Beloved.
     “See that new flesh — oh Beloved —”

And the lamb holds the lion’s gaze. “Watch — watch them wounds vanish as smoke" 
And the Passover Lamb — bleeding sweet, bleeding bright. 
“My lion — my lion — how wonder-full."

"How I love you, my oh my oh — how Deep and how Wide I love you."

alms for a nurse

In the mirror, there i am.

In the dust, there you are.

In the water, there we are..

remember.

In the eyes of the nurse, violet scrubs and ratty-ass Nike’s, cigarette dangling from her cracked lips; salt-n-pepper hair pulled back and coiled tight as a boxer’s fist — squatted on the curb and waiting for her 48 bus, on another hot fucking day where she’s going to have to care for another batch of dumb fucking people who’ve gotten themselves hurt for no good fucking reason.

In the eyes.

In the cracked lips.

In the boxer’s fist.

remember.

In this lonely hour — the beginning of a night shift, the beginning of a day shift, the beginning of twelve hours of prizefighting through red-tape bullshit again and again and again.

In this lonely hour — doubt transformed into helmet, anxiety transformed into breastplate, fear transformed into shield, mourning transformed into sword.

In this lonely hour — heart full of blood, lungs full of smoke, muscles full of wrath. 

In the red-tape bullshit. 

In the sword. 

In the blood..

remember.

 

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Amen

“I [Nebuchadnezzar] had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me.”

daniel // four / five

+    +    +

I don’t dream as much as I used to; which scares me.

A lion, a lion — there’s a lion inside my chest — 

I dreamt something last night, but when I woke up in the middle of the night, I told myself I didn’t need to write it down, because I’d remember it. 

A tiger, a tiger — there’s a tiger inside my chest — 

When I woke up this morning, I’d forgotten all the details. All I remembered was there were three people, and I was one of them. 

A bear, a bear — there’s a bear inside my chest — 

I don’t dream as much as I used to, and I don’t write down my dreams like I used to, and I don’t wonder as much as I used to — but I still believe I was built for dreaming. 

I know my heart and my soul were built to be dream-makers and I know my hands and feet were built to be dream-makers.

Oh my — oh my — there’s a dream inside my chest — 

+    +    +

“In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.”

daniel // seven / one

+    +    +

Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Teach my heart to dream again. Teach my heart not to fear the lions, the tigers or bears.

Teach me tenderness in the lion’s den. Teach me grace in the fiery furnace. Teach me peace in the parting of the sea. 

More sleepless nights. More fragments. More of what I don't understand. 

Still me when the dreams shake my sternum. Hold me close when I squirm and seek to flee from the fire-breathing dream. Help me to count the costs and to take one step after the other — Right, then left; heart, then soul. 

Teach me what it is to love and be wild. Teach me what it is to dream and be your child.

Do I Still Believe in Magic?

Mozart’s dying, and it’s all his fault. 

Antonio Salieri, a good-but-never-great composer, a figurine thrashing against the Almighty, meets Mozart and views him as a lunatic or divine joke, a brat not worthy of the genius inside him. In response, he hatches a plan to drive Mozart insane and destroy God’s angel.

And now, standing at the foot of Mozart’s bed, looking at the dying cherub, he’s almost succeeded. 

Except now he sees, before him, an unfinished work — a requiem. He examines the sheet music, and he’s overcome by the beauty of the piece. 

Yet Mozart, near-delusional and beyond the point of saving, laments its unfinished nature. Salieri, compelled by a new vision, hatches one more plan:

“…Let me help. Let me help you finish it.”

Mozart’s spirit awakens. Salieri pulls a desk over and stacks up blank sheet music. Then, armed with ink and quill, he prepares to transcribe Mozart’s dictation.

He begins with the tenors, and in isolation, their voices float over both Mozart and Salieri. The bass voices follow, linked now with the tenors. Bassoon and trumpet and timpani and strings cascade behind them, instrument building upon instrument. Salieri struggles to keep up — 

“You’re going too fast!” 

“Do you have me?” Screams Mozart. Have you translated it right? Is it written?

Salieri finishes the last notation and flips the pages to Mozart, who lunges for them. His eyes scan the pages, his right arm raises as if he’s conducting the orchestra, and — 

— with Bombast and Goth and Power and Fury, the requiem rises to life, all parts in unison, more beautiful and terrifying than Salieri or Mozart could have imagined. God’s glory on full display.

+    +    +

This isn’t a story from the history books. This is a scene from a movie, Amadeus, which itself was an adaptation of a play. 

Regardless of whether or not one calls the veracity of the scene into the question, the scene still hits like a wrecking ball every time I watch it. 

Each time I watch Mozart conduct an invisible symphony, I feel the hair stand up on my arms. 

Every time Salieri sees God on the page, I believe in magic. 

Every time two men engage the divine and experience grace, healing, awe — it makes me want to be a storyteller all over again.   

+    +    +

Here now, the question I pose to myself: Do I still believe in magic? 

Do I still believe in the power of storytelling? 

Because this year I’ve felt, more than ever, like quitting. The spec projects I’ve worked on go out into the world, and return void. I feel like I’m throwing all heart and soul into the ether, and it makes me want to cage up all the wild animals in my ribcage, and snuff out all the flames in my lungs.  

Because the world doesn't need cute stories. The world doesn't need ugly stories, either. The world doesn't need fairy tales. The world needs shields and bricks and cash and gas and pills. The world needs justice and revenge and more bullets and higher walls and faster download speeds and more renewable resources. 

Because the world will not, cannot, listen to 'once upon a time.' Unless you're building an empire along with it, the world will not stand for 'in the beginning.' 

That’s something they don’t teach you in undergrad — not how to knock on the next door when the previous one shuts in your face, but how to keep knocking on the fucking door, period. 

Even when no one answers. Because Christ brought you to the door. Because He put a bird in your heart, full of song and radiant light, and He promised you He would teach you how to sing, and you said — 

“Father, I’m s-s-scared.” Like Moses at the Burning Bush, yeah? ‘Not a good a speaker,’ said Moses, ‘better off with someone else.’ But Padre, He smiles, and laughs deep, and he says — 

“I will teach you to sing. Because you are mine.”

And then He walks you to the door. 

“Now, knock.”

+    +    +

This is my story, this is my song. 

knock, knock. knock, knock. 

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.

This is my story, this is my song.

knock, knock. knock, knock.

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.

Manos Y Pies // Hands & Feet

Break bread with your hands. Draw thanksgiving turkeys with your hands. Hold chopsticks with your hands. Play ‘chopsticks’ with your hands. 

Run a hundred meters with your feet. Climb a mountain with your feet. Send secret messages under the table with your feet. Go to the market, stay home, have roast beef (or not) and cry wee-wee-wee all the way home with your feet.

+    +    +

Raquel lives in Nicaragua. She lives in a place with mango trees and guard dogs. She lives in a place with approximately two-dozen other girls and a few house moms who keep everything in order. She attends school and does her chores. 

Raquel lives in a place where she’s not at-risk to be sexually abused, as opposed to her former dwelling, the city trash dump. Raquel lives in a place where there’s responsibility and rules and the love of good, imperfect people. 

When I met Raquel, she’d just swallowed too much Kool-Aid powder (part of a food-eating relay race we are all playing), and was spitting up the powder. Her head, downcast. Eyes sunken. 

“¿Necesita un vaso de agua?”

A nod. “Si.”

+    +    +

Dig ditches with your hands. Stomp out scorpions with your feet. Catch water balloons with your hands. Kick soccer balls with your feet. Build walls with your hands. Stand firm with your feet. 

Draw suns and flowers and hearts and rainbows all over the cement with your hands, like everything in the heavens above seeped up from underneath, ‘tween the sidewalk cracks and the breath gaps in the soil.

Walk the lonely, uncertain road with your feet.

+    +    +

La Villa Esperanza started in order to give girls a chance at a future, to instill in them a strong sense of self, and to show them how precious they are to God. I and a few of friends spent one week there. We played games, joked about who was the most handsome jugador de futbol (Neymar Jr., in case you were wondering), and talked to the girls about how important they were to God, how much their lives mattered and how much people cared about them. 

‘The Villa’, our short-hand name for it, is not perfect, but it is, without question, a place of love and dedication. It sees each girl’s heart as a worthy place of devoting resource. It gives and gives again to these girls. Not because they scored high on an aptitude test, not because they live within a zip code or belong to a certain class — because God-ordained blood courses through their veins. Because God-breathed air billows in their lungs. Because every bit of them hums with God-made, fearful and wonderful life. 

+    +    +

Hold each other close with your hands. Wade into the ocean with your feet. Pull back the curtain with your hands. Leap into puddles and break up your reflection with your feet.

Stand at the door and knock with your hands and feet. 

Bear one another’s burden with your hands feet. 

Kingdom Come, Will Done with your hands and feet. 

Manos y Pies. Hands and Feet. 

+    +    +

Raquel is a child of God as I am a child of God as Alex is a child of God as Michael is a child of God as Dayana is a child of God as Dre is a child of God as Allison is a child of God as Clint is a child of God as Philando is a child of God as Hillary is a child of God as Colin is a child of God as Nasir is a child of God. 

+    +    +

And All-Mighty and All-Powerful God scoops us up, slurps us up, catches us in his ever-expansive embrace, and it’s always “my child—my child—my child—my child—my child—my child, wholly and dearly loved.”

All prodigals. All lost. All found. 

All creatures great and small. We see the gospel made manifest, in ways minor and major, micro and macro.

Here, in the palm of God. 

Here, in the pupil of the mountain; in the turgid waves of magma. 

Here, in the pupils of a young girl, the wonder and mystery of dynamic Raquel.

Link to the story of Xochilt (a girl at the Villa) and Villa's Story: HERE

FICTION: STATION MANAGER

Esmerelda leaned against the inside of the doors; she felt her shoulders flush against the wood. Her eyes looked right down the center aisle, trained on Christ at the far end of the room. Another sweltering day. Another fan-less, breeze-less day. 

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”

The sun began to scale the stained-glass on Ezzie's left. Stations One through Six. Stations like the radio. The radio, like music. Music, like Jazz.

Christ, Jazz.

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth and Jazz.”

A figure interrupted the light, near station three. She saw his shadow, and she heard his voice. “Hello? Is anyone in there? Hello? Hello?”

Station Three. Jesus falls for the first time.

"Jesus, the cross you have been carrying is very heavy. You are becoming weak and almost ready to faint, and you fall down.”

"Hello? Please! Anyone at all!”

Station Three, thought Ezzie. Oldies. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. “Tracks of my Tears.” “Second That Emotion. “Tears of a Clown.”

Now if there's a smile upon my face
it's only there trying to fool the public
but when it comes down to fooling you
now honey that's quite a diff'rent subject

That could’ve been Christ in the garden, thought Ezzie. Christ might’ve been all smiles and ‘love thy neighbor’, but he knew he’d have to die. He could feel the sin and the shit of the world, and He knew there’d need to be an accounting. 

He knew his time was coming.

The shadow knocked on the glass of the third station. Ezzie hushed him.

“Quiet! They’ll hear.”
“I wasn’t followed. I swear. I swear. Please let me in.”

It’d been forty-eight days since the dead broke the soil at St. Timothy’s on Third Street. Ezzie had been holed up in the church for the past eleven.  

When the stone rolled away, it was a miracle. This time, however, it meant no more jazz or Smokey Robinson. The thought of her past life filled Ezzie with grief, and she wanted so dearly to cry. But If Jesus could sweat blood at Gethsemane and still not escape his punishment, thought Ezzie, then what good would crying about the lack of Motown do her?

Nothing. No amount of Gethsemane Sweat would bring back Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, the Supremes, or The Temptations. 

The shadow knocked once more. And once more, Ezzie hushed him.

“Asshole! Quiet.”
“Like I said, no one followed me. And watch your language.”

Ezzie stopped. Her eyes went back to Christ for a moment.

“Just between you and me,” she thought, “I hope this guy goes next.”