Fourth grade child, crucified

Processing the grief and horror of the school shooting in Uvalde, TX with a poem. God, have mercy.

Fourth Grade Child, Crucified

Fourth grade child on the cross,
you did not choose this.
There is nothing in you 
nor your family, friends, or schoolmates
that deserved this.
All forever changed without consent.

Where was Christ to wipe your tears
and who was there to honor 
all the sacred blood that left your side?

Fourth grade child, crucified
because the Romans shouted “freedom”
and would not give up their guns.
Because lobbyists lobbied 
and senators are spineless
and lines are drawn unjustly
and our addiction to violence 
is strong.

You deserved to live 
among a people who cared. 
You deserved a long life
among a people who are for life.
And now you deserve the birthing of a world
where this will never happen again.
Even so, you’re gone forever.
It would not be enough. 
It would be something.

Fourth grade child, 
the grief of those who love you
is real and raw 
and right and angry.
You were unprotected by 
the ones who pledged to keep you safe.
We failed you.
No excuses remain.
Nothing to be said
and nothing left to do
but bear witness and not turn away.
To grieve and scream.
Hold vigil.
Refuse to forget and move on.
Demand better.

Fourth grade child, innocent,
I need you to know -
I need us to show you tangibly -
your life was worth more than all the money in the world
and all the power thrown around
by those who lead 
but do not love us.

Reflections from a Lenten porch sit practice

For Lent this year I thought I’d add a daily practice of sitting on our back porch for ten minutes, doing nothing. I didn’t actually end up doing this every day. Maybe about half the days total. But hey, twenty-ish days of porch sits are better than no days of porch sits, right?

I don’t really have a neat and tidy take-away from it, but I did enjoy slowing down and noticing what’s all around me every day. There are many things I don’t always take time to look at.

I also felt like it was an opportunity to say a small little “screw you,” in my own way, to the destructive capitalistic forces that try to make us feel guilty and worthless if we don’t spend every second of every day doing “productive” things. I’m here to listen and watch for one who said, pay attention to the birds and wildflowers and learn thoroughly from them. And if that isn’t a bit of an anti-capitalist manifesto, I’m not sure what is.

After each porch sit, I wrote a sentence or two about what stood out to me from that time. I’d like to share these thoughts with you. I edited some of them lightly but didn’t wrap them up with a neat introduction or conclusion, because I think they resist that. (The real world resists that . . . although if you get something in particular out of these thoughts, or if you relate to some of them, I’d love to hear it.)

Do you have a practice along these lines—maybe one you’ve been able to sustain beyond Lent? I’m all ears.

Here’s what I wrote:

Today I noticed a plant I never noticed before, high up over the neighbors’ yard, poking out between cedar boughs, reaching toward the sun.

Today I thought about how I don’t often go outside and look up. I thought about how tall the cedar trees are. Then I watched the clouds wisp surprisingly quickly across the sky until there was no blue left, all gray.

Today I watched a small black-headed bird perch on a hanging basket and turn his head back and forth, almost watching me, until my phone made a noise and startled us both.

Today I noticed and gave thanks for the trees all around us that have not been cut down.

Today I felt the wind and watched everyone else feel it, too: the cedars, the grasses, the cat whose ears twitch at every rustling sound. To be attuned like that to the Spirit who moves like wind.

Today I watched the rain come down in steady gray mist-lines and felt that God is close to those who weep with broken hearts. I can think of many.

Today I looked at the neighbors’ newly re-growing fig tree, dramatically chopped down, finding ways to grow again.

Today I noticed that the raspberry plants I feared were dead are making new leaf-buds.

Today I felt unsettled, not sure where to focus, until I closed my eyes and listened to the rain. It plops and splatters with so many different sounds.

Today I thought about how each fruit tree returns to life at its own pace: the pear buds ready to open, the sweet cherry buds farther along than the sour ones. 

Tonight I let the airplanes taking off on the right and the cars driving down Ambaum on the left surround me with sound.

Tonight the clouds stood still and the fir tree silhouettes were striking against the darkening sky. Mostly, though, I just watched the cat who is now ours as she sat in the grass, grateful that her shelter days are over.

Tonight I listened as one bird sang four notes over and over, trilling and warbling a little differently each time. I wondered what her song meant. 

Tonight the rain dripped in rhythm with the wind. I heard the airplanes and yearned for silence.

This evening I couldn’t believe I could sit outside in a short-sleeved shirt. I felt the gift of an unseasonably warm day.

Tonight I looked West and marveled at how much brightness was still in the sky after 8 pm.

Tonight I thought about how small the pear tree buds were at the beginning of Lent. Now, they’re blooming. And yet the air is still cold, so cold.

Tonight, in the dark, I thought about how delightfully slowly plants grow. I thought about the miracle it is that the strawberry plants are starting to flower even though it’s still so cold. 

Today I watched the long-haired dark cat with the white boots—the one who always scurries away quickly when he sees me—saunter slowly across the backyard, not noticing me, or not caring.

Today I saw little bugs flitting about and hoped they might be pollinating the fruit trees and not eating the leafy greens.

Today I feel sad about many things, but I also feel joy when I sit still long enough that birds feel safe venturing to the bird feeder a few feet away.

Place of Manna, Place of Silence (a Good Friday poem)

This poem sits somewhere at the intersection of Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, and George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Derek Chauvin, and the reflective wilderness-themed space currently set up in the sanctuary at my church.

Place of Manna, Place of Silence

Wilderness spaces
forlorn places
take a rock 
and toss
it in the river
plop
and now it’s gone.

Life is 
that short.
Some have 
no shame.

And some are murdered
by the state
in broad daylight
with everybody 
watching.
Many want to help
but are not able.

And some double down
on their excuses
for the inexcusable
while others 
double over 
in their pain.

And the “if only”s
are too much.
How could they not be?

Questions 
at the cross
unanswered
pour like blood
like water 
from the sides
we hardly dare 
to show
they’ve been so
wounded. 

Sound
the breath
the silence.

Did you want 
your death 
to be an object 
of reflection
subject of our art
subject to our
wounded imaginations?
And which parts
of all that
honor you?

So many questions.
Bring them.

And so 
many limitations.
Bring them 
here.

This is the place
this is the site
where what has 
gone to waste
may someday sigh
and struggle shivering 
with signs
of life.

This is the time 
of tombs
of spacious 
grasping
gasping yawns 
of trauma.

This, the place 
of manna
daily 
not too much.

And though I hunger
for a feast
tonight I’ll settle for
the knowing 
gnawing
through my soul
that you were not alone
and so
it's possible
neither am I.

So see the river
in the distance
wilderness
so stop and listen
stay a while
let it flow
for now
away.

Post-acquittal prayer

A prayer for mercy as the news of Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial sinks in.

God, have mercy on everyone who grieves this.
Have mercy on everyone who rejoices.
Have mercy on everyone who is oblivious.
Have mercy on everyone who is numb.

Have mercy on everyone who carries disillusionment
like weight within their eyes
that weighs still heavier each day 
as justice is, again, again, 
again, denied.

Have mercy on those who were, somehow,
surprised. 

Have mercy on the ones who find no revelation
of American depravity 
in any way surprising, 
anymore.

Have mercy on the ones for whom the scales 
are finally falling from their eyes,
and on the ones whose eyes are weary
from the witnessing of yet another round
of scales falling, utterly exhausting.

Have mercy on the ones to whom America 
has not been merciful.

Have mercy on everyone wrongly convicted, 
often racistly convicted, 
and on all who love them,
as we watch the rich white criminals go free.

Have mercy on us in our wounds that fester
through the generations
and have not been aired to heal.

How can we go forward, stumbling, lurching 
into hope,
when half would leave the other half to die,
and laugh at all the stuff that makes 
their nightmares?

Election Week Blessing

Because I wanted to be cool like Nadia Bolz-Weber (just kidding―I’ll never be as cool as Nadia!) and write some blessings of my own. (Check out Nadia’s beautiful “Blessed are the Agnostics” piece here, if you like. It’s really lovely.)

These words are loosely inspired by the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), and much less loosely inspired by a bunch of different pieces of news I’ve seen recently that relate to this week’s election.

Election Week Blessing

Blessed are those who stand and wait for hours
in lines that wrap around buildings and stretch into the street.

Blessed are those who take selfies at the ballot drop box
and do a little dance.

Blessed are the elderly whose bodies no longer move as they once did,
but who are determined to make it to the polls.

Blessed are those who receive death threats
and vote anyway.

Blessed are those who grit their teeth and vote for a candidate 
they did not choose and do not like.

Blessed are those who staff the polls and count the ballots.

Blessed are the postal workers.

Blessed are the employers who give people the day off to go and vote.

Blessed are the lawyers fighting legal battles for every vote to be counted.

Blessed are those who refuse to manipulate statistics
to make themselves look better, or to give false hope.

Blessed are those not too consumed by hubris
to admit when they have lost a contest.

Blessed are those who march to the polls,
stop and take a knee for eight minutes and forty six seconds, 
and are tear gassed by police.

Blessed are the Black Lives Matter organizers.

Blessed are those who hold vigil for lives taken violently before their time.

Blessed are those still in the streets after a hundred and fifty days,
who are desperate and will not stop knocking at the door of justice.

Blessed are those whose blood boils and hearts sink 
at the sight of Austin police officers posing with Proud Boys for a photo.

Blessed are those who have tried and failed to reform police departments.

Blessed are those who feared for their lives on that Biden campaign bus,
and those who felt sad and angry watching the video of the trucks surrounding it and trying to force it off the road.

Blessed are the white people who consider themselves recovering racists,
and who know the journey is a life-long one.

Blessed are the immigrants maligned as murderers and rapists,
called animals and hunted by a system that does not care about them.

Blessed are those who tremble at the thought of the results of this election,
because it might mean life or death for them or those they love.

Blessed are those who live among a violent people, in a violent nation,
and refuse to take up arms.

Blessed are the pastors willing to preach justice and hold out for real shalom,
though their congregants want to hear them say “peace, peace.” 

Blessed are the church leaders driven out of their jobs and their communities
because they refuse to toe the Republican party line.

Blessed are those less concerned with saving disembodied souls
and more concerned with living in a way that values every whole and complex person.

Blessed are those who sit in church pews and want to mourn the state of everything,
while everyone around them smiles and claps their hands to upbeat praise songs.

Blessed are the ones who know how to wail in lament.

Blessed are those who still have hope, 
and those whose hope is gone.

Blessed are those who have been gaslighted over and over again
and now know how to resist it,
and those who have not been able to resist.

Blessed are those who are not afraid to look at all these hard things.

Blessed are those who crave righteousness and truth and goodness
more than power.

Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the weak, 
the hungry and thirsty for justice, 
the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, 
the ones persecuted for their pursuit of justice.

Blessed are you.

What Does Such a Moment Ask?

What Does Such a Moment Ask?

What does such a moment 
ask of us?

Kindness―maybe―
but not the kind that cowers 
in a corner and will not articulate 
the jarring, rage-inducing, 
healing, liberating truth.

Love―maybe―
but not the kind that circles 
wagons, covers up injustice
and provides protection for abusers
to continue their abuse.

Humanity―maybe―
but not the kind invoked 
to excuse horrors as if 
they’re nothing but mistakes
that every human makes.

Peacemaking―maybe―
but not the kind that clutches 
to tranquility at any cost
and throws the rabble-rousers under buses
rather than make reparations.

Unity―maybe―
but not the kind that calls on 
the oppressed to bear the burdens of injustice
just a little longer, silently, 
lest they provoke unease in their oppressors.

Restoration―maybe―
but not the kind that minimizes 
damage done, that takes 
the easy route to placate 
but not satisfy demands for justice.

What does such a moment 
ask?

Perhaps the same things
God has always asked:

act justly―with the one 
who brings things done 
in secret into light;

love mercy―with the one
who hears the prayers 
of the oppressed and does not 
hesitate to take a side;

walk humbly―with the one 
who offers us the staff of Moses
when we need it, 
helping us to speak. 

Women, I Would Like to Call Forth

Women, I Would Like to Call Forth

Women, 
I would like to call forth
your holy anger.

Let it rattle the sidings 
of your churches―the ones 
that keep telling you to serve,
but do not serve you well.

Let it be no longer 
held constrained within your bones
in bonds unspoken, swept 
beneath the doormat to your soul―
the one they wanted you to be
as they kept telling you to sweep
and sweep.

Let it rise like yeast 
through sixty pounds of dough.

Let it boil and spill 
over the edges of respectability,
over the steaming rims 
of pots and pans
that do not hold you.

Let it fly forth until they can 
no longer put a cover on your head
like cloth over your face 
to stifle your unruly sounds.

Let there be words, so many 
words for every time they 
tried to shame you into silence.

Let there be tears, so many 
tears for every time they 
said they needed you to smile.

Let there be open confrontation,
exposed wounds for every time they 
turned to you, like Absalom, and said
don’t take this thing to heart―
for every time they wanted you to bow 
and place your fierce God-given power 
in their grasping hands.

Let there be squalls,
twenty-foot swells,
and Jesus in the boat 
who says with kindness,

you of little faith,
I made you for much more.

Won’t you turn and own the power 
I breathed into you.

Won’t you join me 
as I flip over the tables they 
have closed to you and 
make a whip and drive them out.

Yes,
with him,

women, 
I would like to call forth
your holy anger.

How Far We Were

How Far We Were

I did not know 
    how far we were 
        from one another

til 2020 blasted into light
    the light years that had always 
        been between us,

like a looking glass 
    intent on showing
        wrinkled scars 

where we expected to 
    see youth. 
        Sometimes 

I wish I did not know
    how much we do not hold 
        in common. 

Before, 
    when we were younger,
        and the world was, too,

we felt we could afford 
    to talk of high and lofty love
        as though it were a concept

academic and abstract. 
    It was a more naive
        and happy time when I

had no idea what shape 
    these thoughts would take
        incarnate in your hands.

Before,
    we could agree
        on pleasant-sounding thoughts

in inoffensive-sounding words,
    but this year’s traumas
        tipped our hands

and pushed us toward specifics.

Yet, it must be better, still,  
    to know, to see 
        which friendships

can survive these storms
    and which were always built 
        on something sinking.

It must be better, still, 
    to learn to speak
        the things we really think,

to learn to talk about
    the things we see 
        so differently―

and where we cannot talk, 
    perhaps to let our journeys drift,
        for now, apart.

We could not live forever, anyway,
    in blind denial of the things
        each other’s souls

truly believe.

It must be better to reveal,
    apocalyptic though 
        it may all feel,

and be.

Answer To

I’m thinking of all the evangelical leaders who say ridiculous and harmful things, and wondering if all the ordinary Christians who listen to them know that they don’t have to – that just because someone is a pastor or has a big following (or a lot of media attention) and claims the Christian name doesn’t mean that what they are saying is true or good or helpful.

Drawing on my last post, about God empowering ordinary people, I think God wants us to be empowered to use our brains and hearts and human compassion and empathy – and our own reading of Scripture with all these things in mind – to determine what kinds of leaders we choose to follow.

Answer To

I’d like to know 
what kind of god you answer to

behind that smile 
you grab to coat your face
before you leave the house,

your real thoughts locked away 
on shelves 
beyond my reach―

and all of this, you say,
is leadership.

I’d like to know, because
if he is not a god 

who shares himself in humbleness,
who gives himself in tenderness
and sees the ones 
who cry to him for justice, 

then I want nothing 
to do with him.

If he, like you, knows only 
how to smile and not to weep, 

and if he laughs at things that 
make me want to turn the tables 
on their heads in holy anger―

if he does not bleed a screaming 
river from his side 
as you wield scripture like a knife,

I’d like to know―

because, if so, 
this god you answer to
is not a god I want to know.

And, surely, with the sureness 
in my soul,

I do not answer to you.

We the People (American Lament)

We the People (American Lament)

Take a needle,

poke a hole in the 
American pipe dream,

and watch it all 
deflate. 

We the people 
never knew how to 

care for ourselves,
our neighbors,

let alone the ones that we
call strange.

We grasp with cowardice 
to table scraps 

of life, liberty, happiness,
like broken records 

that keep screeching 
“we are winning.”

We drench our dreams 
in destiny, like creamy 

white ranch sauce,
so manifest,

and love the hero’s journey 
like it’s ours.

We look, like children, 
for faith healers at the river

who can disappear our issues,
trip and fall 

in existential frantic rush
to save our souls.

We have our pick of saviors,
never fail 

to choose false ones,
while real ones we 

twist violently to make them 
what they never meant to be. 

We hold free speech
so precious 

as we shout down all 
the voices that might teach us,

ride our sacred cows 
like soapboxes

up to the ghost town 
on the hill

that never was a beacon
to the watching world.

We pile our things
around us in a huddle

as though they could
save. 

And if a rag-clothed rabbi
spit, made mud,

and offered it 
to put upon our eyes,

might we be brave enough
to open them?