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.

Each one with their neighbor

Here is a literal translation of Ephesians 4:25: 

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, (y’all) speak truth, each one with his/her/their neighbor, because we are members of one another.”

I’m interested in the part about speaking truth, each one with their neighbor.

Some translations try to make this part sound more natural in English, which is nice, but can also change the meaning a bit. For example:

  • “Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor” (CEB)
  • “Each of you must…speak truthfully to your neighbor” (NIV)
  • “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors” (NRSV)
  • “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (ESV; yes, some translations do still use masculine pronouns to refer to any/all genders…)

I like the literal translation “speak truth, each one with their neighbor,” because I think it captures something that gets missed in the other translations. It captures the sense that there are two, perhaps equally important, levels to this truth-telling. The truth-telling that Paul is talking about is, at the same time, both very communal and very personal. 

As for the communal aspect, the imperative “speak truth” is addressed to the plural “you” (“y’all,” if you will.) Paul wants the community to be marked as a community of truth tellers: to, collectively, hold a high value for truth. To try to get to the bottom of things together when the truth seems murky. To refuse, together, as a community, to settle for nice-sounding, comforting lies. 

I would love to see more churches embody this more fully. When it comes to race and racial justice, for example, we would see church communities becoming the kinds of courageous places where truth is spoken, heard, and believed―truth about things like the brutal parts of our country’s history, and Christianity’s culpability in it all, and what it’s like to be a person of color in our communities and churches today. 

Paul invites the church, collectively, to lay aside falsehood: to ditch the sugar-coated versions of US history many of us have been taught; to drop the sanitized stories about where our predecessors as people of faith were in all of this; to stop repeating false narratives of progress that refuse to recognize how bad things still are; to reject the tendency to look to white, male, powerful sources for “objective” coverage of history or present-day reality. To move away from shallow, one-sided stories and seek, instead, multiple perspectives, listening especially carefully to people on the underside of power, and people most impacted by the issues at hand.

Paul says: y’all, collectively, lay aside these lies. Y’all, collectively, speak truth. Y’all, collectively, become a truth-filled community.

And then we get to the individual aspect, the personal aspect. We want to do this collectively, Paul says, but the way―or at least one important way―in which we want to do this is “each one with their neighbor.” Conversationally. Starting with the people closest to us―geographically, relationally. With our families and friends and co-workers and other people we interact with on a regular basis. 

Perhaps, thinking about today’s conversations about systemic racism and racial injustice, this supports an idea a lot of people have already been saying (and living out): that we start within our own racial or ethnic communities. 

Anti-blackness manifests differently in different racial and ethnic communities. It’s up to each community to look within itself, to start within itself, to name the ways anti-blackness shows up and figure out how to dismantle it. 

When we think about race, it’s up to us to start with the people with whom we have the most in common in this particular conversation. It’s up to us, each with our own neighbor, to speak truth.

It’s (relatively) easy to make statements on social media that sound good and sound supportive. It’s harder to learn to speak the truth, in love, with one another, personally. 

But the people we know personally might listen and engage in a way they wouldn’t with a Facebook “friend” they don’t know very well. They might learn something from us, and likewise us from them.

After all, as Paul goes on to write, we are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are connected to one another. We need one another. And we need the most honest, truthful self that each person is able to bring to the table.

May we become truthful communities, among which truth is spoken and heard, collectively. May we become individuals who speak truth personally, each one with our own neighbor. And may all of this truth-telling help begin to build a more just world.

I Do Not Wish to Perform My Grief

A poem reflecting on George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent protests, and my hope to stand in solidarity with my Black siblings in their weariness, grief, and anger.

I Do Not Wish to Perform My Grief

I do not wish to perform my grief
as if it could be part of a persona
crafted carefully to please and curry favor, 
as if it wasn’t real and raw.

I wish to honor memories of
lives locked in as targets of police,
locked up by racist structures and
those willing to execute them,

yes, execute, another murder,
another life destroyed by the
perverse pseudo-logic of 
white supremacy, all-pervasive,

suffocating, not dysfunction or 
anomaly but locked from the beginning 
in our nation’s DNA. 
I shed my tears in private and 

do not know what to do when 
people talk about it like it’s just 
another distant bad thing on the news
and not our sin to claim. 

I’m not the type to weep and wail 
on a Facebook wall, a perfect pose, 
mascara dripping down a made-up face,
that’s not my style, but I will 

walk with you, and hold your grief,
and not paint thinly over it with platitudes
or try to force it into shallow resolution.
I will be angry by your side, 

a quiet rage that burns into the night
and understands why protests sometimes
color outside bounds of order
drawn by whiteness. 

I will not move on too quickly 
or affix myself to the convenient lie 
that white supremacy is only real 
and violent and destructive 

just a few times every year, 
just when it’s captured
on an iPhone for the internet to see.

I do not wish to perform my grief, 
but I will let my weariness hold yours, 
let you embrace me if you wish, 
or stay away―I understand.

In all these things I have 
no interest in attempting 
to police the ways you grieve.