Tuesday, December 15, 2009

that Jesus and his unfortunately-true life lessons...

today's Gospel reading:

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’
The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’
but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.
Which of the two did his father’s will?”
They answered, “The first.”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes
are entering the Kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,

you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

-Matthew 21:28-32

in real world terms, i think this means that people i hate, people i think are making bad choices, people who i think is ugly or dirty or mean - chances are, they're all prancing into heaven while i'm lagging behind...because having faith when you don't have anything else good is important and holy and so hard to find...

who are the tax collectors and prostitutes in my life? will i know them as the stealth faith rolemodels they are? or will i just keep distancing myself in some sort of unholy self-satisfied judgement? dear God, let it be the former, not the latter...

Monday, November 30, 2009

what i was doing when i learned my friends got arrested...

...which may be why my friends are so much more productive as activists than i am...

Don't Pretend This Is an Allegory for Life

sitting at the back of the train
reduces the whole world
to light & sound.
everything is garish,
collision seems imminent,
& the only things you can see
are the places you've already been.

but the tracks are all well-marked
so you know just how to navigate yourself
around destruction...
or into it.
which helps, i guess.

and you get to catch people off-guard,
& see what they look like
coming & going
from places they love
or can't stand

screaming past the backends of houses
is a reel-to-reel of vignettes
of other people's lives
in 2 second increments.
it's a lot of tvs
& crying
& odd taste in furniture.
sometimes there's a kiss
that no one was supposed to see.

and after you've watched
miles of strangers flash by,
you're the last person to know
that you've arrived safely
at your final destination.

the imminent collision
must just have passed you by.

Monday, November 23, 2009

on being an adult and the process of re-radicalization...

at 3am, i finished a 4-day trip (with 26 hours of driving) to protest the School of the Americas/WHINSEC in Ft. Benning, GA.

Within that statement lives a world of confusion and joy and challenge and faith.

The last time I went to the SOA protest was in 2005 with the lovely JVC folks. I was young and hurting and in need of community. And I found it - I still have fond memories of time with Alex, hitting the Waffle House with Christine, and writing a wonderful poem for Erica at the JVC Atlanta house.

Now, I'm almost 30, still hurting but not so young. The world hurts in different ways now, and my response is different, too. Going down to Georgia with 16 semi-strangers (and the lovely Amy) and arranging all the logistics and managing personal dynamics and trying to make sure we had gas and cars and food and lodging helped distract me, temporarily, from how i felt being there.

But, eventually, when it all calmed down and I remembered that everyone was a grown-up, I didn't have anything to distract me. And that's when I realized how far I'd come from who I wanted to be. Being older than many folks here, I struggle with what it means to live like a grown-up. I haven't really sat down to think about the ways I've pre-defined my adult life. Adults don't protest. Adults don't get arrested. Adults don't drive 13 hours each way to learn things they might just have downloaded from the Internet. Adults don't really think that saving the world is feasible or that protests are effective or efficient. And, I'm nominally an adult so I expected myself to believe those things, too. But, then...

In our hotel room, after a semi-exhausting day, we made crosses. I looked at the list of martyrs from the slaughter at El Mozote to find a name to put on my cross. I found Telesforo Marquez. He was 35 when he was killed. He was also deaf and mute. It made me think of folks I've known with disabilities, including my own mother. I thought about what it means that my government had any role at all in training soldiers who then went home and committed these acts against their own people. Do you know how many children were on the list of the dead at El Mozote? Until we fully acknowledge the role that the US played in providing tactical training for these killers, we can't claim to be a country that loves peace and freedom. At all.

While writing down Telesforo's name and details, I realized how incredibly selfish and safe I've become. What good does it do to come to a protest with all my baggage and not fully examine the ways that I'm culpable, the ways I sin? Every Sunday, I stand with my Catholic brothers and sisters and tell them that I've sinned in my thoughts and my words, in what I've done and in what I've failed to do.

But I don't always think of sins by name. In that hotel room, I feel that I've sinned by not knowing more about the privilege I inherit as American and what that privilege takes away from others. I've sinned in not being brave enough. I've sinned in being safe. I've sinned in thinking that my form of world-changing is better than yours. I've sinned in my desire for comfort over the kingdom of God.

I'm sick of being a sinner.

So, this Sunday, I went to "mass" in front of the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia. We offered to break bread with a cop, and we all provided the homily and the blessing over the bread and the wine. We looked through barbed wire toward a world that's not as it should be. And we prayed for it. And we prayed for ourselves. And we let the dead bury the dead, but remembered their names in the land of the living. With every "Presente!", we called the dead back to us, carried them with us, and set them down in front of the gates of Ft. Benning, with prayers and sorrow for all the ways that our country sins, in its thoughts and deeds, and in all it does and fails to do.

And it was the most adult thing I could have done.

ps-if anyone is interested in more information on what I was doing down in Georgia, here's a helpful FAQ. Or, ask me, and I'll tell you :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

on Georgia and the Berrigan Brothers...

Tonight, at 9:30pm, I will head to Georgia with 18 friends and soon-to-be-friends, to put my body and my faith on the line at the annual School of the Americas protest.

This protest has been going on for 20 years which means that, from an American standpoint, it's an utter failure. Where are the results? Where's the individual satisfaction? Why didn't things change right away?

But, from a Christian standpoint, the protest against the School of the Americas is, and continues to be a success. Because we witness. Because we mourn. Because we just show up, which is so hard these days, when there are bills to pay and people to love and a severe lack of time, money, energy, and faith.

The challenge for me is to use this as a first step - I've limited my official protest of violence in our local, and global communities, to letter-writing, public speaking, simple living (or, simple-ish), and prayer. And I want to continue all of those things. But I know there's more that I'm afraid to try, or places I want to go in this world that I don't fully know how to enter.

Whenever I get in that space, I remember this challenging, and true, poem by Fr. Daniel Berrigan. I share it here to inspire myself .

Georgetown Poem (7)
The Trouble with Our State
The trouble with our state
was not civil disobedience
which in any case was hesitant and rare

Civil disobedience was rare as a kidney stone
No, rarer; it was disappearing like immigrant's disease

You've heard of a war on cancer?
There is no war like the plague of the media
There is no war like routine
There is no war like 3 square meals
There is no war like a prevailing wind

It blows softly, whispers
don't rock the boat!
the sails obey, the ship of state rolls on

The trouble with our state
-we learned it only afterward
when the dead resembled the living who resembled the dead
and civil virtue shone like paint on tin
and tin citizens and tin soldiers marched to the common whip

-our trouble
the trouble with our state
with our state of soul
our state of siege -

Friday, November 6, 2009

happy. sad. happy. sad

two new poems, written on the train. God bless long commutes...

windowpane faces

in the middle of the stairstepping rooftops,
and the crystalline brilliance
of a frigid, sunny day,
the light of God shines
with fierceness of all the love
in all the worlds
we've ever created for each other.

the light lets us know that
we shouldn't fool ourselves -
God already knows we're all
see-through bones
& windowpanes faces.

but love makes us solid
& loss makes us crack, so,
without this fierce sun,
we look like
neglected waterglasses
and busted-up vases.
But in this irrationally radiant light,
we shine
like infinitely valuable things,
like shards
reflecting The Greater Glory.

we shine
like we've got nothing better to do.
and we don't.

oh, broken world

oh, broken world,
i walked your streets today
to the beat of plastic jug rhythms
& impatient feet
and i wanted to ask you
how did that beautiful man
learn to sing & lean on anyone,
when the night is so dark?

and do i say to my brother
who's yelling and crying
because his world doesn't add up to ours completely?
who's supposed to help him understand?
who's supposed to help us listen?

oh, broken world,
how can we possibly be the ones they're waiting for?
how can we put one foot in front of the other,
when we know we'll have to step over heartache
whichever way we go?

oh, broken world,
i'm tired & frightened of everything i've seen
& i wish it wasn't too late
for you to pick someone else -
someone faster,
someone braver,
some less-broken saint
instead of this scared little girl

oh, broken world,
you've wounded my brothers
& strangled my sisters
& everything tells me to run,
except that small voice that says
"everything you love can be saved"
and, oh, broken world,
i love you...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

on the eve of All Souls' day...

because i am in need of her advice more than anyone else's right now, and because i miss her now and always, All Souls' Day can't come soon enough.

Jesus said to the crowds: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”
John 6:37-40

Saturday, October 31, 2009

on kerouac, substance abuse, and the dangers of creativity

martyrdom is the often-accepted price for living a dangerously creative life. just ask Jesus. no matter how much you want to protect the beautiful, nonviolent fighters, we all understand that some of the braver of us will fall in an effort to create a beautiful world. it hurts me, but it makes sense...

but as i'm watching One Fast Move or I'm Gone, a movie about Kerouac's Big Sur, i realize what doesn't make sense to me is self-destruction by people who could've done good. or did do good but gave it up too easily. i'm no longer a believer in the romance of a short, self-immolating life.

Nirvana's Bleach is 20 years old now, and the effect that Cobain and Kerouac had on my little, indie-rock, angry, and angsty teen self cannot be overstated. \i think that, no offense to those fellas, that set me up for some pretty skewed visions of what made for good creativity. namely, drinking a lot and hurting yourself.

i stopped reading (and writing) poetry when i quit smoking, because i'd fallen into the trap of thinking that if i kicked my self-destructive habits (well, all except coffee and gossiping), i would lose my ability to string together words and to make meaning. i felt like giving up those vices would make me dull and safe.

In One Fast Move or I'm Gone, Joyce Johnson says "He [Kerouac] tried to give people what they wanted, and that required drinking a lot of alcohol." that's the same fear i struggled with, too, but times a billion for Jack. here's a man who's natural shyness is totally at odds with what the world began to demand from him. i can't imagine how terrible a conundrum that was.

and i know that, for many people, alcohol is an opportunity to feel like your best self - shining, creative, joyful, witty, and unafraid of the opinions of others. But Big Sur is the in-depth chronicle of the aftermath - what happens when you spend too much time drinking yourself into extroverted brilliance when all you really want is to be alone. For those who haven't read it, Big Sur (which is one of my very favoritest Kerouac writing ever) is the story of the effects of On the Road, the novel Kerouac's younger exploits which comes out when he's older and broke and living with his mother. Almost overnight, people start hunting him down, looking for a real, live beatnik, wanting advice on how to live the hard, great life. he tells of people who break the windows of his mother's house just to see him, of no longer being anonymous but also not really being known. He also was struggling with the throes of a really deep, consuming alcoholism, which he really wants to kick. Kerouac escapes to Big Sur and the solitude is, at first, a balm and then, after a drunken binge back in the City and an unforeseen party back at Big Sur, leads to a nervous breakdown that Kerouac describes in excruciating, exquisite detail.

it's a heart-breaking and claustrophobic novel, but it ends beautifully. Jack Kerouac, this busted-up, beaten-down Beat poet talks about how he finds some amount of faith that things will be well. it'd be too romantic to say he stopped drinking and too untrue to say he found God, but it does seem that something caught him at the precipice that time in Big Sur and kept Jack from falling over. the last line of the book is "On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars--Something good will come out of all things yet--And it will be golden and eternal just like that--There's no need to say another word."

whatever caught Kerouac doesn't catch everyone. and sometimes, as i've sadly seen first-hand, all the love and grace in the world won't keep someone from thinking their worthless. i know how much i've struggled with shades of these feelings, despite a family that loves me and a faith that gives me hope. for those who don't feel love, or whose brains attack their thought processes and fill them with poison, it must be so, so much worse.

so, tonight, knowing that i belong to a family and faith and community that believe in love and in service, i'll be praying for those who self-destruction puts them in the same dark place that Kurt Cobain and Jack Kerouac might have faced. And i'll pray that whatever got Jack through, got me through, gets them through, too, so that they can see that "something good will come out of all things yet."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

oh, first-world problems...

so, i eat fast! like, SUPER-fast...faster-than-your-brothers fast. well, frankly, i do everything fast. if you were to observe me on a random day, it'd look like i shovel food in my mouth, walk like i'm evading someone, and talk like the Micro-Machine Man. I know where it comes from - years and years of over-committing myself so that my schedule included approx. 30 seconds for meals and 15 seconds to get from point a to point b. add to that my utter horror about being late to anything, ever and it adds up to a fast, fast life.

and i'm sick of it. literally. eating fast is clearly one of the largest contributors to my weight and it means that, while my diet is conscious-and-meat-free, i'm not entirely conscious of what it tastes like.

so, bear with me on this self-serving blog, i've decided that for the next week, at least, i'll be taking 20 minutes to enjoy each meal. and each meal will be cooked by me (or, at least, someone i know and like). i'm sick of running to get food before class or eating on the go. My two hands have proven to be relatively good at mixing up yummy-goodness, so for this week, i'll trust them to do just that. if i stumble across any particularly good recipes, i'll post them for anyone interested and if you've got really good vegetarian recipes you want to share, feel free to post them here.

hopefully, by this time next week, i'll remember what it's like to slow down, even if it's just a little bit. i bet it'll be delicious...

Friday, October 9, 2009

we, the revolution...

so, even though i just finished chatting with jerica about the ways that blogging is sometimes so closely tied to self-aggrandizement, i felt called (after a particularly challenging catholic worker roundtable) to pull up the poem i wrote of which i am most proud.

i wrote this in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, at a time when i was much more active in the peace movement. in the intervening years, that energy, necessarily, moved towards more diverse activities, including taking care of my momma as her life was ending.

i'm proud of the things i did and thought when i was 23, and i'm not entirely comfortable with things and energies i've given up on now. but i know i'm more peaceful in my inner life than i ever was in my 20's and more capable of relationships with people unlike me, which feels important, too.

so, anyways, i wanted to remind myself (as i am SO self-aggrandizing that i blog to myself) about how i used to view the world and my place in it...
Last Night I Joined the Revolution

Last night i joined the revolution.
I was sitting, smoking, wasting my time.
I was thinking about groceries, books I wanted to read but had not found time to, & the million other deaths we die daily in this quest to maintain the status quo. I was not thinking about the world. I was not thinking about the revolution. Somewhere along the line, I bought into some sort of hippie American dream that offered me organic cigarettes & cruelty-free everything, but still made me complacent and dull. See, I figured the Revolution would move on, that I would find some new distraction, that i would grow old & bitter because the thing I love left. But the Revolution waits - the Revolution needs soldiers armed with words & i have always been a good fighter. But, more importantly, the Revolution waits because it loves me. It's nothing personal - the Revolution loves everyone. So I sat there, thinking crippling, petty thoughts when the Revolution sat down next to me and stole my lighter.

The Revolution lit up and, breathing deeply, told the story of my life. The Revolution said, "You know, it's not about the poetry or the punks or the politicians or the ones who walk away, or the ones who come back. You know, this is bigger than you, bigger than matching children, matching houses, matching frustrations." "I know," I said. "Then, what's it about?" I started crying cuz I used to know - I used to live it. But I couldn't remember anymore. "It's about love," the Revolution said. Don't worry - the Revolution's not going soft. The Revolution still aches to kill indifference. The Revolution still throws rocks at glass ceilings. The Revolution still marches through the streets. The Revolution still hates abuse, cruelty, misused power & the smell of napalm at any hour of the day. The Revolution hates that the children are not loved & that all of us, most of the time, are not even respected. But the Revolution hates these things mainly - no, only- because they are not love.

The Revolution will not be televised. The Revolution will spend that time in a bar drinking with a man who just spent his last dime & his last wish on a bottle of Jack. The Revolution will leave, along with a huge tip, a note to that man. The note says, "I know your story - I see how it ends. Don't give up - we need you. And you are never, ever alone."

The Revolution will not interrupt the latest musical subjugations & slavery on sellout FM to spin pretty little lies over jagged teeth. The Revolution will topple radio towers. The Revolution will use its voice & the tallest mountain it can find & scream truths until its throat is dry and it cannot stand anymore.

The Revolution does not read the New York Times or the Washington Post, although sometimes the Revolution will flip through the Weekly World News because the Revolution secretly wants to take BatBoy home. The Revolution recognizes that headlines are really the same lines we already know except bigger, with pictures.

The Revolution understands that we know truth when we find it, but the world makes us doubt what we believe. The Revolution wants us to believe again. The Revolution wants us to believe that change tips the scales of existence to favor those who want to LIVE. The Revolution wants us to believe that what you say makes a difference, especially when you only say it to yourself. The Revolution wants us to know that true leaders are not the ones with the biggest bank accounts, penises, or thirst for glory, but the ones with the biggest souls, because only they will have the tools to save the souls of others. The Revolution wants us to believe that the fires of justice burn in everyone, no matter how hard you try to hide them in the gritty, every-day-city streets.

The Revolution wants to be fuel for your fire. The Revolution wants to buy you coffee & talk about the world. The Revolution makes people smile who have not done so in years. The Revolution always hands out spare change & cigarettes because Malcolm X said you never know when a drunk man may need food.

The Revolution is waiting for you. Because the Revolution got sick of turning around & seeing the identical goosestepping marchers of progress turn its cities & its soldiers into the next big thing when all they wanted was to be the same old thing they were before. The Revolution waits on you because the Revolution knows how scary it is to realize that there is nothing you cannot do. But the Revolution knows that the fear passes & is replaced by an urgency to salvage anything you can for the struggle that's coming. You will find yourself gathering words like stones & sticks, to hurl at Goliath, with his striped suits and white lies.

The Revolution knows what you don't. The Revolution knows that we are David & if you could see this eternal battle spread out, you would see that we always win. There could be no other way. The Revolution will wait for you & when the Revolution comes, you will never be alone again.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

on the feast of st. francis...

one of my most favorite books is G.K. Chesterton's biography of St. Francis of Assisi. It's a sparse and beautiful depiction of an often-misunderstood saint. I am always particularly moved by how Chesterton depicts the death of St. Francis and it seemed like a wonderful day to share that beautiful and heart-wrenching scene.

From G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis

In a sense he may be said to have wandered as a dying man, just as he had wandered as a living one. As it became more and more apparent that his health was failing, he seems to have been carried from place to place like a pageant of sickness or almost like a pageant of mortality. He went to Rieti, to Nursia, perhaps to Naples, certainly to Cortona by the lake of Perugia. But there is something profoundly pathetic, and full of great problems, in the fact that at last, as it would seem, his flame of life leapt up and his heart rejoiced when they saw afar off on the Assisian hill the solemn pillars of the Portiuncula. He who had become a vagabond for the sake of a vision, he who had denied himself all sense of place and possession, he whose whole gospel and glory it was to be homeless, received like a Parthian shot from nature, the sting of the sense of home. He also had his maladie du clocher, his sickness of the spire; though his spire was higher than ours. "Never," he cried with the sudden energy of strong spirits in death, "never give up this place. If you would go anywhere or make any pilgrimage, return always to your home, for this is the holy house of God." And the procession passed under the arches of his home; and he lay down on his bed and his brethren gathered round him for the last long vigil. It seems to me no moment for entering into the subsequent disputes about which successors he blessed or in what form and with what significance. In that one mighty moment he blessed us all.

After he had taken farewell of some of his nearest an especially some of his oldest friends, he was lifted at his own request off his own rude bed and laid on the bare ground; as some say clad only in a hair-shirt, as he had first gone forth into the wintry woods from the presence of his father. It was the final assertion of his great fixed idea; of praise and thanks springing to their most towering height out of nakedness and nothing. As he lay there we may be certain that his seared and blinded eyes saw nothing but their object and their origin. We may be sure that the soul, in its last inconceivable isolation, was face to face with nothing less than God Incarnate and Christ Crucified. But for the men standing around him there must have been other thoughts mingling with these; and many memories must have gathered like ghosts in the twilight, as that day wore on and that great darkness descended in which we all lost a friend. For what lay dying there was not Dominic of the Dogs of God, a leader in logical and controversial wars that could be reduced to a plan and handed on like a plan; a master of a machine of democratic discipline by which others could organise themselves. What was passing from the world was a person; a poet; an outlook on life like a light that was never after on sea or land; a thing not to be replaced or repeated while the earth endures. It has been said that there was only one Christian, who died on the cross; it is truer to say in this sense that there was only one Franciscan, whose name was Francis. Huge and happy as was the popular work he left behind him, there was something that he could not leave behind, any more than a landscape painter can leave his eyes in his will. It was an artist in life who was here called to be an artist in death; and he had a better right than Nero, his anti-type, to say Qualis artifexpereo. For Nero's life was full of posing for the occasion like that of an actor; while the Umbrian's had a natural and continuous grace like that of an athlete. But Saint Francis had better things to say and better things to think about, and his thoughts were caught upwards where we cannot follow them, in divine and dizzy heights to which death alone can lift us up.

Round about him stood the brethren in their brown habits, those that had loved him even if they afterwards disputed with each other. There was Bernard, his first friend, and Angelo, who had served as his secretary, and Elias, his successor, whom tradition tried to turn into a sort of Judas, but who seems to have been little worse than an official in the wrong place. His tragedy was that he had a Franciscan habit without a Franciscan heart, or at any rate with a very un-Franciscan head. But though he made a bad Franciscan, he might have made a decent Dominican. Anyhow, there is no reason to doubt that he loved Francis, for ruffians and savages did that. Anyhow he stood among the rest as the hours passed and the shadows lengthened in the house of the Portiuncula; and nobody need think so ill of him as to suppose that his thoughts were then in the tumultuous future, in the ambitions and controversies of his later years.

A man might fancy that the birds must have known when it happened; and made some motion in the evening sky. As they had once, according to the tale, scattered to the four winds of heaven in the pattern of a cross at his signal of dispersion, they might now have written in such dotted lines a more awful augury across the sky. Hidden in the woods perhaps were little cowering creatures never again to be so much noticed and understood; and it has been said that animals are sometimes conscious of things to which man, their spiritual superior, is for the moment blind. We do not know whether any shiver passed through all the thieves and the outcasts and the outlaws, to tell them what had happened to him who never knew the nature of scorn.

But at least in the passages and porches of the Portiuncula there was a sudden stillness, where all the brown figures stood like bronze statues; for the stopping of the great heart that had not broken till it held the world.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

what's in my head now...

this is one of my favorite all-time poems...

the shrinking lonesome sestina
by miller williams

Somewhere in everyone's head something points toward home,
a dashboard's floating compass, turning all the time
to keep from turning. It doesn't matter how we come
to be wherever we are, someplace where nothing goes
the way it went once, where nothing holds fast
to where it belongs, or what you've risen or fallen to.

What the bubble always points to,
whether we notice it or not, is home.
It may be true that if you move fast
everything fades away, that given time
and noise enough, every memory goes
into the blackness, and if new ones come-

small, mole-like memories that come
to live in the furry dark-they, too,
curl up and die. But Carol goes
to high school now. John works at home
what days he can to spend some time
with Sue and the kids. He drives too fast.

Ellen won't eat her breakfast.
Your sister was going to come
but didn't have the time.
Some mornings at one or two
or three I want you home
a lot, but then it goes.

It all goes.
Hold on fast
to thoughts of home
when they come.
They're going to
less with time.


Forgive me that. One time it wasn't fast.
A myth goes that when the years come
then you will, too. Me, I'll still be home.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

another "L" Train poem


if you judged all of life
by the subway,
it would seem like an exhausting affair,
with row after row
of sleeping passengers in transit.

and it's true-
life can be such a tiring pursuit.
but the awakened ones,
those who fight their drowsy impulses,
see the grey skies and graffiti
and draw meaning from them -
meaning which allows them
to ride the rails,
connected to the lives around them
with tenuous strings

and to see a world
within, but beyond, this one.
a world where
even the sleeping ones
arrive on time.
they just miss the story of the journey
that makes the destination worth it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

new poem

today was a tough day, thematically arranged, in some ways, around conflict and suffering. but a poem came out of it, so how bad could it be, right???

on statues and suffering

where i live,
there's a place where anyone
can stop for solace
for weary feet
& weary minds.
To some, it just looks like
the Virgin Mary in a bathtub,
in an otherwise ignorable place.
i suppose it's just what you make of it.

and i needed solace,
so that's what i made it.
because solace is to be found
when it is most needed.
so i found Mary tonight.
i found her words in my heart
"Let it be done to me,
according to your Word."
"Let it be done to me,
and I won't count the cost."

because salvation entails suffering
(or it doesn't)
and suffering brings redemption
(or it doesn't)
and people are inherently sinful
(or they aren't)
and we are the world-changers
(or we aren't)

but i won't find answers in this place.
This is just Mary,
the mother of God,
in a bathtub,
with a light that's always on...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

one of the concrete problems with having a poet's mind...

is that you always learn more from sentences like this:
the irreducible, incomplete connection
between the dead and the living

or between man and woman in this
savagely fathered and unmothered world
(from "From An Old House In America" by Adrienne Rich)

than you do from sentences like this:

The ideologies, theories, and paradigms presented here are not mutually exclusive - they are interrelated. Some build on others, as seen in Figure 3.1. They are tools for analyzing social welfare policies and programs and the social conditions and social needs that are part of society. It is likely that particular paradigms may appeal more than others.

Both make factual sense and both contain truth. but i think we agree that one is much prettier than the other...

Friday, September 4, 2009

let the people say "Amen"...

this quote is my new credo, i think...

“I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety.

And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right.

You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, August 31, 2009


To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means to put aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary. - Scott Peck

today in my class on human behavior, my professor (a licensed social work whose been in the field for over 20 years) told us, very matter-of-factly, about a client of hers who was killed by her husband the day after her counseling session. and of another client who killed herself after transitioning from outpatient to inpatient care. Her following theoretical points - about not thinking we're saviors or knights in shining armour - were good ones and a challenge. but those stories hit me right at the root of my fear about one-on-one work - i know, intellectually, that i can't save anyone. but it's so scary to know that the only way that i will actually understand that point is by experiencing, again and again, failure in the face of brokeness and an inability to heal others.

my teacher clearly experienced enough failure that she can talk about death and brokenness and inevitable failure without bursting into tears (like i probably would). and i kept thinking "will i ever be able to do this? will i ever be able to lose someone i thought i could save and get up the next day and continue to work with the living and not be preoccupied with the shadow of death?" and i know that's where faith comes in - faith that, if i play my cards right, i'm always approaching but never reaching the kingdom, faith that I will fail and be forgiven and fail and be forgiven - maybe not on earth, but for sure in heaven...i think that's why, of all the prayers i've been saying these days, the one thing i've begged for more than anything is courage. courage to look brokeness in the face, to not ipod my way through chicago, to live not as the world lives but as the Savior lives, and to admit that i fail to do that a thousand times a day. which means i am forgiven a thousand times a day. i want courage to be hurt instead of being safe - to recognize now that if i am truly comfortable, i must be in the wrong place.

dear lord, it hurts. and it will continue to hurt, to live in this broken world, with needs around me that i cannot meet and a half-healed heart and uncomfortable shoes. thank you for all of this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

my first two chicago poems...

they're untitled, though, frankly, the ought to be called "what i do at midnight when i can no longer study, verses 1 & 2"

untitled 1

while i was reading today,
it occured to me that maybe the root
of so much hurt in the world
is that we're all little children,
imperfectly looking for love.
and we've been dealt a raw deck
& it's what we choose to do wit that
that makes us foolish or wise,
friendly or forsaken.

because some of us got born
with parents who left bootprints on our hearts
or just left
or never really knew us to begin with.

and some of us gave our love to the wrong people
who laughed at our little candy hearts
& never gave us construction-paper hearts in return.

and some of us got born in places
where we could feel the hatred swirling around
but without really knowing that it came from
how we looked,
who we were,
what we lacked.

they say one of the perils
of psychology textbooks
is self-diagnosis,
which is why I'm sitting across from this little girl now
& when i say "hey kitten, what's life done to you
to make you look all busted-up and sad inside?"
she starts to cry -
big, fat, left-alone-on-the-playground tears

and then she whispered in my ear.
i'll never tell anyone what she told me tonight
but it's probably the best damn therapy
i've ever had.

untitled #2

since it's true that
the rain
falls on the just and the unjust,
that ought to mean
that everytime it rains,
i should look up at the sky
& ask myself
"who am i,

it's raining again today...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Willetts and trains...

i've found that one of the most enjoyable things about taking the El is that you get to see an almost-hidden part of the city. When I'm walking down the street, or taking the bus, I'm subject to large, moving advertisements and tons of people and noise.

but, for some reason, people don't advertise too much on the backs of buildings facing the El (except for in Wrigleyville, but that's just to get everyone drinking before the game, i guess). and you get to see the backs of people's homes, where most of the living happens.

tonight, i saw the silhouette of a Celtic cross in someone's bedroom window and had a truly inexplicable moment of calm in my soul. I saw women gathered in a rather non-descript office building/turned mosque, beginning the call to prayer. i saw a couple sharing a bed with each other, a dog, and the glow of the television.it makes me feel a little like a spy.

and that doesn't even account for what happens on the El, which leaves one to wonder how a presumably-sane person can somehow believe that an elevated train makes them invisible. I now know all about someone's divorce proceedings (apparently, pets are involved and it sounds very sad), breakup (also sad), and pathetic attempts to pick up members of the opposite sex 20+ years younger than them (most definitely the saddest one of all).

i've seen folks with mental illness or urine-soaked clothes alternately ignored and engaged. i've formed little, fleeting friendships with people who just happen to be going my way.

i've loved trains since i was little, thanks to 3 generations of Willett men who've hitched their wagons to the Union Pacific engine. And, I know that the Chicago elevated train is a far-cry from the coal trains that run up and down the Columbia Gorge and that my grandad knows so well. But, regardless, it feels nice to have my own train and tracks that i feel at home in...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

she's got class...

tomorrow's the big day. first day of classes. it's odd, at this age, to be transported to the exact same feelings i remember from my first days of class in kindergarden, in middle school, in high school. the worries are all the same - will i find my classroom? will people like me? will i be able to understand what's going on? can i resist the allure of eating paste? (well, i guess that one's gone, but everything else is pretty constant).

but this time i'd also spent time with another worry - am i where i am supposed to be and did i choose fields of study that will help me with my vocation and my desire to make the world a little bit more like God's plan for it? Will i be able to learn enough to help lift up the downtrodden and make my life a beacon for the light of Christ? will i have a community that challenges my assumptions, calls me out on oppressive behaviors, and loves me enough to want me to grow into the radical nature of the Gospel? that's big stuff for a first day of school...

but most of those fears were put to rest this weekend. i had both my orientations this weekend - Friday, I spent most of the day with the other 200+ students in the Social Work program. Turns out, this program is going to be WAY more intense (and rewarding) than I'd expected. We're required to do 2 internships - the 1st year for 16 hours/week and the 2nd for 24 hours/week - basically a full-time job. Also, i totally had no idea how time-consuming the eventual process for becoming a licensed social worker would be. Now I know and have accomplished approximately 50% of "the battle", according to GI Joe. Anyways, in addition to receiving slightly daunting info on the program, I was also really affirmed in choosing this program - my meeting with my advisor was wonderful, the possibilities for placements are both exciting and challenging. anyone who isn't taking a dual-degree already has their placement, so I got to learn more about what to expect next year. One guy's working with clergy abuse victims, someone's working in Headstart, two girls are in hospitals, and countless other placements. people come to this degree from 1,000 different paths and for countless different reasons but it's both amazing and humbling to realize that i was sitting in a room full of people who felt exactly the same call i did to make the world a better place, to learn from people who've been hurt in this world, and to try to fix a little of what's broken in America. That's a pretty unique situation...

Saturday, Chrissy and I hightailed it back to school for our Institute of Pastoral Studies orientation - the Institute for Pastoral Studies is the larger school that houses our Social Justice program. The beginning part of the day we all spent together - there was a real plurality of degrees and interests going on. Some folks were getting MDivs, some were in Pastoral Counseling (including the only other Pacific Northwesterner I've met yet - a girl from Seattle who grew up in Portland and went to Grant! Yay!), some were focusing on religious education, and a handful were Social Justice-ers like us! We learned everyone's name (and sports affiliation, inexplicably - now that I'm single I've got basically no sports interests, so I just said we don't really have sports in oregon, which at least made people laugh...). The best part, though, was when we split out into our different majors - the Social Justice crew definitely has the most rad people in it! Chrissy, as per usual, made friends with everyone around her right away so now we've got all sorts of contacts! We sat in a circle and went around again and said our names and what drew us to the work of justice. Everyone's stories were so beautiful - some people had profound callings, some had gradual inclinations towards this work, but everyone brings really unique perspectives and really good hearts for this work. And everyone seems really genuine and kind. Thankfully, we all have at least one class together, so I'm hopeful we'll become a pretty close-knit community. Also, Chrissy and I decided to host a 1st & 2nd year Social Justice mixer this fall for everyone in the program so we can get to know each other more informally. Looking forward to it.

We also got a chance to meet some of the 2nd years - the lovely and talented Holly and Breanna were there (oh, man - side note: Holly made some RAD salted carmel truffles. I think they might have been vegan and they were close to Wingnut Confection quality. Delicious!) along with 3 of their classmates - Dennis, Matt, and Jerica. Jerica seems especially awesome and her placement deals with nonviolence, especially in Palestine, so I am really excited to touch base with her more about her internship.

A bunch of us take the same train home together, so we rolled into the station laughing and joyful and just caught up in the moment. My favorite street musician was playing the harmonica in the subway and it just led to this moment of pure happiness - a feeling like, much as i miss and love my Portland crew and my Portland life, I am exactly where I need to be with people who will help me grow and change. Good times!

Then, last night, Chrissy and I went to our first ever jamboree. Chrissy made THE BEST banana bread, which we brought to Breanna's and proceeded to spend the evening with many lovely women and one very nice man. We made music, we laughed, Chrissy found someone to talk Ohio sports with so I can stop feeling so bad about my lack of interest in the Cavs, i found a new member of the Dead Parent Club, and a new L'Arce-y friend who lives in intentional community above our church, and just generally drank in the happiness that comes with being surrounded by people who make me feel happy and safe.

so, yeah - it's been a pretty damn good weekend and I expect that, school jitters aside, it's gonna be a great day tomorrow...

August 23rd, 1981

Look how the same possibilities
unfold in their opposite demeanors,
as though one saw different ages
passing through two identical rooms.

-"The Sisters" by Rainier Maria Rilke

The nice thing about living far away is that it finally occurs to you to say all those things you love about your family that you just assume they know. Distance creates a need to bridge with words what you used to with proximity - that closeness and sense of being loved.

Oh, and yeah, it's my favorite (and only) sister's 28th birthday today so this is her birthday post.

An Incomplete and Abridged List of Reasons Why Claire Willett Is Amazing:

  1. she still won't admit that she snores

  2. she's the only person (now mom's gone) who i trust to give me 100% honest feedback

  3. she's also the only person (now mom's gone) that enjoys polishing silver

  4. i don't think even Bernstein and Woodward love the Watergate era as much as Claire

  5. if 100 people were singing 100 different songs in a large, echoey auditorium, i'd still be able to immediately pick out her voice

  6. she's wonderful with children and the elderly and anyone who needs someone to make them laugh

  7. she and colin have never 100% determined who's the most reluctant to get up and find the remote. mainly because i eventually do it - seriously, it's like watching sloths battle...

  8. she's perfectly balances braggadocio with self-deprecation

  9. she loves God deeply and shares that love constantly, mostly without words

  10. she's been through Hell and back with me several times throughout my life, and she's never once judged me for it or lost faith in me

  11. she planned the most amazing memorial service for our mother - people still come up to talk to us about it

  12. all my good book recommendations come from her - she's never led me astray

  13. she put up with my nagging and pet peeves for the 1.5 years we lived together - not happily, at times, but she did it

  14. she's absolutely the best sister a girl could be given. the end

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the city and me...

it's been almost a week since i landed here and already so much seems routine. Chrissy and I are, somehow, learning to live with the fact that we're 2 blocks from the firehouse and apparently Chicagoans have fires EVERY 10 MINUTES during the hours of 2am-5am. It sounds so "country-mouse" of me, but I had no idea how LOUD the city would be. There's constant traffic, the aforementioned fire trucks, people yelling, and just the sounds of continous living in yet another city that doesn't really sleep. I remember Claire and I getting irritated at our neighbor's parties that lasted until 2am - this is so much worse.

But, actually, it's also kind of great. Our neighborhood is really great - lots of diversity which is so refreshing, coming from Portland. And it appears to be at a really interesting tipping point - more gentrified behind our building, and more lower-middle-class in front of our building. Well, that's how it seems to me. There's lots to observe - dozens of off-duty cab drivers congregate at the two African restaurants across from each other. I wonder what makes one better than the other? I'll need to sample to find out, I think :) There was a peace march organized by one of the local nonprofits (Centro Romero) that works in our neighborhood. So I looked out my window Monday to see a small peace rally with a call-and-response chant and a few dozen children holding signs and waving. There's a farmer's market a few blocks away, a coffeeshop 2 blocks past that, and 3 gorgeous Catholic churches within easy walking distance. It makes me feel really wonderful to know that there are these sorts of things in the neighborhood I'm trying to call home.

One of my biggest struggles was recently brought up by my friend Alex. Alex puts a high price on living in solidarity and, while I don't know if that's what I'm called to, I have great respect for the way he lives life. I was talking about the relative issues of safety, and he reminded me that Jesus wasn't safe, that he basically spent all his time in a war zone, moving between 2 warring tribes, and, obviously, he was eventually killed, which he KNEW would happen. So, Alex reasoned, one should expect to mugged or beat up or worse. But I've spent a lot of time thinking about my own safety - trying not to look at people on the streets, always being aware of my surroundings, etc. I think that the truth is between those two ideas - reckless abandon in regards to personal safety and a buttoned-up, closed-off approach to city living. So, in the coming weeks, I am hoping to do more personal exploring, both geographically and spiritually, to find my place and equilibrium in the city, so I can stop anticipating violence or distress whenever I'm alone at night. People lived good lives here before I came and will after I leave, so it's ridiculous to assume that I can't also do that.

Oh, and my room looks almost-put-together after a marathon night of bed-making and a trip to Salvation Army for my new desk/chair set-up. It's feeling more and more like home, which is nice! It's the little things that make the biggest difference sometimes...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

a brief digression from moving-related posts

i was just reflecting on the readings for today's Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I realized that, no matter how often I say it or sing it, the Magnificat still retains all it's power and humility and grace. I literally never tire of reading it aloud so i figured i'd repost it for those who, like me, totally didn't make it to Mass today...

The Magnificat
Luke 1:48-55

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

our house. in the middle of our street.

so, yup, i've made it home! thanks to chrissy, i was welcomed by a wonderful sign and a picture of the two of us at the Bean. Someone's gonna win Best Apartmentmate of the Year!

Our apartment is fantastic (well, my room looks like something made exclusively of cardboard and clothes exploded all over, but otherwise...) Our landlady gave us lillies and a delicious apple pie. Our property manager is apparently Greek and gorgeous. And all our neighbors appear to be genuinely friendly and helpful.

Life has been filled with the little housekeeping things - got groceries, got internet installed, figured out bill paying, etc. It's a funny thing to be doing this with a relative stranger, after living with a partner or family member for a very long time. But, I actually am really enjoying it. Chrissy is the most thoughtful apartmentmate a girl could ask for, and we have tons of things to learn about each other, so everything feels new. Plus we get to embark on this adventure together, which is truly exciting!

but, now, for the moment everyone's been waiting for - pictures of our place (these are all stolen from Chrissy, since I haven't unpacked my camera. so all the ones of my room are not entirely accurate - picture a billion cardboard boxes in it!)

first pic of our main living area!

our main living room area, take 2!

our kitchen (the gas range got me SO excited!!!)

my room before cardboard and clothes exploded on it!

down the hallway from my room and my bathroom

my wonderfully colorful bathroom

the front of our building

our outdoor patio space (including toilets repurposed as planters)

so, yeah! mi casa esta bien! now i just need to get rid of all these boxes...

Sunday, August 9, 2009


i uncovered this whilst packing - i wrote it during the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. we've come a ways from then, but some of it still applies and i kinda like it...

-song for one who will die-

"my country tis of thee/sweet land of liberty/of thee i sing"...
and how often have we lied to ourselves like that?
we have denied the truth in our very bones
& my country tis not of me
& i sing for no man's land.
my country tis of tee, almighty dollar
& this land sings out corruption like an unholy hymn.
so it is hard not to get lost in the tick-tick-boom! tick-tick-boom!
of a country that has gone mad with the promise of everlasting glory.
it is hard not to drown in that historical river,
where blood flows like oil
& oil flows like water
& now we only have tears to water our gardens
& our souls.
but, brothers and sisters - we gotta take back our song.
we gotta sing like it means something.
cuz it does.
sometimes, even if you are so low-down you can't stand,
you gotta sing, from the very depths of your soul.
you gotta sing out over the tick-tick-boom! tick-tick-boom!
of a nation on the edge of madness.
sing out like you are not broken.
sing out like you & only you control your destiny.
sing it & it will be true, as long as the words last.
when you sing,
you will realize that,
beneath all the oppression, the injustice,
& the bullet holes in all our lives,
there is a song.
there is a song which says
"think beyond your borders
& love even the things you do not understand."
find that song & sing it to yourself.
it doesn't matter if your voice isn't good
or you feel so bone-weary, you can't even talk.
sing when the flowers die,
when your hope dies,
when your love dies.
and flowers, hope, love will live,
as long as the words last.
sing your life's story out in the streets,
even if it makes you feel crazy.
you are not half as crazy
as the ones who don't sing at all.
and when you look back on your life,
when you think about all the songs you've sung,
sing one last song for the rest of us.
sing strength to us.
sing hope to us.
sing our thoughts into action.
sing it & it will be true,
as long as the words last.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Five Truths to Set You Free...

so, my dad and i generally spend one week a year accompanying the teens from our parish on various service&justice mission trips. We've been to Mexico 3 times, as well as attended events stateside. This year is probably the last time we'll do this together, which makes me incredibly sad. But it has gotten to the point where adult lives no longer fully accommodate the carefree summer schedules of teenagers.

The spiritual experiences of these trips vary widely for me, depending on how receptive the teens are, what types of spiritual experiences there are, and how insanely exhausted i am from keeping up with teens who seem to have limitless energy and enthusiasm (the answer: i am ALWAYS insanely exhausted by them). Generally, the focus of these service trips is leading teens to Christ, something I really treasure. But, no offense to them, I'm not the target audience, so I usually just sit back, observe and support, remembering what it was like to be a teen questioning the faith.

But last week, in Greensboro, North Carolina, my experience was completely different. First off, unlike every other service trip I've done, my work that week would not be painting or plastering or mixing cement by hand. My job would be to be present to people with developmental disabilities or deteriorating mental conditions. Everyday our little group got up, headed out, and had exactly the same conversation over and over. Or we spent an hour and half doing puzzles. Which was actually amazing. And sad. And a challenge as a chaperone, to make sure everyone was engaged and focused outward. The meeting of teenagers, who have their whole lives in front of them and who may not have learned they're not invincible, and the elderly, infirm, and fragile, whose lives have encompassed so much vulnerability and pain and joy and who have lived sometimes 4 or 5 times as long as these teens - man, that was rough terrain for us all to navigate.

Thankfully, another thing that was different this year was the priest for Catholic Heart Workcamp. During our first of 5 daily masses, Fr. Jeff let us know that he was going to give us 5 universal truths that, if we would listen and really hear them would set us free. And, I mean, c'mon - we're Catholics. We love lists! So I got all psyched, thinking they'd be wisdom culled from the ages that i could spend my free time reflecting on and, like little Buddha under the lotus tree, reach my own kind of Catholic enlightment.

Umm, no. That's not what happened. This list, which you'll find below, is, without any context, a seriously depressing list. But with context, and with God's grace, it's the best, hardest news I've received in a long time. I hope Fr. Jeff doesn't mind me stealing his idea (which I think he stole from Richard Rohr, so hopefully, we're even), but it was too good not to commit to paper (or to electronic media in this case).

After we received each truth, and then went out to do service, I began to see exactly how these truths manifest themselves, and started wanting to find them, just so I could work on my reactions and pray for guidance in them. Also, these truths offered a helpful, spiritual lens on service. These five truths, Fr. Jeff pointed out, are already known to the downtrodden, the broken, and the fragile in our society. So we can turn to them for guidance on how to accept these truths and move towards grace, which is part of what makes the poor so much better than the rich, and the weak so much better than the strong...

Five Spiritual Truths

  1. Life is Hard - now, we all say we know this. But, if you reflect on how our society is set up, you realize how much the message really is "Life is hard because..." Because you don't own a good car. Because you're not rich enough. Because you're ugly or stupid or lazy, or, worse yet, because other people are stupid or lazy or taking advantage of you and you deserve better. But, there really is no "because". Life is hard. Period. That's the human experience. Sometimes it's our fault it's hard, sometimes it's outside us. But there's nobody out there whose life is bumpless and serene. If we accepted this (and I look mostly at myself when I say this), it would revolutionize service. Because, I don't have to fix you. Your life is hard. My life is hard. What I can do is walk with you, listen to why your life is hard and tell you a little about my life. And if I have something you need, and I offer it, and it temporarily makes life less hard, awesome! If not, we've connected in our broken, hard, lives and that's always valuable.

  2. You Are Not Important - okay, now here's where the wheels started coming off the wagon for Fr. Jeff in the beginning. Because absolutely nobody wants to hear this. Thankfully, almost right away he clarified it. We're all infinitely valuable. We're just not important. Because, in true philosophical logic, if something is important, it always holds that something else must be unimportant. So, by trying to make ourselves important, we necessarily have to denigrate someone else, or promote ourselves above them, or make them feel they've just missed the mark. Much as I loved all the teens there, it's really easy to see how the issue of being important plays out in interactions between cliques of friends. And it's easy to see how it plays out for me, which is the most embarrassing part. See, the teens from our church see their youth minister every Sunday (and then some). They see my dad every Sunday, and many have known him (and my momma) since they were small. But, they only know me (mainly) through my sister, since I chose, about 5 years ago, to get my spiritual needs filled elsewhere. Which I don't regret, but does lead to little Gollum moments when I realize that I may be the least important chaperone. I mean, the teens were all incredibly nice, including me in their reindeer games, and all that. But in terms of really connecting, it was much harder than it seemed for Monica or my pops. Which caused me to note my reaction and what I saw was kinda horrifying - I'd made it about me, not about helping the teens. Ostensibly the point is that the teens find Christ through service. But I found that I really wanted, in some way, for the teens to find Christ through my service - to them and to the community. I wanted to be important. Thankfully, once I named that, I was able to struggle with it. And once I was able to struggle with it, painfully and never truly successfully, I was able to pray my way out of it a little. And I was able to realize that, on our own, we're all valuable without trying to promote ourselves or to cut others down...

  3. Your Life Is Not About You - Fr. Jeff took pains to explain this point clearly, since there was so much confusion about the earlier point. He said that one of the dangers of raising children these days is that parents give up everything for their children, which leads to children who think they are the center of everything. But, in fact, we all have to live on this increasingly crowded planet together, and it does nothing good for us, or those around us, if we pretend that we're the only ones who exist or have needs or are "important." Selflessness is necessary for us all to get along in the world. For example, every day at the elder day center, at exactly 11 o' clock, the whole group of us walked from the room where we hung out down to the lobby to sing songs and wait for lunch. And, as I observed this ritual which every person there had done at least 200 times in a given year, I noticed how two of the folks with the most profound impediments, who could not communicate at all, always took pains to grab the wheelchair of the person next to them and wheel them down. Watching fragile people confidently and kindly taking care of other fragile people is almost too much to think about, even now. We don't often see fragility being celebrated in our media consumption or advertising culture, so to be confronted by a person who can't speak caring for one who can't walk - well, it makes the phrase "The blind leading the blind" seem less nonsensical and more tender. Because the folks at the elder center took care of each other in a matter-of-fact, common place way, because they seemed to get it - their time there wasn't about them. Other people were worse off, and it fell to them to take care of others, and they did it with a joy and kindness that often eludes those of us who take care to hide our fragilities.

  4. You're Not In Control - This point was aptly illustrated during the week because we almost never had a day where one of our buses didn't break down on the way back from picking up teens. Teens who were working far away from the camp site and, more importantly, far away from a refreshing shower. These kids would usually also miss dinner and part of the program, and many of them were doing hard manual labor and were so anxious to get back. It was such a bummer, but also an unfortunately clear example of Fr. Jeff's 4th point. What would complaining have gotten those kids? Not closer to home. Not on a bus that was fixed. They just had to wait, since they clearly weren't in control. And, amazingly, most of them remained in good spirits and found ways to pass the time. In fact, one day, a priest from one of the youth groups took the time while they were waiting to hear confession, right there in the horse park. That's a pretty amazing example of what happens when we surrender our need to be in control and make the best out of the situation we're in.

  5. You're Going To Die - This one I had a little sneak preview of, but was a good reminder anyways. You will die. People you love will die. But, think of all the ways we try to outrun it, or amass power and prestige as some sort of way to ward it off. It took my mom dying for me to realize, truly, that I only get this one life but I spent so much time being afraid. When I looked at the folks we worked with during our week in North Carolina, it seemed most of them had suffered some sort of deep loss. Some had lost spouses or children. Some had their very livelihoods taken by strokes or early-onset dementia. And, not to be prosaic, but I think anyone who's experienced that kind of loss knows a little more about mortality than the rest of us. And even some our teens knew that type of loss and tended, as a consequence, to be fearless and tough and hurt. But even those teens who have never experienced loss will, eventually. We all know nobody escapes it, and no one can fend it away from anyone else, much as we'd like to. So, the best bet is to do what seems least helpful - to live through it well. The folks at the elder center often could not remember that we'd come. But they remembered most of the Baptist Hymnal. One man whom we saw everyday, was legally blind and deaf. He didn't seem to make a lot of sense when he talked but the two things that made him come alive were Jesus Christ and checkers. Checkers with him was ruthless - he was sort of a cheat and definitely a smack talker. Given all that we'd seen of him, none of us were prepared for him to say grace. He recited all of Psalm 23 and led us in every verse of Amazing Grace pretty much everyday. He knew loads of other songs, too, and all of them were about Jesus. Specifically, they were about the promise of resurrection and about life eternal, even for wretches like us. So, the old rugged cross and it's amazing grace somehow cut through the fog of confusion which settled on him most of the time. Maybe it was through rote memorization, but I think it's more likely that it was because those songs and psalms hold a promise that is especially sweet to those folks who have already accepted the truth of their own mortality.

It's been over a week since we got back and I still find myself reflecting on these truths. It's definitely the best gift I've received from any mission trip I've been on. Knowing that I will be leaving my spiritual support system so soon, I've wondered how I'll stay connected without my mission trip experiences, or my spiritual community, or seeing my dad and sister sing in the Lifeteen band. But I've been able to find deep spirituality in North Carolina, so chances are, with Chrissy along for the ride and five new spiritual truths in my mind, I think it's gonna go pretty well...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

the promise and power of grace...

so, this weekend, i was chatting with my friend Alex and he gently chastised me about my use of the term evangelical. i tend to use it in a negative context, since i associate it with yelling. but more specifically (or more broadly, I guess) it's an ability to channel the Holy Spirit into your words and actions. which is what just happened to me on a plane.

i promise i will update everyone on how the trip went (complete with pictures of our potential new place and rave reviews of my new apartment mate, Chrissy, who is GLORIOUS!) But, more for myself than anyone else, I want to write down what happened to me.

I borrowed Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith ( for more info on Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core, visit their homepage) and began reading it on the plane. At the same time, I was listening to K'Naan sing "I Was Stabbed by Satan" and then I got to a point where the song and the book coincided in their message. And the message was this - there are so many forces arrayed against the youth in our world. Some of them are overtly violent (Al Qaeda, the KKK, gangs, child soldiers) and some of them are insidiously violent (overt consumer culture, our violent language, cliques). But Eboo Patel talked about how utterly normal the Muslim youth responsible for the London bombings had been. They grew up admiring Western culture, did well in school, etc. But they got taken in by a rabidly anti-Western cleric who knew how to target their struggles and to slowly pull them into this movement by pretending to offer a solution to the angst and alienation of the teen years, especially for teens who do not fit in. Eboo Patel's point is that we've failed youth, because there is always someone out there who makes their money or their ideological point with youth that are ignored other places. Patel says "Every time we see a teenager kill in the name of God, we should see a pair of shadowy hands behind him, teaching him how to build the bomb or point the gun, giving him a manual with the prayers to say while committing the murder, steadying his shaking hands with callused, steely ones..."

K'Naan (a Somalian rapper) wrote the song "I Was Stabbed By Satan" about the folklore idea that children cry when they are born because Satan pricks them to bring pain and welcome them to the world. He expands on this idea by listing the ways that children and teens in Somalia and in the US are subjected to violent systems and often face few positive choices for their lives.

So, anyways, I was all of sudden flooded by grace and a vision. I am called to work with teens on issues of violence, oppression, and faith. Which is weird, since I don't know a lot about any of those things right now :) But the idea of doing that for the rest of my life, knowing there will be struggles, knowing that I will fail perhaps more than I succeed, knowing that it's not a Hollywood movie and many teens live lives that will absolutely break my heart with no recourse for action - it all melted away and my heart was filled with God's love and certitude. It was so overwhelming - I felt my momma's approval and my Savior's and a kind of liveliness - that I started crying. Did I mention I was on a very, very full plane? Cuz I was...I may not be the most enjoyable seatmate.

I know I will go through periods where I will question what I felt and what I know about my vocation. Which is why I raced home to write this down. Because I want to be able to remember this. And I want to be able to say to people who might question it that I finally believe in a personal Jesus who cares for me and has a plan for my life. And, frankly, I'm sick of being ridiculed for being optimistic and hopeful. I think irony and detachment are dreadful things (though I'm still relatively sarcastic) and I know that it will strike many people I love dearly as odd, anachronistic, or outright crazy to say that on the plane, I felt the love of God and feel like I have a mission in my life. But I am just so not able to lie about it right now.

This may have been the first enjoyable plane ride of my life...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

i don't remember writing these at all...

i love/hate going through old notebooks and finding poetry. i love the surprise of it and hate the painfulness of reliving old wounds.

poem 1 - February 15, 2009

i always miss you on the first days of early spring.
i hope it doesn't hurt you that i don't
miss you at any other time of the year -
not your birthday or mine,
not during the saddest times of the year.
i only miss you on those days immediately following winter,
when you look outside and know that life will begin anew -
that things are growing underneath the earth
and will bloom soon enough.

any psychiatrist worth their salt
would probably attribute this to
all the dead children between us
who will never see the light of day
as part of your gene pool.
There will be no children named after
our favorite inanimate objects.
no children to experience the loss of love
in exciting detail, right alongside us.
but thinking about that
doesn't make me sad at all.

i think i only grieve you in the spring
because the cold sunny days
give a limit to my grief.
you can only be a little melancholy
0n the only sunny day
during a week of rain.
and i don't want to grieve you that much -
just enough.

just enough to acknowledge that i loved you -
not enough to unpack how wrong that love was
or how poorly that love played out.
i want to miss you enough to get misty
and then to pull myself back together
and then to wish you well,
finally, wherever you are.

This Is Not a Story About Hope - February 15, 2009
The last time I saw her, she looked at me,
confusion crowding in around the edges, and said,
"I can't remember what I can't remember anymore."
And you can see the clockwork slow down, imperceptibly.
Her pains stay around longer than they should.
This is not a story about hope.

The last time I saw her,
she said that now her yesterdays
are more vivid than her tomorrows
and today loses itself in a sea of fog
as soon as it comes around.
This is not a story about hope.

This is a story of who we become
when all we have are stories,
when we live lives in circular time.
We lost the ones we love yesterday
and we will lose them all over again

This is a story about the hopeless cruelty of age.
This is a story about being lost in the massive fabric
of your own life.
But, somehow, whenever I see her,
she's still happy
and she still pours her love into coffee cups
and soup bowls
and cookie jars.
She's still proud of us for the things she remembers
and she's sure she would have been proud
of those things she's forgotten.
And she's secure in our love - a love that is constant
and somehow unforgettable.

Perhaps this is a story about hope, after all.


So, tomorrow I will lay eyes on my new home for the very first time. The idea that I am moving to a completely new city, living with a new person (hello, awesome Chrissy!), and attending a new school seems to strike some people as crazy. Chief amongst them, me.

To explain, I am in no way the brave one in my family. That title belongs to Claire, who left to do a semester in Ireland and decided to spend the year after she graduated living on an intern's salary in NYC. Or Christopher, who also spent time abroad in Ireland and moved to sunny Southern California for school (the furthest from home any of us went for undergraduate degrees).

I, on the other hand, spent three years in Montana and moved back to Portland to finish up school. I'm a homebody and I'm really, really comfortable in my hometown - it's like a second skin. Like Burnside and the Willamette divide up aspects of my own personal geography as well as this city. I totally accepted the idea that I would live, work, and love in this city. Didn't bug me at all. Anything else seemed a little scary.

Then mom died. And, after a long time of mourning and reflection, I realized that, as much as I love this city, I didn't love my job (well, I did but I didn't. Hard to explain). And that I probably wouldn't change if I just stayed in one place. So I decided to apply to graduate schools on a whim. I finally narrowed it down to Catholic University and Loyola in Chicago.

I visited CUA in February. I was already in DC and figured I'd check it out. I knew right away that, as much I like DC, I couldn't ever live there and the campus seemed pretty close-minded (school newspapers and fliers in student halls are a pretty good barometer of the school, I've found.) So, I figured I'd apply to both, see where I got in, and then figure things out.

When I got into Loyola, I just decided I wouldn't try anything else. I thought I'd spend some of my vacation time checking Chicago out in the spring. But, ummm, I just never got around to it.

So, here I am, a month from moving permanently, and I'm FINALLY going to check out where I'll be spending the lion's share of my next 3 years. The city that will temporarily hold my interest, dreams, and numerous words until I am 32 years old. This is exactly equal parts terrifying and thrilling. Thrillifying, if you will. And usually, when I experience those emotions, I totally panic. Which, I have been doing a fair amount of.

But, the thing I keep forgetting is that I am in no way doing this alone. My fantastic apartment-mate Chrissy is making a really valiant attempt to keep me sane by being super-organized and really compassionate. Alex is rocking the hosting duties. And everyone everywhere is letting me know how proud they are of me, and how much they believe in my success.

Which means, at some point, I need to believe in my success and I need to be proud of myself. Which, honestly, I am coming around to. In the past 2 years, I've accomplished more and lived through more than I ever thought I possibly could. So, I'm pretty sure I can do this.

But, I'm also pretty sure that, setting my sights on this new skyline, I'm gonna be fighting a fair bit of panic. And I'm coming to accept that, too...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

a semi-independence day...

every year, for as long as i can remember, my dad's neighborhood has thrown an epic Independence Day party! The views on patriotism range in our neighborhood and no one seems to have a particularly strong attachment to the idea of the holiday. What we all do have an attachment to is a) potlucks, b) community and c) danger/exploding things. Every Friday, the neighbors have a block party and July 4th is just an extended, more chaotic, and incredibly dangerous version of the usual block party.

It's also something that's very tied, in my mind, with my momma. I remember hanging out with her on the porch when we were little kids, how she'd help us decorate our bikes for the annual bike parade. She even insisted on going down to the Wall Party when she was incredibly pregnant with my brother. She left early because she went into labor - Colin was born on July 5th, but for the longest time, he really believed that people made a special flag and set off fireworks just because he was born. Which would be pretty cool, actually...

Anyways, this year was a little more conflicting - I expect to miss mom on her birthday or Mother's Day. I don't expect to miss her on otherwise-neutral days like the 4th of July. But I did, especially last night, since it was also the first time in 1 1/2 years that I've seen my ex-boyfriend. I don't really know what brought him to my neighborhood with his new girlfriend, and I probably won't ever really understand why he'd choose to come back to an area where we spent most every Independence Day. But the significance wasn't entirely lost on me - on this Independence Day, I wasn't really as independent as I'd thought I'd be by now. I still rely on a particular brand of advice regarding relationships that I'll never have again. My momma's ability to read me and offer pointed yet sensitive advice is totally missing. I didn't have anyone to lay it all out there for - why I was missing a person that I left, why I'd hoped we could be friends, what I want from any relationship I'll be in. Absolutely no one will ever give me advice like my momma. And absolutely no one will fit into my life in exactly the same way my ex did. And that's sad, and it's also good. I don't want anyone to replace my mom - if they could, it would negate the very real fact of her uniqueness. And I don't want a replica of my last relationship - I want something sort of similar but better-fitting.

And I started thinking about this notion of independence. It's a real American value and a huge part of our identity...weak people shrugging off the fetters of colonialism. But we know we didn't do it alone. Our ancestors "independence" came about because of a very real dependence, and eventual exploitation of American, African, Asian, and European "natives". But we still believe, somehow, that there will be a situation, or a person, or an age that will be truly free, truly independent. We still believe that dependence is in some way weak, and we judge everyone, even ourselves, for not being as free as we ought.

But today, July 5th, we had a different message from the Gospel readings. Stories about weak prophets who go into unfriendly lands and, betraying the American ideal of independence and freedom, fail. Or are not guaranteed success. Or are run out of their own towns. God's ways are truly not our ways. Because today we heard Paul speak of the "thorn in his side" which he prayed be taken away. And instead of being freed from it and able to speak strongly and masterfully, God told him " "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

And then Paul sums up, in one line, the path I desire - the path that recognizes true independence as an impossibility for anyone but God, the path that holds up the downtrodden and frees the oppressed to live in community. Paul says "Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong."

So I will struggle to be independent of earthly things - jealousy, grief, anger, hostility. But I will never fool myself into thinking that I will be independent of the One Who Made Me or able to survive without human kindness, community, and a little bit of chaos. For when I am weak, I am indeed strong...