Friday, October 29, 2010

new poem (with heavy stuff in it. skip if you aren't in the mood...)

-saturday night-
stepping outside that saturday night
was like stepping out into Good Friday
with no resurrection in sight.

blood like baptism
and hands in supplication
and too many things broken
with one sharp cry.
she looks like jesus,
right after the crown of thorns.
i shouldn't be telling you this,
but i don't know what else to do.

i look up for help,
some sort of divine assistance
but the rooftop angels
are all made of stone
and just look down at me,
with their blank, stoney gazes,
let me know that they also think
i'm not doing enough.

and there are few times in my life
when i haven't been able to find You in a moment.
this is one of them.

why does it feel like, sometimes,
You leave your children to fend for themselves?
when You leave us,
all our choices are tinged with darkness
and it feels like we're choking on the ashes
of all our violent burnt offerings.

from here on out,
i will not accept easy answers,
least of all from You,
who created all the answers
and all the pathways.
You, who created the blood
and the bones
and the baseball bats
and the cries
and the grief.
I don't like to make demands,
least of all to You,
but I'm asking you to show yourself.
Or I'll walk out that door,
into that Good Friday,
whether or not the Resurrection ever shows up...

Friday, October 15, 2010

...that saved a wretch like me...

there are times here when the sheer magnitude and depth of violence, in myself and in the world around me, threatens to knock me over.

on monday, october 11th, violence came to my neighborhood in the form of a gruesome, troubling domestic violence murder/suicide. the details are so awful that even hearing about them is traumatizing. but this shooting took place on a sunny Monday afternoon, which guaranteed that people (including children) witnessed it.

i waded through police cars an hour or so after the incident to check on my favorite baristas, whose cafe was surrounded by yellow tape. they were physically fine but emotionally troubled, like any decent person would be. i told them i'd be thinking good thoughts for them (which is my way of praying for hipsters and atheists without them knowing).

as i walked home, i started to think more about violence. it was also Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day. it was the day before i returned to my internship, where violence is relatively prevalent. i was coming off of two weeks where violence seemed to define my relationship to others and all my prayers seemed soaked in its effects on me and others. so i started thinking about how complacent i'd become to violence. it took something so unbelievably heinous to help me remember that, when people in my community die, it affects EVERYONE. on that monday, one person made a horrible, horrible choice. and that choice rippled outward, in terrible concentric circles of disaster. and since the person who made that choice was gone, everyone was left to make meaning on their own. and that didn't seem right.

and while i was walking and thinking, i felt this voice say that the place where this violence happened ought to be remembered. and that i needed to do something. which is, frankly, crazy. and even crazier is the fact that i deeply felt that what i needed to do was gather people to pray there. pray. in public. at a murder site. and ask people i know to join me. even typing it seems a little ridiculous. i figured people would laugh. or think i was crazy. or, worse, thinking i was being disrespectful of what happened.

but, by the time i got home, i was resolved that, even if i did it myself, i was supposed to be out there praying. so, from 6pm-8pm, i texted and facebooked and tried to figure out what to say to whomever might show up. and i tried not to imagine that this choice might make all my friends think i was nuts.

at 8:15ish, we had a small but wonderful group. most of them were people i knew who'd come because they value nonviolence. and community. and me, i realized, which is just so strange sometimes...these amazing, beautiful, wonderful people choose to be in my life. it's humbling in the extreme. in addition to my friends, we had a community pastor show up. and, most humbling of all and the greatest gift of the Spirit, our little band of folks with a candle and some flowers attracted the notice of woman who had witnessed the violence earlier. she came into our circle and felt safe enough to share her hurt and her horror. being able to pour out love and kindness on her felt like exactly what i'd wanted to do. in fact, even though the whole gathering was brief, i felt more connected to the Holy Spirit than i ever have before.

i try to live my life in a way that recognizes that community builds great things. or, as my Catholic Worker friends are fond of saying, community answers the question "what can we do together that we cannot do alone?" but, so often, i forget the true amazing grace of community. but the small community that formed that night grew something that has had some amazing effects. we helped someone deal with trauma. new relationships grew, for me, out of that day. even the owners of the apartment building, who weren't interested in having us on their property and were pretty dismissive, started letting others leave flowers. an altar of flowers lives out there now, including the ones our group brought.

it's not the hugest thing i've done and, in the face of such magnitude of violence, i don't want to get too comfortable with my response. i could always do more. but i guess that's the biggest thing to grow out of that day - i now desire to do more. i desire it so much and i'm trying to orient my life so that that desire - for the Holy Spirit of nonviolence and for my life to be a daily response to the violence before me - is the animating force of my life. i'm failing more than succeeding, but that's why we have access to infinite grace, i suppose.

please pray for me (or think good thoughts) as i try to discern what a daily response to violence looks like, and how i am meant to answer the radical call of the Holy Spirit. The Lord knows I can use all the help i can get...

Friday, September 10, 2010

the busy-ness of bees...

it's probably a very good thing that i've been too busy to blog these days, but it's also been hard since, as per usual, i have a lot to say.

this summer (and the beginning of this school year) have brought some radical shifts in life, perception, and spiritual growth.

life in community has been more challenging and more wonderful than i'd expected. i live with people i truly adore and we function, in our best times, as a well-ordered machine. and, in our worst times, we function just like any other fake-family might. i was drawn to community, in part, because i wanted to challenge myself in my interpersonal relationship skills. coming face-to-face with my own brokenness, my tendency towards judgement, and other completely irritating qualities has been hard. having those lovingly exposed and just as lovingly explored has been humbling in the extreme.

i've also begun an internship that i love. i actually (for the first time) can call it life-changing without any fear of hyperbole. i spend my days working with teens who are trying to change the culture of their school through nonviolent conflict resolution and restorative justice. these teens, having seen violence in their peers AND in the adults around them, are trying to make things right. and it works sometimes, and it doesn't others. but it's such incredibly important work being done by some truly amazing individuals.

the school where i work is by far not the worst in Chicago (nor even the worst on the northside of Chicago). but dropouts are high, college-attendance is low, and there is a police booking station inside the school. we've seen young kids taken out of the school in handcuffs or locked in a room until the police arrive. fights break out in classrooms and no one knows how to intervene. rival gang members show up with weapons and jump kids after school. and all of that leads some members of this community to blame and fear youth, instead of asking youth what the solutions might be. i love that i work with an organization that thinks youth voices are just as important as ours. but this work reminds me daily that i am not in the Great White North, as it were. the effects of violence and oppression in the lives of these youth is already apparent two weeks into this internship. I'm sure it will increase as I continue this work, which means that the potential for heartbreak and fear and my own oppression and stereotypes to surface is HIGH. i'm glad for that opportunity but also very afraid.

because i live in a community that provides spiritual support on a regular basis, and because my work and heart are turned more towards violence than before, i find my prayer life shifting, which is a welcome relief. for so long, my prayers had been small, inward, mostly-selfish prayers about the future. "give me this" "help me understand that" "why don't You..."

it was my turn to lead our spirituality morning (at 7am. THAT'S how much i love my community!) and i decided to do lectio divina on Matthew 6:25-34. it provided a much-needed re-orientation of my prayer life. i decided to stop focusing so much on this area of future that i can't control (namely, romantic relationships and having kiddos) to focus on those larger issues i can control, like whether i do enough to love my neighbor each day. actually, without knowing it, my communitymate John helped me immensely. in reflecting on this reading, he noted that there were people who were suffering that "God wants to help." I was struck immediately by the fact that all those people who suffer for want of food, clothing, etc. do so because, very literally, human institutions are blocking the love of God. every unjust policy, every deeply-rooted fear and hatred of "the other", every unnecessary consumer good i buy, every dollar i could donate but don't- all these things build impenetrable walls that keep out the love of God. this is all stuff i knew intellectually, of course. but picturing a wall every time i see oppression or feel it in myself is a totally different, more heart-centered perspective, which has really helped me evaluate how i live my values, and how i don't.

i've also been working at discovering things that give me not just a spiritual "high" but that awaken that deep-in-my-bones contentedness. i spent so long expecting that the love of God would be like lightning. but it's more like Portland fall rains when you're inside, warm and safe. it's a much, much better place to be, though i'm sure i'll need lightning again soon...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

a blogging first...

my dear friend Susan, of Musings of a Discerning Woman fame, just nominated me for a Blog with Substance Award!(also, visit Susan's blog. She's one of the raddest folks ever and her postings on her order, Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, are a glimpse into a pretty amazing group of women!)

Anyhoo, apparently I've been asked to sum up my blogging philosophy in five words. which is easy, since i'm pretty sure i don't have one. but if i did, it would probably be: "words about God, life, & self-doubt"

also, i am also going to link to blogs which i feel are substantial, so here goes:

my dear friend amy has a rad blog and can be found at Amy the Show. Check it out if you are interested in well-written reflections on Catholic Workers, God, and other interesting things.

Our Kairos Chicago community is full of amazing people and I feel like everyone should get to know them! Find them at A Fire That Lights Other Fires

Have I told you I have an amazing sister, whose writing will make you both laugh and cry, often simultaneously? Well, I do, and she can be found blogging at both This Is My Catholicism AND The Jesus Plays

Lastly, Sign on the Window is the blog of Melissa, who is connected to the L'Arche Nehalem community in Portland. Her reflections on church, folks with developmental disabilities, and parenting always give me a lot of food for thought.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"america never was america to me"

aware of the immense privileges granted to me just by virtue of being born in these borders, and not others, and with this skin, and not another, i can no longer really "celebrate" this nation. what i can do is celebrate the brave people in, committed to making it better and more inclusive. and i can thank God for poets like Langston Hughes who have called out the lie that America is a great nation for all...

Let America Be America Again
-by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 poems from the border...

i'm a little more raw than expected and not able to completely explain my experience yet. but i did have 3 spoken word pieces that came out of my time in Arizona and I thought I'd share 2 of them.
-hands full of baptism-

the only radio stations you get
this deep in the desert
play Christian & ranchera music, respectively.
floating through the airwaves are stories of redemption
& love,
both heavenly & earthly.
but only half of them make any sense to me.

sleeping in a desert that's always moving,
yet always quiet,
i only understand half the stories anyways.
the barriers here are unintelligible.
this great nation has woven intricate borders
between us
made of language & idealogy & money & hate
& sealed with barbed wire & promises.
it catches at your heart & keeps you stuck,
like some man-made desert plant
that needs ugly soil to grow.

give me the honest desert,
the space between borders,
where time slips away
& you're not entirely sure
who you are
where you've come from.
i want to leave
the land of beer & honey
for a space
where water baptizes survivors & victims alike
& where we remember our dead
in places as everlasting as mountains,
& just as beautiful.

let us not run from the harshness.
let us bleach our souls in the desert sun
until our ragged hearts are clean.
let us walk without stopping
into a land which doesn't belong to us alone
but which contains our ancestors
our friends
our enemies
our future,
a land where the sun beats down
on the just & unjust.
let us step out of the shadows
with dirty faces,
bleached hearts,
& hands full of baptism.

stepping out into the harsh light of truth,
we look like a busted-up army of seekers.
nobody knows we've got a map on our body
that says where we are & where we're headed together.
all we have to do is face the rising sun
to find our brothers & sisters
& ignore every border we see.
from there, we will tell our stories into the air,
until they form a song all their own,
more beautiful than any airwaves could capture,
& more lasting.

-what i can say when i don't speak your language-

here's a list of things i can say in Spanish:
i'm sorry,
ice cream,

compared to the way words trip off my tongue,
these confines are immense
& reduce me to child-like sentences
& chaplin-esque hand gestures.

but when i look again,
i can say a lot
of what i to tell you,
stuck as you are,
between your world & mine.
i can say:
"i'm sorry."
"your heart is right where you left it."
"feed your revolution with love & food & mercy & water
& leave everything else to la migra.
they're bound to take it anyways."

looking at it that way,
it's all the vocabulary i'll ever need.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

electronic kairos

tonight i was trying to prepare something for the Kairos reflection tonight. while it ultimately devolved into a much more enjoyable night of feeding friends and chatting, i was glad for the time to reflect on the intersection of "ordinary" time and storytelling. it's been coalescing in my mind, as we head into Ordinary Time, that within all the work we do and the issues we address, story can sometimes get lost under fact and hyperbole and official excuses.

for example, i have been thinking, as i am sure many have, about the situation in Gaza. not only was there the needless deaths of those trying to get into Gaza with humanitarian aid, but there have been reported air raids into Gaza as well. All of these things are massively horrifying, but i found myself most moved and saddened and convicted by the first-person stories of what happened on the Freedom Flotilla. The first-person stories of what it was like on the boat contained some incredibly touching moments. It can be found here. those stories, while not eclipsing the broad picture of facts and strategies and solutions, throw into high relief the real cost of doing nothing. these people, with names and faces and a story to tell, narrowly avoided losing their lives. others didn't. thinking of these people - the ones who lived and the ones who died - moves me more than facts. i feel like that must be true for more than me.

in planning for the night, i found this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, which also helped me realize the beautiful power of story and the ordinary, even in the face of violence and oppression.

The Words Under the Words
(for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem)
-Naomi Shihab Nye

My grandmother's hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat's new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother's days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother's voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send-our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband's coat,
the ones she had loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother's eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of His name.
"Answer, if you hear the words under the words -
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones."

In this "ordinary" time, I'm committing to finding the story in the ordinary. This Sunday, we'll here again the very extraordinary way that our Savior performs the ordinary act of feeding people. There was a story there, but there's a story every time we feed people who need it. There are stories in the ordinary work we do. i want to commit to finding those stories, collecting them, and bringing them as presents to the One Who Writes Our Stories.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

...sometimes, things just line up and it seems like you can just see beyond into myth and meaning...

i have this tendency to have epiphanies in weird places, like the shower or on the treadmill. today i had both, and i realized how much i've neglected to update this blog with all the things changing in my life. i've been going with the flow, one foot right in front of the other. and that doesn't leave a lot of time to stop and reflect except, apparently, in the shower or on the treadmill.

it occurred to me (in the shower, natch) how far i am from the person i was even months ago. i am systematically dismantling my fear. i am looking head-on at my shame and my regrets and my fear of the life i want, and i am learning to be compassionate with myself and doubly-compassionate with my neighbors. i fail more than i succeed, but i've never been so committed to trying to make it past my automatic rejection of risk and anything that might show that i'm a person of value, a person with gifts.

in a little less than 3 weeks, i'll be headed to Arizona. i will spend 2 lovely days with my cousin Beth and then i will settle down into the risk i'm running joyously, fearfully head-long into. i will spend a week in the Sonoran Desert, doing what I can to aid migrants crossing from Mexico into the United States. this is the first time i can think of that i've been willing to risk much for a cause that i know will put me at odds with people i love. it's the first time i've been willing to risk this much to go where i think Christ is, without any illusions of being successful. i will not stop migrants from dying on the border. i will not heal the rift that exists between Americans and migrant Mexicans in Arizona. i will not repeal an unjust law. i cannot fix this. all i can do is be faithful and just a little bit braver than usual. i can feed people. i can give them water. i can make sure that they get their basic needs met for just one more day, until they move on from us. for one week, i can be part of a group of Samaritans, except instead of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, we'll use the physical and ideological desert between the United States and Mexico. that's a lot for just one week. i think i can do it, but not alone. please pray for me, for us, and for our migrant brothers and sisters.

later this summer, i will make another frightening and beautiful leap into the unknown. i will begin living in an intentional community centered on the property of my parish here in Chicago (St. Gertrude's). i've long believed that, no matter what my economic/work vocation is, i am called to live in intentional community. however, outside of my brief time in the JVC, it's a call i've found convenient to ignore. it's a scary thing to try to live with others and even scarier to try to use that living together as a time to build something bigger than ourselves. the people i'll be living with are some of the most wonderful, dedicated, Christ-like people i know. and i know that they will make it a joyous journey, even when it may be difficult for all of us. when i lived in Portland, i also knew i wanted to be in community, but it was so easy to put it off and not honor that call. having a group of people to whom i feel accountable and who's vision and example are truly inspiring.

it would be easy to spend time ruing how little i did to live the life i wanted in portland. but i am having so much fun now that those regrets are just an echo of what they could be.

i'd originally thought of making this a fundraiser letter and sending it out individually. but this beautiful community has helped us raise a lot of funds. also, it seemed more important to reach out and explain to people why i'm doing what i'm doing. i know that a lot of folks i've talked to have concerns, borne out of love, about my time in Arizona. As most folks know, I'm not a giant fan of conflict and not always super-great at explaining myself. But I am totally committed to talking to anyone about why I feel called to spend time in the Sonoran desert and what I hope to come out of that time. Feel free to Facebook or email me about it. I'll reply as quickly as I can. Thanks for all the support, prayers, and love you've given me on this journey towards this life i love. i couldn't have done it without you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

scrap-of-paper poem

[found part of this written on a teeny piece of paper in my purse today. i love when i keep things around.]

sometimes i think i'm in love,
but it's really just the blues,
sudden and explained.

i get thrown off-kilter
and everything looks beautiful
and loveable,
just because i think i'm not.

those blues
bleed into melancholy
and i could keep myself down
for days on end.

it's so much easier to think
that you've caused it,
that my heartache comes from
somewhere other than
this swollen, beating thing
in between my own ribs.

i'd pick love
over the blues
any day.
but sometimes,
a girl
just doesn't get to choose.

Friday, April 23, 2010

an oregon poem


as i laid down,
head cradled in hands,
your peaks and valleys
washed over me.
mountains beyond mountains
crowded in
behind my eyes
and i missed you
with all the longing
your native sons and daughters
might have felt.
but that is their story,
not mine,
and it has many more tears and
than this one.

regardless, we share those mountains
and those riverbeds.
their heart's land
is my heartland, too.

i remember standing,
arms outstretched,
on the top of a mountain,
with my feet planted firmly in snow
and my head lifted up to
the bright May sky.
i could search this world over,
and not find a better way of explaining
what roots me
and makes me grow.

there are no mountains here,
and, somehow,
it's beautiful anyways.
i don't want you to think i'm ungrateful.
but my children will not be flatlanders,
and my ancestors won't be gone from that place
for good.
i've only taken them with me here,
so i can bring them back again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Part 2 of my Good Friday journey...(the REALLY honest part)

Part 2
after the walk, i was so overcome by emotion that i elected to head home instead of spending the rest of the beautiful day with my beautiful friends. but chrissy and i made plans to meet up a bit before Good Friday services.

as i mentioned before, i love Good Friday services. and, 2 years ago, after my mom died, i remember going to the service and just feeling, viscerally, what that liturgical celebration meant. i mean, how could we do other than gather together, with no pomp or circumstance, and just be sorrowful together? i was especially excited to experience Good Friday in this new Catholic community i'm part of. i usually leave Mass energized, enriched, and a little closer to God, so i knew my favorite liturgical celebration would be no exception.

little did i know.

the mass began in the usual Good Friday way - the cross was processed in by our priest, two altar servers, and a woman i recognized who was also dressed a bit like an altar server but older. as they approached the altar, our priest went to sit down in the pews, and this woman took her place on the altar. she was our presider for the night. i was at a liturgical celebration being led by a woman. and, you know what? the world didn't end. i wasn't smited. i didn't feel like any less of a Catholic. it was jarring - i was concerned that my priest would be punished for this, that people would come out of the woodwork to harass him, like i'd been harassed for even being friends who worked with people who attended a female ordination. last night, i realized that, even though i am no longer a paid employee of the Catholic Church, i still carry all the same prohibitions in my head. i still worry that a certain woman is out there, just waiting to write vicious things about me on her blog as soon as she determines i've stepped out of line, liturgically. and, you know what? i never really did during that time, but fat lot of good that did me. being persecuted for not taking liturgical risks or testing what i believe had a certain amount of value. now i'm really going to test it - i attended a Good Friday liturgy led by a woman who hopes to be ordained, and it was one of the most beautiful Good Friday services of my life. to hear jesus' voice as feminine was particularly moving. the homily's point - that we're all the same at the foot of the cross - was exactly what my weary, humiliated soul needed to hear after the many and intense feelings of the walk earlier. i was sitting amongst my favorite people, and i could tell how moved we all were. some of these folks have risked a lot to talk about their feelings on women's ordination - more than i ever risked while working for the church. and, while i still have a long way to go to figure out what i believe, now that i'm not the director of anything, it was the first time i finally addressed the fear i'd held on to from that job - fear of being judged, fear of doing or believing the "wrong" thing, fear that every time i question or don't understand, i'll be persecuted and called names for all to see. enough.

i started thinking about mom, like i always do on Good Friday now. i remember saying, in my thoughts, "MOM! there's a woman leading this service? aren't you just DYING right now?" she said, no, it happens all the time there. that was nice to think about...

i also started thinking about how much she would like (and perhaps be a little confused by) the life i live now. one thing she wanted was for me to finally end the tyranny of other people's opinions in my life. it just killed me that i wasn't able to show her how far i've come, how much this community and this life heals me and helps me take risks. that's one thing i miss the most, but, paradoxically, i don't know if it would have happened if she hadn't died. her death made me brave in a bitter way, but that's been transforming into a blessing day by day. i think she might have some part in that, even if i can't tell...

i was so overwhelmed with the feelings of the day, that i just wept. usually, i had to weep in public (unless it's over movies or Biggest Loser episodes). i read the entire funeral eulogy without crying. i didn't let anyone see me cry either of mom's death anniversaries. it makes me itchy and miserable and uncomfortable in my own skin. but, that's not a really honest way to live. and i was too tired to self-edit. and i'm tired of pretending not to be broken and questioning and confused when i am most of those things, especially this week. and, i don't know if it was the spirit of the day or having a woman leading things, but it felt just a little bit more okay to fall apart. so i did. and, once again, the world didn't end. i wasn't crying alone. i imagined that the apostles would have found it strange if anyone ever did make it through that day with dry eyes.

i don't know what to tell my friends back home about my experience Friday. even writing it out makes me realize how different my catholicism feels now than in the past. it feels more authentic, but also more challenging and probably less comfortable to people i know and love. it's sad to think about that right now.

but it's officially Easter. and we are ALL an Easter People living in a Good Friday world, as someone once said. I know now that the emotions of Good Friday, especially this one, are what make the Resurrection flower and what helps to strengthen us for the Savior's ascension, when we'll be once again alone, save the Holy Spirit. Jesus wouldn't really have lived enough if we didn't grieve his death with every fiber of our being, and try to find him everywhere we can. i'm grateful for a Good Friday that helped me see that truth...

Oh, Heart, What a Journey (Warning: INSANELY Honest Blogpost)

this Good Friday was unlike any other for me. it's always been my favorite liturgical celebration - i like things which are stripped bare - altars, crosses, souls. so i already knew that, in this community, my Good Friday would be meaningful. but the heights and depths that i reached last night broke me open, caused me to say goodbye to things i didn't realize i'd held tight, and made me realize that, despite the fact that many people i love won't love who i've become, i've come closer than ever before to the life i was meant to lead.

part one
last week, i decided to participate in the 8th Day Center for Justice's Good Friday Walk for Justice. I joined friends whose passion for ending torture i really admire. Earlier this week, we gathered together to plan out the station we'd be doing. i'd felt led to volunteer as an actor, but when we were initially claiming parts, i got scared. i volunteered to read - something i'm comfortable with, something that wouldn't require much from me. but thank goodness my wonderful roomie keeps me accountable. she reminded me that that wasn't what i'd said i wanted to do. what i wanted to do was don a jumpsuit and a hood and, for a little bit, inhabit the story of a man who died too early from "suicide" at Guantanamo Bay Prison. so, i braved up and stepped into that jumpsuit and listened to the story of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami. Even though we were just practicing, the combination of listening to Salah's story and, simultaneously, being forced to kneel, then rise up, then lie down - never in charge of my movements, never fully sure of what i was seeing through the black cloth - scared me and moved me even more than i expected. i knew the day of the walk would be even more intense. i was right.

yesterday, we met at st. gert's to pray before riding the L train down to Congress & Michigan for the start of the Walk for Justice. We read one of my very favorite new poems - "O Prison Darkness," written by Abdulaziz, a prisoner in Guantanamo. During the ride, i sat and looked out the window and tried to fight my rising panic and sadness. i had no idea what today would be like and i couldn't imagine being the center of attention for so long. i don't like being stared at. it's not humility, really, just cripplingly low self-esteem. and i'd just agreed to wear a jumpsuit and hood not only during our performance, but during the entire 3 hour walk down the streets of Chicago around lunchtime on a Friday. that's a LOT of people to stare at me. but, then, thankfully, i remembered that the march wasn't about me at all. i mulled over the little i knew about the story of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami. it's heartbreaking, really, and it's so much more important than my ridiculous, petty fears.

The few of us who were donning jumpsuits gathered to pray and to remember what we were representing-men whose lives have systematically destroyed by the War on Terror, many of whom never committed a crime and were arrested because of tribal infighting, the lure of bounties, or confusion. some of them died early. all of them have scars. it began to be a scary privilege to carry their stories into the streets. we walked to a number of places representing stations, led by some really beautiful organizations - labor organizers, women in prison, indigenous rights groups.

at one location, i came face to face with what a weak christian i can be. this location was an open-air plaza with a small portion reserved for al fresco dining at a relatively fancy restaurant. our line of "prisoners" positioned ourselves near the boundary of this dining area and prepared to participate in the stations. almost as soon as folks began to sing "Wade in the Water", the waitstaff of this restaurant called the police to complain about noise violations (keep in mind, police were already escorting our group). in addition, several tables began jeering. "Shut up!" they yelled. "Nobody gives a shit." Here we were - 500 nonviolent activists, re-enacting the Passion of Christ, and there was jeering and name calling already. But, instead of feeling righteous or grateful for an opportunity to be a disciple, i felt humiliated and ashamed and some amount of guilt for ruining a rich person's lunch. which then made me feel more humiliated. if that's even a little of how Peter felt betraying Jesus, i wonder how he didn't just burst into tears. i definitely did (thankfully, the hood hid that fact). it's a horrifying thing to face how truly weak i am in the face of opposition and conflict, especially in light of the fact that i belong to a community filled with some of the strongest, bravest Christians i've ever met.
before i knew it, it was our station. i lined up behind one of our "jailers" - the whole time we were processing, i had members of our community beside me, making sure i knew where to step, offering me water, and generally making sure we were okay and safe. but walking alone to the front of the crowd, i kept mulling (as i had the whole walk) that Salah Ahmed Al-Salami had no one like that. this hood was meant to keep him from knowing what was coming next. would he be left alone? would dogs come? would he be forced to kneel and rise up and lie down, without anyone to comfort him?

for those who never heard this story, here's a relatively balanced story from BBC News. please know that what this story does not say is that these men's bodies were returned in pieces, with various body parts missing. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami was a devout Muslim. He'd memorized the whole Q'oran. What depths of misery would prompt a man of such deep faith to kill himself? We know he was one of the prisoners to take part in some of the political food fasts which ended in brutal forced-feeding by Guantanamo Bay staff. there's reason to believe he had a lawyer but had not received clearance to see him and plead his case. it's thought that he was in Pakistan not for jihad, but plead for the release of his cousin who was detained there. there's been accusations, after an in-depth investigation, that the death of these 3 men was actually accidental manslaughter after a particularly intense torture session. either way, the brutality and aloneness of Salah Ahmed Al-Salami was on my heart as I took my place in front of the gathered crowd. As rehearsed, two women pushed me to my knees, then grabbed my arms and led me around the circle and forced me into the stress position. these women are my friends but, for a second, i was frightened and filled with distress. i prayed for Salah, whose jailers were not his friends, whose death was not a play. i laid down on the ground to simulate Salah's death. i was covered with a sheet and i shut my eyes and prayed for the repose of Salah's soul. I prayed that the God of all Abraham's people watch over him and guide him home. I prayed that he see what we were doing in the light that we meant - that we were trying to keep alive his story.

i was carried off by 6 "pallbearers". Salah never got that, either. he was shipped home in pieces. his father refuses to believe a man of such faith would commit suicide and he refuses to bury Salah until an independent autopsy confirms that he committed suicide. imagine the grief that family must feel. whether or not he was a terrorist, whether he committed suicide or was accidentally tortured to death, the pain that family feels is immense and it is real.

Monday, March 29, 2010

fasting day #1 poetry reflection

i like the idea of finding poems that speak to me and posting them as are two (one by me and one by someone better!)

-by leonard cohen-

You tell me that silence
is nearer to peace than poems
but if for my gift
I brought you silence
(for I know silence)
you would say
"This is not silence
this is another poem"
and you would hand it back to me.


everyone's hungry for something...
-by me-
this talk about your struggles got me thinking about the math of our lives.
if you subtract alcohol or love or sweetness,
what do you add to even the score?
because everybody's hungry for something
& the scales have to balance somehow.

when i gave up writing, i got religion
& it worked out so perfectly
that the two became almost mutually exclusive-
i could have words
or i could have the Eternal Word.
but not both.
never both.

this is what fascinates me about people
but it doesn't make for polite conversation.
most people want to tell you their successes
or assumptions about current weather patterns.
they don't want some stranger to wander up and say
"excuse me.
i was wondering if you could tell me
about everything you've lost
& what crazy things you've done
to try to make balance where there is none."
Judging by all the blank stares,
this must not be part of
How to Win Friends and Influence People.

but i don't care,
because i find it truly amazing-
what we're capable of
when we struggle like hell to survive.

& because the only balance i can find
between writing and God
is making my little, busted up corner of the world
a prayer.
one that begins
"O God of the eternal equation,
help the alcoholics
& the swaggerers
& the hobos
& the haters
& the lovers
& everyone who hasn't found you yet.
help us find the sum of our parts,
and help us exceed it, even briefly.
help us all find words for you,
the Eternal Word.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"the hurt locker" and mark twain

(Guernica by Pablo Picasso)

tonight i spent time with my friends (and some new soon-to-be-friends), watching The Hurt Locker and, on this 7th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion and subsequent War, how we feel about war, about soldiers, about violence in general.

As I walked home tonight, I kept reflecting on whether there are places in the world safe from violence. Is there good in the world? Are we really going to make a difference? I also thought about how old, and how barbaric, this warrior mentality is.

The perspective of The Hurt Locker, for some reason, also reminded me of Mark Twain's The War Prayer - it can be found in it's entirety here but the part that particularly spoke to me was the following piece of satire:

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;

help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;

help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;

help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;

help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;
help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

This is what war asks of us (both soldiers and civilians)- this is what we sign off when we send troops to war. and, throughout the ages, in both words and images, people have tried to portray the true cost of this. Whether or not The Hurt Locker will succeed in making people think twice about our current wars is not yet known, but I would find it very difficult to finish that film without realizing that what we ask of our soldiers can be barbaric indeed.

it also helped me remember that, as a Christian, I have a special and beautiful call to use my faith to oppose the idea of a Warrior God, of a Killer Christ. These American ideas (which clearly were part of Mark Twain's time as well) seem to have taken root in our ideology. we use theological differences as an excuse for violence. we believe that a God of Love will forgive us, in the end, for this intense bloodshed. If we didn't think that, somehow, how could we support deaths by bombing, death by machine guns, death by the implicit and explicit costs of war? I don't think so, and now it's my job to figure out what that means for me. I guess what it means in the short-term is that tonight's dreams will be violent, terrifying, and profoundly sad. just like war...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

notes from a motherless child...

Who’s got a shoulder when I need to cry

I feel restless and I don't know why

Cry for help, but still feel alone

Like a motherless child a long way from home

730 days ago, i became half an orphan. and, while that's a lot of days to get used to it, i haven't. or, not entirely. i'm still no more able to talk about it, no more able to accept other people's sympathy or condolences. i'm still shifting into this role.

i still can't imagine that she won't be grandmother to my children, that i can no longer make fun of how her grilled cheese sandwiches never fully cooked in the middle. all those little and big things that make up one life lived.

when she was diagnosed with ALS in 2005, my mom decided that getting us all through her disease would be the best, and last, thing she'd accomplish here on earth. and she did it. she showed us how to suffer with grace, how to challenge and love God at the same time, and how to take care of each other as family.

even after 730 days, i can remember every minute of march 18th, 2008.

i remember the phone call from my dad and how i assumed my mom was in the hospital. until he said "I'm so sorry. There wasn't anything else we could do."

i remember driving home, stunned.

i remember seeing her.

i remember calling her best friend and breaking the news so God-awfully that i just couldn't make any more condolence calls.

i remember how kind everyone was - the food and cards and flowers and the overwhelming sweetness of people who knew her.

i remember that, sometime that day, we just started watching tv and laughing. because everything else just took too much effort. and it seemed odd and yet not.

the weeks and months after that were awful. i remember drinking a lot. i remember crying for no reason. i remember thinking that i'd always feel that way. i remember thinking, how can i possibly move on from here?

but, 730 days later, i have. sort of. i'm in a new place, surrounded by people i know my mother would love (when i was younger, she was always worried my friends weren't good enough for me), pursuing a vocation that i know she'd be proud of, taking risks just like she taught me to. knowing she'd be proud of me gives me some measure of solace. but knowing she'll never be able to tell me that, and i'll never be able to tell her how she inspired me to do all this, causes an untold measure of grief when i let myself think about it.

sometimes, this all just seems like a life meant for someone else, someone brave enough and strong enough to get through grief and build out of it a monument to a beautiful new world. today, i am too tired and do not feel like that person.

but, for better or worse, this is my life. and she, my beautiful mother, is one half of the foundation of this life. without her, i'll always be slightly off-balance, but it turns out, something beautiful can still be built. something she'd be proud of.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

in preparation for longer days ahead...

i stumbled onto this poem on a site i love ( - check it out!) and it moved me like few poems i've read recently. i'm not familiar with the author but am now moved to check out more from him...

-- Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli" you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning -- to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

- to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

*(image taken at the hostel where we stayed in Haifa, Israel - September 2008)

Friday, February 26, 2010

a wee post about babies...

lots of people i know are pregnant. which is rad. it's exciting to bring new life into the world (i presume) and it's amazing to watch women and men i knew in one phase of life seamlessly transition into another phase of life.

also, this week, i spent some quality time with my dear friend, who happens to be a nanny. after i left i realized how overjoyed i felt about that time. much of it is because i love my friend dearly, but a lot of it came from spending time with a baby. and a ball. i spent what could have been hours rolling a ball across a blanket. and each time Baby threw the ball, or held the ball, or even seemed to know where the ball was, we all got excited. fake-excited, sometimes, but sometimes genuinely enthusiastic.

it reminded me of this essay by G.K. Chesterton. i love this article for what is says about children and their role in our world. but mostly for what it reminds us about the adults in our lives.

by G.K. Chesterton

(from the essay "In Defence of Baby Worship" from THE DEFENDANT. 1903.)

The two facts which attract almost every normal person to children are, first, that they are very serious, and secondly, that they are in consequence very happy. . .

The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.

. . . If we could see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. . . We may scale the heavens and find new stars innumerable, but there is still the new star we have not found - [the one] on which we were born. But the influence of children goes further than its first trifling effort of remaking heaven and earth. It forces us actually to remodel our conduct in accordance with this revloutionary theory of the marvellousness of all things. We do actually treat talking in children as marvellous, walking in children as marvellous, common intelligence in children as marvellous. . . [and] that attitude towards children is right. It is our attitude towards grown up people that is wrong. . .

Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying an unfathomable respect; [we reverence, love, fear and forgive them.] We bow to grown people, take off our hats to them, refrain from contradicting them flatly, but we do not appreciate them properly. . . If we treated all grown-up persons with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat [the limitations of an infant, accepting their blunders, delighted at all their faltering attempts, marveling at their small accomplishments], we should be in a far more wise and tolerant temper. . .

The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysterious reason, we do not feel oursleves or our own ways to be supernatural. The very smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels; we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to been through a microscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful to think of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is like imagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or the leaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small. . . we feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that [God] might feel. . .

But [it is] the humorous look of children [that] is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the cosmos together. . . [They] give us the most perfect hint of the humor that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

physician, cure thyself...

[Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place."
Luke 4:16-24

This section of Luke has come up twice in the past 24 hours, completely at random. One of the times it came up was during lectio divina with my Ignatian spiritual exercises group. I placed myself in this scene, and thought about how excited i would be for Jesus, this hometown hero, this miracle worker, to come back to us. and how disappointed and angry and hurt i'd be to hear that his message, his healing, his grace wasn't for me. or for me alone. we weren't the only chosen people. we weren't the heirs to David's legacy.

i also thought a lot about home, specifically and conceptually. my sister just came to visit and it was a beautiful and confusing collision of two worlds. i think part of what was so challenging was wanting to think of myself as a changed person - not a prophet, maybe a prophet-lite. but, my sister knows me. she's known me my whole life. and so that's not how i appear to her. it's not how i appear to myself, either. i find myself unable to articulate what i do here, what i love here, and why i might want to stay. i think it's one of the joys and curses of family - they have such a longevity of knowledge of you and can see the places where you're the same, even when you think you've changed.

it's interesting to think about the context of this passage, specifically. Jesus has just been tempted in the desert - he's been fasting, he's faced temptation, and then, after probably performing some miracles and pouring out some grace, he finds himself back in his hometown, with his people. and instead of tripping down memory lane with them, he gives them the vision of his ministry. and then he tells them it's not just a vision for them. and they get so mad, they try to kill them. apparently, those Nazarites aren't really the ticker-tape-parade sort. Regardless, it shows the depth of challenge to what Jesus said - people were ready for him to breeze into town and fix things. instead, he tells them the vision and then says "other people need this first. it will happen. but not yet. and not here." that gives me a little solace - maybe i'm meant to do good things, biggish things, far away from the people who love me. or maybe that's just me twisting the Gospel so i don't feel too badly about not knowing where i'm supposed to be...

But, on this journey toward Lent, it's good to remember that Jesus' ministry starts out amongst people who know him. And the specific vision he presented enraged them so much that they tried to kill him. That's the Jesus I believe in - the one whose love is so great, whose vision is so challenging, and whose grace is so costly that many people try to kill him, and some even (temporarily) succeed. That's the Jesus whose Resurrection I long for. That's the Jesus I want to follow, even into my own hometown...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

a very belated semi-valentine's day poem

i wrote this right before valentine's and prevaricated about posting it. reflecting on relationships, and how i am in them, involves two sets of feelings. but, with some objective reflection from others, i decided that this poem is much more about me than about others, so i've decided to post it. also, because i might be a little proud of it...

"just biology"

outside our window
grew one of those epic, all-consuming trees,
casting shadows on our faces.

it was so much a part of our romantic landscape,
that it was easy to think that it grew
by virtue of our laughter,
the tears we shed,
and our long midnight sighs.

it was so easy to imagine that its photosynthesis ran,
off the light of our love.

so, imagine my surprise when,
after so many tree-filled days, we split.
but the tree didn't die.
there were no cracks in the heartwood
to remember us by.

after all, trees know a little more than we do
about weathering storms
and surviving the seasons.
that's not a metaphor.
that's just biology.

and i'm glad that tree lives,
now impersonal
and a part of someone else's story-
lit by someone else's love,
surviving someone else's regret.

and we lived too,
even when i thought we wouldn't.
hearts kept beating.
feet kept moving.
mine led me half-way across the country,
to almost make the same mistakes again.

it must be how i'm wired -
loving comes just a little bit harder,
filled with a little more doubt
than seems necessary.
but, some people get good, easy hearts,
and some people get challenging hearts.
it all depends what you're born into
and what you survive.
that's not a metaphor.
that's just biology.

Monday, February 1, 2010

top 30 things i've learned thus far...

my lovely, lovely roommate threw me a surprise birthday party this week, which is a whole other post unto it's own (i cannot even comprehend how much i'm loved. it threatens to overwhelm me every time i really look at it...).

but, my sweet and blunt friend jake asked "after 30 years, what do you have to say for yourself?" i didn't really know what to say and kinda floundered around until i found a kurt vonnegut quote that fit the occasion. but in reflecting on it that night, i thought it'd be good (for myself, if not for others) to write down what i've learned thus far.

here, in no particular order, are things i've discovered over 30 years on this little blue marble filled with wonderful and tragic things...

  1. pancakes for dinner always make a day feel special, even if it's just a tuesday.

  2. never listen to someone whose main argument boils down to "the human condition is sinful and you should always expect the worst." it's sometimes true but it's a bad operating system.

  3. i'd rather cry too much than too little.

  4. if you live through a hurricane, it's okay to hold a remembrance for your stuff. just remember the people, too.

  5. there's nothing you can't live through, except death. that's not as uplifting as it sounds.

  6. people will break your heart in new and different ways. that's not as sad as it sounds.

  7. the palestinian people deserve to be free in their homeland. i won't apologize for believing that.

  8. no matter how you prepare them, i probably am not going to eat beets.

  9. we live in a racist, sexist, classist society. i want to keep learning how i contribute to those systems and what i can do to end it.

  10. politicians are only very, very rarely agents of change. i was wrong about ralph nader, but still think i was right about dennis kucinich.

  11. love is a many-splendoured thing, with lots of pokey bits.

  12. things which will always make me happy: john steinbeck's "the moon is down", the movie "yellow submarine", american dream pizza, my family, radical Catholicism, community education, poetry slams.

  13. things which will always make me angry: oppression in all shapes and forms, that one time i saw white supremacists up close and didn't do enough, rampant consumerism, people who steal from nonprofits, aggressive drivers, shopping at IKEA, violence, badly-cooked vegetarian food.

  14. the answer to your prayers is generally you.

  15. few things are funnier than Kermit the Frog's angry face. see here for example.

  16. i will always, always, always let my children dress themselves.

  17. i'm afraid of getting arrested but am less and less willing to let that stand in the way

  18. my future husband will love the revolution, my dad's sense of justice, my sister's plays, my brothers' senses of humor, and my mac and cheese. the fact that such a person might not exist is only a small set-back.

  19. i can't conceptualize of a day when i don't think about my momma.

  20. intentional community makes more sense to me than the nuclear family. not necessarily for everyone, but certainly for me.

  21. i believe in the Trinity as fact. i understand this makes me crazy to some.

  22. i believe that a faith full of proscriptions, rigidity, and hate doesn't leave room for Christ.

  23. roadtrips are almost totally defined by their soundtracks.

  24. there is no food that isn't better with hot sauce. even cake.

  25. sometimes my low self-esteem really hurts people, which makes me feel worse, but is the best indicator that that dysfunction needs to change. now.

  26. i don't trust anyone who loved their high school years unconditionally or who got along with a stranger as their freshman roommate. that's just unnatural.

  27. do not pick your own nicknames. and if you do, don't choose Raven. or Kit-Kat. just take me word on that one.

  28. finger-painting is basically always awesome.

  29. people live in poverty because of choices i make, and we make. not because they're lazy or drunk or stupid. and, even if they were, we'd still have an intense moral obligation to give back what's been taken from them, in a monetary and spiritual sense.

  30. i might be doing okay with this one little life, but only because people better than myself are helping and loving me and have been for 30 years. thank you.

i guess that's what i know...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

grappling with jealousy...

i have everything the world could give a girl to make her happy but, every once in awhile, without meaning to, i get jealous. i get jealous of people with children, people with lovers, people without dead parents, people with actual self-esteem. and i can usually pray my way out, before i become too crazy. but when i can't - when all my coping mechanisms fail - i go back to this poem and, while it's not optimistic, it's brutally honest about this crazy, jealous condition...

By Jennifer Michael Hecht

Tonight there must be people who are getting what they want.
I let my oars fall into the water.
Good for them. Good for them, getting what they want.

The night is so still that I forget to breathe.
The dark air is getting colder. Birds are leaving.

Tonight there are people getting just what they need.

The air is so still that it seems to stop my heart.
I remember you in a black and white photograph
taken this time of some year. You were leaning against
a half-shed tree, standing in the leaves the tree had lost.

When I finally exhale it takes forever to be over.

Tonight, there are people who are so happy,
that they have forgotten to worry about tomorrow.

Somewhere, people have entirely forgotten about tomorrow.
My hand trails in the water.
I should not have dropped those oars. Such a soft wind.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 25th, 1954

Tomorrow, my mother would have been 56. When she was alive, her birthday was spent as a brief pause in January and I always struggled with what to give her. I always found her difficult to shop for, and it was, honestly, usually a last-minute affair. Tonight, I prayed that, if it was possible, I could have all her birthdays to do over, to do right, to give her even a little of the love and care that she gave us. So I can be sure that she knew how much we loved her.

Since I can't do that, I figured for her birthday this year, I would give her two poems I wrote while she was alive but dying. I never read them to her and wouldn't have ever been brave enough to do so. But it seems like the thing to do. Happy early birthday, mama...

the final depot

In the end, it's just an ending,
it's just the end of a really beautiful tunnel
and the pulling up of all the inevitable train tracks.
there will be no detours, no stops between here and that great light.

There will be only one passenger left, and in her luggage she will have only love,
and pictures of children who have grown up wild. And it will be alternately too much and not enough
for where this train ride ends.

And we will stand, waving, on the platform until she can no longer be seen.
And we will continue to wave,
even after that, in case she can feel our hands from where she is.

And we will go home with the knowledge of a train, and a passenger, and the intractable pain that a one-way ticket causes. And we will carry engine whistles with us wherever we go.


a prayer for one heavenly and one earthly parent

to have been made, not a mistake and not a miracle, but some perfectly balanced in-between state - it's a constantly broken marvel, like some sort of carnival in a town that's sick of magic.

how could it have happened and so fast, this feeling that living is just the cracks of one broken heart and that love is just similar scarring between us?

i just want to focus on you before your gone. i want to love you like you're meant to be loved. i want to love you like you've loved us all along.

but loving those that are leaving feels both perpetual and inconstant. i will always be loving you, and from this point forward, you will always be leaving. even after your gone, i will remember the leaving more than anytime you were here.

i asked you one day, before any of this, what's it like to be one parent short? what's it like to live with a little less love than before? and your answer shows me now what i have to look forward to. it hurt like hell at first, you said. every day was raw and some were just unbelievable marathons of pain - christmas, his birthday, their anniversary. and then, some day long afterwards, it hurt just a little bit less. and then it became easier to remember his face, the way he danced with my mother, the way that he kept things together, and not just focus on the day it all came apart, the day we ceased to be a constellation and became just a set of stars apart. well, you didn't say that exactly. stars are really my father's thing, not yours. but it sounded something like that.

and i am trying to prepare for that day that our constellation will come apart, mother. i am trying to be a very good star. but the process of shining with grief is difficult and painful. and i focus more on my brokenness than anything else these days. it's not your fault - sickness (yours or mine) seems to exacerbate my inborn weaknesses and break me into big shards and little pieces, and it makes a mess that cannot be put together. i want to ask you to forgive it all - forgive my absence and my frustration, and most of all, my brokenness. that's the part that's so difficult to solve and so painful to live through.

forgive me, mother, my brokenness in sight of your brokenness. and Father, help me remember that this brokenness is not the sum of all my parts.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

the story of this decade...

yesterday i came across this article on forgoing New Year's resolutions in favor of writing the story you want to live out. I love Don Miller and this blog posting specifically captures the writing style, and theology, which make me adore him so.

given that I'm a New Year's baby, my general resolution is to turn a year older, which always happens, and thus I always fulfill my New Year's resolution. Sure, it's cheating, but it makes me feel virtuous, for all of 10 seconds, at least.

but this post got me thinking about what I want my story to be. Although I'm not really the writer of the family, I love a good plotline as much as the next person. How I'm living my life in Chicago is a reaction to the fact that I had some not-so-great subplots in my storylife before...while I've loved being home and seeing family here in PDX, I know I've temporarily given up the storyline I live in Chicago in favor of the old storyline I'd been living here. And, after 4 months away, some parts of it don't fit as well.

Bottom line: I want to write a better story than the one I've been living. I want ALL of us to write a better story - one where people are fed, injustices are addressed, safety nets exist for all of us, and we wake up one day to see that we've built a part of God's kingdom and we rejoice that we'll someday see all of it.

So, without further adieu, here are the stories I'll be writing this decade. I'd love to hear (here or in person) what yours might be.

Storyline #1 - Cat gets arrested: okay, so hear me out on this one. Recently, i've become part of many communities which make up one amazing community of support. These are people I highly respect, who are committed to putting their physical bodies on the line for a cause. I've always been a little too shy about that aspect of things. But when I went to the School of the Americas protest this year, I began to realize how much that fear had kept me from doing lots of things which would truly demonstrate my commitment to causes I believe in. Getting arrested is just the climactic scene - a visible sign that I've used this decade to become a braver, gentler warrior.

Storyline #2 - Cat starts a family: so, this one, of all the storylines i want to write, is the scariest, most embarrassing one. but i feel like i need to write it down, so i can remember (and people who love me best can hold me to) the idea that this decade is the decade i stop using people as a way to work out my own personal issues and i start looking for someone i can build a communal storyline with - one that includes kiddos and a simple life and a common commitment to building the kingdom of God. It will take time and that's okay (probably for the best, really) and I just need to remember the end scene - bringing my kiddos to the SOA, for example, or living in community with singles and families, where my kiddos feel loved and supported by more than just their parents. It's a more radical example of the comfort and safety and love I felt growing up and it's something I feel called to do with my life. But it scares the hell out of me and I have a ways to go (and a lot to be honest with myself about) before I get there. This storyline will probably be the one that causes me the most pain before the decade's through, which is okay, I guess.

Storyline #3 - Cat becomes a restorative justice mediator with juveniles: It is possible that this profession will change, but this is the decade where I finally commit to a vocation. I love wandering and cannot imagine that I will stay at the same place for most of this decade. But I'm pursuing an expensive degree (well, two of them, really) and it's probably time that I really think about how to use them. I've always been pulled towards issues of nonviolence and I've always loved working with teens. Using nonviolence tactics to work with teenagers in a way that directly challenges our current criminal justice system is beyond thrilling to me. To keep this plotline going, I will be researching conflict resolution trainings I can participate in while in Chicago, as well as more fully researching organizations nationally which do this work and scheduling informational interviews with them. I understand that this is probably the least-riveting plotline, but not every story can have explosions of the literal or figurative kind, i suppose...

Thanks for reading (or skipping to the end) of this somewhat self-aggrandizing post. I'd love to hear any feedback folks have on the article linked above, or on New Year's Resolutions in general. I like learning how people celebrate my birthday :)