To My Sons #4

We call America the land of the free, but hasn’t it become the land of the powerful? They chase after underage women then sweep it under the rug. They grab women by the genitals, or at least claim they can. The powerful purchase elections, or try to, anyhow. The powerful take and take and take and leave the rest of us to clean up their messes, sometimes the bodies. America—some have called it a Christian nation. I’m not sure what that means anymore.

The Haines family retreated into the heart of the Ozarks a few weeks ago, hid in the heart of the stone. With no cell reception and spotty internet connections, we did what came naturally. Skip rocks across shallow pools in the near-dried out creek bed. Watch herons and kingfishers hunt in those same pools. Kick up dust on a long walk down a dirt road. Bathe in the musk of black walnut husks. Watch the paint run laps through the ragweed. Be.

The natural world is a gentler place,  somehow freer than the world tethered to media, to CNN, Twitter, Facebook, this blog. The natural world is every epiphany that matters. It is  a garden.

I followed my sons down a country road, and considered the world we’re giving them. It’s bleak, even in the beauty of autumn. And in that contemplation, I jotted a few notes about my hopes for them, about the things I hope they learn. Those notes became the first draft of this poem.

To My Sons #4
Life—a thousand presents
to pull from packages
to take, to own, to show.
The Successful motivated
me, us, them, everyone,
with words and slogans:
Yours for the taking;
Bull by the balls;
Women for the Victors.
They lied through
chubbied cheeks,
taking our ambition first,
Our money next,
our dignity finally.

Sons, I could teach you
to use those lies
for advantage—yours, ours.
But this is dignity:
remember the joy in
the diving kingfisher;
laugh at the blue heron belch;
mourn the bleaching
crawfish carcass;
taste wild honey.
Know how the world
of the men named Success
is not this world at all.
It was never mine or yours;
it is ours and our sons,
and it’s not for taking
but for giving.

 

***FEED THE BEAST***

Do you like the content here or in my bi-monthly Tiny Letter? Do you read it over morning coffee? Want to help defray the costs of FEEDING THIS BEAST? JOIN ME in the lab, the fun factory, the place I try out new things to see if they’ll stick. (Ahem… my Patreon community.) For as little as $2 a month, you can get great content (and sweet rewards). And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

What is True (My 40th Confession)

I’ve crossed the threshold into life’s second half. Forty; four decades; one-half of eighty. The exuberance of my twenties is gone, the thought that the world was somehow mine to take by the tail. The gut punch of the thirties is a memory too, the winded nausea that results from anything overwrought. Thank God Almighty.

Forty came, somehow, like the morning sun waking Bayou Desiard. It settled in, patient as the heron on the bank, waiting. It was the daybreak that cleared the fog.

In the weeks of waking before my birthday, I turned to intentional reflection. I set out to make note of the things I believe, the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve experienced in my body as true. I explored the ideas I’d yet to practice too, the places where knowing hadn’t translated to proper doing. And as the sun rose over the stretch of my beliefs, experiences, and shortcomings, I caught a reflection of my true self in those waters.

As for the things I’ve experienced as true, they are few. The sound of a Martin guitar on the front porch. The smell of hiding in  my grandma’s cedar chest. Mulberry jam. The mesquite grove. The scissor-tailed flycatcher. Love. Marriage. Sex. And this: the way bread and wine transforms under the words of institution; the way those man-made, God-given gifts become (no matter what men say) the body and blood of Christ; the way the bread sticks to the ribs, his body becoming part of our body; the way the wine sucks the damned poison from our DNA, the way it eases the pain; how the sacrifice of Christ becomes more than a good idea; how the Eucharist is life.

(For more of my Eucharist story, follow this link and listen to “Dispatches, Vol. 2.”)

True sacrifice is a mirror, and what is a truer sacrifice than body and blood given for the life of the world? What is a truer mirror?

This, I suppose, leads me to the confession. As I turned to examination of the things I’d believed but hadn’t practiced, I saw this in the mirror: the way I paid lip service to the poor and marginalized, maybe even made financial sacrifices on their behalf before patting myself on the back; the way I’d thought and thought and thought about the trouble of the orphan, even how I’ve written about it; the way I’ve thrown my two-cents into Twitter’s coin slot and hoped the responses would end up triple 7s. It’s easy to get behind the idea of service. Wearing service like a rumpled suit, though, is a different story.

Last night, I spoke with my friend, Enneagram coach and Jedi force-wielder, Chris Hueretz. We talked through my proposentity to think, to strategize, to turn that thinking and strategy to written words, maybe even financial sacrifice. I shared my reflections with him and said, “I have this working theory that seventy… maybe eighty… no, ninety percent of our power complexes, interpersonal struggles, and political hand-wringing would work itself out if we’d just put our bodies in the way of sacrificial service.” He laughed, knowing this was a sort of epiphanal awakening for a Five (wing 4) Enneagram type. Between laughs, he gave it to me straight: You think?

I’ve pushed into my fortieth year of living, and I suppose I’m ready to put this on the page. I’m ready to stop thinking about service, about offering my own body and blood for the sake of the world. I’m ready to live into the thing I know to be true. Sacrifice, body and blood, Eucharist—this is supposed to be our way of being; it’s the gift we’re supposed to carry to the world.

What’s this mean for me in the years to come? I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m exploring. And in that exploration, I’m hoping to work my way into a sort of Eucharistic integrity, by which I mean this: the integrity of a life conforming to holy sacrifice. Without that, what does it mean to be Christian?

 

***join me***

Do you like the content here or in my bi-monthly Tiny Letter? Do you read it over morning coffee? Want to help defray the costs of the veritable coffee plantation that fuels my writing? Then JOIN ME in the lab, the fun factory, the place I try out new things to see if they’ll stick. (Ahem… my Patreon community.) What is Patreon? It’s a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

An Earnest Wish (On the Murders in Texas)

On November 5, a lone gunman hunted saints in a small church in Sutherland Springs. On Sunday, babies, mothers, the elderly died in one man’s video-game-come-to-life, and by Thursday, America is back to business as usual. We’ve moved on to tax bills and China and the best new shows on Netflix. We’re back to our obligations, our PTA meetings, our to-do lists. We’re holding our smart phones closer than our wives and babies.

 

Maybe those saints in Sutherland Springs believed the God-man when he said: “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” Maybe I do, too.

Even still, I wish he’d conquer it a little bit better.

***join me***

Do you like the content here or in my bi-monthly Tiny Letter? Do you read it over morning coffee? Want to help defray the costs of the veritable coffee plantation that fuels my writing? Then JOIN ME in the lab, the fun factory, the place I try out new things to see if they’ll stick. (Ahem… my Patreon community.) What is Patreon? It’s a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

What is America?

Yesterday was All Saints Sunday, and during the prayers of the people, I prayed for the departed saints in Sutherland Springs, Texas, all 26 of them, including no less than three children, a woman who was 5 months pregnant, and the the elderly who could duck, or run, or whatever.

What good is prayer? I genuinely wonder sometimes, but in that wondering, I prayed for America, too. America the wasteland.

**************************

 

Who are we? What is America?

America–land of insanity, of gun rights and rage, of itchy trigger fingers.

America–land of politicians with their soothing words signifying nothing, the genetically-modified weeds growing among God’s wheat.

America–where a good run up in the stock market or consumer confidence or the coming #BLACKFRIDAYDEALS or positive cattle futures or any news of prosperity numbs our collective consciousness to death, death, death, death.

America–where we pay lip service to the life of the unborn but shell out big bucks to preserve the capacity for one man to commit mass murder and infanticide.

America–where rifles spit bullets into the Body of Christ. On a Sunday. In November. Blackest of days, again.

America--you are heartless, and where is the soul when there is no heart, beating?

**************************

***join me***

Do you like the content here or in my bi-monthly Tiny Letter? Do you read it over morning coffee? Want to help defray the costs of the veritable coffee plantation that fuels my writing? Then JOIN ME in the lab, the fun factory, the place I try out new things to see if they’ll stick. (Ahem… my Patreon community.) What is Patreon? It’s a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

powered by TinyLetter

 

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Reaching From The Shadows (And For The Sun)

I’m building a little membership community over at Patreon. If you like what I’m doing here, I think you’ll enjoy that community. Would you consider joining for as little as $2.00 a month? If you do, you’ll get access to my mini-podcast (“Dispatches”), my interview series “The Places I write,” and short story or two. Come along.

***

1.

Ten years ago, I was watching Austin City Limits when an orchestra and choir wearing technicolored choir robes took the stage. Their vocal arrangement was tight, the instrumentation precise, their dancing boisterous. As they played, they jumped and spun and danced and were in every manner of speaking foolish. It was the most beautiful foolishness.

They were the Polyphonic Spree, and they continued their full-bodies performance, singing “just follow the seasons and buy the time; reach for the bright side. … Just follow the day and reach for the sun.”

It was an invitation.

2.

Every year about this time, I sink into a sort of quiet melancholy. It’s not the sort of melancholy that lands me in the bed for days on end or in the therapist’s office. In fact, it’s not a particularly unhealthy melancholy. It’s more of a realization that I’m little more than breathing dust, that I’m more shadow than gold (though I might like you to think otherwise), that I’m the incarnation of Solomon’s wisdom. It’s the sort of melancholy that might be concerning if it weren’t so damned cyclical, and though I’ve tried to push it down for most of my life, I don’t feel the need anymore. I’m honest with it. It’s part of the process of living.

This morning, I woke with the sense that the melancholy might be moving on. I sat with the scriptures, read about dying to live, about the process of reaching toward the true sun (the sun that gives light to everything). And meditating on those scriptures, that old Polyphonic Spree tune came to mind.

“Follow the day and reach for the sun.”

Outside, the sun climbed over the horizon and I saw an oak falling into its own autumnal melancholy. It’s shadow spread across the yard, but it wasn’t all shadow. In the canopy, the leaves were beginning to turn. They were gold, reaching from the shadows and up to the sun.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.