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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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#MeToo: Let the Women Speak

Social media has been abuzz with the #metoo hashtag, a hashtag highlighting the personal stories of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. I could spill words on the hashtag, but instead, I’m opening up space today for my friends.

Below, you’ll find the stories of women I follow on social media. Read their tweets. Listen.

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Today, make space to listen to a #metoo victim in your life.

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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.

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Where Wonder Lives

I bird-dog my way down to northern Louisiana, following a lead on a story near my grandfather’s old stomping grounds. Four miles from Black Bayou, I roll the windows down, and I smell the humidity, the cypress sap, the sweet mud. There is Bartholomew Lake, just to the east. In the bones of an ancient cypress, anhinga perch. Spanish moss beards the limbs of the living trees. A truck runs too close to the shoulder of the highway, and I hear the duh-dum duh-dum of the “waker-uppers.” I am seven again, riding shotgun in my grandfather’s green chevy, feet dangling from the bench seat. I am holding a box of hot cinnamon rolls while my grandfather passes down his mastery of colorful language and his knowledge of the shape of a woman. My ears and cheeks redden.

This world is a wardrobe to another time and place. Wonder lives there.

I cannot stop my car from careening into the Black Bayou entrance. I am pulled to the mud, to my kin, to the ghosts. On the banks, I stare into the water and see myself again. Now, with unveiled eyes.

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Confessions of a Drug Dealer (A Recovery Room Post)

It’s National Recovery Month, and in celebration, I’ve invited Laura Beth Martin, my favorite drug dealer (a pharmacist to be exact), to bring an offering to the table. I met Laura at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago, found out she was an Arkansas girl who had a penchant for pie and drawling i-s. Enjoy her piece, then head over to her site for more of her writing.

Welcome Laura Beth Martin to the Recovery Room.

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Her voice falters and slips as I ask her how she’s doing. I notice her tired eyes and the purple half-circles underneath them. Her arms are thinner than I’ve ever seen, and I worry what that means. There’s no baby in her belly now either.

I notice that too.

My hand quickly finds her name among the sea of white prescription bags, and I place hers on the counter. I smile and ask her gently how she’s doing. She tells me now about her flat belly.

The baby came last week. Thin and long like her momma. She gives me all the standard details and shares the name she chose. As she speaks she chokes up, tears filling her brown eyes, as the words tumble out.

“They took them. They took both my children.”

And the realization of what her world looks like slams me hard in the face and I lean forward my hand gripping that counter, knuckles turning white.

“I’m sorry.” I tell her. “I’m so sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, she says. It’s my fault. I did this.”

“Does CPS have them in foster care now?” I ask.

She nods, taking the sack from my hand. “But the baby is still in the hospital. They didn’t even let me tell my little boy good-bye.”

“That’s hard. Do you know what you need to do to get them back?”

“Yes,” she says, “and I’m doing it. I’m keeping my visitation and I’m following my steps.”

She is crying now.

“I can’t breathe without them,” she whispers.

And there, in that moment, I can see her the way Jesus sees her, scared, alone, vulnerable, hurting and confused. And I’m ashamed of my heart when I compare it to his. So many times, as a pharmacist I stand on one side of that counter and see people for who they appear to be, or who I want them to be.

The addict. The dealer. The user. The manipulator. The liar. The sinner.
I get so frustrated, so tired of being on the receiving end of attempts to use the medical system for drugs.

I’m hard hearted. A cynic.

And this is an easy thing to do when my own sin isn’t an addiction that everyone can see. When it doesn’t publicly cost me my children, or my job, or my church membership. When I can tuck that sin away and ask God for forgiveness and no one is the wiser. It allows me to create levels of separation for sin, a caste system of religious hierarchy where I can justify my own while judging everyone else for theirs. And the mask of the perfect Christian can remain firmly cemented in place.

But what if my sin were apparent? What if everyone knew I had an anger problem? Or had adulterous thoughts? Or cursed like a sailor? What if the worst thing I’ve ever thought or done was displayed for everyone to see?
My shame would undo me.

As Christians, we often want to believe that those with addictions have the power to stop whenever they want, as if there’s a light switch you turn on or off to quit craving your drug of choice. We want to believe that they have complete power over their sin.

No one has that.

Even the ones who keep the front row pews warm three times a week cannot claim to have themselves under control. We cannot white-knuckle our way through the depths of our humanness. It simply isn’t possible.

There is no one righteous, not even one.

And Jesus knows this.

He knows we are forever recovering from ourselves, thus he continually offers his grace cupped and overflowing from palms scarred. He whispers to the addict in us all,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)

[Enjoy Laura Beth Martin’s writing? Visit her website.]

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Want to read a recovery narrative that’s about so much more than recovery? Grab a copy (or 10) of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

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