Thursday, July 28, 2011

rush hour

parkway on a busy day
hurry from the gym,
off to work,
any siren barely heard
over my radio and my thoughts

everyone wonders,
"did i leave early enough?"
and thinks
"if i make this light, i won't be late"

but, what catches my eye
amid the bustle of normal
is butterfly wings
carrying a transformed
on a crooked journey
across rush hour;

she didn't cause this
parkway hurricane
she just showed me,
for a moment,
the eye of the storm

Idealism and Realism

We need college students. College students are important to our society. Sure, we need them because in future years, they will be taking on the role of leading and managing our society. But we need them now, before they take on as significant role in leadership, social infrastructure, and the economy as they will in the future.

Here's why we need them now. We need their (I know it's cliché) youthful idealism. Society needs their extreme opinions, their firmly-held positions on the so-called right and on the so-called left. We need them to be isolated, to some degree, in the university. We need them to be financially isolated, socially isolated, and philosophically isolated. See, when they're isolated, they're able to view and talk about the world idealistically (instead of realistically). They're able to push the boundaries, to call themselves and others to radical stances and radical actions.

We need these calls from the edges, opinions from the margins. They keep the rest of us honest; they remind the rest of us that what we've come to expect, and what we experience as normal, might not be right.

We do, of course, experience personal and systemic shock whenever the idealistic meets the realistic. It's a shock when idealistic vegetarianism discovered in college meets grandma's thanksgiving dinner. It's a shock when idealistic religious expression discovered in seminary meets a real parish full of real people. It's a shock when idealistic political position meets the real world necessity for compromise, or at least civility.

In this shock, though, is where society has the opportunity to grow. The trouble though, enters in when those who are more grounded in the status quo do not listen to the idealists. If it weren't for some who were willing to listen to wisdom from the fringes, we'd still have institutionalized slavery based on skin color, and women's second-class status would be legal (to name two of the most obvious examples). And if it weren't for those on the fringes being willing to listen to wisdom from the center of society, we'd either all be vegetarian, or there would be oil wells drilled on every other square mile across the country.

The middle needs the fringes (especially those fringes we don't agree with) pushing us to be better. And the fringes need the middle, keeping us sane and civil, and reminding us that we're all in this together.

In my estimation, this is what's missing in our national political conversation these days ~ the fringes aren't willing to listen to wisdom from the center, and the center isn't willing to stand up for what's actually helpful.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Story and Music

I've been spending some time recently listening to two recordings, both of which are recent acquisitions for me. One I picked up for $1.07, plus a lot of sifting through records at Goodwill. It's a National Geographic Society recording of Music From the Ozarks, Copyright 1972. The musicianship isn't "studio quality" ~ it's better. Not technically better, but the music sounds like it comes from the center of life, and that it's interwoven through every part of the musicians' existence. I imagine the fiddles and banjos being passed down from generation to generation. And most of the dulcimers and guitars are homemade. A wooden box, railroad lumber, and some metal hardware may not be as expensive, and may not sound as 'perfect', as a guitar worth thousands of dollars, but it makes music, and that's enough.

The other I received as a gift. It's a new album called "Storydwelling". The idea behind this record, as I interpret it, is that music is a phenomenal way for each of us to share with our community a piece of our own story. The idea, I as I understand it, is not that everyone must become a songwriter and musician in order to tell their story through song. Rather, it is to create a space and a place where people (in whatever way makes sense) can share a piece of their own story.

It seems to me that our contemporary western society has lost most of our predilection for telling stories. We still, as human people, are fed by stories. In fact, television functions almost exclusively as a storytelling device. But these aren't our stories ~ they're fantasies that lead us to false hope and unwarranted unhealthy expectations.

The stories we tell ourselves tell us who we are. Do we want hollywood to take on that role, or do we want to tell ourselves true stories of who we are, and who we will be becoming? What would it be like if we turned off the televisions (and other electronic media) so that we could sing songs and tell stories together?


Saturday, July 16, 2011

authentic music

It's no secret that I like music ~ I have since I was old enough to remember. I recall (in the days before online lyric searches) asking my mom to transcribe Wild Montana Skies so I could sing along with John Denver. I didn't, and probably still don't, have the best voice or pitch, but I've always loved being able to participate in creating music.

I certainly appreciate individuals and groups who have a large stage, who are well known, especially if they're playing their own instruments and writing their own music. I've also discovered, and rediscovered, that I really enjoy listening to artists who aren't big names. And hearing artists who I've met, who I've personally interacted with, play their music is something that really thrills me. It doesn't even matter whether the music is great ~ what I resonate with is that the artists put themselves in a vulnerable position, sharing themselves in a way that transcends the simple spoken word. But when the music is good, when the lyrics fit with the lyrics and with the music in compelling ways, it's a much deeper experience of music (and maybe even of the divine) than the latest pop song snaking through a white earphone up from a pocket ever could be.

Of course, I'm guilty of listening to music through those white earphones on occasion. I have to say, though, that I have three albums of music on my ipod that (a) I enjoy listening to, and (b) I enjoy listening to much more because I've met the artists.

Live in Vermont by Kent Gustavson and Micah Schonberg sounds like an ideal evening on the front porch ~ a couple guys who know each other well playing music together. This record makes me think of what music ought to be at its most fundamental level ~ that which brings people together and creates community.

Another album that continues to get under my skin is Captive Audience by the duo Fair Witness. I met these two amazing musicians at the Greenbelt Festival a couple years ago when I was there leading the musicians who played the Light Into the World liturgy (written by Kent Gustavson ... see above). I went to their CD release show at the festival. Seeing them live added so much to the lyricism of Suzanne's voice and Sandy's guitar, that I've been listening to them ever since.

The third record is Storydwelling by Heatherlyn. I met her when I preached for a group of high school students who were beginning a week of service work in Denver. As soon as Heathrlyn started singing, I was hooked. But beyond the music, what grabs me about this album is the idea behind it ~ that through music, we can share deep parts of our own story with one another, thereby healing relationships and creating community. And it's not just the idea ~ the music is good. Much of what she does walks a comfortable line of tension between 'I'm a Christian" songs and real songs about real life & real people (can you tell from my tone of blog that I dislike the former and appreciate the latter?).

These three records are reminders that one thing we're missing in our over-electronicized world is that most of us don't create music together. In fact, I think I'll turn off the computer right now and go practice the fiddle.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Woman Alone at the Bus Stop

you could see it in the
curve of her shoulders, the
slump of her back.
you could see it in
her eyes
a hint of her former confidence

was easy
in her teens, and even
through those first years
after college
"Anything is Possible"
she said out loud, and even
believed herself
"The World is My Oyster"
and other clichés

but the years have
weighed on her shoulders, and
dimmed the gleam once
omnipresent, always
surprising everyone who
looked in her eyes.

now, for parties,
job interviews, and most
grocery store runs
she puts on a

which masks the pain just below
a confident façade that gets
chipped away as she daydreams
in the anonymity of a city bus stop

Last Night's Rain

last night's rain
keeps this morning
still cool
today will warm,
but the morning still
- along with my steaming tea -
provides respite and
anticipatory sanctuary
from noon's heat

later i'll see him,
sleeping bag draped over a
shopping cart -
last night's rain treated
me better than it did him

someone used to camp in that bag,
high in the mountains.
it's been rained on before;
only for a minute, though,
waiting for the seam-sealed tent,
fly pulled taught against
mountain wind and stinging sleet,
to be erected -
then, down comfort sheltered in a
nylon sanctuary

today there's a new sleeping bag
lighter, more compact
that didn't experience last night's rain,
so the old, given away,
now dries on a shopping cart and
with luck and dry sunshine
will provide some comfort
against tonight's rain

Monday, July 11, 2011

I miss cycling

Today I'm five weeks past ankle surgery; I go to see the orthopedist in a couple days so that he can evaluate my recovery so far and direct my continued recovery over the next weeks. What I'm really hoping for is that I can stop wearing the (hot, cumbersome, smelly) boot that I've been wearing which has stabilized my ankle through the initial weeks of recovery.

I'm looking forward to getting the boot off, even though the thought causes some anxiety about how secure I'll really feel. I'm looking forward to the rehabilitation work I'll be doing to strengthen the inner workings of that ankle, so that hopefully it'll be stable in the end.

But more than anything, I'm looking forward to being able to exercise again. I haven't been able to do any cardio workouts for the past month, and I've been too lazy (or maybe discouraged) to do much strength training. And of the possible cardio workouts, I've missed cycling the most. I miss morning training rides; I miss riding my fixie through downtown; I miss commuting to work; I miss riding to the grocery store, and riding home with a backpack full of healthful food that will fuel more riding; I miss riding around the neighborhood with my kids; I miss riding with my kids to where they need to go; I miss the little bit of singletrack riding I take time to do.

Hopefully the doctor will tell me on Wednesday that I can start getting back into shape, and that my ankle is strong enough to handle some time clipped in and spinning down the road.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


So, I've been walking around for the past four weeks with a big, rigid, post-surgery boot on my foot (which is referred to by one member of my household as a FrankenFoot). It's designed to keep my ankle stable so it can heal. I've had people ask me recently how much longer I have to wear the boot, and I've had people commiserate with me about how much of a pain in the neck it is to have to wear it.

Honestly, it has hardly been an issue at all. At first, I wore it all the time, because my ankle hurt, and the boot provided protection. Then, I wore it most of the time, taking it off whenever I was planning to be stationary for a while. Now, I generally walk around the house with no boot. Of course, I'm very careful about how I walk, making sure to only step on flat and stable surfaces.

For the past couple weeks, I've been able to walk around on almost any terrain, with the boot on, without any problems at all. The boot provides so much stability for my ankle, that I'm fully confident in my ability to get around.

Next week I go to see the doctor. Hopefully, at that appointment, he'll tell me that the boot is no longer necessary, that I'll be able to begin physical therapy, and that I can actually get a cardio workout again. Two weeks ago, I expected to be getting more and more excited as the time I had to wear the boot got less and less. However, this has not been my experience.

"One week to go", I told someone today. Then, when I examined my feelings, I realized that I was excited, but at the same time somewhat anxious. See, as soon as the boot comes off, the dangers of uneven terrain become much more of a problem. I'm sure that eventually my ankle will be healed and strong enough that I'll be confident walking around. But to lose the boot, my security and stability, all at once means that I'll be vulnerable. I've gotten used to the boot, and especially to the stability it provides. But if I don't take it off, my ankle will never gain any strength, and I'll continue to have to rely on stability coming from outside, instead of building up my own strength.

There's got to be some pithy moral in there somewhere, but it's too late to figure it out.


Monday, July 4, 2011

a prayer for the 4th

let freedom ring
across our nation
for me and for my american dream

let freedom ring
for immigrants today
just as freedom beckoned
my own ancestors to these
self-proclaimed hallowed shores

let freedom ring
in the workplace,
that workers, managers, and owners
are free from the bonds of poverty
and free from the shackles of
excessive wealth

let freedom ring
all across the globe
freedom from tyranny, and
freedom for self-determination
even when their opinion
doesn't match ours
even if they won't end up
emulating us

let freedom from warfare
ring loudest of all
freedom from our national
addiction to violence, and
give us freedom from our
national need for
perceived superiority;

let freedom ring -
freedom discovered in
humility and service

may we recognize and honor
every nation under G-d;
may G-d bless america
and may G-d bless
(just as much)
all of G-d's children in
every nation.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

remembering Wild Goose

months of flitting back and forth
on twitter, and
facebook encouragement
drew us through the air &
along the roads
to green fields
edged by woods, and
touched by southern sun

tents sprang up,
sanctuaries day & night
as we,
body of Christ
sheep in that field,
becoming flock
for the weekend;
all of us yearning
one way or another
to be found again;
yearning to belong

music and words, spoken & sung
- shared -
brought us together
even while illuminating our differences

yet we are bound,
held together,
by the unpredictable and
inevitably surprising
Holy Spirit,
at times, wild as a goose

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fourth of July

I saw a t-shirt recently that said "Land of the free because of the Brave", which reminded me that the Fourth of July is coming up. Here in USAmerica, we'll have parades, we'll celebrate the genesis of our nation, we'll honor and recognize the sacrifice made by individuals and families who serve our nation.

Most of our respect and honor will be directed toward those who serve our nation in the military. Military service members make huge sacrifices in order to do the work to which they are called. There is tremendous danger, especially for those who are deployed to combat areas. Even when a service member is not injured, they make significant sacrifices (they are moved away from family and friends, there is tremendous stress when family members are separated by deployment, and many of the freedoms the rest of us enjoy are curtailed in the course of their service). It is entirely appropriate that we honor members of the military for the work they do.

The piece of our Fourth of July celebration (and our other nationalist celebrations) that always give me pause is the type of patriotism which assumes that the work of the military maintains freedom for the rest of the nation. I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. Yes, this may be an inflammatory statement, but hopefully my seven readers will bear with me for a moment.

The major conflicts in which our military has been involved during the twentieth century (as I recall them) are: World War One, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. None of these wars and conflicts actually threatened our freedom or sovereignty. The closest we got to having a foreign entity encroach on our soil was the attack on Pearl Harbor which catapulted us into World War Two. And remember, at the time of the attack, Hawai'i was a US territory (Hawai'i was admitted as a state in 1959, well after the end of the war). There was no realistic threat to either our sovereignty or our freedom during the twentieth century.

And so, the sacrifices made by members of the military through the twentieth century were made on behalf of citizens of other nations rather than US citizens. To sacrifice for one's own group (or family, or nation) is certainly admirable and honorable. However, in my mind, it is a greater sacrifice to put oneself at risk for the other, for someone who is an outsider.

Of course that changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when there was a deadly attack which happened on USAmerican soil. I would argue, though, that the attack was intended to inflict injury rather than to take over our land; and so, even then on that horrific day, I'm not entirely convinced that our freedom was threatened, unless we consider financial institutions (which led us to the recent economic meltdown) to be inseparable from our freedom.

But still, I will conceded that the conflict in Afghanistan may be directly related to the defense of our freedom. However, this is now the longest-running military conflict in the nation's history. And it seems like, perhaps, the enormity of our military expenditures have restricted led to a slower and more prolonged economic recovery ... have led to fewer economic freedom for USAmericans.

Even still, we should absolutely and without question honor the work of the members of our military for their service to our country. I'd also be curious, though, what it would look like for us to more consciously and obviously honor people who are called to other vocations than military, but who still serve our nation nonetheless. What about honoring civil servants, AmeriCorps volunteers, public officials? Though it has become the most obvious, there are more ways to serve the country than the military.