“Dusty Gods.”

…and I promise that things got better. But first, as they usually do, they got WAAAAY worse. This one demonstrates my depression, having left my home,  in a very distinct way. I thought that you’d appreciate it too.


Dusty Gods

I waken to the dance of rainbow skulls

Cascading off the wall of the taqueria

And melting in the river’s rushing stream.

I feel my sorrow’s flood of greenish tears,

The sting and ache of loss, loss, loss, loss, loss…

My garish grief explodes in bursts of song,

And bubbles up in jagged, bitter sobs.

I miss my home, and everyone I love.

 

I don’t surrender to the whirlwind. Instead,

I toss the cardboard boxes out the door,

And take my students on a winding trek

From lush Sumerian gardens into Babylon,

From Milton into middle America.

Each silent tear is like a tom-tom beat,

And each serrated wail an aching hymn

To dusty gods I left behind in Ur.

The depth of my depression waits an endless cymbal-crash,

Like rain still beating on an Irish castle wall.

 

My father is a wandering Aramean,

A Hittite shaman of the snake-charm school.

He plays his magic flute every six weeks or so,

To trick the drowsy, foolish passersby

Into believing that he’s tamed the viper’s tongue,

Into the illusion that they’re forever safe

From soft, sibilant, sibylline deceit.

I fought that surly viper, and I won;

I struck its head clean off, and though it grew anew,

I found it smaller and with fewer scales.

Its poison did not penetrate my heart.

When next it bit me, I could salt the wound,

Bind up, and shoulder my wearisome pack

To wander down to Egypt or to Luz.

 

I do not yield to swift tornadoes; no, I stand.

I stand upon the purple wooden bridge, looking down,

Collapsing all my heartache into a strident gaze,

Still searching for the verdant home I lost.

I long for ashes, and for ancient dust, the mulch

Of oak and maple trees from ’94,

The stark simplicity of enemies

(As though an enemy should make a wall,

Rather than the rich man building walls to cage

His sullen, silent, starving friends turned foes),

The gentle touch of golden callused skin.

 

Old Midas could not yearn for shining gold

The way I yearn for love in touch and taste,

And Dr. Armstrong’s age-old child’s leap

Across the lunar surface is a solid type

Of how I feel when I hear friendship’s voice.

Then newborn worlds spin beneath white suns,

And burning crosses in the Californian foothills

Feel all the grasping fingers of the rain.

When laughing friendship finds a home with me,

I spin in my true orbit through the dark.

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“Green Hope Cloaked in Darkness”: a sermon for Wine Before Breakfast.

…and, on the Tuesday before Good Friday, I preached a short sermonette on Mark 15. It’s contained below. The sermon concerns my experience of disability, and other phenomena, as betrayal and loss.

I hope you like it!

Green Hope Cloaked in Darkness: Wine Before Breakfast, March 27th, 2018

I remember that feeling well; at one moment, I had been standing mostly upright on my mother’s front steps in December of 2008, shoveling away snow, feeling pretty useful. The next moment, pain was radiating up and down my lower back, and into my legs, and I felt like I could hardly move…I had pulled a large muscle, and I felt like I was betrayed by my own body. I felt like I had lost motion, and agency. I felt such pain, both physically and psychologically.

On other days, I have had serious conversations with family, and with friends. People are happy together, and then they break up; friends move away; often, people die. All of this is loss.

In moments like these, I have felt betrayal and loss. In the same way, when I think about Jesus’ death, I think mostly of betrayal and loss. (SING: “Every time I think about Jesus…”)

The passages before this show us that the religious authorities mock Jesus—one form of betrayal—and that Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, denies Jesus in front of others, because he’s afraid to be recognized and taken in for punishment…another kind of betrayal and loss.

Then Jesus undergoes another humiliation: after the Jewish leaders demand the Lord’s crucifixion, Pilate lets his soldiers make fun of Jesus with whips and a crown of thorns. I have never worn such a crown, but I imagine that it hurt, a great deal: Jesus is dizzy, and has blood pouring out of his scalp and other parts of his body…and all the while, the soldiers shout, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then he stumbles to Golgotha, with the help of Simon of Cyrene, while he’s carrying a big cross made of wood. Then the crowd makes fun of him some more, while he’s nailed to the tree. The tree brings pain, and remembrance of rebellion. On this tree, Jesus will pull himself up by inches, struggling to breathe, over several hours; on this tree, he will die.

Jesus is being beaten, mocked, and slowly killed, over the excruciating course of hours, because he believes in peace and love. He believes in a different economic system; he empowers women, and people with disabilities, and other people marginalized by his society. Friends, our brother Jesus is being killed because he wants to show people the way to goodness.

Betrayal and loss. Jesus goes to the cross because Judas has handed him over to the Romans; he goes to the cross because the Jewish establishment wants to retain some shred of false dignity and power. Some say that Jesus goes to the cross to forgive sins. I believe that…

Yeah. I believe it, and I can sing it, but it’s really hard to act out the forgiveness of sins. I know that my body can betray me, and it does—a little bit every day—and it is hard to forgive that, to slow down and to be patient with my reluctant muscles. Similarly, sometimes, I have tense conversations with people I love, and we say hurtful things. It’s hard to forgive then too. And as others have pointed out to us in recent weeks, it is difficult to extend divine generosity to people who are in love with power and wealth, and who would use violence to protect it.

I’m sure that you know how I feel. I know that you feel betrayal and loss, too. Am I right? (Wait…) Yeah. We all have a rough idea of how Jesus feels…

So is there hope in this passage, hope at the foot of the Cross? Yes. There is…but that hope is tenuous, and fragile. We see in verses 40 and 41 that a number of women are watching from a distance, enacting shared grief, as Luke talked about last week. They trust Jesus, and they follow him to the end. A bit later, Joseph of Arimathea gives us hope too, because he gives Jesus’ body a decent burial in a new tomb. All that said…

Our hope is muted, and cloaked in darkness, and we must wait…

We wait, in the darkness of the early spring, for the green pulse of hope. We don’t know entirely what that hope looks like, or when it will come…but we dwell here together, with our yearning, and our feelings of loss. I hope that our empathy and solidarity are enough. Amen.

“Walking to La Ramblas.”

Walking to La Ramblas: Meditations on Loss and Grief

A few minutes ago, I read about a terrorist attack in Barcelona, and I’m still in recovery from the shock and terror of reading about Charlottesville a few days ago.

Let me be as clear as I can: evil actions make me sick. I know that I’ve hurt others, especially with my words, but I have never engaged in acts of hatred that kill others. I feel that denouncing, hating, and killing others for the colour of their skin, as for any other essential characteristic, is reprehensible.

I cannot imagine why people would commits actions like these, and so sometimes, all I can do is cry, and wish that the world were a better place. I cry because—by virtue of my white skin—I am complicit in racism; I weep because, as Tennyson wrote long ago, “I am a part of all that I have met.” For that matter, I’m part of all those I haven’t met, as well. I mourn because, for terrible reasons, human beings kill our own people. We kill our own flesh and blood.

Reflecting on the weight of human loss and grief in the last few days alone is very difficult. It makes EVERYTHING harder, because the grief obscures our hope.

In my heart, I walk with those who recently attended a candlelight vigil in Charlottesville, and sang Pete Seeger’s “We Shall Overcome.” “We are not afraid, we are not afraid…” In my heart, I weep with those who mourn their lost loved ones in Catalonia. What else can I do

I can pray. I find myself doing that constantly anyway.

I can write, and sing, about peace; I can particularly do the latter with my friends.

And I can love. By myself, I’m not enough, but it’s a start.

“Atlas.”

I wrote this one last night, as I felt sad and angry for various reasons.

I dedicate this meditation on loss and grief to the memory of Prince.


Atlas

Although my springing joy, still glowing green,

Returns with every orbit of the Sun,

I feel the weight of grief, like dark-grey clouds

Foretelling storms that last for forty years,

Descending on my soul to grind it down.

The planet’s weight still falls upon my back;

The turquoise seas and cirrus clouds still spin

Around my aching shoulders, and I feel

As though their weight will spell my spirit’s end.

 

My soul is whirling in the wake of loss…

The smiles never shared, the scarlet wine

Our lips would never taste, the soft embrace

That lives in dream alone and will not be

Are swallowing the April joys I feel.

Where are the memories of hue and sound

To save me from the depthless shadow’s weight?

 

The glass of glowing berry wine with friends,

The clash of steel guitars in pouring rain,

The heat of soft embrace—of lips and hands—

Can whisper me to life, and save my soul

From soft entombment in the soundless cave

Where gaunt Despair still wears his iron crown

And calls forth bony angels to their doom.

 

I grasp the ancient rope of memory,

And test its mettle on the onyx stones:

I hear the songs of joyous Irishmen,

And feel the beat of Bonham’s slickest groove;

I smell the waters of the eastern sea.

I taste chourizo sausage, chased by wine

Mixed in the wilderness of western Spain.

 

Although the world’s weight still bruises me,

I bear it more, and do not stagger so.

The vineyard of my well-worn memory,

The garden of my great and growing hope,

The deep desire of my tender heart,

Will give me strength to lift each holy stone.