Sunday, May 29, 2011

For Alyssa: A Wendell Berry Poem on Our First Anniversary

The Country of Marriage
by Wendell Berry

I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.

This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth’s empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.

Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen tine and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.

What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.

I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy–and this poem,
no more mine than any man’s who has loved a woman.

--from "The Country of Marriage: Poems"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Pottery Wheel!

There it is: the Shimpo VL-Lite, in all its 100-watt, 1/2 horsepower glory. It'll be arriving in Liberty sometime this week. And I will, too. More posts to come soon...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fellowship with Lotus House

Yesterday, Alyssa and I had the privilege of spending time with some new friends at Lotus House, an intentional community in St. Louis. The good folks at Lotus opened their home to a gathering of several intentional communities in the area, including a couple Catholic Worker houses. We ate and laughed and got to know one another, and then afterward a few of us stayed behind outside to play some music. It was a beautiful thing. 

A home for bees! (Not honeybees).
Lots. and lots. of food. Alyssa and I had grilled portobello mushrooms.

After we ate, we all gathered (about 20 of us) in the yard and prayed together, with a combination of readings from Common Prayer, a hymn, and a couple poems by Wendell Berry. Since we're in the middle of the planting season, our prayers were mainly agriculture-themed:

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
(Psalm 65:9-13)

And a Wendell Berry poem:

The Man Born to Farming
The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?

Spending time with such open and loving people got me to thinking about community again.

Some day, I hope to set up a coalition or advocacy group for intentional living within an institution such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We would serve as a sort of exploratory committee, doing experiments within community settings to show the benefits of community living. That may be off in the future though. For now, I just need to focus on packing--I move to Liberty a week from today (Sunday). 
Until next time.

Peace be with you.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Truth, Justice, and the American Way *UPDATE*

Hey, remember that thing I wrote? That thing that had Superman, and Superman's slogan in it?

I just found this out today: Superman is renouncing US citizenship. apologies to the Man of Steel. He does indeed have a conscience.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Summer Reading List: Theology and Activism

Whew. It does not seem like a year ago that I first posted my summer reading list on this blog. Actually, I'm surprised at myself that I've kept up this blogging thing for over a year now. But here we are: time for another list of books that I'm aiming to read this summer.

Alyssa and I will be in Liberty, MO, by the end of this month, done with our undergrad degrees and on hiatus from seminary for the summer. So I'm expecting to have a little more free time than usual on my hands, other than the time spent working for 2BC Liberty and in our new little ceramics studio, to get some reading done.

So here it is. My summer reading list. It looks like a fairly daunting sampling of literature, but most of the books are fairly short, so I think it's feasible. Look for a personal review on each of the books sometime toward the end of the summer.

Divine Rebels: American Christian Activists for Social Justice, by Deena Guzder. 2011. 320 pp.

This just came in the mail yesterday, and I can hardly wait to tear into it and write a proper review. It is the story of America's Christian activist giants: environmentalists, communists, anarchists, unionists, and radical priests alike who have fought for decades for the dignity and rights of the oppressed and overlooked.
Beyond Smells & Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy, by Mark Galli. 2008. 142 pp.

I'm already a few chapters into this one. It's a book about the power of liturgy: need I say more?
Money and Power, by Jacques Ellul. 1984. 173 pp.

I was first introduced to the works of Jacques Ellul a few years ago in the writings/literature associated with the Christian anarchist folk bands Psalters and The Illalogical Spoon (on a semi-related side-note, I have also recently been discovering the life of Simone Weil. Check out her wiki page and prepare to be amazed--and spend lots and lots of time wiki-surfing). Ellul was a French theologian and sociologist who wrote a lot about his suspicion of technology and our perceived notion of progress, but also about his rejection of our contrived efforts of government. In Money and Power, it looks as though Ellul tries to draw parallels between modern government and the warnings by Jesus against "having two masters." Mammon and political power go hand-in hand.
Tendril, poems by Bin Ramke. 2007. 130 pp.

I first heard of Bin Ramke a few weeks ago in a poetry workshop I'm taking part in at the university. We read a poem of his called "Birds Fly Through Us," and his dense but compassionate and empathetic imagery just blew me away. Ramke's are some of the most complicated and intricate poems I've ever read, at times confusing (if not utterly losing) the reader, but there is a definite beauty to his language and a genius to his poetic mechanism that speaks to your brain and to your heart.  Think of him as a more human John Ashbery.
Gandhi, an Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mohandas K. Gandhi. 1927. 560 pp.

I'll be honest. This is not one that I plan to completely finish this summer--it's massive. I've wanted to dig into this one since about 7th or 8th grade, when my parents first showed me the film based on Gandhi's life, starring Sir Ben Kingsley. This semester, I took a wonderful course called Religion and Violence, and during the last week of class we all got together and watched the film and ate authentic Indian food at the professor's house. I hear that food plays a large role in the early development of Gandhi's spiritual "experiments with truth," and as someone who has struggled with his weight and the meaning of fasting for almost as long as I can remember, I hope I might find some sort of comfort in reading Gandhi's struggles, as well.
Bright Shoots of Everlastingness: Essays on Faith and the American Wild, by Paul J. Willis. 2005. 192 pp.

I bought this book at the AWP conference in Chicago a few years back and still haven't gotten a chance to read it. It's a shame, too, because it seems right up my alley.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

A question:
America! F*** yeah!!!
"What is justice?" I asked my friend Jennifer in a purposefully ambiguous question last night. I wanted to stir discussion. I'll get to her answer later.

Another question:
In an earlier post, I mentioned Pilate's questioning of Jesus: "What is truth?" he asked. Indeed, how are my perceptions of what is true different from the truths of others? When I find myself "debating" with other--usually more conservative--Christians, a common response I get is "Well, that's your truth. I have my own truth" (Incidentally, I find this ironic, since most of these are the types of people who would be the first to make claims about the Bible holding absolute truth, but that's another post for another time). This stretches beyond petty disagreements between friends on facebook, and has implications on an international, interfaith scale. For instance, take a look at this quote by Osama bin Laden, spoken in 2004:
"Allah knows it did not cross our minds to attack the towers but after the situation became unbearable and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed – when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way (and) to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women."
An ad I saw on facebook shortly following Pres. Obama's
announcement. Not even joking.
This is bin Laden justifying his actions because he perceives America as being the perpetrators of evil. And in a few of his points, he's not far from wrong. All this goes to simply say that everything we believe--right wrong, evil, good, whatever--is all relative, and dependent upon the perceiver. Think about it long enough, and this is kind of troubling.

When I first heard President Obama reveal to the nation that bin Laden had been killed and his body retrieved, my first feeling was relief. Alright, I thought. Now the families of those thousands of people finally have closure. Amid the enthusiastic thunder of expressions of patriotic American "Christian" approval of the covert CIA operation that "took out" this terrorist, I came to a sort of peaceful rest with the whole situation.

But upon further reflection, I've found that Osama bin Laden's death has lead to a bit of a deeper theological conundrum for me, namely, How are Christians supposed to react to this?

I know the American way. As an American, I want to say, Hell yeah! Get 'im, Uncle Sam! But there is something that deeply disturbs my soul about this approach. The more I study, the more I pray, the closer I grow to my God and my Jesus, the more I realize that the American Way and the Jesus Way are nearly incompatible. How can we possibly rejoice in the fall of our enemy?

I know what the scriptures say:
As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11)
Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble... (Proverbs 24:17)
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-30)
But I also recognize there are just as many verses in which God's people are begging Yahweh for the destruction of their enemies--and God follows through. (For more information on imprecatory passages of the Old Testament, check out this fantastic blog post by Two Friars and a Fool)

Back to my friend Jennifer. That answer she gave about justice? This is why I love my seminary friends so much:

"For me, justice is the oppressor fully understanding the pain s/he caused. It leads to healing, to restoration," she said. I asked her if she felt justice had been carried out with Osama bin Laden. "Not in any manner that we have seen," she answered. If the killing of one man is considered justice for the killing and oppression of many, while pain lingers and loss endures... that is pitiful justice."

As a Christian--one who believes in the power of scripture and the teachings of Jesus--and as a person that admires the practices of Buddhism and the traditions that brought forth divine rebels like Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I can't for the life of me bring myself to that place of moral abandon that allows me to rejoice in my enemy's defeat--or even to the desire of my enemy's destruction. We are all God's children. When one suffers, we should all suffer. The world is such a disgusting, broken place. How can we expect to change the world that produces men like Osama bin Laden without first leaving behind us our hatred and our will to violence?

Please leave your comments below. I'm interested in your thoughts, largely because this issue has me so troubled. Speak a word.