Sunday, December 4, 2016

to catch words one day

I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands.

from Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

(photo: sunset at Griffith Park)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

reading bad feminist

I know nothing about cars. When I take my car to the mechanic, they are speaking a foreign language. A mechanic asks what wrong with my car, and I stutter things like, "Well, there's a sound I try to drown out with my radio."... I don't want to be good at cars. Good feminists, I assume, are independent enough to address vehicular crises on their own; they are independent enough to care.
-Roxanne Gay, Bad Feminist

This is one confession in a list at the end of Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. It made me laugh, the part about turning up the radio to cover up the sound. It also made me nod in agreement, the part about not caring, and yet wondering if I should (to be an independent woman, i.e. a good feminist).

And that's probably a good way to sum up the book. There was some laughing, some nodding. In the middle there was some skimming because I got a little impatient with some of the essays. (And, I'd chalk that up to an editing choice. Some of these sections felt like a bunch of blog posts plopped there, instead of a more thoughtfully edited collection of essays - some previous writing that was expanded or combined or re-written.) In the middle of said essays, I also started to wonder if the author had anything positive to say. Where was the joy or the positivity? It was just critique of one bad movie after another (the section was on culture, gender and race). But then I felt caught - maybe it's because there's not much joy to be found, not much positive to say when it comes to how African Americans and other minorities are represented in film. Ok, keep reading...  

What I appreciated most in this book was the author's flavor of vulnerability. She wasn't confessional, but she did reveal a lot about what makes her human. That made her critique more credible. She's telling us that she's not a perfect feminist, that she's nuanced and complex and that she fails. So when she calls out others for ways they, too, have failed their art or their brothers and sisters, I can swallow it. We can be imperfect, yes. And, let's all try to be better. Yes.

(photo: coffee, reading, of course)

Friday, November 25, 2016

thoughts on writing as one being re-made

I heard a writer, speaking of the transition from being a writer who wrote for herself to one who was read by many people, say that she understood the experience of putting her thoughts and heart in words for people to read as being a living sacrifice. I know the passage of scripture where that phrase - living sacrifice - is mentioned. It is one that's been popularized by Christian culture, put on t-shirts and greeting cards and wall hangings. And yet when she said that, it was like I understood in a new way what the words mean. What she meant is that her writing is a way she gives her life back to God. It feels like sacrifice - letting go, surrender, maybe even being burned. A living sacrifice, though, isn't burned up to ashes but has a heart that still beats, limbs that move and eyes that continue to see. It is in the living, in the writing, in the figuring things out and then allowing my mind and heart to be re-made, that I sacrifice. That I live as one given over to another.

We don't need to make the gospel new; the gospel makes us new.
I heard this a few months ago and thought, yes. There are so many Christian books out there that try to give a new spin to the gospel. A catchy phrase and a trendy cover design, a format that reflects the kind of thing that people read now. I read a lot of these when I was in high school and working at a Christian bookstore, but at some point realized the authors weren't able to tell me anything new. I've come back to these kinds of books now, curious about what's being written and how my writing fits (or doesn't) and find that, once again, a lot of the same kinds of things are being said over and over again, and yet not much is really being said.

But then there are times when I hear a word and, even though it's a word I've heard many times before, it's like new, because it's making me new. How is it that the Word that was written so many centuries ago is like new each time I come to it? It must be something of the life of God in it, is all I can conclude, the same life that makes the day new, gives mercies that are new, renews me from the inside to re-make my heart, my sight, my love.

I wonder, then, how being made new then drives me to speak or write the gospel in a way that does, indeed, make it new for others. This is how it starts: a seed of a word that grows and makes a shady place for others to find rest for their souls, makes branches that birds can find a home in. The kind of work that lays foundations for many generations and brings peace to places that have been ruined.


So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll. Fill your stomach with this, he said. And when I ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.  
- Ezekiel 3:2-3

(photo: flowers and concrete, griffith park, los angeles)

Monday, November 21, 2016

dreams from a bumpy van ride

So, here it is: I'm going to Kenya. Six months, ten time zones away, a few friends and many more to make. It was all a dream at first, one I conjured up on the long, bumpy van ride from maasai-land back to Nairobi. My skin red and bumpy from the strong, constant equatorial sun (even from behind the clouds, I felt it), bags under my eyes from six nights of sleeping (or not) in a tent while the night air scatters dust from on place to another. Exhausted but for the adrenaline, some might say. Spent but for the love, is what I knew.

Dreams are hard to pin down, the way they whisper in a jumbled tongue in your ear and leave you to decipher their meaning. Could this be for real? I wondered as I tried to hold onto the thought even as it slipped away. But then someone else said it, too: what if I could move here? Just for a few months? I said, me, too and I began to understand that something new was happening. Just maybe, I thought.

Bits of dreams make their way to the surface of life, cracked shells washed up on the shore to remind us of all that's living out in the depths beyond. Every time I told the dream to another, however tentatively I traced its outline, pieced together what little I knew, the response was always yes.

That feels right. 

I had a sense. 

I always knew you would love this.

Seers, not into the future but into my heart, into the way that perhaps was always laid out before me.

I think now of the bumpy van ride, the many hours I've spent in that van, the way it makes my butt hurt, the way I am often needing more air, the way it fills with dust when we leave the windows open while driving through dirt, the way it breaks down then, with a jiggle it comes back to life (or so it always seems to me). The way I reach out the window with my phone for a photo, but I'm never able to capture what I see. It's just too expansive. By now, I know the way a way forward is often like this -- bumpy, imperfect, too big to comprehend.

(photo: trying to capture what i see from the van, kenya 2014)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

as a means to communion

We  are hungry. We eat. We are filled... and emptied. 
And still, we look at the fruit and see only the material means to fill our emptiness. We don't see the material world for what it is meant to be: as a means to communion with God.
- Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, emphasis hers

(reminds me of some things I've been thinking about...)

(photo: the material world, in Atwater Village to be exact)

Friday, November 18, 2016

the only way through is through

I lived with a small family for a few years. These were friends of mine who were a newly-married couple when we all moved in together, and a family of four when I moved out four years later. She, the wife, was pregnant twice. During the early months, she stayed in her room during most dinners to avoid strange smells, and when we watched Project Runway together she’d get up to spit into the bathroom sink at every commercial break. Her body changed slowly at first, then fast, from what I could see, anyway. Her belly stretched, her body tired, her breathing become more strained. Inside of her, a new life took form.

One evening partway through her second pregnancy, she sat across from me in the living room. It was quiet, dark outside. The first child was asleep, our other housemates doing other things. She and I were likely both reading. I remember pausing what I was doing and looking over at her. Her legs were tucked under her, her breathing a little louder than normal from the weight of her belly. She would have been at least six months along at this point.

Are you afraid of labor? I asked her.

She looked up from whatever she was doing and, without much thought, responded something like, No, not really. That was how she was about most things – calm, deliberate, un-phased.

I don’t remember if she asked me why I asked or if I told her or how long our conversation lasted. What I remember is thinking that, for her, the only way forward was through such great pain.

I’ve often wondered at my impulse to shut things down partway through. I get scared and turn around. When I was five or six, I went to the town carnival with my family and followed my sisters into a haunted house, the kind where you enter and are guided through until you reach the end, exiting through a different door. Once in, I got scared and backed up and went out the front door, probably crying and looking for my mom.

Transition can feel a lot like pregnancy (and maybe a little like that haunted house, too). When you enter into it, the thing at the end is what you’re thinking of: the baby, the delight, the new life. But halfway in, when the only way through is through, can feel frightful. I think of pregnancy and how the only way to prevent the pain of labor is to cause death to what’s inside, and even then, it still needs to come out. I’m sorry if that’s graphic. But maybe I’m not sorry because it’s true, of babies and of the things being birthed in us. 

Jesus uses this illustration to tell those following him that they would experience great sorrow, like a woman in labor. But, he said, you will also have great joy, like that of a women in her new baby, so great that the pain of what you went through will be forgotten. And no one will be able to take this joy from you, he says.

She had her baby, this housemate of mine. The girl is three years old now, with big, sparkling eyes, a laugh that comes quickly and a stubbornness that befits a younger sister. She was given the name Naomi, meaning beautiful, delightful, pleasant, and I am touched knowing what lively delight and deep, abiding love such pain as labor can bring.

(photo: three-year birthday date with Naomi)

(uh, guys, I fell off the nablopomo wagon. Oops.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

it is finished (but not final)

It is sunny today, that kind of clear brightness that makes the deep blue sky stand out against the brown folds of mountains to the north. I walked out of my apartment shortly after eight, and the air was warm, unseasonably so. Even in all this brightness, the mood feels dulled. There is disbelief and disappointment, there is pain, and maybe there is also relief.

It is finished.

That’s the phrase that keeps turning around in my head. Jesus said it just before giving up his spirit and dying. There has been a death, for sure, and who can say when it started. I’m not just talking about the election of a man whom many think ridiculous, racist and unrestrained. The death is one of hope, community, understanding and peace.

There is a lot of pain, to be sure. I feel it when I think of legislation that is meant to protect but ends up dividing. I feel it when I think of how we’d hoped women might be empowered through the campaign of our first female presidential candidate, but instead degradation has only been more prominently exposed. I feel it when I think of how it seems that most people felt so strongly against that it drove them to vote for (shouldn’t it be the other way around?). I feel it when I think of how few options so many people feel they have, on many levels.

And yet. When Jesus said it is finished, he didn’t mean it is final. New life would come, a new kingdom would start to gain momentum. I am trying to cultivate this hope.

And here are a few ways:

Needing someone to speak truth to me, I listened to the latest The New Activist podcast episode. David Gungor, a peacemaker/musician, talks about using music to speak beyond “his tribe” to prompt people to see the other in new, more compassionate ways. I can’t think of a better voice to listen to this morning.

This song has been my comfort over the past few weeks, in both the personal and the political and everything in between.

I haven't been reading as much online (so I don't have links for you). But, I'm reading and listening to a mix of books right now that, I think, offer humility, hope and some directions to move in. Bad Feminist is my easy and fun read. Strong and Weak plays on Audible during some of my commutes and is such good news that I think I'll read it over the next few months. The Bright Continent tells how Africa shines in ways only the ones who truly look can see. And Soul Feast, as assigned reading, has some gems.

Hope to you...

(photo: light shines in darkness)