Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Let America Be America Again

Yesterday I found myself grabbing Langston Hughes off of my brother’s bookshelf. He was one of my favorites in high school and college English classes. The way he expresses themes of racial equality and freedom and talks about his thoughts and feelings on identity as a man of multi-racial and multi-national background always moved me. Dillon says his poetry is hit-or-miss, but that could also be because he wrote so much. You can’t be amazing every time.

I performed “Raisin in the Sun” for Oral Interpretation class back when I was an English teacher. It’s still one of my favorite poems.  I got a B on the assignment. I think my teacher thought it was too short.

I was struck by this one: “Let America be America Again.” Most people won’t read it because it’s too long for a millenial’s attention span. In the wake of the Baltimore race riots I can’t help but hear his words echoing and resonating from the time of the Harlem renaissance until today. He calls out to America and its ideals, the freedom, equality, liberty and opportunity. He feels short-changed “(America was never America to me.)”

Today I am listening to Emily Wells. I was excited to discover her a few years ago but have since stopped listening because I thought she was too dark. Today she is on repeat, calling out to America for mercy.

“Mercy, have mercy on me, America you won't get no mercy. Mercy, have mercy on me, America,
do you believe in mercy?
Penance, I got a penance, but I got no God,
so I won't get no mercy.
Money, just makes you hungry.
America, there's your god?

I'm a lover like no other,
know how to get down on my knees, beggin,
till the morning sings.
Even if I board your ship, saunter up with a swollen
lip, bleary eyed and talkin' s***, easily we could lose our grip.
So mercy, mercy,
tell the whole world your wide story.
Mercy mercy, here's another allegory.
Mercy mercy, Lord Lord have mercy”

“Symphony 4: America’s Mercy War”, Emily Wells

According to Dale Anderson of IHOP KC, “Mercy is God’s compassion and willingness to change our hopeless, helpless and powerless situation.” I pray God has mercy on America. America, do you believe in mercy? I guess you might not believe in mercy until you believe you are hopeless and helpless and powerless. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. America, show mercy. America, receive mercy.

Race riots in Baltimore. Lots of other bad news. This is why I’ve been keeping my head down when it comes to the news reel. That kind of heaviness makes it hard for me to function as a joyful and life-giving person. It’s a balance, I guess, learning where and when to care.

We’ve always been a nation that cries out for justice. We have our injustice and our prophets crying out for justice. We have our blood that was shed. It’s still being shed. And Langston Hughes is still talking...

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!”


Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Prayer of D. Bonhoeffer

O God, Early in the morning do I cry unto Thee.
Help me to pray
And to think only of Thee.
I cannot pray alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with Thee, there is light.
I am lonely, but Thou leavest me not.
I am restless, but with Thee there is peace.
In me, there is bitterness, but with Thee there is patience;
Thy ways are past understanding but
Thou knowest the way for me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

No greater death than waiting

"There is no greater death than waiting, which is at the very heart of priestliness. Priests did not commence their priestly meeting until seven days of waiting were fulfilled. Seven is the number of completion, and the completion was the final death of their well-meaning intentions to do for God. Until that dies, there is not true priestly service, and if it is not priestly it is not apostolic. Jesus is the High Priest and Apostle of our confession. The first must precede the last. Impatience, self-will, religious ambition, the necessity to do and be seen doing, to be recognized and acknowledged is death to the purposes of God."

Apostolic Foundations, Arthur Katz

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Releasing the Glory of God

from The Shape of Things to Come, Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch

"One of the most wonderful metaphors in Jewish mysticism is the rabbinical teaching on the Shekinah ("God's glory"). In the typical playful way Jewish theology was presented, the Shekinah gains a personality and usually takes the form of a woman. She is metaphorically portrayed as God's wife, but she is in exile, i.e., God and his glory have been tragically separated through the fall. The separation is one of a cosmic crash in which God's glory was scattered into myriad sparks and caught up in all created matter. The holy sparks are now imprisoned in all things. Even the lowest of created things have the holy sparks in them.

The remarkable aspect of this Jewish teaching is the view that it is our holy action- that is, action filled with holy intent and directed toward God- that that actually free the holy sparks ensnared in all things allowing the exiled Shekinah to journey back to her Husband, namely, God. God and his glory are joined together again when people act in holiness. Says Martin Buber, 'The Shekinah is banished into concealment; it lies tied, at the bottom of every thing, and is redeemed in every thing by man, who, by his own vision or his deed liberates the thing's soul.' Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel laureate who wrote marvelous novels exploring aspects of Jewish mysticism, said that "when man chooses virtue, he strengthens all the dimensions of life. Angels...look forward to a man doing a good deed, since this brings joy and strength to the entire world. A good deed helps God and the Divine Presence to unite. A sin, on the other hand, evokes all the gloom in the world.'

Now, without taking the teaching as literal truth (most of the rabbis don't!), this is a very helpful way of viewing the mission of God's people in the world. When we act redemptively and in holiness, we fan into flames the creational purpose that lies at the heart of all tings in God's world- we liberate God's glory that lies in it. And in doing so we bring God's glory. Again the post-Jesus Jewish mysticism perspective brings the focus of faithfulness to the whole of life in all its concreteness- the very element missing in so much Christendom proclamation and action. All things have elements of the sacred in them and should be respected- people, animals, the environment, even our technologies. The founder of Hassidism, Rabbi Israel Ball Shem Tov, said that 'one should even have mercy on his tools and all he possesses because one should have mercy on the holy sparks.'

There's a story about  a certain Rabbi Jacob, a deeply godly and zealous but somewhat ascetic man. One day he has a vision where he meets a woman who symbolizes the exiled glory of God, trying to make her way back to God. The woman is covered from head to ankles in a long black veil. Only her feet are bare and they are caked with dust and blood from long traveling on harsh roads in her exile.

The woman addresses the rabbi, saying, 'I am weary unto death, for people have hunted me down. I am sick unto death, for they have tormented me. I am ashamed, for they have denied me. You, [you humans] are the tyrants who keep me in exile. When you are hostile to one another, you hunt me down. When you plot evil against each other, you torment me. When you slander each other, you deny me. In doing these things you send your fellow humans into exile and so you send me into exile. And for you Rabbi Jacob, do you realize that while you intend to follow me with your religious rituals you in fact estrange yourself from me all the more? One cannot love me [The Shekinah] and abandon people.'

And she concludes, "Dream not that my forehead radiates heavenly beams. And has haloes all around it. My face is that of the created being.'

She then raises her veil from her face, and he recognizes the face as that of a neighbor."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thoughts on Christian Movies

Here are some thoughts from Steve Taylor, the director of the soon premiering Blue Like Jazz movie on the "Christian movie" genre:

"But over the last five years or so, 'Christian Movie' has calcified in the public consciousness into a genre where:

  • Sentimentality trumps substance
  • Good intentions trump artistry
  • All conflict must be tidily resolved
  • “Safe for the whole family” is a de facto requirement
I’m not saying this critique is always fair or justified. In the case of the best known movies in this genre – Facing The Giants, Fireproof, etc., by the Kendricks Brothers – I’ve given them props in the past for being good visual storytellers and actually getting movies made with the resources at hand. But they’ve also contributed to (and possibly cemented) the aforementioned stereotypes." 

I recently saw their latest movie, Courageous, not having seen the some of their earlier movies. I have been told that they improved with each film but I found myself with the same sort of feelings about it as Taylor's. I am not necessarily supporting the BLJ film. I enjoyed the book but the trailers honestly don't look promising. 

I'm ready for some new good movies to be made-- good in every sense of the word. 

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Here, He Comes.

"Wait on Me in silence; I will come to you in spring,"
the whisper echo resonates on the breeze's wing.

 Open me soundly; pass me not by.
I cannot resist You. I won't even try.

 Dark and lovely and slightly afraid,
cut off the dead shell with Your tongue as a blade.

 Hope has been planted
 You're coming, I see.

Yes; come have Your portion.
Come have all of me.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bridegroom Song

I really enjoyed this guy's music, from SEU where I went to school in FL. I love this song.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Not in So Many Words

Ecc. 5:1-7
Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools ; for they do not know they are doing evilDo not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earththerefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in foolsPay what you vowIt is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistakeWhy should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy thework of your handsFor in many dreams and in many words there is emptinessRatherfear God.

I have come to the conclusion that we, as people, and I, myself, say too much. There are many words that are spoken, few of which are notable, meaningful or memorable. Words must be used for utility, communicating logistics for everyday life. These words can't be avoided; they simplify and improve efficiency. "Since you're going to the store, could you pick such-and-such up for me?" This just saved time and gas-- just one example.

Other than that, a lot of what we communicate is not necessary and takes too many words. We talk about other people and it typically digresses into the realm of negativity, the result of which is not life-giving to us or the people we're talking about. We say too much to each other, that which we should say to the Lord. Yet, I find that when I bring my comments to the Lord they are not necessarily things I would say to the Lord. 

I asked the Lord for a focus for the year-- an over-arching theme. He spoke "reverence." How, then, do I live a reverent life? To revere Him, I must remember to whom I am speaking when I am praying. The One God, Master of the Universe, creator and sustainer of all things, and the one rightly judges me and all people. Therefore, may I let my words be few.

I blogged on this verse before: "For in many dreams and many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God." I don't want my words use to lead to emptiness; I don't want to give into the need to fill the silence for no good reason. I don't want to give into day dreaming about what my life could be, into fantasies of what I wish my life would be. Rather, may I fear God. Here. Now. May I be content in waiting on Him in the silence, focusing my attention on Him, giving Him reverence and letting my words be few. May I be content with His presence, here in the present that I may be present in this moment to the great I AM.

 I heard once that the English language has hundreds of thousands of words whereas Hebrew has tens of thousands, each one rich with layered meaning and significance. Every word which God has spoken in the Biblical text was supremely purposeful, each phrase could be studied for years without excavating a fraction of its depths. Each word was perfectly placed, a transcendent expression of divine intent. How often do I say things that I regret? Usually when I start talking without thinking. Just talking. "Hasty in word" and "impulsive in thought." And, as we learned in elementary school, the toothpaste is nearly impossible to put back inside the tube. May I become more like the Lord, with purposeful words and less verbal regret.

So at the risk of violating my new resolve to try to speak fewer words with more intention and reverence, may the Lord bless you with nearness and profundity this year, in waiting on Him in silence. He is always speaking.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Word Art

I made these for some family members for Christmas. I then transferred them to canvas using a brilliant and fascinating method taught to me by Cass VanB.

Romans 12:2 for Dad

Micah 6:8 for Mom

Ecclesiastes 3:11 for little baby D

Monday, November 21, 2011

For Real

"Nothing, there is nothing yet in truest form
We walk like ghosts upon the earth
The ground it groans"
"The Fall," by Gungor from Ghosts Upon the Earth

"I believe you're more real, than what my eyes can see, 
I believe the hills are full of a mighty angel army"
"God of the Angel Armies," Jonathan David Helser

"Cobb: She had locked something away, something deep inside her. The truth that she had once known, but... she chose to forget. Limbo became her reality. 
Ariadne: What happened when you woke up? 
Cobb: To wake up from that after, after years, after decades... after we'd become old souls thrown back into youth like that... I knew something was wrong with her. She just wouldn't admit it. Eventually, she told me the truth. She was possessed by an idea, this one, very simple idea, that changed everything. That our world wasn't real. That she needed to wake up to come back to reality, that, in order to get back home, we had to kill ourselves."
Inception (the film, 2010)

"For now we see obscurely in a mirror, but then it will be face to face. Now I know partly; then I will know fully, just as God has fully known me. 
I Corinthians 13:12

"For we are not struggling against human beings, but against the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm."
Ephesians 6:12

It's not a mistake that this generation is becoming more and more aware of the spirit realm, the reality of what is (most times) invisible. If I were to take a little more time, I could find more examples of songs, movie quotes and pop culture references within and without Judeo-Christian expression that nod to the realm that is "other than" what we see and touch. 

Just the other day a blonde athletic-looking man in an oversized business suit in his later 30's approached me at the coffee shop I work. Wondering why he was lingering by the counter, I asked if I could do anything for him. "I took some halucinogens the other night and I think they messed with my brain chemistry..." (didn't see that one coming). I continued to ask and probe and he continued to talk to me about he believes in the "physical and spiritual plane" and that they are connected, he believes in God, heaven and hell, even Yeshua. How does this all connect? He believes these things and yet is looking for a higher experience; clearly he wasn't satisfied with just a stockpile of knowledge. 

Another person at the mall, when asked about his religious background, said he believes in God, yet he had traveled the world and studied under some of the most renown Buddhist and Hindu thinkers and sages. He seemed to not have found "it" yet, but questioned the sincerity and motives of the Christian offer of the experience of God. 

We all are yearning for transcendent experience. Yet the source of that experience matters more than anything. We all know there is a reality of worlds and being that are other than the kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus species we experience each day with our five senses. God, reveal yourself to us, to me, to my people. Open up our senses beyond the five sight-smell-hearing-touch-taste, that we could sense You, know the truth, and the spiritual realities of good and evil that affect everything we do. Satisfy our hungry hearts by showing Yourself as the One who is more real than the ground I'm standing on, more real than the breath in my lungs.

"You're more real than the wind in my lungs
You're more real than the ground I'm standing on

You're thoughts de?ne me, you're inside me
You're my reality

Abba,I belong to you"
"Abba," Jonathan David Helser


I love your house; it's so architectural.

Sometimes someone goes and writes something that I've been wanting to write, but way better than I ever could have. This is the case with this blog post by Michael Gungor. 

He writes a very accessible and well-constructed evaluation of the Christian music industry. In light of the Burst Into Song You Mtns. project (That will happen. One day. When we get to it, eventually.), some of his points were really well-spoken and a synthesis of a lot of what we've all observed.

For those of you without the time or energy to read the whole thing, here are notable quotes, in my opinion:

"I had a conversation with John Mark McMillan last night about something that I think is very interesting. By the way, I consider John Mark to be one of the ones I consider to be making a valiant effort in transcending some of these imposed limitations in this industry. But he mentioned to me how strange it is that people keep calling his new album “creative.” That word is actually one of the most used words when people describe our music as well. In fact, I bet some of you reading this have described as such. Here’s the weird thing about this…
Why do you find it necessary to say that?
Do you notice that nobody really uses that word about other types of music? I just was perusing some Itunes user reviews to see if this holds up. I checked John Mark and mine, and “creativity” is very often found. But it’s not often found in reviews of bands like Sigur Ros, Bon Iver, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens or other artists who are certainly very “creative.”
Nobody goes to an art gallery and says, “boy, that painting is so creative.” Why? Because it’s art! Of course it’s creative! Why else would it be there? It’s very nature is creativity. Or like Lisa pointed out to me today, “that would be like saying, I love your house, it’s so architectural.”
But when someone in the Christian industry actually takes their art seriously, everybody is like “holy crap, listen to how creative it is!”

"Yes money matters. But so does beauty. Art actually makes a difference in the world. Have the courage to actually make decisions on values and not simply on past numbers and trends. And for crying out loud, if it really is good, the numbers will follow eventually anyway."

Can I get an amen?