Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The least of these.

There’s a woman here in college town, there are probably women like her in college towns everywhere, but then again there is no one else quite like her, we’ve known each other for years. For a long time I was involved as a coleader with a bible study at the community center downtown.

I think the intention (in having it at the community center)was to get all the little punk and goth teenagers to come. This didn’t much happen but we did attract Linda, or at least the food did, such as it was. (I remember a meal that consisted of plain potatoes in a crock pot and a box on dunkin donut munchkins). Often times she would squeeze us in between one free food event and another, an indigenous art opening and a bisexual vegan potluck. One of the great mysteries to this was that she clearly wasn’t poor. Yes, she dressed in cast-offs from the local clothing shelf, yes she lived in odd low rental living situations but when she wanted to she could treat herself to a really nice meal, (she is particular to salmon) and as I later discovered she could have afforded to own her own home if she really wanted too.

To sit with Linda in the small windowless room allotted to us by the community center was it must be said an assault on many of the senses. Its not that she had no standards in hygiene or fashion but they weren’t standard standards, that’s for sure, even for College town where they are looser then nearly anywhere else. When she was full of whatever cheap starch we had provided her she would often sigh contentedly and prop her pungent stocking feet up on the table. One could almost imagine the smell visibly pouring forth into room with little squiggly lines

Love is not a feeling it’s a choice, or so I’ve heard. With that in mind I set out, quite grimly, to love Linda, to do my Christian duty by her, to provide her with potatoes, to try and interest her in the bible study part of bible study (I had some success there and for my sins got to answer lots of weird questions about reincarnation).

Somewhere else in the Christian self help section of Borders I learned of the importance of boundaries. So along with the potatoes I administered boundaries. No she could not use my cell phone, no she could not have a ride, no she could not stay a few nights on our couch, all of which she asked for on a regular basis, if not all that expectantly.

So it may well have remained, another notch on my good Christian belt, like winning the ‘fear factor’ of Christian ministry had I not happened to be on the same bus with her coming back from Northampton the day that I received some bad news concerning church and a grant I was told was a sure thing. For various reasons I was quite distraught and I ended up crying in front of her and ultimately both telling her the story and being consoled. So much for boundaries! But by the end of the bus ride I think we both seemed more human to each other I got to escape my kind of kind but definitely distant persona and she got to escape her role as the God appointed thorn in my flesh.

There were at least two lasting results to this. One was that occasionally Linda will bring something to contribute. Once she even bought the entire bible study Mexican food. I still think of that evening as the miracle of the burritos. Another was that sometimes, not often, but sometimes I am actually genuinely able to like her. Since I’ve had my son this has been even a bit easier. She does seem genuinely to care for him and she makes him laugh. Not in the knowing way I have tried to make you laugh in writing this but with simplicity I can envy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Conduct unbecoming

Hanging out in the library of a nearby town, the same place where we hand out pizza on Friday night. Been trying, unsuccessfully, to hunt down a woman who is on the verge of eviction. Bit of an ongoing drama. Hope it resolves itself soon. This is my second public library today, the first being in the town where I live. I took the baby to something I call Dan the stoned out music man after prying the maracas out of J;s hand I headed to the restroom. The librarian powers that be has posted intimidating notices everywhere forbidding eating, leaving things in aisles and misusing the bathroom, the first two of which crimes and misdemeanors I commit on a pretty regular basis. The Summa of the notice is thus: those committing acts unbecoming of public library may be asked to leave.

I think the library has confused itself with Barnes and Noble. But the Barnes and Noble is actually pretty tolerant of homeless people, the group that this notice is obviously meant to intimidate. I think of all the ‘acts unbecoming of a library” I have committed over the years. The lemonheads I consumed with the Girl Scout dues my leader never remembered to collect, the games of Dungeons and Dragons or Risk that the geeky boys I hung out with would play and in which I would feign interest, while at the same time trying to look impressive by reading the wasteland. (I was a teenager whose pretension truly was unlimited). There was an old green velvet couch on which I would often take long naps after school (now also apparently forbidden). Of course some of my conduct was “becoming of a public library” I read, a lot.

But as said I don’t think the library was talking about me, or the candy sneaking Ts Eliot reading young thing I once was. I think its more about keeping people who make us uncomfortable out of public spaces so that we can read The Progressive and the New Yorker in peace. Cynical much?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


As I was walking back from helping my brother install J in the car seat (he’s going to visit his Grandmother for the day) I saw a flyer in the bus stop with the word Solidarity on it. In this instance it was for a fundraiser for the earthquake in Chile but it reminded me of my adolescence spent scouring bus stop kiosks and lampposts for flyers for “something to do.” I was a strange (or at least atypical kid) and I was mostly interested in Social Justice gatherings of various types. In my middle school years these largely took the form of Central American solidarity events. Lots of beans and rice consumed while listening to people recount various atrocities for which my government was more or less responsible. Lots of pretending my middle school Spanish was better then it was. Lots of guatamelen skirts worn by Quaker women in tennis shoes.

I poke fun at all this but there was a richness to this, even to the awfulness of the atrocities, a couple of hours spent cross legged on the floor of a church basement connected me to people who were fighting for things like Libertad, Paz, Justicia. (Abstract concepts always sound better in Spanish, I think) I was also intrigued by how often they did this in the name Jesus. School was this confusing illogically constructed box built in the 70’s with the specific purpose of keeping people from jumping out the windows, Church was this immaculately plain building with all the human warmth of a bank (describing the architecture, not the people who were generally kind) but in these gatherings there were colors other then institutional green or congregational white, tastes other then wonder bread and peanut butter cornflake cookies, there was something to die for other then having your name listed in the Amherst Bulletin as an honor role*
student (and I knew people who were dying for exactly that).

*that was an intentional typo

Monday, December 11, 2006

Woe to you Ariel, year after year
your cycle of feasts go on
City of David Daughter of Zion
a fading light on a hill

when a starving man dreams of food by night
and wakes to hunger pains
a thirsty child dreaming of water awakes
and still her thirst remains

when the wise and the wealthy worship me only
with words taught them by men
then out of your dust my words will rise up
to stun and amaze them again

life for the bones and light for the lost
for all my little ones bread
then out of your dust my words will rise up
to stun and amaze them again

Joy to you Ariel day after day
at the royal feast of the lamb
yes of your dust my words will rise up
to stun and amaze you again

in the empty emptied out
i get a breath of hell
that abscence supposed to be
kinder then the fire but is worse

even the hottest flame
is life of a sort
but this clerical morgue where the unamed lie
is death in chains

and here he lies with the woman who died
in an abandoned shopping plaza
and the boy who shot the school in Minnesota
next to you and me

in the frozen filing cabinet
we have all like the thief
on the wrong side of the cross
applied for a membership here

in spite, in despair, in blindness
we thought that is was life
i like to think we died most of all for us Pharisees
who wouldn't take our medicine

Thursday, May 18, 2006

feast of weeks

the soul is a field where stones grow tall
cresting the soil, a dirt colored squash
mounting to the sky, grey, sweet, corn
watered by streams of gravel

if you have ever walked where I have
or somewhere like it
you have seen them
harmonized by necessity into a wall

by a farmer who had to harvest them first
last and in between
knuckles broken sometimes crushed
scratching in the dust for dust
before any green and yelding thing could find its place

Thursday, February 02, 2006

just some passages on the mystery of prayer

from Romans 8

12Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.[g] And by him we cry, "Abba,[h] Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

From Galatians
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba,[a] Father." 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
from 1 John

18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

it really can't be repeated too often can this that stood out for me reading the above passage from Romans in the daily lectionary a few days ago is that creation awaits not just the revelation of God but also his sons and daughters. There is evidently an important role for the believer in the redemption including sharing in the suffering but this is God's work in us. We are not the intercessors the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead is the intercessor6 If prayer were just a matter of our heart or if it were also a matter of our heart it word be a work of self condemnation. But he lives in us and creates in us faith and obedience.
I don't really know what the national prayer breakfast is for or about except that it is sponsored by a pretty shady group called the fellowship but I know that it it not about this. (yes, bono gave a good and prophetic speech, but the institution itself is alarming

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This line from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing was stuck in my head the other day. It seemed like a good blog address so here we are. I'll probably mostly post stuff about the bible here so as to have some thoughts in a retrievable format.

From todays epistle reading (Hebrews 11)

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

This is an appropriate reading on "state of the union day". We are reminded that our ancestors in the faith (Abraham and co. ) were seeking "a better country." Tonight we will hear (or try to avoid) President Bush's agenda for a better United States of America, a more secure homeland, followed closely, of course, by the democratic response. We can be more the reasonably sure that both of these men will do everything in their and their speech writers' and wardrobe assistants 'power not to appear as 'strangers and foreigners on the earth." They will also make promises. It is extremely tempting to jump in this game, to bargain with the tempter for a few acres of moral influence but here we are told that Jesus calls us elsewhere.