Today is a blog day. I’ve been pretty much non-stop poetry since early April when National Poetry Writing Month changed my life with a new gift of expression that felt like nothing short of discovering a third arm on my body. And I have to say I’m finding the medium incredibly freeing and powerful. I can pack the punch of what I might otherwise use 1,800 words for and pack it into sometimes as few as 17 syllables (thank you, haiku). But it has its drawbacks: a) it’s poetry, and some people just won’t/can’t read it, b) it’s poetry, so sometimes the “points” I want to make are obscure or opaque enough (often intentionally) so as to leave the reader going “huh?” instead of “aha!” and c) it’s poetry, and unless I want to recreate my own Epic of Gilgamesh (no thanks), I can’t give any idea, feeling, or topic the full development I want to in verse form.
So, I’m blogging today. I need you to see some flesh on the jagged bones of the life themes I’ve expressed in the poetry you’ve (hopefully) seen over the last few months. Here comes some flesh. It’s not going to be an easy read. I did not intend it to be. Just know I was challenged as I wrote it as well.
Jagged Bone #1:
The corrupt immorality of our current government, most embodied in the President himself, and the overwhelming support from “evangelical Christianity” for all of it.
I’ve done nothing to hide my disdain for him, all that he stands for, and the horrid, inhumane ways he chooses to stand for those things. I don’t need to read an opinion piece from The New Yorker or Slate to know and understand what I hear and see everyday from the unedited words (written and spoken) of this President and the leaders who support and enable him. Perhaps sometimes it feels like this disdain bleeds over onto you if you support him. Perhaps you’re right. Especially if you call yourself a Christian. You CAN NOT listen to him and view the policy he enacts and square it with Jesus Christ. Period. Go read a gospel or two. Start with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Or how about where Paul contrasts the fruit of the “flesh” with the fruit of the “spirit”? (Galatians 5). I try really hard not to let it color my friendships and other relationships, particularly familial, but when you defend him, you betray yourself. You betray the fact that you are willing to take certain “gains” (in your eyes) in spite of the mountain of evidence (FROM. HIS. OWN. MOUTH. – no spin required) that he is a selfish, ignorant, lying person who cares about one thing and one thing only – his popularity and how he “looks”. It’s gross. There are some of you reading this upon whom I have been pretty unrelenting in debunking and rebuking what you post, repost, and “like”. You should be grateful. It means I still have hope for you. If I’ve stopped commenting, it means I’m using my energy in places where I can hope to be effective rather than divisive or incendiary. Harsh. Truth. Along those lines, I think it’s worth noting a promise I made to myself that I have had to break. Twice. If I have at some point decided to become Facebook “friends” with someone for whatever reason, I have made a commitment to myself (and to them, I suppose) not to block them for their views. I may occasionally need to “snooze” them or even take the step to “unfollow” them so their stuff doesn’t show up in my daily feed, but I’ve refused to “block” anyone and hand them ammunition that says I don’t allow people to have dissenting views and still remain in my circle. But as I mentioned, I’ve broken my own promise twice. Recently. I won’t repeat what was required to get them blocked, but they were commenting on my feed, on my posts and my friends’ responses, and angrily attacking me and my friends (most of whom they don’t even know). You just don’t do that and keep the privilege of reading and commenting on my thoughts or the thoughts of my friends. Both of these blocked friends were/are Christian friends from a former church life. One was a pastor. Enough said.
Jagged Bone #2:
COVID-19 Madness. The denial of science and defiance of governmental guidelines in the interest of selfishness masquerading as “freedom”
Somewhere along the line (or maybe it’s been here since colonialism?) “liberty and justice for all” turned into liberty and justice for ME, and to hell with the rest of you. Thankfully, we have a Supreme Court that still sort of functions as a check when one person’s constitutional rights comes up against someone else’s constitutional rights. Our “rights” are not unlimited. When some refuse to stay home, refuse to wear masks, insist on getting their hair and nails done, they endanger OTHERS, not just themselves, and that’s not cool. And it’s not freedom. It is selfishness unvarnished. I have a 90 year old mother-in-law to care for, so we have been SUPER militant and “mean” in our home, even though some of my kids’ friends got to have play dates with each other during quarantine. I had to have this conversation multiple times: “We don’t know where your friends have been. We don’t know where your friends’ friends have been. If you play with them, you are exposed to everyone they have been exposed to. You then bring that home, and if your grandmother is infected, it would likely kill her. Is your play date worth that?” The kids (unhappily) “got it” eventually. It’s the grown adults that don’t seem to get it. I’ve said this a couple times in a couple different places, but I think it’s worth repeating here: “Rugged American Individualism”, which gave rise to our Republic, will ultimately be the death of our Republic. “Freedom” means letting others be as free as I am, with none of us endangering the others in the process. We don’t appear able to do that. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Jagged Bone #3:
Social Justice. As Americans, we have been and continue to be spectacularly bad at this. The Christian church is leading the parade, and I am appalled.
“Democracy” and Capitalism in their current forms continue to perpetuate existing inequities and are, in fact, the systems that made the mess in the first place. Again, SCOTUS appears to be showing some backbone for “doing the right thing”, and I pray that continues. It remains my one remaining governmental hope for now. I’m thankful to God I have hope that lies elsewhere. If you are among those who say things like “Yeah, blacks had it bad, BUT” or “There is no such thing as white privilege. Lots of white people have it rough, and look at all the rich and successful Blacks”. Stop. Please, just stop. That is willful ignorance, pure and simple, and (surprise) it makes you sound willfully ignorant. If you are among those who claim Christ and say these things, you are heaping ignorance upon ignorance, and it’s not OK with me. I will tell you about it. I will call you out. I will quote you scripture, if that helps. Please see “Jagged Bone #1” for a few appropriate verses about who our neighbor is, what our duty to our neighbor is, and what it means to be Christ-like. I’d also invite you to read my borderline heretical article about how the great creeds of the church miss the “middle bits” of what Jesus said and did (and who he said them to and did them with). The very label “Christian” translates as “Little Christs”. We are His body, His representatives on this earth, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do and say what He did. To bring “The Kingdom” to earth “as it is in heaven.” And as those empowered by the Spirit, check yourself for fruit (Galatians 5 again). If you aren’t doing and saying what Jesus did and you aren’t bearing the fruit of the Spirit of Christ, you are doing it wrong. I’ll also toss in, for MORE than good measure, we require social justice and equality for women, other ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone else who doesn’t think, act, talk, worship or pray like we do. The gospels are REPLETE with examples of how we should be responding. And yes, i realize that applies to me, too. I work on it. Daily. You can see a snippet of that struggle in “all in one storm?” Getting all in one boat means I’m rowing with the neo-Nazi-Godhatesfags-Trumpers as well as the people for whom I’m more actively trying to seek justice. That’s hard. If I act like I have it all together, I don’t. But I’m trying. I’m growing, Every day. Grow with me. Thus endeth the sermon – for all of us.
Jagged Bone #4:
Change. It’s hard. It’s inevitable. Sometimes it seems arbitrary and unnecessary. What may be true for you may not be true for others. If you don’t change and accept change around you, you will begin to die and, worse, to kill those around you who are desperate for change.
We’ve been hatching monarch butterflies. Number 8 of 8 has emerged this morning and is preparing to fly away. He can’t quite yet, because his wings are still wet. Hmm. They start as the tiniest eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. Then these little caterpillars hatch. If we let nature take its course (and sometime we do, because it does), birds and insects will make quick work of them. If we want to help them into maturity, we need to get them off the leaf and into the butterfly house QUICKLY. They need immediate care. So they get into the safety of the butterfly house and eat milkweed leaves constantly. CONSTANTLY. They eat and become really fat, really fast. Before you know it, they’ve climbed to the top, hung from some silk in a “J” shape and shrugged off the caterpillar skin so the next phase can begin, and life can continue. Growth can continue. Change can continue. The chrysalis absolutely fascinates me. What goes on in there is completely mysterious to me, other than I know there is a complete deconstruction of whatever the caterpillar was, yet somehow remains the same being while turning into something new and different, yet still the same. A little mind-blowing, right? Then, one day, really quickly (if you aren’t watching, you’ll miss it) the mature monarch emerges. He’s not ready for flight right away. He’s out, he’s transformed, but his wings are wet and crumpled from being in chrysalis. It takes a few minutes. During that time, he’ll sit on your finger, which for some reason is just AWESOME to me (I may take apart why I react that way someday). And then, he flies away. I don’t know what happens to him after that. Sometimes, joyously, we may see him return to the trumpet vine for nectar. Hopefully, we will eventually see him again on the milkweed to fertilize eggs for the next generation. But he also might get eaten. In spite of the horrid taste built into him thanks to the milkweed diet, some birds just don’t care. He might end up pasted to someone’s windshield or grille. The world is a cruel place. And yes, this is clearly (I hope you caught it) analogous for change of all types. No analogy or metaphor is perfect, so please don’t go to absurd places to make it “fit” everything. For example, you might say, “Ben, you just described an act of nature. It happens whether you do anything or not”. Well, yes, which is why I warn about the imperfection of comparing the maturation of a butterfly to ANYTHING that changes. So let’s stretch the analogy just a little and take it from the realm of random nature. As humans, “humane” humans, we don’t necessarily have to just let nature take its course in all things. In fact, if you want to get into a Bible war with me, we can discuss that troublesome passage in Genesis where humans are to “take dominion” and “subdue” the earth, which presumably includes interfering with some “natural” processes. To what degree we are to do that I will save for a different article. Here is where I think we CAN safely intervene in nature for change – our own and others’: we can help, nurture, and provide safe places where change can take place, safe from some of nature’s predators, especially during times of vulnerability and immaturity. In some cases, we have SCREWED UP nature, and we need to help ourselves and others “deconstruct” and then “reconstruct” so nature can function as intended and allow ourselves and others to reach maturity. Actually, the analogy works pretty freaking well if you stick with it.
So there is some meat to begin covering my jagged bones. I know not everything above is easy reading. You may have felt attacked. I made myself uncomfortable a couple times. This is good. The winds are changing. As wise Rafiki says in “The Lion King” (yes, I jumped from butterflies to baboons and lions – hang with me), “Ahhh. Change is good. [Hits Simba in the head with his stick and laughs] Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or…[swings his stick at Simba who ducks to avoid being hit] …learn from it.”
Yeah. Let’s learn.