Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Reach for Understanding

Here’s a hypothetical:

Let’s say I buy a new toaster. I bring it home, plug it in and load it with my favorite flavor of Eggos, but then the toaster suddenly explodes into a fireball and burns my whole kitchen to a crisp.

I bring in the insurance adjuster to assess the disaster area. I need this fixed fast, because, come on,  every family needs a place to prepare sustenance. After surveying the damage he concludes, “There’s no proof the toaster caused the fire. It may have been faulty wiring, and that isn’t covered by your policy. I’m afraid this one is on you. Sorry about your kitchen. Have a nice day.”

Fuming, I call my local Walmart where I bought the toaster. The lady I speak with chuckles a little bit when I tell her what happened, then she asks if I saved my receipt. Well, the receipt was lying on the counter next to the toaster, so it’s ashes. “Without a receipt you can’t prove the toaster came from our store, so I can’t help you. You can try speaking to our distributor if you want. Have a nice day.”

Fine then. “Hello, friendly toaster distributor. You brought this crap product into my Walmart, this broken machine that cooked my kitchen, so are you going to help me?” By now, I am livid and exhausted from the lack of accountability. “Well, ma’am, we just ship the product. We aren’t responsible for the behavior of the merchandise. Sorry, not our problem. You might want to call the corporate office. Have a nice day.”

&@%$#*@&#^ !!

Turns out CEOs are difficult to get on the line, but I manage to find the corporate phone number, and I try my darndest to talk to Mr. Bigshot at Bigshot Toaster Company. His secretary puts me on hold for an hour each time I call, then she tells me he can’t address my issue right now. See, he has more pressing matters to handle at the moment, she pragmatically explains. Day after day she puts me off (because my problem is not a priority) before she finally passes the buck and suggests, “Maybe you should just try our customer service center. Perhaps they will be able to help you. Have a nice day.”

I immediately hang up with secretary lady and dial their 1-800 number. Press 4 for customer service. Press 2 for product safety concerns. Press 0 if you want to speak with an associate. My fingers are literally shaking with fury and frustration. “Please wait.” Hold. Hold. Hold.

“Good afternoon, my name is Tiffany. How can I be of service to you today?”

Poor Tiffany.

By now my blood is boiling. She gets an angry earful about the money I wasted on their garbage product, about how I can’t cook my family’s food like a normal person because of HER crummy company, about their lack of concern for the safety of people like me and how absolutely no one will listen! By now, I’m threatening lawsuits and destructive media campaigns and angry boycotts!

I’m not mad at Tiffany personally, because I don’t even know her. But she’s in the line of fire right now because I’m mad at what she represents in the moment: a terrible company that firebombed my kitchen, the powers that be who refuse to accept responsibility and fix it. Tiffany may very well be a perfectly kind young lady who shows grace and respect to all her customers as she earns just over minimum wage to deal with these kinds of tirades. And yet, right or wrong, in this moment, she is the available recipient of my fiery rant.

How does Tiffany respond?

Let’s say that, in this moment, Tiffany decides to NOT explain away my problem or bite back or offer excuses, but instead she takes time to give me the grace I need (and I sure do need it). Then she fully listens to my story instead of just telling me to calm down. She listens until the whole despicable tale has been told. What if she sympathizes as best she is able and tells me she wants to do whatever she can to make it right?

And then what if she actually follows through?

What if Tiffany risks her job to quietly send an internal memo to other customer service reps to see if there is a pattern of kitchen-burning toaster explosions that has been kept off the records?

What if Tiffany’s old college roommate’s dad is actually the guy who designed the toaster, and she can get me on the phone with him to voice my complaints and to try to convince him to use his pull to correct the problem before more kitchens go up in smoke?

What if she does some digging and finds out her uncle’s best friend is on the board of directors at Bigshot Toaster Company, and she can speak to him directly, maybe even show up at a board meeting to share my story and possibly get me the help I need to get my kitchen back in order?

What if Tiffany doesn’t acquiesce to her own smallness inside the problem, but instead looks for some creative way to lend herself to the solution?

Now look, y’all, I know this is way too long, and I know we are talking about a hypothetical toaster and an imaginary charred kitchen. If this had actually happened, in the grand scheme of things, it would be a minor disruption on the spectrum of big life events. And yet I know I would still be very angry at the injustice of it all. VERY angry! About a toaster and a kitchen. Fighting angry!

So, then why on earth would we be confused about the anger bathing our society right now with regard to frighteningly real life-and-death issues and deeply rooted unjust practices? Why is our knee-jerk response to this anger to deflect, to ignore, to shirk responsibility?

(I know the above analogy is weak and overly simplistic, but I’m just trying to sort it out in my head. Forgive me if I'm still way off base.)

I want to better understand the anger, to really grasp it.

Hundreds of years of waiting on hold, voices going unheard, bucks being passed – that will certainly make a person angry. Disproportionate damage and destruction brought on by a flawed system – that should make a person angry.  Being dismissed again and again and again – that absolutely must make a person angry. Angry enough to shout and rail at anyone and everyone in earshot, whether those recipients are culpable or not.

So, at some point if I end up being the “Tiffany” who gets the earful because I happen to be the only one so far that has taken the time to listen, then, yes, God, grant me the grace to NOT explain it away, bite back or deflect. Help me to listen well and deeply, to react with soul-level sympathy, to get up and act alongside.

There is legitimate cause for the anger. It’s multi-faceted. It’s an anger of righteous amplitude, and sometimes I don’t think we fully recognize that.

And I know I have a role to play in fixing the problem. We all do.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Grieve and Consider


Consider Now

If I somehow unwittingly prop up the walls
which were once torn down
--scratch that—
which were ADVERTISED to have been torn down
I solidify the division
and I am a transgressor


If we, those who believe,
have indeed
have been executed on spiritual planes 
with the blessed Messiah
and claim to live now only as “He in me”
then surely we can see
a hateful knee on the neck of one crafted in His image 
is a blistering, smothering stain
and there’s no excuse 
this must be anathema

Let us slow and consider now

Dearest ones, every sly eye 
of unwarranted suspicion must be
if we are to see more clearly
oh, and we MUST come to see more clearly
lest we quietly pave the road to hell itself
blind as we are with our two natural-born eyes of evil

For this Jesus, our Messiah
who showed up here in skin of rich Middle Eastern shade, by the way,
charged one and all as dirty sinners in need of a good washing
there is none righteous
and, while on this earth, He surely looked nothing like me
and yet He loved me anyhow?
Loves me even now?
Yes, because He values what He has made
--ALL He has made--
and what He plans to re-make

So listen now

His Bride must be the genesis of the healing
creating oneness inside diversity 
one in Christ
one in love
one in pushing back the darkness 
one in the careful keeping of our brothers and sisters 
in Jesus’ holy name

Oh, beautiful Bride, act now

And let every hue, every size and velocity of fist
away at the wall which
isolates and kills
Keep at it! Until
New Jerusalem arrives from the sky to
finally and forever 
and grind to powder
that bitter barricade 
one faithful fistful of dirt at a time
for His glory and for our good

Sunday, May 24, 2020

On a Day of Memory

On a Day of Memory

Blessed are those who mourn
those charged an awful price
who grieve still and always
who are able to fully remember
and even now weep weary in that remembering

Careful are those who mourn
careful to balance ideologies --
the obligatory pride in nation
with the seething anger at the mechanism --
in order to keep their souls intact

Envied are those who mourn
envied by many guilt-laden survivors
who carry their own deliverance as a cross
who wish to impart to those grieving
the peace they themselves cannot seem to find

Carried are those who mourn
hoisted high as names on street signs and monuments
on prayers and quivering petitions
on the lips of their legacy
in the energy of a Creation that erects Ebenezers

In each morning of new mercies,
kept and cradled be all those who mourn

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

For Teachers . . . Thank You

A few years ago, a woman I barely know (whose children are not a part of our local public school system) asked me nonchalantly  if our high school is “as HORRIBLE as I’ve heard”.  

Ok, see I have a loyalty bone that is connected directly to whatever part of my brain creates the anger monster, so I did not respond too well in the moment. I mean, hey, that’s my kids’ school! It felt like a question born out of ignorance, privilege and idealism. I wish I had had the wherewithal at that moment to take a breath and answer more thoughtfully, because here is what I would like to say if she were to ask me that question today:

Of course our school has problems, just as every school, business, organization and family, for that matter, has problems. Think about it:  Our school is an ever-changing organism composed of administration and teachers struggling to reach and teach the personalities of several thousand young human beings all at once. Wild and wondering human beings whose frontal lobes are not yet fully formed. Human beings with a million different personalities and bents and backgrounds and learning styles and combinations thereof.

These educators are dealing with adult-sized children who are all trying to figure life out in a thousand different ways, and most of them have no clue how vital this education will be to improving their futures. Nevermind that some of them walk into the school setting out of an unimaginably painful home life, mounting a desperate (unrecognized) search for meaning and purpose and love.

So, yeah, I’m sure sometimes that can get a little sticky and make a day “horrible” at our high school.

However, what I have myself witnessed in this “horrible” environment might also just blow your mind. Teachers often giving up their evenings to come watch my kids (“their kids”) in a loooong play or musical. And they are genuinely proud of them. Paraprofessionals forming strong bonds with kids and their families to support them even outside the school environment. Dedicated admin, directors, coaches all strategizing programs to best fit the community struggles these future world-builders, their students, are facing. Teachers reaching into their own often-shallow pockets to provide necessary tools for a young life whose potential has not yet been self-actualized. They are giving their time, energy and heart to believe in our kids.

Recently, I have heard from teachers who are brokenhearted at this sudden disconnect with their classes. They just miss them. I hear teachers tell how they sometimes find themselves in tears because they can’t seem to get some of their students, the ones who need connection the most, to connect through the online methods and continue their education during this difficult season. And it’s not because these teachers are worried about a bad score on a standardized test stealing their job from them (Those tests have died a rightful death this year. Thank you, Lord!). It’s because they worry that next year, when things do return to some sort of normal procedure, these precious souls will find themselves even further behind in their learning and will want to give up.

Yes, community is a messy and sometimes “horrible” thing, I guess. Sometimes it’s downright terrifying. And it is a constant, dizzying process to try and make things better. But let’s recognize what kind of fight our educators go up against every day. I’m so thankful God put it in the hearts of a select few of His creations to desire this battle. We, as a society, need them more than we know.

At the end of the day, these teachers are human, just like you, with worries and families and struggles and weaknesses. And, no, we won’t always agree on tactics, practices and plans, but I can tell you that they are doing their best to build something beautiful in their classrooms and in relationship with these kids and in our collective future.

I’m glad to stand close by and cheer them on.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Final Poem of PAD Challenge

The Tune of the Moon in the Late Afternoon

Like an actor in the wings awaiting her cue
Peeking ‘round the velvety curtain of blue
Halfway concealed, half in full view
Hear the tune of the moon in the late afternoon

Hastening the darkness so that she might shine
“The Sun’s had his circuit,” she wiltily whines
Then plots a great thieving. “His light shall be mine!”
Sings the tune of the moon in the late afternoon

I take in her opus as the Sun’s bedding down
For I too wait and wail in the wings for a crown
So I praise our shared hope hidden in the sweet sound
Of the tune of the moon in the late afternoon

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Poem - Total Time Elapsed

Total Time Elapsed

Feeding the frenzy of milliseconds
is a good Captain
kind and compassionate
joyous and jealous
wary and ever-watching --
and all of this is good

Coasting tall on the tides of time
are we misled miscreants
cleverly clueless
insatiably seeking
eternal, yet ending --
and all of this is good

The question is one of what we spend
which the true currency
mammon or moments?
riches or routines?
what’s spent, what’s kept
and which of these is good

And in the end comes an accounting
of total time elapsed
of words tendered as wages
of talents long expended
of trust nailed to the Perfect
and of Who is reckoned good

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Love Poem

A Love Poem

The Love that shaped the earth’s foundations
and beckoned forth Life’s living fountain
and held up the Hill of the Skull
calls out to me
my ears gone dull and defiant
as I battle for faux height in a land of faux giants
and jockey for might and position
grieving and graying in vile indecision
and yet Love’s echo
the sound is sweet
but to a broken vessel, foreign
Love will pour in every ounce of
good to become known and
understood and to take back
what Love has always owned
and isn’t that lovely?
that while I was trying to scale heights
someOne yet above me was
pressing down
pressing hard to keep me grounded
and tangled in that Vine by which
the finest of Love nourishes