Tuesday, November 30, 2010

they shall beat their swords into plowshares

Or, happy Advent, everyone.

I wrote this in December '07, while I was living in Camden, trying blindly to figure out what I was doing and who I was. It was kind of a hard year. Camden's isolating, even if you have a community around you. I was working as a grant writer at the time, which didn't pay much, and I was freaking out about applying to (and paying for) grad school. And it was a couple months after my friend Ben died, which...well, it threw a lot of us off, to say the least.

Advent is about anticipation, about waiting. It's what I like about the liturgical year: it gives us time to celebrate, wait, mourn, repent. Sometimes it demands things of us (mourn now, think about your failings now) but--in contrast to how I felt growing up evangelical--it doesn't manipulate emotion. Rather, it provides space for it. And I like that.

In any case, I was looking this over and I thought, well, I don't live in Camden anymore, but it still makes a good Advent reflection.

I never believed in Santa Claus as a kid. My parents didn't tell me he wasn't real; they just never mentioned him, always emphasizing the birth of Christ rather than the appearance of presents under the tree. Besides, we didn't have a fireplace in Long Island, and who ever heard of a Santa who came in through the door? One year, when I was in first grade, I told my mom that I was going to believe in Santa. She said okay, sure. It lasted about a week.

I was, however, a firm believer in Narnia. When we would go to friends' houses, I would look in every closet and touch the back wall, just to make sure. When I got back from Oxford [after my junior year of college], my dad looked at me and said, "Did you go looking in closets for Narnia?" I kind of rolled my eyes and then said yes...I did. I still believe in Narnia.

When I think of Narnia during Christmas time, I think mainly of a long-term Advent. A hundred years, in their case, waiting for Aslan. For us, here and now, this season reminds me of the fact that we are in a perpetual Advent, waiting for Christ. Waiting for justice, and peace, and love...It is especially apparent here in Camden, where the devastation of poverty and violence has taken over. Camden's new heaven and new earth will be a long time coming. In my community, Andrea calls what we try to do "practicing resurrection,"* taking things that are dead and raising them to life. A greenhouse in the middle of one of the most polluted areas in the city, where 60% of children have asthma from the poor air quality. Gardens and composting where trash litters the streets. Arts and theatre where beauty seems to have been drained out of life. My boss has a little card on her desk that says, "We will plant olive trees where before there were thorns." In Camden, the waiting for Christ's birth is more than opening the slots on the Advent calendar (though we do that, too). It is waiting for newness. The upside down kingdom, if you will--I always think of Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation."

Narnia had its hundred-year winter melt away with the coming of Aslan (and Father Christmas as well; can't forget him. Always winter and never Christmas, gone forever). And we wait, as they say at Mass, "in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ."


*stolen from the initimable Wendell Berry's Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front

(Also, apologies to my non-Christian friends reading this. I realize the furor around Christmas can be a bit much.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

we give thanks.

I'll probably write more later in the week. But, in honor of the (American) Thanksgiving (which is not without its problems, but hey, I'm good with a day dedicated to eating a lot), here's a poem:

Perhaps The World Ends Here
Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"we cannot remain silent in the face of these acts of violence."

As a sort of addendum to my last post: Proper 29 project

Close to my heart: A Franciscan's perspective on torture.

And this day needs some Patty Griffin (because what day doesn't need Patty Griffin?):

Sometimes I feel like
I've never been nothing but tired
And I'll be walking
Till the day I expire
Sometimes I lay down
No more can I do
But then I go on again
Because you ask me to

Thursday, November 11, 2010

moments of silence

Today's a lot of things: Armistice Day. Veterans Day. Remembrance Day. St. Martin's Day.

It's interesting that St. Martin's Day happens to fall on Armistice/Remembrance/Veterans Day. St. Martin was a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. In response, he decided that his faith prohibited him from taking another life, and told his superiors so--but he offered to go into battle without a weapon. It's reported that he said, "I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight." (I find this interesting especially to contrast with Constantine, who used Christianity as a weapon, whereas Martin laid his weapons down after converting. Another post for that, maybe.)

My friend and former housemate Logan Mehl-Laituri is an Iraq vet. He was in Iraq for 14 months and, after a lot of thought, found that he couldn't reconcile his faith to his profession as a soldier. So he, like Martin, told his superiors that he'd go back to Iraq, but they'd have to send him back unarmed. (Logan, if you happen to read this, correct me if I'm wrong on this account.) They discharged him instead. You can watch his testimony here, at the Truth Commission on Conscience in War.

To be honest? I'm a pacifist. Or almost a pacifist. I think that there are certain things worth dying for, but I don't think that there are things worth killing for. You come up against strawmen a lot as a pacifist--the whole "what if someone were holding your grandma hostage and you had a gun" scenario (there's a lot of wiggle room in that scenario; for example, what if I misaimed and shot my grandma? I have shaky hands).

Call me naive, but I cannot, cannot, cannot believe in something like "collateral damage," because that "collateral damage" has names and faces and families.

It's hard for me, then, to take part in the ra-ra-ra-ness that comes with Veterans Day, or Memorial Day. I do think it's appropriate to take a moment of silence, or many moments of silence, to mourn for those who've died in war, and for those who have come back wounded physically and mentally. But also, I think we should remember to ask ourselves why we've sent people over to fight and kill and die, because the "why" might change the way we look at war.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

this is just to say

Hey, massive post ahead!

I took a class in grad school called 20th-Century African-American Literary Criticism--hereafter Af-Am Lit Crit, because try saying the full title twenty times fast. This post will not be about the actual class (maybe sometime I'll write about it, though, because it was fascinating), but partially about something my professor said. We were reading poetry at the time, and he said, "You can throw anything at English students and they'll take it, but if you give them poetry, they'll run away screaming."

Yeah, that's totally me. Maybe it's because poetry is sometimes so damn difficult. You got rhyme, you got meter, you got form, and those things matter when you're looking at a poem (yes, they do, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society). 

And maybe it's because poetry's hard to define. Samuel Johnson, in answer to Boswell's question, "What is poetry?" said, "Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is."

I'm also of the opinion--and perhaps this is an unjustified opinion--that very, very few people are good poets. I am not one of them. The best poem I ever wrote was a parody of part of "East Coker" ("Oh dark dark dark, they all go into the dark" got turned into "Oh slush slush slush, they all go into the slush." I was rather sick of winter at the time). For the most part, though, let me stick to prose. I can do prose (I think. I hope). 
Good poetry? It takes my breath away, leaves me speechless, renders me almost unable to think.

All right, that's established. Bring out yer poetry! Or, rather, poems you like (though, if you're a poet, feel free to share).