Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Site!

Clattering Bones has moved to
If you are not re-directed automatically, come see me over there.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Nina Simone and Freedom - "A New Way of Seeing"

Just came across this story, written by Salamishah Tillet, on Nina Simone's dream of freedom.  In the story is this video of Nina Simone singing "I Wish I Knew How it Feels to be Free."

From the interview:
The question posed: "What does freedom mean to you?"  She starts of casually and impersonally and in a split second turns dead serious, she confesses, "I'll tell you what freedom is to me - no fear! ... If I could have that in my life, no fear." She goes on: "It is something really, really to feel - like a new way of seeing."
Yep - something like that...

The Necessity of Vulnerability

I've been ruminating on vulnerability lately.  I'm not sure if it's because of my ruminations that I've been more aware of the ways I see people making themselves vulnerable, or if there is something in the water, but it seems that vulnerability is going around.

A few weeks ago, I read Jason Alexander's apology for making a joke about cricket being a "gay" sport.  Alexander's vulnerability in acknowledging his privilege as a straight, white man took a lot of courage.

Then, Saturday I watched a TED talk of Research Professor Brene Brown speaking about vulnerability, and then her follow-up video about shame (both are right at twenty minutes long, and are well worth the time).

Then on Sunday, I heard a sermon on resilience, and embracing change (which can be found here, and is super-good reading), which references Dr. Brown's second video, the one on shame, and how essential it is to overcome the fear of failure and shame associated with failure if we are to reach out and take risks.  I actually watched the TED talk after having a conversation with my pastor, Carla, in which she told me she'd listened to it in preparation for the sermon.  (I acknowledge that the two lectures are really tied together in one event, but I'm trying to make the point that I've had vulnerability on the brain - and to share Brene Brown with whoever may not know of her - she's awesome, and she's from Texas, which makes her double-awesome.)

Then, today, I came across this article, in which Anderson Cooper came out.  For many of us, this was no big surprise - as rusty as some rumor mills may be, Cooper's sexual orientation is not big news.  However, his statement is really compelling, courageous, and totally heartfelt.  The last paragraph is so good I'm just gonna share it all here:
In my opinion, the ability to love another person is one of God's greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life.  I appreciate your [Andrew Sullivan, who wrote the post] asking me to weigh in on this [story about the trend of public figures coming out], and I would be happy for you to share my thoughts with your readers.  I still consider myself a reserved person, and I hope this doesn't mean an end to a small amount of personal space.  But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter's shield of privacy.
It was that last sentence that got me, that reminded me that part of what Anderson Cooper tries to do is present an unbiased account of what's going on in the world (I realize some of you may debate my use of unbiased there, but let's save that for another time).  I also realized that Cooper does a lot of work in countries where being gay is still punishable by death.  He is taking a risk - putting his neck out there, as well as those of the crew who work with him, because he has reached a point where he feels it is more important to be visible as a gay man, who knows he is loved, and is unashamed of who he is, than it is for him to remain behind his "reporter's shield of privacy."  I respect him for that courage.

In Brown's first lecture, the one embedded above, she talks about the necessity of connection, and how shame is underpinned by this "excruciating vulnerability" which tells us that, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.  The thing that keeps us out of connection is, quite simply, the fear that we are not worthy of it - not worthy of being loved; of being known; of being seen.  To be vulnerable is...well, it's scary - it's unnerving, it's...vulnerable!  It's to put yourself out there without the certainty of a soft place to land - it's to open yourself up to being known without the assurance that others will want to know you back.  It's to be exposed, without the assurance that you will be protected in that exposure.

After watching Dr. Brown's lectures, I found myself saying something along the lines of: "That's all well and good, and I see her point - I agree that it is essential that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable."  But, I kept asking - How do we function in a way that allows us to be vulnerable in a world that does not treat that kind of behavior kindly?  I mean, being vulnerable with those I'm closest to is one thing - they are invested in the relationship as much as I am, equally striving to know and let themselves be known.  But, come on - doesn't it seem just a bit risky, even reckless, to model that behavior everywhere?  I kind of mockingly asked myself if we're just supposed to model that behavior, to just jump out there, warts and all, and wait for that to be reciprocated...

I fully believe that when we allow ourselves to be open to one another, to really know and be known by another, we gain an understanding of God's love for us.  I would even venture to say that it is only when we risk some amount of vulnerability that we can begin to understand God's love for us.  When I am able to share a vulnerable space with someone, I begin to see more of who they really are; I begin to love them in a way that wasn't possible before - I have a hunch that this teaches us something about God's love.  But, I still don't know how to do that without at least a little expectation (that I'll be acknowledged, or respected, or loved in return).  Often, those expectations get tangled in with the fear of rejection; and, well, then I just feel kind of scared and anxious.

So, back to my question - Do we model it, allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and do so with the hope that in opening up the space to be fully ourselves (and in being intentional about inviting others to do the same), we might begin to trust the space we share with one another?

Short answer: Hell yes, we do - that's exactly what we do.

However, we do so remembering that we are not alone; and that, as the challenge of being vulnerable with those we are closest to eases, the risk of opening ourselves up more to those who may not be so kind begins to feel less risky.  I'm not saying that I'm going to walk up to a complete stranger and start sharing all of my vulnerabilities with them.  But, maybe I'll start by telling my friends that I'm insecure about ________________, or scared of ___________, or even that I really love _______________, and see how that goes - see if I can risk being known.  In that process, might we all begin to learn that we are worthy of love - and so are all of those around us.    It becomes a lot easier to put your neck out on the line if you know you've got someone holding the rest of you up.

Vulnerability is the glue that makes connection possible - it is the fiber that gives our relationships strength.  It is scary as all get-out, but it is essential, it is fundamental, and it is really nice to know that you are not the only one who has to carry yourself around.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again - we're all in this together, my friends, and it is vital that we tell our stories, that we let ourselves be known, if anything is going to change.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Poem Sunday - "From Blossoms"

Feeling particularly grateful this evening - for lots of things, really; but, in particular today, I'm feeling grateful for the gift of community, for family (both given and created); for those who at times know me better than I know myself (and who love me despite all that), who trust me enough to let me know them, and bear with me patiently as I navigate along this life; and for the sheer gift of being able to share my life with such wonderful people.

"From Blossoms," by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The paradox of a "Personal Jesus"

"In Those Years," by Adrienne Rich

In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and, yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I


[Side note: The title of this blog post references a song by Depeche Mode (and wonderfully covered by Johnny Cash, I might add). It's a catchy tune: great beat, good for dancing or singing along, meant to be kind of an ironic play on the way that people can become Jesus to each other.  As songwriter Martin Gore puts it, the song was inspired by Priscilla Presley's book Elvis and Me: "It's a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care.  It's about how Elvis was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationship; how everybody's heart is like a god in some way, and that's not a very balanced view of someone, is it?" (Fox, Marisa (4 July 1990). "Pop a la Mode" Spin 6(4). Retrieved ala wikipedia, 29 Jun 2012).]

Growing up in the Bible Belt, it was not at all uncommon to hear people talk about having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ," and how this relationship is the only way one might be saved, might go to heaven and avoid hell.  The basic premise is that Jesus is always there, ready to have a relationship with an individual, and that the way to enter in to that relationship is to pray - to confess that you know you are sinful, to recognize the fact that Jesus is the only way you might be saved, and to then ask Jesus into your heart.  It is a sort of individualized theophany which could be brought about simply by saying "yes" to Jesus.  Though I grew up Presbyterian (where this particular notion salvation is not really prevalent), all it took was one youth trip to Florida with the Baptists and I was introduced to the idea; and, I have to be honest, it scared me to death - I think I prayed that prayer about fifty times in that one week.  I asked a Baptist friend of mine recently how many times he'd prayed the prayer for salvation when he was growing up, and he chuckled: "too many to count," he said.  Though I know I was assured that, once Jesus entered my heart, my salvation was assured, and he wouldn't leave again, there is implicit in this message of salvation the notion that one's inability to pray in just the right way, or tendency to fall "into sin" after saying the prayer, will turn God away.

I think about that week in Florida from time to time, and about the first time I prayed for Jesus to come in to my heart.  I think about how that one experience was intended to color the way I saw everything, the way I understood my own life and salvation, and the life that was given in place of mine.  This recognition would then be expressed in personal acts of piety - in avoiding alcohol, premarital sex, bad language.  If you messed up, or "backslid" into sin, well, you just prayed the prayer again - got yourself back "right" with God by asking Jesus back into your heart again - a sort of re-focusing.  Apparently, even though Jesus will stand outside the door of your heart and wait patiently, the gift of salvation which is given freely to those who would ask,  he also won't hesitate to walk away the moment you slip up.  Even as I write that, I realize it doesn't compute - why would the God who created heaven and earth, and who sent his son Jesus to  earth so that God might live fully into the human experience, walk away at the first sign of trouble?  What kind of personal relationship is that?  Why would God be so eager to give us grace just to take it away at the first sign of trouble - isn't that the very reason we need Jesus?

My intention here is not to take a knock at those who ask Jesus into their hearts, or believe salvation is experienced in this way.  My intention is to point out that the effectiveness of such experiences may not be that we are granted some sort of salvation in the future, after this life is over, but that they tell us that we are beloved - that we are loved and cared for in this life and on this earth, here and now.

The challenge with the notion of a personal Jesus is that it is just that - personalized.  There is, after the first big-date experience of asking Jesus into your heart, the realization that you're on your own out in the world - hoping that God doesn't change God's mind and walk away.  It's as if we understand God as saying, "I love you so much, and you're going to heaven, so just do what you're supposed to do...and, for goodness' sake, don't mess up - I'd hate to send you to hell - I'd hate to leave your heart, and to leave you all alone in this world.  I mean, if you do mess up, it's okay...just come back and ask me in again, but you're going to feel like the crappy sinner that you are."  The focus on and individual salvation experience, and living out some sort of two-dimensional personal piety just sets us up for failure.  More, it creates the image of God who scares the hell out of us (pun intended...).

The problem with this is that, when we live our lives terrified of God, we begin to look around and wonder who else might be making God angry, who God might not love, or at least who God loves less than ourselves.  If I see myself as doing everything I'm supposed to do, then why on earth can't my neighbor?  It's like a free-market economy, where salvation is offered to those who can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, who can make a way for themselves in this dog-eat-dog world.  Maybe then I start to look at my neighbor not as my neighbor, but as part of the problem.  I start to hold on to my salvation, for fear that they will want to take it.  I build a wall around my heart and around my house, and I start to see anyone who is not like me as part of the problem - they want to take what I've got, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let them have it.  Or, I become jealous of them, and not just jealous of their stuff, but jealous of their righteousness or holiness - jealous of their goodness, because I know in my heart, despite how I may look, that I'm just...not good enough.  It's like living paycheck to paycheck - hoping your piety will take you through for another couple of weeks.

To put it simply: we are all far too relational, far too connected, to experience a relationship with God, with the very thing which ties us all together, on an individual basis.  God is experienced in community - in relationships, in the love that is expressed and shared in the spaces where we are able to be present and open to trust one another.  It is in those spaces where we risk the possibility that, in being vulnerable and in being known, we might begin to defy the voices that tell us that God loves some of us more than others, or that God loves us "unconditionally, unless we mess up too much."  As we begin to trust that we are loved, and let it sink in, sink right down in to our bones, that we are loved and are lovable, we begin to live in to that confidence, to take risks - to break through the things which hold us captive to the notion that we are alone in this world, and that we will never be good enough for love.  We will begin to believe that we are loved simply because we exist.  We then begin to see everything through that love, and we begin to see that Jesus did indeed die so that we might live because he refused to give up on the power of being in relationship - he refused to give up on the things which give us life.  The power of that defiance, of that resilience, brought forth new life and a new Spirit, which is shared among us all.

There is a tremendous amount of freedom in expressing our fears, in confessing things we have done which have been hurtful; even in sharing the deep, dark secrets we've got buried, the things of which we are so ashamed that we know they make us unlovable.  Those burdens are heavy, and we cannot carry them alone - we aren't meant to carry them alone.  As we begin to share that weight with others, and they with us, may we begin to live into the love which calls us forth to serve others, to be known, to risk intimacy, and may we begin to understand that the best things in life - like trust and peace and love; and the recognition that we are loved - are better when shared.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fathers Day Poem

Spoiler alert - this is not the most cheerful of Fathers Day poems.  As this was my first Fathers Day without my father, I found myself looking at the whole day in a strange way - aware of his life and death in a way I just couldn't have been before he died last year.  I'm sure I'll write more about my dad at some point, and that I could write much more even on this poem and my dad; but, for now...a poem.

His Stillness, by Sharon Olds

The doctor said to my father, "You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That's what I'm telling you now." My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
"There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you." My father said,
"Thank you." And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Back On the Blog Train!! Poem Wednesday

It's been a crazy crazy crazy few weeks - lots of transition, lots of doors and windows closing and opening.  As a result, much of my creative energy has been put toward navigating the still-unfamiliar landscape of transition and newness.  However, I hope to now be back and writing with some regularity.

In light of said transition, I've got a poem today from Wendell Berry, one of his Sabbath Poems from 1999 - VI.

We travelers, walking to the sun, can't see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

I have a friend who recently marked a milestone in her career, and this poem seemed quite fitting for the occasion.  It kept coming to mind as I thought about my own transition as well - about how, prior to starting seminary, the sun that was lighting my path was (and always is, I think) before me - shining into my eyes so brightly that it was as if I was driving due west across Texas at sunset.  It was only as I was able to look back and see both my shadow cast and the light shining on all that was behind me that I could see the way my path was leading.  I'm now again in a place where the path ahead of me is obscured by the very light that shines on it.  I don't know that I'll ever get used to the obscure brightness, but I love Wendell Berry's optimism about it - about the blessings we cannot yet see.