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lenten journal: touch screen

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Since I get on the train around 5:30 in the morning, most of us riding into New York use the time to sleep–until the train stops at 125th Street, and then we start to move about. Some get their stuff together but stay seated, and others (like me) stand up near the door just to stretch out legs for the last fifteen minutes of the ride, and to be able to leave the train quickly. As we stand there, almost everyone passes the time by staring at a screen.

No one makes eye contact or dares attempt a conversation.

It has not always been that way (the part about staring at a screen), but it’s hard to remember those days. I say that more as an observation than a criticism; it is hard to remember life before our handheld computers that we continue to call phones. I can remember always having a book in my bag when I rode the subway regularly in Boston. I looked around this morning and no one I could see had a book. Only a screen.

We are being changed by our technology, but that is not a new thing.

When I got to my desk, I pulled out the book I had with me and Ilia Delio had this to say:

Our addiction to technology is causing us to unmake the world at an alarming rate. Perhaps most important, we are losing the capacity to love by way of forgiveness and reconciliation; that is, we are losing the ability to transcend our partial lives by way of love in order to create a new future together. Political, economic, and social unrest continues to spiral, thanks to technology, and we cannot find a means to slow down or turn in a new direction.

Her words made a rather gruesome connection in my brain, taking me back to my classroom at Charlestown High School in Boston and a presentation by folks from Facing History and Ourselves, an amazing group that helps students understand what it means to be a compassionate participant in life. The presenter talked about the Battle of the Somme, a horrendous event in World War I that marked the first use of machine guns by the Germans–a change in technology.

In one day, almost 20,000 British soldiers were killed and 57,000 injured–the worst day in the history of the British Army. Part of the reason they died was they didn’t understand the implications of the technology they faced and they walked right into the bullets.

Since then, how we wage war has become more and more distanced so that now someone operates something akin to a video game somewhere and bombs the hell out of someplace else on the other side of the world and then goes home for dinner. The disconnect belies the impact of their actions.

The same is true, it seems to me, when it comes to hitting send or retweet.

I know that analogy is overstated, but when I think about the escalation in division and rancor in our country, about our struggle to listen with intention or to focus our attention, I wonder if our lack of ability to communicate is tied to the rapid changes in technology that have us living through our devices, or at least allowing the disconnect they bring to belie the impact of our words.

I have many reasons in my life to be thankful for social media, not the least of which is the chance to reconnect with people from all the different addresses of my life. It’s not all bad. It’s just too much too quickly for us to understand how it is changing us.

After the 2016 election, we were shocked that Trump chose to tweet rather than to make speeches. Now that is how world leaders make announcements, and reply to them. Are we starting to think that Twitter is actual communication?

The question is rhetorical.

What I wanted to get to in this post is more than a cautionary tale. As I continued reading Ilia Delio, she asked,

But if love is our truest nature, and technology is changing that nature, how can we renew our deepest reality of love? This is a question for our age and an important one to engage. For the type of love that mends broken hearts is not superficial; it cannot be controlled electronically by the touch of a button. It is a decision to love beyond what is beneficial or satisfying to one’s ego; it is to love by way of sacrifice. . . . It requires our utmost attention, our hearts and our wills; this type of love requires total self-gift.

One of the things I know about myself is I rarely do one things at a time when I am on a screen. Put me in a Zoom meeting and I am answering email and writing texts while I am watching those on camera. It is hard for me to give my utmost attention, which means I am not offering my best. I am not making my best self-gift.

Ilia says there is more riding on that than I thought.

God will not mend our broken hearts without us, but God will continue to be with us, challenging us with the question: What do you want? How we choose to love in a world of distrust will affect our future, a future that we will create together or not at all.

May our hearts break and heal together.

Peace,
Milton

lenten journal: paper cuts

0

Back when we were youth ministers, my friend Burt had a metaphor about relationships (talking to young people about relating to their parents and vice versa) that I have not forgotten. He said building trust was like a savings account: you have to build it up by making small deposits in the way you deal with everyday interactions. If there comes a time when that trust is tested–when you have to make a withdrawal, so to speak–you have something to withdraw from.

I thought about those days because I read this article from The Atlantic that caught me with its title:

The Marriage Lesson That I Learned Too Late

and then the teaser:

The existence of love, trust, respect, and safety in a relationship is often dependent on moments you might write off as petty disagreements.

In the heart of the article, Matthew Fray says,

The reason my marriage fell apart seems absurd when I describe it: My wife left me because sometimes I leave dishes by the sink.

It makes her seem ridiculous and makes me seem like a victim of unfair expectations. But it wasn’t the dishes, not really—it was what they represented.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of times, my wife tried to communicate that something was wrong. That something hurt. But that doesn’t make sense, I thought. I’m not trying to hurt her; therefore, she shouldn’t feel hurt.

We didn’t go down in a fiery explosion. We bled out from 10,000 paper cuts. Quietly. Slowly.

His discussion of dishes reminds me of how my mother and father used to joke that what was going to split them up was one rolled the toothpaste up from the end and the other squeezed it out of the middle, but it really was a joke. They cared for each other well.

This post, however, is not about marriage; it’s about how the same principle of paper cuts applies to relationships in general, much like the trust bank wasn’t just about kids and parents.

Fray talks about the longterm impact of having the Same Fight, which I feel like I see happening a great deal in the relationships that make up life in families, marriages, congregations, work places. It’s when we keep doing the same thing, or not doing the same thing, even when we have been told it punches someone else’s buttons.

When we’re having The Same Fight, positive intent, or chalking up any harm caused as accidental, can be just as much of a trust killer as more overtly harmful actions. It doesn’t matter whether we are intentionally refusing to cooperate with our spouse or legitimately unable to understand what’s wrong—the math results are the same. The net result of The Same Fight is more pain. Less trust. Regardless of anyone’s intentions.

In the exhaustion of the ongoing pandemic (it ain’t over yet!), it too often feels like Groundhog Day, and we, in our grief and exhaustion, keep having the Same Fight, maybe because we feel too tired to listen well. Or maybe, pandemic or not pandemic, we too easily fall into mansplaining when someone tries to tell us how they feel and we decide to explain why they shouldn’t feel that way instead of taking them seriously.

But we have to learn to take each other seriously because the only way we survive is together. We have to avoid the paper cuts and make deposits in the trust bank instead–pay attention to the little things and, as Walt Whitman said (and Ted Lasso quoted), be curious and not judgmental.

In that spirit, the closing words of the article are ones I will keep close.

If I had to distill the problems in failed relationships down to one idea, it would be our colossal failure to make the invisible visible, our failure to invest time and effort into developing awareness of what we otherwise might not notice in the busyness of daily life.

If I had known that this drinking-glass situation and similar arguments would actually end my marriage—that the existence of love, trust, respect, and safety in our marriage was dependent on these moments I was writing off as petty disagreements, I would have made different choices.

I could have communicated my love and respect for her by not leaving tiny reminders for her each day that she wasn’t considered. That she wasn’t remembered. That she wasn’t respected. I could have carefully avoided leaving evidence that I would always choose my feelings and my preferences over hers.

Grief and exhaustion are inflationary, which means it costs more to live these days, which means those trust bank deposits–the pocket-change gestures that add up–are crucial to our survival together. Listen hard. Pay attention. Ask good questions. Let folks around you know you see them and it matters right now–not when it’s too late. No one wants to die by paper cuts.

Peace,
Milton

lenten journal: red floppy shoes

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Some days I can deal with the world and some days I struggle.

Tonight is a struggle. Today I read stories about how many states are pushing legislation similar to Florida’s homophobic (in this case, I think we need to redefine homocidal) “don’t say gay” law and another story about Russian troops carrying mobile crematoria into eastern Ukraine to burn evidence of their war crimes before human rights activists can document anything. But the president of France made an angry phone call and most every other Western country keeps trying to figure out how to make sure standing up against Russia doesn’t derail their economies, which means we are doing nothing. Oh, sorry–the US said we would take 100,000 refugees.

And we said it with a straight face.

Years ago, David LaMotte wrote a children’s book called White Flour that told the true story of a group in Knoxville, Tennessee who were trying to figure out how to respond to a Klux Klux Klan march in the city. They dressed as clowns and when the marchers yelled, “White power,” the clowns said, “Oh, we get it! White flour!” and they pulled out bags of flour, ripped them open, and threw them in the air. The Seussian poem goes on with the marchers continuing to yell and the clowns responding with imagination: white flowers, tight showers, wife power until . . .

The men in robes were sullen, they knew they’d been defeated
They yelled a few more times and then they finally retreated
And when they’d gone a kind policeman turned to all the clowns
And offered them an escort through the center of the town

The day was bright and sunny as most May days tend to be
In the hills of Appalachia down in Knoxville, Tennessee
People joined the new parade, the crowd stretched out for miles
The clowns passed out more flowers and made everybody smile

David wrote the book as a way to teach children about ways to respond to violence other than to be violent in return. The last verse says,

And what would be the lesson of that shiny southern day?
Can we understand the message that the clowns sought to convey?
Seems that when you’re fighting hatred, hatred’s not the thing to use!
So here’s to those who march on in their big red floppy shoes

War destroys imagination. Well, first it shrinks our vocabulary and then it destroys our imagination, until we end up sitting in front of a computer, as I am, writing about feeling helpless. The next sentence that comes to mind as I read what I just wrote is:

HELL, NO.

Not necessarily expansive vocabulary, but you get my point. What will it take to think imaginatively about what is happening in our world? Perhaps a better way to ask that question is, who is thinking imaginatively about our world and how can I get in touch with them? How can we all connect?

Ilia Delio says, “If we want a different world, we must be different people.”

One way to read that sentence is to say we must change. The other is to decide to be odd-balls, as in the Southern understanding of the word: well, he’s different.”

I wondered aloud to Ginger tonight what would happen if, instead of refugees fleeing Ukraine, everyone in the bordering countries or whoever could get there would flood the place, inhabit the war zones, and make the Russians kill them too if they were so intent on genocide. I know it’s a long shot, but it seems like it would feel a lot like the clowns in Knoxville, doing something that was an invitation to humanization for everyone involved.

We can’t take the high road as a nation when it comes to war crimes. Pick a war and we have aimed our guns and bombs at civilians. We may not have carried crematoria, but to take a sanctimonious posture at this point is not imaginative. Neither are the sanctions, since too many of the countries involved are still buying Russian fuel. And the financial channels that run through banks and multinational corporations will make sure that the money gets to where it needs to be so everyone can still get richer. Greed doesn’t have much imagination either.

If we want a different world, we must be different people.

My ranting aside (since anger is easier than despair), this post is much less a manifesto than it is a question: How can we imagine a different world? How can we be different in a way that will matter to Ukraine? (Which is not the only place in the world where such atrocities are taking place.)

Seems that when you’re fighting hatred, hatred’s not the thing to use!
So here’s to those who march on in their big red floppy shoes

Where do we find our big red floppy shoes?

Leave your answers in the comments, he said with a smile.

Peace,
Milton

 

 

lenten journal: un-discovered

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One of the stories I have repeated often (and I have a lot of stories I have repeated) is that when my father died one of the first things that crossed my mind was to call those I knew whose fathers had died before mine and say, “I’m sorry. I meant well in what I said to you, but I had no idea how this really felt.” I began to make a distinction between learning and discovering that has stayed with me. This is part of what I wrote in The Color of Together:

Though what I was feeling was unfamiliar, the books I read and the conversations I had made me realize I was walking well-travelled roads, which was both comforting and disquieting. I had landed on populated shores. I had not discovered anything new.

Like many of us, as a kid I was told that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America. He may have made the voyage, and even found a land that was not on his map, but the verb is wrong. He did not find a place that no one else had seen; he landed on a populated shore. He landed in the middle of someone else’s story. He set foot where people had lived for generations, where cultures and kingdoms had already come and gone. He learned. He found, perhaps. He became aware of, he explored. He condescended. But he didn’t discover a thing.

Neither have I, other than to say in the course of my life I have discovered some things about myself, though most of those were already apparent to people around me, so even here my choice of verb is tenuous. More often than not, I feel like Mark, Ray Kinsella’s brother-in-law in the movie Field of Dreams, who was fiercely opposed to Ray’s plowing under his corn to build the baseball diamond on his farm until he saw Doc Graham step off the field to save his niece’s life. All of a sudden, where he had once seen nothing but an empty ball field, he saw a diamond teeming with players.

In researching the book, I even came across a song written by a teacher named Nancy Schimmel who rewrote the 1492 I learned in school to drive the point home:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
He didn’t know what he thought he knew
And someone was already here.

Columbus knew the world was round
So he looked for the East while westward bound,
But he didn’t find what he thought he found
And someone was already here.

The Inuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onondaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.

It isn’t like it was empty space,
Tainos met him face to face.
Could anyone discover the place
When someone was already here?

So tell me, who discovered what?
He thought he was in a different spot.
Columbus was lost, the Tainos were not;
They were already here.

The word discover has been on my mind over the past few weeks as I have been reading books on the new cosmology and quantum theology, mostly because of how little it is used. Scientists talk more about what they have learned, rather than what they have discovered because they know they are finding things that have been there all along.

Tonight, I looked it up in the etymological dictionary and here’s what I learned:

discover (v.)
c. 1300, discoveren, “divulge, reveal, disclose, expose, lay open to view, betray (someone’s secrets),” senses now obsolete, from stem of Old French descovrir “uncover, unroof, unveil, reveal, betray,” from Medieval Latin discooperire, from Latin dis- “opposite of” (see dis-) + cooperire “to cover up, cover over, overwhelm, bury” (see cover (v.)).

At first with a sense of betrayal or malicious exposure (discoverer originally meant “informant”). Also in Middle English used in literal senses, such as “to remove” (one’s hat, the roof from a building). The meaning “to obtain the first knowledge or sight of what was before not known,” the main modern sense, is by 1550s.

The “main modern sense of the word” came about during the age of European colonization. Perhaps the etymological dictionary is wrong to say the sense of the word that is more nefarious is now obsolete. Columbus claim of discovering the Caribbean rests on his dehumanizing choice to not see the people who were standing right in front of him, just as other colonists did in Africa, India, and South America. Discover carried a sense of ownership: finders keepers. The losers were the ones who had been there all along.

I get that “to obtain the first knowledge or sight of what was before not known” does not necessarily mean the person doing it has an evil intent, but I do think it is an invitation to arrogance, which leads to a sense of ownership, and that heads down a damaging road.

To say it more simply, just because it is new to me does not mean it’s new.

On the other hand, to say I learned something implies relationship, because I had to be taught. Even an awareness that comes when I am sitting alone in my office or riding in my car or taking my morning shower (please–someone create a waterproof note board so I can write down the ideas that come when I have soap in my eyes) was planted by something I read or saw or heard.

I’m not sure why I landed on this when I sat down to write, other than–because of my reading–these have been days rich with connections and understandings that are new to me even though they are not new. And as scientists come to fresh understandings about the universe, they have learned that what they have been able to verify was already at the heart of indigenous spirituality going back for centuries.

Once again, someone was already there, but this time they are not invisible.

in twenty-two hundred and twenty two
when milty read physics and cosmology too
he learned from thinkers and questioners who
knew that someone was already there

Peace,
Milton

lenten journal: jazz funeral

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Palm Sunday is a day full of contradictions to me, particularly in the way we observe it as Jesus’ triumphal entry, because I don’t think triumph was a central word in Jesus’ vocabulary. As I read the story again this year, preparing to preach, I saw something I had not seen before, and that was the connection of his ride into town with the parable he told just before he climbed on the colt. Here’s my sermon.

_________________________________

Did you notice the way our passage began this morning?

After he had said all this . . .

Once again, we are picking up in the middle of the story and trying to figure out what is going on. Let me give you a quick rundown.

For the better part of six chapters, Jesus has been telling parables to describe how God works in the world and, correspondingly, how God is calling us to do the same. Along the way, a couple of healing stories are thrown in. The beginning of the chapter we read this morning–Luke 19–starts with Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus and then Jesus not only talked to him but invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ house. Then Luke moves to another parable about a rich man who was leaving to go take control of another country (that didn’t want him to take control, but he was going to anyway). He called three of his servants and put each of them in charge of some money: one got ten minas (one mina was about three months wages, so two and a half years of salary), one got five minas, and one got one. He didn’t give them the money as a gift; he wanted them to keep his business going while he tried to pull of his hostile takeover. He also didn’t give much in the way of instruction other than to continue doing business with what they had. When he returned–after successfully forcing himself into power in the other country–he called them in to give account for their work.

The one with ten made ten more, and the master rewarded him by giving him more responsibility, though I’m not sure it was much of a reward. The one with five made five, and was also rewarded in the same manner. The one who was given the least amount, a single mina, returned it telling his master that he was scared of losing the money so he just hid it so he could return in unscathed.  The rich man took his mina and gave it to the one who had ten and then said he wanted the people who had fought against him in the other country brought in and executed in front of him.

And after Jesus finished that uplifting parable—without explaining it–he told his disciples to go into town (which was Bethany where he had raised Lazarus from the dead and where Mary had poured perfume on his feet) and get the colt they would find tied to a tree, which they did. Then they put their cloaks on the back of the colt and helped Jesus up on its back and they began the trek down through the Kidron Valley to the gates of Jerusalem, about a mile and three quarters.

Did you get that? Jesus’ ride didn’t take place in the city of Jerusalem. I have missed that detail before now. He was still outside the walls.

The road from Bethany to Jerusalem winds down from the Mount of Olives past the Garden of Gethsemane and then winds through a cemetery–an ancient burial ground that predated Jesus, which means the people who lined the path to see him were standing in a graveyard waving branches throwing their cloaks in front of him. It was more akin to a New Orleans jazz funeral than a triumphant parade.

With that image in mind, Iet’s go back to the parable Jesus told before he got on the horse.

As Jesus was preparing to go into Jerusalem for what he was pretty sure was the last time because the unwanted oppressive Roman government had grown weary of his impact, he told a parable about an unwanted ruler who was only concerned with getting more for himself.

I know–to our American ears, so trained to listen for anything that supports the Protestant Work Ethic and the American Dream, it’s easy to hear this as a story about how hard work pays off. But it doesn’t. Not in this story. The rich man gave the servants money to invest for him, not for themselves. They were running his business, not profit sharing. He didn’t give the mina from the man who had hidden it to the one who had doubled his ten as a reward; he gave it to him because he was better at making money. And he didn’t punish the servant who just held on to the money, or at least not in the parable. He hears about his investments and then decides he wants to see the people who resisted his takeover executed right in front of him. This was a wicked, evil, mean, and nasty man.

He is not a symbol for God in the parable, and we are not the servants in this story. Everyone in the parable loses at the hands of the unwelcome and unjust ruler who found a way to crush everyone.

And after this parable about the damage of unbridled greed and power, Jesus got on a colt to ride to Jerusalem–but not because he thought he was going to be the conqueror.

The ride down through the cemetery and into Jerusalem was not triumphant. We have named it that because we, like many of those lining his path, keep hoping God is going to start making things go our way so we can be the ones in power, but Jesus knew better. He knew he was going to lose, just like everyone in the parable did, and he went anyway.

He knew that triumph and power would not have the last word. When some around him said he ought to tell his followers to keep it down with the hosannas, perhaps another way of saying, “Pipe down or you’re going to get in trouble,” Jesus said, if the people quit singing the rocks will cry out, which is another way of saying love is the last and strongest word–but not just in a “someday” sense.

One of the sayings I love is “Love wins in the end; if love hasn’t won yet, it’s not the end.” I trust that is true, but I also think love is not something we have to wait for. In the past few decades, we have learned a great deal about the universe that we are a part of. We’ve learned that trees talk to each other and feed and care for each other, sometimes over great distances. Scientists have found forests are best seen as one large organism rather than a bunch of individual trees. They share nutrients, support those who are sick; they take care of each other.

Instead of thinking matter is made of particles, scientists have learned that everything is made of energy–of spirit if you will. And again, they are finding that everything is connected. Relationship is the foundational building block of the universe at every level. Like the forests, we are one big organism built to take care of one another. Some scientists and theologians even say it this way: love is the fundamental force in the cosmos. Hold that thought for a moment and listen to the words of Paul:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

This morning as we gather, Russia is still mercilessly attacking Ukraine–and that is not the only spot in the world where people are being brutalized by power and wealth, its’ just the one we have chosen to notice. Our country is a war zone of its own. We have become incapable of most any kind of compassionate communication. We are broken, but we keep acting like we’re not, as though that will somehow make it okay. To say we have much in common with those waving branches in the graveyard is an understatement.

The trajectory of the week ahead as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem means this sermon doesn’t have a happy ending. Jesus is going to die. The men around him will all run away. The women will stay. And all of them will lose, just like the folks in the parable. As I have said a couple of times this Lenten season, resurrection requires death. We are not marking a triumphal entry today, we are a part of a funeral procession, and–not but–if we listen close, we can hear the rocks are singing and the trees talking and the cosmos humming because

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

One more time: Love never ends. Amen.

disco chip cookies

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Yesterday I got a text from a church friend asking if was home because she had something to drop off. When she came by, she handed me two packages of Disco Chips, self-described as “semi-sweet morsels and edible glitter morsels.” The folks at Nestle have had too much time on their hands during the pandemic. The part of the story I love best is she said she saw them and bought a package and then, when she got home, she thought, “I should have gotten some for Milton,” and she went back to the store and did just that.

Bob Marley is right: everything’s gonna be alright.

Her gesture of love set two of my rules for living into motion. One is when someone gives you something to cook, you cook. The second is the recipes on packages and boxes are not filler; they are good recipes. I came back in the house, read the recipe on the back, set the butter out to warm up while I finished my workday and then made Disco Cookies by the instructions on the package. (Well, sort of. )

I also learned something. When I make regular chocolate chip cookies (Acoustic Chip Cookies?), I mix the chips in the dough. For these cookies, the instructions were to make and scoop the batter and then press the dough balls into the chips so they all sat on top of the cookie. I suppose that is so the glitter doesn’t get lost on the inside. It was a new technique to me and it worked well.

Here is my version of Disco Chip Cookies.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (315 grams)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks room temperature)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 pkgs. Nestle Disco Chips (11 oz.)
sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together is it is well mixed.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together until creamy. I let the mixer run for 8-10 minutes because I think it makes a difference in the quality of the cookie. Add the eggs and mix until well combined. Add flour mixture and mix until everything is incorporated.

Pour the chips into a large bowl. Scoop the batter into balls (about two dozen, using a 2 oz. scoop). Press the balls into the chips so the tops are well covered and the chips are stuck to the dough. Sprinkle with the sea salt. (You can leave this last step out if you want a sweet cookie, but we like the contrast.)

Bake for 9-11 minutes. Let cool and then enjoy.

Well you can tell by the way I use my scoop . . .

Peace,
Milton

lenten journal: play ball

1

play ball

I served a church outside of Boston
back when a curse was still a curse
and every year before Opening Day
Wally would stand and read aloud

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

he crossed my mind today as the Sox
came up short in the bottom of the 11th
note to self– write your opening
day poem before the game begins

maybe hope comes easier when
you don’t know the score or maybe not
truth is next year rarely comes through
this year is the one worth living

even when a dying quail sends their
runner home and ends our chances
we only have 161 more times to
send our dreams back out there

I love a game I never played
because it’s about making errors
and going home about believing
this could be our year so*

(*now go back and read the title)

Peace,
Milton

lenten journal: this is not your fault

2

it’s not your fault

a friend who grew up
in an abusive home
recalls a moment in
a mall store when
she was young

and her mother
was berating her
and a stranger
knelt down and
looked her in the eye

“this is not your fault”

she said and then
life went on
but the little girl
was not the same
she knew better

as holy week nears
and we make our
way to the cross
I have to fight
through the voices

telling me and you
that Jesus had to die
because of us
and I want to kneel
down and say

“this is not your fault”

the story is not
about our shame
guilt or payback
we belong to God
just as we are

Peace,
Milton

 

lenten journal: tattooed

1

I have three tattoos.

The first one is the simplest: a semi-colon. It rests on the front side of my right arm. When I learned about Project Semi-Colon and the idea that depression is not the end of the sentence, I punctuated my life with there mark. The third one is on the inside of the same arm. It is the word courage in black with a teal period at the end of the word. I got it the week that our foster daughter started chemo as a statement of solidarity. She and the tattoo are both doing well.

The second one is a line from my favorite Guy Clark song–my personal national anthem–“The Cape,” which tells the story of a little boy who keeps climbing up on the garage convinced that he can fly. The chorus says,

he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith
close your eyes hold your breath and always trust your cape.

I wish I had gotten it in larger letters because they kind of run together at times, but I know what they say.

Some songs are like tattoos, the ink of the lyric drilled into your heart by the melody or the beat or the way the song found you, leaving an indelible work of art that transcends and transports.

Diane Ziegler’s “You Will Get Your Due” is one of my tattoo songs. I bought the record when it came out in 1995. I had no idea who she was or that the song even existed. I was struggling with my yet unnamed depression, finishing my MA in English so I could get my teaching certificate (while I was teaching full time) and wishing I could be a writer. My fortieth birthday was in sight, but not much seemed within reach. And she sang,

there’s a man that I don’t know well
but I’ve seen the way he cast his spell
straight across a room until the people had to listen
he was singing from a quiet place
and you could only hear the faintest trace
that he wonders if he’ll ever taste the kiss of recognition

you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
you will get your due

I want to call him friend
because I love the way he works that pen
and spinning stories seems to be his true devotion
but he says he’s gonna pack it in
because he doesn’t see it rolling in
he thinks that ship is somewhere lost out on the ocean

you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

I know you want to leave it behind
but it’s all there in your mind
and you can no more stop the songs
than stop your breathing
I can’t tell you how it’s gonna end
I know the lucky ones sometimes win
but not before they’ve paid a price
for all their dreaming

you will get your due
you will get your due
believe that there is so much more
even if it’s not right here at your door
and you will get your due

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about wisdom offered by a friend who said we either choose our losses or we lose our choices. On a day when I set some losses in motion in hopes of creating choices, I have spent some time both looking at and listening to my tattoos, reminding myself that the story is not over, that courage is quotidian, and I will get my due. And as I think about life in these months after my sixty-fifth birthday, I’m grateful that the kid in “The Cape” grows up:

he’s old and gray with a flour sack cape tied all around his head
still climbing up on the garage and he will be till he’s dead
all these years the people said he’s acting like a kid
he did not know he could not fly and so he did

I know I haven’t given many details. Those will follow soon. For now, if you see someone on the garage, it’s just me.

Peace,
Milton

lenten journal: vigil

1

vigil

what difference does it make
if we all stand still together
or fill up a room to hear others
tell stories of love and loss

one woman in town is baking
Ukrainian bread to raise
money to help refugees and
hospitals one loaf at a time

how can a hundred bucks
stop a tank across the ocean
as the room listened a little
girl stood next to me in a

flowered headdress looking
down at a her red boots
her brother turned his
electric candle off and on

as speakers spoke words
I could not understand
because my hearing aids
are loaners I could only sit

and imagine a room in
Poland perhaps filled with
refugees waiting to hear
words that might matter

or standing in line for food
I imagine a little girl in
that room as well without
flowers or red boots

and tonight I am thinking of
her because someone asked
me to sit still and listen as
if that makes a difference

Peace,
Milton