“Are you German?” he asked as three friends stood beside him; two stood to his left, one to his right.
“No. Of course I’m not,” I answered, realizing as the words came out of my mouth that being a white American to me meant I was only American; I was not German or English or Jewish or Irish or Scottish or Russian or French or Norwegian.
“No. I’m not,” I answered, realizing how blond-haired and blue-eyed I was when the question was asked, and realizing that I felt guilty because the color of my skin and the hue of my eyes and hair about five seconds after the question was thrown into the hallway as we sat waiting on others, now at the end of the Holocaust museum in Israel.
A profe soon rushed him and his buddies out of the museum hallway and through the exit doors moments afterward, I say now with a more red and more sweaty countenance waiting on the roughly eight dudes behind me in my group who were making their way through the horrifyingly real and terrifyingly factual Holocaust museum in Jerusalem over ten years ago. I rub my hands through my blonde, nappy hair.
We left the space soon after.
We ate dinner in New Jerusalem.
I sent a girl two tables over dessert for her birthday through our server who afterward informed me she was engaged “but appreciated the knafeh.”
I’ve gotten so old.
Elie Wiesel died today.
If I was reasonably intelligent and generally wise and not from West Tennessee, it would not have required the “Oprah Book Club” stamp several years ago on his book Night for me to have ever heard his name walking through Target looking for Coke Zero and classy toilet-bowl cleaner.
But I’m not reasonably intelligent and generally wise, and I am from West Tennessee, so here I was.
And here I am.
A white American male who has been told both it’s all my fault and also I must protect what I’ve “earned” at all costs. I’m left confused.
We debriefed later that evening, and I could only wonder, “Would I have been that one random white dude standing in a sea of black men and women demanding justice, respect, and equality.” I told our folks at dinner, black and brown and white and pale, “I hope I would be one who stood up against those plowed by horses, intimidated by canes, and hung by ropes in the days of my parents (not my grandparents).
I later learned, driving through Alabama to visit friends, these hangings were in my own day. They were not carefully removed to parents or grandparents; It was the right now.
But I could only hope that I would have been one of those few white folks in the crowd demanding justice, respect, and equality for the “other” in those days.
Those days which are these days.
Elie Wiesel died today.
And I am hoping in my less trustworthy but more important parts that I will lean into Wiesel’s character and spirit and honor.
It may take me down, but I must stand up for those who are pushed under. I do have blonde hair and blue eyes. I benefitted from both slavery. But I need to answer “no” to the teenagers in the final hallway at the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. And I need to answer “no” to my coworker. And I need to answer “no” to the person who checks me in to vote a few months from now where I’m held at ethical gunpoint and asked if I stand for nothing or if I’ll fall for anything.
Rest in peace, after such incredible chaos, brother Wiesel.
I cannot be neutral.
Pine Tree Dr.
It’s a feeble attempt, really. If I weren’t sure of the willingness of God himself to accept my feeble attempts, which sometimes I am not actually, I wouldn’t attempt this. But, nevertheless, herein is my attempt at praying the Prayer of St. Francis (or whoever it should be attributed to) for myself. Again. (This post is about five attempts later.)
First, my own version; followed by the Prayer of St. Francis.
God help me, I am capable of making noise for many things
but I beg that you would help me make music toward your shalom.
Where people pour out ugliness and fury, help me be a gardener of acceptance and mutuality;
Where there is a history and presence of war and oppression, help me be a gardener of forgiveness and willing hospitality toward the other;
Where things are wrong and closed and tight, help me be a gardener of truth and honesty and humility;
Where there are darknesses and questions and fields of belieflessness, help me be a gardener of possibility and flowering questions;
Where there is hurt and damage and isolation, help me a gardener of healing and hope and communitas;
Where there is hopelessness and maps that speak only to the end of the road, help me be a gardener of new roads and new paths and unseen forks in the road;
Where their is pain and illness and struggle, help me be a gardener of life and health and work;
God, where the things we feel in our darkest moments feel more real than anything we can touch, make the things of you touchable and bright and real enough for the moment.
Help me work less to feel more whole than to speak wholeness to others.
Help me work less to have the answers than to feel the questions of others.
Help me work less to know I am a part of the circle than to move the circle out so that all are included.
In a kind of backwards kingdom-math, it is in becoming poor that we become rich.
In a kind of backwards kingdom-math, it is in wiping the tears of others that our own tears are dried.
In a kind of backwards kingdom-math, it is in letting go of all we hold on to that our shame is released.
In a kind of backwards kingdom-math, it is in giving up that we find we have given nothing to gain everything. Forever.
God help me, I am capable of making noise for many things
but I beg you guide me to make music toward your shalom.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
-St. Francis, or whomever it was.
Chapel Hill, NC
We come to be united with the blackened earth as we receive the mark of ash on our skin. Just as new growth surely follows the fire so new things await us as we make this journey of repentance.
Because we have covered ourselves with pride and arrogance:
Clean us and set us free.
Since we have been content with the empty and the superficial:
Fill us from the depths of love.
When we become trapped in old patterns and struggles:
Life our eyes in hope.
Even though we are broken and far short of perfection:
Form us for loving service.
After our best efforts have met with rejection and discouragement:
Encourage us still to trust.
So we bring before God all that is in our life, knowing that we can hold nothing back from the fire of love which consumes even those faults which we dearly cherish.
Let us then share these ashes from each other’s hands and know that God will surely fulfill the promise of newness within our life.
from Let Justice Roll Down
When you are empty and wondering if it was worth it, it means you’re valuing what God values.
When you are broken-hearted and swollen with tears, it means you are craving the kingdom and recognize its absence.
When you learn to think and fight and dream in third ways, it means you are beginning to grow your kingdom legs.
When you realize how far you still have to go and it leaves you moving humbly and curiously, it means you will become who you hope to become.
When you make room and offer love to those who should be kicked out and chewed out, it means you are learning to welcome yourself the way you’ve already been welcomed.
When you see beauty and hope and artistry in everything, it means you are learning to see with the eyes of your maker.
When you stand on the line between those fighting against each other and call for a ceasefire, you resemble your father more than you ever have before.
When you live in ways that speak to something deep and true and it lands you in hot water, it means you have found the ways of living that challenge the present and speak to the future.
When you live like me, and look like me, and forgive like me, and make peace like me, and love like me and get chewed out and spoken down to and looked crossways at and released from your position for, you’ve found what you’re looking for and you’ll never be happy again unless you live into what you’ve discovered. And don’t think you’re the first; you come from a long line of rule breakers.
Pine Tree Dr.
Add your own version of the beatitudes in the comments below.
He sat down at the table with me briefly while I ate and he waited on food to go from the cafe. Since he knew of the chaos raging, not much had to be said. I looked up and tried to squint in the way we try to squint when working to hold back tears that we are tired of.
The same way we squint that usually fails when someone knows of the raging chaos.
As tears began to crack and run down the edge of my runny nose, he said, “It’s like a bomb got dropped in the backyard.”
More tears. Nods. Then conversation about weather, salads, and other things neither of us cared about.
I’ve noticed a sense of being caught between surveying the damage and trying to move. The quote housed about my desk that refrains often in my own mind and heart when things seems unbelievably devastating felt a little out of reach at this point. To quote it, even to myself, felt like cheating the grief and confusion and fury and loss that was gripping everything inside of me:
We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders.
– Anonymous Vietnamese poem
I could not imagine myself filling the craters yet, much less singing and sowing because I could not yet fathom or feel the extent of the damage, I could not sense the size of the crater left by the bomb in our backyards. I could only survey the damage. And with every glance, its complexity became deeper and harder to wrap my hands around. I would find myself staring into the crater and disappearing in my thoughts. I was beginning even to have trouble remembering what used to be in it’s place. All I could sense and see was a crater. Impossible to fill.
But somewhere, a sense that we, in community, always fill the craters, kept me from jumping in completely to the loss. Phone calls to friends and mentors. Visits to kitchen counters and living room floors. Weeping and asking and not answering.
And then, somewhere, even while still surveying the damage left by the bombs, something somewhere insists that we are our sorrow, but we are also more than our sorrow. We are also our hopes and dreams and work and errands and children and families and lives and friends and promises of the future. “We are more than our sorrow” Thich Nhat Hanh says, and so we enter into the reality that is the only thing stranger than the reality of the chaos. We enter into the reality that we are all of these things at once, in our humanity, and we must be all of them at once to find a way to move.
And so we move.
Because we are more than our sorrow, even as real as the sorrow may be.
Michigan Ave, Chicago