The brief lecture shifted swiftly from Invictus to Hip Hop.
“I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.”
Students filled the tired bleachers
pretending not to be listening.
Adults lined the edges
pretending to be listening.
But the students were being spoken to as adults;
and they were hanging on every word.
The adults were being reminded why they chose this path;
they were hanging on every word.
Then sudden and unexpected shift.
He began speaking the poetry
written by the poets these students
were likely listening to with hidden earbuds
during this very assembly.
He is speaking their language,
the same language of Invictus, but now
spoken to the 16-year-old who
usually can’t help but roll her eyes.
Students now slam their feet on the bleachers,
clapping wildly and worried casually.
Worried about whether they are caring too much
what this university president has to say.
Worried if their friends will catch them caring too much.
Worried that they might actually begin to care again.
Teachers worried they are reminded yet again of
why they roam these halls and click against the dry erase boards.
But he is speaking their language. Their languages.
And we are all hanging on every word.
You can notice the chill bumps they have down their arms,
the chill bumps I have down my arms.
The university president is speaking my language
The students slamming their feet on the tired bleachers
are speaking my language too.
The adults lining the edges of the room
are speaking it too.
We are all now wondering
if it is still possible.
if we are the master.
if we are the captain.
The questions themselves are our language,
and he spoke it so well.
Jackson Central-Merry Assembly
Why is it so difficult to learn a new language? Not a foreign language, but a new way of talking about things. For the last seven years or so, I’ve been enamored with a renewed vision of my faith. Not an altogether different faith; it’s the same one I grew up with, only now things that were once grayscale are showing signs of color.
I still believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, only now he’s the God committed to seeing his creation fully restored, reuniting all things in heaven and on earth.
I still believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, only now he’s the Jewish King who brought Israel’s story to its world-renewing climax, and so bringing humanity’s story to its world-inheriting and world-reigning climax.
I still believe that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, only now his being God is more about God being faithful to the covenant he made with Israel, and his being man is more about Israel being faithful to the covenant they made with God.
I still believe that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, only now those things matter because of the kingdom agenda Jesus embodied from his birth to his death.
I still believe that he descended to the dead, and that on the third day he rose again, only now his journey from death to life launches the new creation God intends for the whole cosmos.
I still believe that he ascended into heaven, only now am I beginning to understand why that ascension subverts economic systems, political powers, and hailed ideologies.
I still believe that he will come again to judge the living and the death, only now do I see judgment as a thing of beauty, that glorious day when creation is finally liberated from all that has caused its ceaseless groaning.
I still believe in the Holy Spirit, only now am I open to his supernatural presence working through me and the entire church to bring God’s kingdom to bear upon this present age with great power and wonder.
I still believe in the holy catholic church, only now as more than a beneficiary of his transforming grace and love, but as an agent of it as well.
I still believe in the communion of saints, only now has this communion become a foretaste of the kind of community that is promised for all those who seek first the kingdom of God.
I still believe in the forgiveness of sins, only now these sins have grown to include systemic injustice, economic oppression, environmental exploitation, and religious arrogance.
I still believe in the resurrection of the body, only now it’s a resurrection not to heaven, but to a heaven and earth reunited, consisting of everything glorious in both the physical and the spiritual world.
I still believe in the life everlasting, only now it’s life as it should be, every human hope and desire amplified exponentially in the presence of God, among a flourishing people, and enjoying all of creation.
A new language is clearly required, but learning its syntax and phrasing is cumbersome. The words fail me. I can’t articulate what is resonating inside, how I sense the pieces coming together, and how this new story is able to integrate everything that awakens our souls.
How do you talk about this? How do you talk about all this color? The kingdom of God, all things new, flourishing communities, heaven and earth reconciled, peace and justice filling the earth, creation regained, a restored world—these are feeble attempts.
And then how do you talk about these things in relation to sin, to Israel, to the prophets, to the law, to Jesus, to the cross, to justification, to right doctrine, to grace? And then how do you communicate the integration of these ideas in a way that not only inspires, but is intelligible; in a way that breaks old patterns of thinking without undermining the truth imbedded in those old patterns of thinking; in a way that opens up a colorful world without disregarding the black-and-white outlines of that world?
It’s a constant frustration of mine, that this new language eludes me still. Just when I think I’ve found a rhythm, I stutter again and miss another opportunity. Is the gravity of those older formations too much for me to lift off the ground into a sky filled with a whole new vocabulary? Or is this new world too magnificent for any mere mortal to describe? Is it a battle that can be won, or one that will never end?
I keep trying.
by Wes Gristy
I’ve had the conversation with others before
proud of myself, of course,
that I might have arrived at such brilliance
and yet I don’t seem to take it in actually
which suggests I’ve actually arrived at nothing.
It’s only in evening in the cold in the rain
finally driving home
that the reality actually strikes me
leaving a kind of embarrassing ignorance
looking back at me in the rear-view mirror
having been my guide far too long.
The “it” of it all,
I’ve said proudly to others before
isn’t only in the everything-working-out-ness
isn’t only in the everything-happening-right-ness
isn’t only in the everyone-getting-along-ness
The “it” of it all
is actually in the middle of
and in that push and pull
and in those ups and downs
we see our true selves
and we see their true selves
and we find deep effort
and we discover true longing
and we stare our own confusion and frustration and struggle in the face
while staring our own humanity and the humanity of others in the face
and we decide
against all odds
to seek first his kingdom anyway
in the things-struggling-to-work-out-ness
in the things-not-really-happening-right-ness
in the people-not-completely-getting-along-ness
because so much more than the places
where all works out and
where all happens right and
where everyone gets along
we are likely to find the truth of the kingdom
and the “it” of it all
in the mess and the muck
in the paperwork and the policy
in the everything but the “it”
of the day to day
that we’ve been thinking all this time
only gets us to the “it”
when in fact,
it is the “it” of it all.
Pine Tree Dr.
I’m reposting this post, from 364 days ago (wait, was there a leap year this year?). This is the last day to reflect from my twenties. Even the last year of the twenties has made this post from one year ago more true, not less. It’s been a good run so far, I’d say. I’ve been surrounded by good folks.
THE LAST OF OUR TWENTIES
It is not uncommon to think we know exactly who matters and exactly who will shape the course of our future, or join us as it shapes. At the ripe age of 16, there were several folks who would be those people. They filled the shop for a surprise party that I was too dumb to figure out. Those people still remain friends, and fewer remain close. At 18, we headed to Memphis in a limo and made predictions about the future; we were right on with most of them. And now, at 29, we will head again to Memphis for the last birthday of the twenties. All that we did know, and all that we didn’t know, wrapped up like a gift for the opening.
I remember my high school English teacher, Mrs. Kee telling us once in class that we would never talk to the people we were friends with in high school after we graduated. She was right in most things, crazy in many, but wrong about that. Yet knowing how she worked, and how crazy she was, maybe that was a dare, a challenge, a kind of psychological game to make us make it work.
And now, looking at the last of the twenties, it has worked. The picture above was taken laying down Mom and Dad’s foyer rug on mine and Brooke’s 21st birthday. We will hop in a limo later this week to celebrate the 29th.
I suspect I can speak for all of us to say it’s a privilege to celebrate with old friends.
The privilege is likely greater, though, that the circle has grown.
When I was laying down on the carpet back then, I would never have imagined the role those folks would play in my life, but I would have expected it. What I never would have expected, h on owever, is the role that new friends who have entered the circle would play––how they would become crucial pieces in the story of who I am and who I am becoming.
There would have been no way to know.
Even 8 years ago, two years ago, I would not have guessed what people who crash into the circle would bring, how they would change my mind, broaden my understanding, invigorate my imagination, and strengthen my hope in the already-not yet kingdom come on earth as in heaven.
From West Texas to South Africa; from a desert meal in Israel to a client in a trailer in Lexington; from the front porch on Pine Tree to the valleys of Napa; from a group of those wrestling with grief to a classroom of those disciplining hope; from cheese and toast around the kitchen counter to hors’ doeuvres on white tablecloths under candlelight, from a rocking chair in Nicaragua to a hammock on Pleasant Plains; from a limo ride over ten years ago to a limo ride today, I am now more sure than ever:
I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
+ Psalm 27:13