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Silence

Martin Lutrher king Jr. once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." The silence has to be broken.

I had my first encounter with racism in 1963. I've never forgotten it. I wrote a poem about that incident several years ago. Tragically, the message of that moment and of this moment is still the same. Here is my poem:

 

DEWAYNE’S FENCE

Pontiac, MI  1963

020309

 

We were just grade school boys

Doing what grade school boys do:

Playing baseball in the back yard

And imagining I was Al Kaline.

I don’t remember who you were,

Or who Jim pretended to be…

Actually, come to think of it,

We all wanted to be Al Kaline,

 

I was the oldest and biggest, and

Regularly, I’d get ahold of one

And most literally “go yard,” on you,

While Jim went over or around

The fence that divided our small yard

From the next-door neighbor’s,

Endlessly running the path to

Retrieve both the ball and our dreams.

 

It turned out, that fence segregated

More than just the families’ spaces.

Jim, exhausted and frustrated,

Asked to swap places for awhile,

So you could be the rabbit

And hunt all the homers down,

While Don Spaula cheered our

Real game and imagined heroics.

 

I didn’t know. Honest, I didn’t.

When you ran after the first homer

Just like Jim had been doing,

I didn’t know Mr. Spaula would be mad.

I didn’t understand his words:

“Youare not welcome in this yard,”

But by the look on your face

I could tell you were not confused.

 

As if it were yesterday, I can see

The hurt, the disappointment,

The humiliation and the knowing

Casting a shadow on your dark face.

The innocence of boyhood play

Ravaged by a devastating reality;

The contentedness of friendship

Shattered by such cruel intent.

 

“I didn’t know” wasn’t an excuse then

And it can’t be claimed now.

Your memory etched in mine

Has refused to let me resign

To the cultural status quo.

I wish I could tell you I remember,

And how your pain shaped my life.

As if that would erase the wrong.

 

Words are cheap.

The difference that counts is to live it.

My life has been too often silent

About those wearing shoes like yours.

That darkness is on my soul.

I must – we must – do more than

Avoid the same prejudices.

We must tear down the fence.

 

Silence

Martin Luther king Jr. once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." The silence has to be broken.

I had my first encounter with racism in 1963. I've never forgotten it. I wrote a poem about that incident several years ago. tragically, the message of that moment and of this moment is still the same. Here is my poem:

 

DEWAYNE’S FENCE

Pontiac, MI  1963

020309

 

We were just grade school boys

Doing what grade school boys do:

Playing baseball in the back yard

And imagining I was Al Kaline.

I don’t remember who you were,

Or who Jim pretended to be…

Actually, come to think of it,

We all wanted to be Al Kaline,

 

I was the oldest and biggest, and

Regularly, I’d get ahold of one

And most literally “go yard,” on you,

While Jim went over or around

The fence that divided our small yard

From the next-door neighbor’s,

Endlessly running the path to

Retrieve both the ball and our dreams.

 

It turned out, that fence segregated

More than just the families’ spaces.

Jim, exhausted and frustrated,

Asked to swap places for awhile,

So you could be the rabbit

And hunt all the homers down,

While Don Spaula cheered our

Real game and imagined heroics.

 

I didn’t know. Honest, I didn’t.

When you ran after the first homer

Just like Jim had been doing,

I didn’t know Mr. Spaula would be mad.

I didn’t understand his words:

“Youare not welcome in this yard,”

But by the look on your face

I could tell you were not confused.

 

As if it were yesterday, I can see

The hurt, the disappointment,

The humiliation and the knowing

Casting a shadow on your dark face.

The innocence of boyhood play

Ravaged by a devastating reality;

The contentedness of friendship

Shattered by such cruel intent.

 

“I didn’t know” wasn’t an excuse then

And it can’t be claimed now.

Your memory etched in mine

Has refused to let me resign

To the cultural status quo.

I wish I could tell you I remember,

And how your pain shaped my life.

As if that would erase the wrong.

 

Words are cheap.

The difference that counts is to live it.

My life has been too often silent

About those wearing shoes like yours.

That darkness is on my soul.

I must – we must – do more than

Avoid the same prejudices.

We must tear down the fence.

 

Silence

{jcomments on}Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

I had my first encounter with racism when I was 7 years old. Tragically, the message of that moment is still the needed message for this one: The silence must end. We must tear down the fence.

Here is the poem I wrote several years ago about that first encounter in 1963:

 

DEWAYNE’S FENCE

Pontiac, MI  1963

020309

 

We were just grade school boys

Doing what grade school boys do:

Playing baseball in the back yard

And imagining I was Al Kaline.

I don’t remember who you were,

Or who Jim pretended to be…

Actually, come to think of it,

We all wanted to be Al Kaline,

 

I was the oldest and biggest, and

Regularly, I’d get ahold of one

And most literally “go yard,” on you,

While Jim went over or around

The fence that divided our small yard

From the next-door neighbor’s,

Endlessly running the path to

Retrieve both the ball and our dreams.

 

It turned out, that fence segregated

More than just the families’ spaces.

Jim, exhausted and frustrated,

Asked to swap places for awhile,

So you could be the rabbit

And hunt all the homers down,

While Don Spaula cheered our

Real game and imagined heroics.

 

I didn’t know. Honest, I didn’t.

When you ran after the first homer

Just like Jim had been doing,

I didn’t know Mr. Spaula would be mad.

I didn’t understand his words:

“Youare not welcome in this yard,”

But by the look on your face

I could tell you were not confused.

 

As if it were yesterday, I can see

The hurt, the disappointment,

The humiliation and the knowing

Casting a shadow on your dark face.

The innocence of boyhood play

Ravaged by a devastating reality;

The contentedness of friendship

Shattered by such cruel intent.

 

“I didn’t know” wasn’t an excuse then

And it can’t be claimed now.

Your memory etched in mine

Has refused to let me resign

To the cultural status quo.

I wish I could tell you I remember,

And how your pain shaped my life.

As if that would erase the wrong.

 

Words are cheap.

The difference that counts is to live it.

My life has been too often silent

About those wearing shoes like yours.

That darkness is on my soul.

I must – we must – do more than

Avoid the same prejudices.

We must tear down the fence.

 

 

To overcome an irrational fear...

To overcome an irrational fear...

replace it with a habit.

If you're afraid to write, write a little, every day. Start with an anonymous blog, start with a sentence. Every day, drip, drip, drip, a habit.

If you're afraid to speak up, speak up a little, every day. Not to the board of directors, but to someone. A little bit, every day.

Habits are more powerful than fears. 

Seth Godin

 

Seth’s blog for today (above) reminded me of a powerful story from my youth that I have not thought about for quite awhile, though I’ve told it to people from time to time over the years. The “drip, drip, drip” part is the part that is so powerful to me…

 

I nearly drowned when I was 7 years old. I was at a swimming lesson at a YMCA. I am serious. It was no one’s fault but my own, but the result was a deep-seated fear of the water that showed itself in some debilitating ways for years.

 

Oh, I learned to swim just fine after the incident. I could float, swim, dive, etc. perfectly well. I loved swimming in many ways, however, if I got into water over my head for more than a few seconds I would start to hyperventilate. Repeated attempts didn’t change this, but I kept trying. It didn’t help that my one-year-younger brother and all our friends also loved to swim, but without the hyperventilation part. The worst part was the nightmares.

 

Every time I went into any amount of water I could count on having nightmares that night. Repeated nightmares. The same one every time: I was being sucked down into a whirlpool and drowning. This happened every time I went swimming in any way or place for seven years.

 

There came a day when my brother and I, along with a couple of friends, were swimming at the local YMCA. Jim and the other two were diving off the springboard, and I was at the other end of the pool. And I couldn’t take it anymore.

 

I made my way out along the side of the pool to a depth up to my chin, and hung onto the side. I reached out as far as I could toward the deep end, and pulled myself that one arm length. Then, I shoved myself the few inches to the bottom and bounced back up, grabbing the side again. Then I did another arm length and another, until I reached the end of the pool. I never had that nightmare again.

 

There have been and are plenty of other things and reasons to fear in my life. Yours, too. I don’t really have to ask. Seth’s blog reminded me today that drip by drip, arm length by arm length, fear can be replaced by something new. Maybe you needed the reminder today, too.

The Things (We) I Carry

The Things We I Carry

I finished reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried today – for the second time in the last three months.

 

It’s a novel about the Viet Nam War. Except it’s not.

 

It’s on the NYT’s Book of the Century list, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and has received numerous other honors. Except it’s more.

 

The Chicago Sun Times said “The Things They Carried is as good as any piece of literature can get.” I could not agree more.

 

But in the end, this book is about the power of story. It’s about the power of story to tell truth at a level no amount of fact-recitation can do. It’s about the power of story to rescue us from our angst and shame and fear and guilt. It’s about the weight I carry from my failure and disappointment and grieving, and how weaving together the story of all of it can help to make sense of who and what I am.

 

All the lives of the things now dead in me cry out for explanation, for redemption, for meaning. Deep in the core of me I realize it’s really just me crying out for these things, but it feels more like something outside of myself. Something detached from this moment and its breath.

 

Did the words not said to me mean what I heard? How about the actions taken or losses suffered? Did the moment my courage waned relegate me to my old self-fulfilling prophecies? Are my new self-determined steps leading to the same old path, or to some new horizon? And if a new horizon, will that horizon be populated by the reminders of the dead?

 

I am at some times more aware than at others that I carry much of my past life and experience with me. Often, I’m aware that the way I carry these things is not helpful to the present moment, yet discarding the extra weight sometimes seems like death all by itself, so deeply ingrained in my psyche it seems.

 

But the story – my story and yours – somehow helps to come to grips with the past while also insisting that that past relinquish its grip. I don’t know exactly how this happens, but something in me knows it does.

 

O’Brien says it in a powerful and insightful way at the end of his masterpiece of a book. Having recounted enduring images of the lives of the dead who still populate his life and memory, he closes with the insight embodied in this image: “I’m young and happy. I’ll never die. I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.”

My Heart Is In Selma Today...

I’m spending the morning with Lyn and Lauren, and I will spend time with our little church and others through the course of this day. I love them all, and they comprise many of the most important people in my life. It is good and right to be with them.

 

But my heart is in Selma today.

 

For as long as I can remember I have cared about the issue of race. I came by this honestly. My father taught me to care deeply about this issue, and that teaching went deep into the core of who I am because of the ways he embodied his concern. One of the funny stories connected with this development in my life involves me giving a civil rights speech in my campaign to become 5th grade class president in my tiny school in a tiny all-white town in northern Michigan. I lost in a landslide.

 

I watched the speeches yesterday, delivered at the foot of The Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march for voting rights. President Obama’s speech was brilliant and impassioned, and was very worthy of the occasion. I watched it on my phone in my car, and I wept quietly through much of it. I was inspired and proud as I listened.

 

But it was John Lewis whose voice thundered most. There were times I had a hard time understanding his words through his thick southern drawl, but I was mesmerized, captivated, enthralled, and often overcome with emotion as he spoke. His voice resonated with a character that cannot be practiced or developed over any length of time. It was the sound of moral authority.

 

His voice still echoed with the same determination and clarity of purpose that led him to march as the first among about 600 who risked being beaten and trampled on that day. And he was one for whom that risk became bloody reality. His voice stilled dripped with love and forgiveness for those who so violently opposed his cause and attempted to deny his humanity, and that of those he led on that day 50 years ago.

 

And that day was not his first such day; nor was it his last. And because of John Lewis and others with him and like him, we have come a significant distance in the cause of recognizing ourselves as one people. These were the last words of his speech, in fact: that though we are of different skin colors and ethnic backgrounds and faiths and more, we are one people.

 

Those words thundered into my heart, just as they must have thundered at the foot of that bridge yesterday. They thundered because they were spoken with real authority – the kind of authority only possessed by someone who has understood the power of redemptive suffering, and who has embodied it in harsh reality. Because of John Lewis and others like him and with him, the dream still lives and breathes. And one day, maybe – just maybe – we shall overcome.

 

My heart is in Selma today.

While I Live

While I Live

February 18, 2015

 

Dr. David Benner posted the following potent quote on Facebook this morning: “The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.”  Dr. Benner’s words were superimposed over a picture of a beautiful little girl. My morning stroll down my Facebook newsfeed came to a breathless halt.

Benner quote and pic.jpg - 97.13 KB

I looked at those baby blues so wide and alive,

and allowed the words of that simple sentence

to be tossed over and over

in the tumbler of my mind for a few moments.

 

I saw wonder there, and I wondered

how much of the wonder of the world

has been lost on me at times.

How often have I walked in oblivion

past majesty or beauty or magnificence,

my eyes fixed on some lesser object of my attention?  

 

I saw curiosity there, and I wondered

how I’ve settled for the known or assumed or obvious.

In what ways have I smothered the questions

that come so naturally and frequently

to the inquiring mind that precedes

the more disinterested version?

 

I saw innocence there, and I wondered

to what degree incorruptibility and unsophistication

have given way to pretense and posturing and pride.

When did I add the “dis” to my ingenuousness

or remove the “un” to leave only worldliness?

And why?

 

I saw expectancy there, and I wondered

why imagination and creativity and hope

so often seem to have left the room in my life.

How have expectations dethroned the expectancy

of a mind that sees a horizon much further distant

than that encouraged by the despotic status quo?

 

I saw promise there, and I wondered

how much of my potential and capacity have been

swallowed up by fear or failure or falsehood.

When did the assurance of real life and living

give way to the breathless end of verdancy

and to the haunting death of my dreaming?

 

I look again at those baby blues so wide and alive,

and allow the words of that simple sentence

to be tossed over and over

in the tumbler of my mind for just a few more moments:

 

And arising from the tragic ashes again:

The wonder of awareness,

discovery borne by curiosity,

the simple purity of innocence,

the expectancy encoded in vision,

and the promise of hope that does not disappoint.

In and from the ashes, life. Still.

 

 

Kissing the Rain

One of my dearest friends is an amazing young woman who has helped and inspired me far more than she knows. I think maybe one of the reasons her life has spoken so loudly into my own is that she is without pretense, and in the simple, unadorned expression of her life there’s a lot of wisdom.

 

There is an old expression that goes something like “Into every life a little rain must fall.” I think the truest word in this expression is “every.” No one is exempt. I admit there are some people I have known that seem to experience monsoon season almost continually, or at least more often than the natural progression of seasons should bring, but every life gets rain. Most of us try to stay inside or take cover when this happens, and I have often been one of those.

 

I remember the day Sarah told me about rain. We were going to go walk and talk at a park, but gathering clouds moved me to suggest a different activity. One of the indoor variety. Suddenly, thunder. Sarah told me how much she liked the rain, and then she told me why she thought so many avoid it: “I think people are afraid to feel.”

 

I won’t presume to speak for anyone else here. I admit that I have often been one to avoid the rain, both literally and metaphorically, but that avoidance has diminished over these last 2 ½ years. I have been learning to walk in it, to turn my face up to meet it, and I’m even learning to race in it. I don’t mean to say that it’s always pleasant or enjoyable, but it is better than not feeling. Walking in the rain is better than denying it or avoiding it or hiding from it.

 

Some time ago, my friend introduced me to the wonderful music of Yiruma. I’m not even sure she knows that I was unfamiliar with him before I heard her play one of his songs one evening. I’ve since fallen in love with his music, and it is my most-played Pandora station. Among the songs in his repertoire that I have come to treasure is called “Kiss the Rain.” I would not claim to often do this, but I want to. I’m learning. And I’m grateful for a friend who helps me to turn my face up into the falling rain of my own experience, and to more fully feel the kiss of all of my life.

Decent People (The theft, pt 2)

Perhaps even more disturbing to me in the theft incident at the LifeLine Community Dinner last night was a comment from one of the police officers on the scene. After the man was handcuffed, searched, and arrested, one of the officers escorted him to the police car, while the other officer was standing and talking with me. As the man was passing by us on the way, he asked for his coat so he could get a cigarette. The officer talking to me said no, and then made a very sarcastic remark and laughed at the man.

 

Right away, he “caught himself,” and remarked: “I’m sorry. I’m used to working in the north end. I have to get used to being around decent people.”

 

For a second, everything felt like it was happening in slow motion. I rapidly replayed those words in my head several times in rapid succession. I might have held my breath for a time. I could not believe what I had just heard.

 

It’s not like I hadn’t heard such a statement before. In fact, I feel like I hear or observe that attitude articulated over and over. It’s just that the violence, the callousness, the decisive dismissal of it stops me in my tracks every time.

 

The man who was the subject of that derision had just committed a crime against me and my family. I was not a big fan of his at that moment. I’m still not. But make no mistake about it: he is a man. He is a man who bears in his person the imago dei - the innate dignity of being a human being. While he deserved the consequences of his actions he does not, did not, cannot deserve the denial of his intrinsic worth. He did not get that from me, nor will he.

 

I was as disappointed in that police officer as I was in the guest who decided to take advantage of the hospitality of both my family and the LifeLine community. I still am. It makes me sad and disappointed. It seems to me that we ought to be able to at least start at the foundational level of assuming the basic and universal value of every human person, and that doing so would hold some promise for changing both our expectations of one another and our experiences of one another. I know I’m a ridiculous idealist, but I’m ok with that.

 

I. Will. Start. There.

 

 

Giant

Today, I had the privilege of meeting a man I would call a giant. In a good way.

 

John Perkins, at the age of 7 months, lost his mother to starvation in 1920’s Mississippi. That’s starvation in the United States. He was one of 19 children of sharecroppers. He lived through the racial tensions of the south – you know, the dehumanization and the segregation and the lynchings. He lived through the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s – you know, the beatings and the dogs and the firehoses and the murders.

 

John Perkins, over the past 57 years, has been one of the leading advocates for justice and racial reconciliation in the church and in the nation. He founded and still chairs the Board of the Christian Community Development Association, the largest such organization in the world. He has stimulated urban renewal and creative enterprise and educational programs in small towns and large cities across this country. He has authored books and mentored dynamic change agents and served the common good at uncommon levels. And he has spent all these years profoundly “with” people living through some of the most difficult circumstances life has to offer.

 

Today, I got to sit in an auditorium and listen to this man whose physical stature has clearly diminished in the last several of his 84 years. Twice. And I got to talk with him at his book table, and again after his final talk of the day. His voice dripped with the kind of grace that only comes from having allowed his life to be hammered on the anvil of shared suffering and grief. And his words thundered with the kind of authority that only comes by that same path. In a world that mostly rewards those who seize power by force, and who demand recognition and deference and preference for themselves, John Perkins is a man whose voice thunders because of its authenticity and whose life thunders because of his service.

 

And that is the character of a giant. In a good way.