Photo By: Lisheng Chang
God can you hear me?
Even though my faith has waned?
Even though I’ve abandoned my father’s religion?
I feel empty.
I can no longer lean on man’s truth anymore
even that wavers and crumbles under my feet
What was, what should have been remembered, is lost.
Truth seems inverted. Relative.
There’s so much gray.
I feel lost.
To the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
I’ve told my story
I grew as still as a sharp intake of breath
before bleeding myself dry over bare bits of parchment
till every drop has been squeezed out of me
and yet I feel weak
like I’ve wandered the wilderness for forty years
telling the truth over and over
and yet the shadows still grow long and the sky turns red
and the bread I’ve eaten has turned to stone
Is this what was meant by the tree of knowledge?
is the act of knowing so burdensome that truth alone
can lead a man to die?
that the weight of it can bring sorrow and pain
powerful enough to cripple the heart
and make one doubt even his own mind
was that the fruit so forbidden
that cast man into the void – not the knowledge of sin
but the understanding of it? The wisdom it provides?
is sin simply the essence of our humanity and the hatred
of it our own self destruct button?
I don’t know
and that is the worst of it. It’s like wine
that never slakes the thirst. The more I learn the less
I know and the more I want.
But to learn is to breathe and to cease is to die
While great world religions were all erected in this merry go round of knives
hating absolutely what it cannot cease doing unless they cease to be
but cannot cease to be by their own hand lest they cast themselves into eternal uncertainty
which is more uncertain than this …this…whatever it is this is.
Is it balance? Is that it?
Acceptance of it all? The light in the dark and the male in the female? is it this that would bring me comfort?
Were the easterners right when they uttered
Namyoho Renge Kyo?
Was Buddha, like Moses, a prophet telling everyone just to calm down?
That even in the muck and mire of who we are
we are still the beauty that manages somehow to emerge triumphant?
Should I fill myself with that?
Dear God, am I going to be okay?
Thy Will be Done –
but you have some explaining to do.
I am an unbeliever
some would say an atheist
but not toward this thing we call God
no, it’s more complicated than that
I look upon creation
and like Franklin see a Creator
but when my gaze falls from the stars
I see the steeples and domes of worship
It’s in that transition
from the Empyrean to Terra Firma
where my eyes shift from wide wonder
and furrows into suspicion
I can gaze into heaven
and believe. For despite the scapegoat of
‘mysterious ways’ and how the devil
‘walks about like a lion’ neither seems true
All I have ever witnessed with my eyes
or read in tomes of our history for good or for ill
has been wholly and inexcusably human
event after event in the affairs of man on earth
Yet I am not unconscious
of the hypocrisy of my myopic view
for I have never trod the path of angels
am the weakened flesh personified over and over
However, I do believe that sin
is rooted far more inside of intention
of evil than stumbling into it upon accident
when good intentions have paved our paths to Hell
It would take a God
to see what I see and yet still
love a church, synagogue, and mosque
and not become an atheist in his regard of man
(Photo by Imani Clovis)
sit and ponder – is this me?
pick it apart, tear it asunder
flip it over and look at it under
a microscope, throw it up in the air
a telescope, wondering where
the words they say stop and where I begin
Is it normal to be living in sin
and what is sin? What is this thing
is it still constant even with my wedding ring
and is it still real if I don’t believe everything
that comes rolling out of the mouths of they
who’s sin is wrapped up in the modesty of Sears Clothing?
But there’s no softer side here
no pastel feelings no warmth do they bring
Sat up before us like kings and like queens
of banana pudding and too much hair spray
hair jacked to Jesus – as drag queens often say
who are they? Who are they?
who use rhetorical flourish – who use a book to beat people
when it was origionally created to nourish and bring life
now its a weapon used against a wife
who wants to leave because her man is abusive
the comfort of The Holy Spirit who was supposed to be constant
has now become elusive, obtuse and
What Can I say?
Tear down that statue, iis what I say, rip down that flag
But they reply , “Don’t say nothin’ boy, you’s nothin but a fag”
those black men, they don’t like you
it’s all gang-bangers and do-rags, its inbred in their race
But those same people who try to sew division
on Sunday they’re the loudest when they sing
Amazing Grace – hands stretched to God
tears rolling down their face
My God, don’t they know?
That John Newton was The Captain of a Slave Ship
Who – back when those men’s backs learned the anger
of the master’s bull whip
said “STOP!” Wait. What have I done?
How can I claim The Father and the Son
How do I try to plea the blood
when I’m the one who failed to read the book of Exodus
So, here, let me fix this – let me become the worlds first Abolitionist and pen a song now that I’m blind
and feeble in my bereavement let me work to do God’s work
and live to free men to see them
so mine eyes can see the glory of the coming of the Lord
sit and ponder – is this me?
Or is this them who be talkin’
talkin’ talkin’ yet they don’t do no walkin’
Their faith has become static – like that statue in N’awlins
lost in time they don’t realize
the differences in mankind aint about them
but this poem is, my flow is, the words often spoken
in hate, and fear, and malice -they’ve used that that I toss back at them
us ‘others’ we ain’t in it
talk about sin
their sin – they sit in it – and are proud of it
and repeat it, and believe it, and wonder why they’re all alone
sittin’ on a throne of bones, tombs, and headstones
When you say you’re saved – ain’t nobody believes it
The God you speak of – yeah he probably still loves
but it’s in spite of and not because of
those words that should make any man hesitate
and say, “Wait a minute, is this me?”
Let me stop, drop, let me see
and before I speak – are these words anointed
in the love I so needed , from God up above
or has my philosophy been informed solely by my geography
and grandaddy’s broke down theology
so’s I’m out creating disciples twice as fit for hell as I was?
Check your words three times before you speak.
(Photo by the brilliant Ben White)
You know, I talk a great deal often times about things that I don’t like or things that upset me. Yet, I am not always vocal about the things that I believe.
Today is Sunday – and when I was a kid we went to church on this day as an appeasement to God of our faith in him as well as an affirmation of what we as a family believed. So, since I woke up this morning and started my day, with music playing in my head as always – I started thinking about who I am and what it is I believe.
I think a person has all the right to establish these things for themselves. I also think it’s surprising – when you sit down and take time to think about things – just exactly what it is you believe.
Often times we like to insert ourselves in other people’s lives, most the time without their permission, and start a running commentary not just on what it is they believe but who they are as people. It’s a really peculiar thing – as I see people who demand perfection from those who’s lives they invade and refuse to accept anything less when they themselves lack this sort of perfection in their own lives. It makes them hypocrites.
Yet I think – in the long run – just saying that makes me one because we all are.
1) Everyone is capable of everything. A few years ago I run across a statement made by a former slave of a Roman Senator by the name of Terence – homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto or I am human, nothing human can be alien to me. This was an act of forgiveness toward his former master. It was an “I understand” statement. It was sage wisdom because if you think about it – given the right set of circumstances, pressure, sociopolitical, and social economic status – everyone is capable of anything for good and for evil. I believe that.
2) Everyone is also capable of redemption – I am a Christian. That is the foundation of our faith. Yet, these days I think there can be a great gulf fixed between those who call themselves that and those who are that. The difference between a noun and a verb. One is a title and one is a way of thinking and while the first is easy to label oneself with, and we see the effects of that title going out before them, its much much more difficult to live. Yet regardless of faith – I think people are capable of change, great change, and change for the better. You are not obligated to be the person you were five minutes ago. But that change, or that desire to change must come from within, for you and for no one else God or man.
3) I do not believe religiosity or the lack-thereof is a good indicator of goodness. (SEE Number 1)
4) I also do not believe religiosity or the lack-thereof is inherently bad either. (See number 1 and number 2)
5) Along with booze, drugs, sex, gambling, and social media – there lurks a far more deadly addiction out there and for me that is certainty addiction. Fundamentalists. True believers. Whether they are some crazy preacher, a crossfitter, a vegan, non vegan, atheists. etc. There are people out there who have found something that works for them and because of that – feel that others must be a part of it and if they don’t then they’re the worst of all humanity. There’s a franticness about them – and it makes one wonder if they really believe what they believe and if they have any faith at all in what they say they are. There lingers in them a doubt that they – nor the rest of the world – can shake off. There is virtue in the statement, ” I don’t know.” That’s knowledge seeking wisdom and I think the latter is extremely lacking in the world. No one runs into an abortion clinic to shoot the doctor shouting, ” I don’t know!”
6) I believe before every soul is born, they once existed with Truth, Beauty, Love, Justice, Wisdom, Compassion, in it’s truest form. These ambiguous terms are planted in our being so when we see an example of it – we know it. These things are a reflection of another time and another when. And I think our entire lives are revolved around, whether we are conscious of it or not, trying to reconnect to that in various ways. Whether you call that being God, Allah, Yahweh, the source, the universe -I think we are given glimpses of this ‘when and who’ when we see the beauty of a rose, when we hear the swell of an orchestra, when we feel the touch of a lover etc. That’s why I think drugs, booze, and other addictions are so terrible – because they are a distraction. They simulate but cannot duplicate that pure euphoria often to the detriment of themselves and everything and everyone around them.
7) I believe brilliance or the potential for brilliance exists in all people. I love to write – but there are those people who can take a car apart and put it back together and to me: that’s art, that’s a skill I will never have. But because they can’t sell their product on amazon or won’t be featured in a gallery – we lower them in terms of what they do.They are no less profound than someone who can sing the roof off a stadium. I think we disregard these creators, these laborers, to our own peril.
8) I believe people ought to earn a living wage. I think denying people one based on WHAT they do and not WHAT they need – is selfish. It’s a value judgment placed on people because certain things are deemed as lesser than what we do. It boggles my mind how an ambulance driver or EMT – the first responders, those who are often the difference between life and death for a person are paid so low. The moment they get you into that hospital suddenly the pay spikes happen for the nurses and doctors. Isn’t that a little backward? Or a cook, wait-staff- I mean, you eat what they give you.
9) I believe everyone should have access to the health-care the 21st century is capable of providing. There is no excuse for not allowing this other than greed. I find it ironic that noun Christians often have a problem with this. If you can send mission money to churches to send throughout the world you can take a tax increase in your paycheck to pay for it. And if everyone made a living wage – that wouldn’t be too much to ask for. And Charity – starts at home.
10) I believe if it looks racist or bigoted in anyway – it probably is. Since I became a disciple of sorts to the late Dr. Maya Angelou – I’ve learned to start taking people seriously in the ways they describe themselves. When someone shows you who they are, or tells you who they are, when they try to ‘whitesplain, mansplain, straightsplain, womansplain (See number 1), or cisplain something to you about anything you fundamentally know to be true – they’re a bigot or their words are at the very least. Believe them the first time. Especially in terms of race – people often hate it when race is brought into a subject not because it isn’t true – but because it hits too close to home for them. When the slave ship captains brought slaves to our shores for the first time not only did they bind the African to their skin color and all the grief that buys them, they bound us to our ignorance and if we as a society do not break this – it will break us. There is no inherent superiority in a skin color nor is there an inherent inferiority. Same goes for sexuality and gender. Seriously, watch a documentary, read a book, or at the very minimum keep quiet about it.
11) I believe in the power of love. I think that if love goes out in front of us, if it proceeds us in all we do, people see that. I think they feel it. And therefore I think that perhaps the hippies were right. I think love changes people. And I am not just talking about romantic love – that love is ego centric. I am talking Agape, Storge, Philia, types of love that English has a hard time describing but the Greek (the original language the Bible was written in ironically) understood. But also Self love – I think we often times are willing to be forgiven by a deity or community or family – but we have a hard time forgiving ourselves for our mistakes. We also have a hard time in establishing boundaries in our lives that we keep sacred to ourselves and ourselves alone. That pure place where we go to pray, to be still for a moment, that place set aside for introspection and reflection. That should be cultivated as I believe its necessary for our survival. It allows a person to stand up for themselves. And as such, I believe it comes from that space that allows a person to disregard other’s comments about their lives, faith, and whom they choose to love. Frankly, its no ones business. Furthermore, not everyone has the support of a loving family that can reinforce them in positive ways. I think a lot of ‘bad people’ in the world are that way because they’ve been told all their life that they have no value. So they go out and do things that would reflect that.
12) I believe personal responsibility is a catch phrase too often used as an excuse for people who have none or who lack the fundamental understanding that every action made has an equal yet opposite reaction. All our lives are interconnected as we hurtle through space and time. I believe that while individuality is important – it is also important to understand that you are also a part of a greater whole as a member of a family, community, state, nation, specie. In short – you are your brother’s keeper. Turning a blind eye to suffering, to need, to dire circumstances, or turning away from love – is irresponsible and while it may not affect you now – it will one day. As one Jacob Marley once declared before a trembling Ebenezer Scrooge, “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” While the realization of just WHAT we are responsible for may be intimidating – I think there is virtue in understanding that.
13) People in relationships get to establish the parameters of those relationships and its dynamics. Other people’s running commentary on those dynamics are not wanted, butt out and mind your own damn business.
14) Art is an act of compassion not only for the consumer but for the artists as well. People who tell artists to sit down and, shut up and, go and – don’t seem to understand that those people extract their gifts, their words, etc from humanity overall. People often don’t like it when you hold a mirror up to them and say this is you as you’ve presented yourself to me. The artist is a truth speaker and truth often doesn’t take your feelings into consideration. Like it or not, like them or not, making them go away not only robs you of the truth but it also robs you of the chance to change and grow. (See number 2)
15) No man made institution is perfect as mankind itself is incapable of perfection. Demanding perfection from those who are fundamentally imperfect is not only self defeating, it’s irresponsible and flat out ignorant. Change comes slowly to an individual and it comes slower still to an institution. Those who call for revolutions should understand that in times past – these things have killed more revolutionaries than the institutions they attempted to destroy. If you’re really interested in overthrowing ‘the man’ start off with the Man in the Mirror and then take another look at the world before you go off all barricades and future subject matter for musical on Broadway.
16) Identity politics will destroy a country. Ideological purity is the product of over simplification. Human beings are a complex specie. Cultures, societies, etc. are all multifaceted. What works for one, may not work for another especially in the melting pot of our country. Those who champion this – while they may be smart, aren’t very wise as they lack the wherewithal to know compromise is key in solving most of societies problems. One must be willing to give a little to get a little. Anything less is asking for a disaster.
(Photo Sylvain Reygaerts)
I learned a while ago
that know matter what I say
no matter where I go
I am both servant and master
inclined to help people do better
but should also feel comfortable enough to lean
on those who are around me
Because the truth is
despite people talking about the
importance of individuality, and self,
at the end of the day we exist in a community
where I belong to you and you to me
and those that often jive talk about Personal responsibility
thinks everyone else should have it
but their issues, their reason for unemployment, WIC, or food stamps- well, that’s a specialty
An outlier, something so exceptional
which allows them to hoard grace and then rob it
whether it be a homeless vet or a single mother
it’s that exceptional lie of ‘someone else can worry’
that makes it impossible for our culture to hurry
into its natural next phase of evolution
It’s that lie that makes ‘other’ , hatred of another
so’s they can be denied things given to their brother
on the basis of his faith, class, or skin color
things they want denied to someone else because of whom
they take as their lover
in the meantime justifying their hate by saying, ‘Well, they’re queer.”
No, see, not really
what’s queer is to run counter to your own humanity
things that man Jesus, remember him, talked about
before they nailed him to a tree
things repeated my Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King
that said “Yo, treat others like you want to be treated’
this isn’t rocket science
but something that rests solidly in your own conscience
that you have to daily be willing to murder
so you can say, “That man, that man right there with the funny accent. He’s an intruder. ”
Kick him out
Who’s really queer here?
Cause I can guarantee you, it isn’t the Hispanic woman
the African son, the white snowflake you intimidate with your guns
it isn’t the lesbian politician nor the Muslim man who was beaten in his store in New York
No, see queer means something entirely different it means something more
Queer means odd
and denying people their fundamental rights before you dispatch them to their respective God
says more about you than anything said about them
“Behold, this was this sin of your sister Sodom”
She was fat, she was lazy, and she didn’t give a damn
She could have, she should have, but she didn’t understand her own situation nor it’s gravity
of what happens when you willfully destroy your own humanity
and embrace chance, embrace apathy,
that the stone cold nature of mankind’s cruelty becomes ten fold
when the bell you rang or allowed to be rung for someone else
finally tolls for thee.
And it does -without a doubt – toll for thee.
As it tolls for your neighbor, as it tolls for me
see no matter our lot in life, or wealth, or station
our burial plots are all the same size
death is mankind’s equalizer, the greatest of it’s kind
so whether you were born in palatial splendor or ended up dead in a ditch
I promise you in thirty six years of life – I’ve yet to see a hearse with a hitch.