At the Clark Art

Something stirred
in my adolescent heart
as I pondered
the pastel clad ballerinas
in a nineteenth century
Parisian studio.

What did they talk about
after their lesson?
Did they the think of boys?
Giggle?
Would one of them
perhaps
have glanced at me?

Later,
would they tug at a satyr?
Dragging him into
a wooded pond
and a watery death?

Or would they themselves
be saved
from a watery death
in an undertow?

Would they sit
half naked
for Renoir
or well attired
for Sargent?

(Another poem written and read in 2016, but not posted until 2017. It was written for a poetry group writers prompt and still feels a little incomplete)

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Destigmatize Loneliness

I started writing a post about friending and unfriending people on Facebook, and took a pause to read what some of my friends were posting on Facebook. One friend posted a link to an article in the New York Times, How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.

The final paragraph starts, “A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart”. Yet this seems to overlook the fact that we’ve been drifting apart longer than we’ve been digitally hyper-connected. In 2000, Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” came out, in which Putnam explored the trend of social isolation starting back in the 1950s.

The Times article explores the negative impact of social isolation, the way we interpret ambiguous social cues, and the stigma of loneliness. It suggests different ways of addressing this.

Religious older people should be encouraged to continue regular attendance at services and may benefit from a sense of spirituality and community, as well as the watchful eye of fellow churchgoers.

A few things came to mind as I read this. First, going to church isn’t just for older people. I often talk about the importance of multiculturalism. The same applies to multigenerationalism. We need to cross not only boundaries of race and ethnicity, but also boundaries of age and value people of every age.

The catechism of the Episcopal Church in America describes the mission of the church saying,

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

To put it another way, a key part of the church is to fight social isolationism.

Another article I stumbled across this weekend illustrates this very well. The Portland Press Herald recently ran this article: When you’re the only one who shows up to church

As we talked, I thought about the timeliness of this little scene. In an age when many Americans have abandoned the institutions they once turned to for solace and truth, there we were, a priest and a journalist huddled together in an empty church. With the light fading and our voices low, it felt almost subversive, as if even kindness were a political act.

I shared this post, urging people to be subversive, practice kindness, and wonder about what their Epiphany will be this year. After reading the Times article, I’d add help destigmatize loneliness and fight social isolation.

Number 2 Pencil

With my Number 2 pencil
I take notes
on our history,
the American Dream,
of those who came to our country
seeking a better life,
religious freedom,
to be a city on the hill
and I don’t hear
about those who were
already here,
or those who came in shackles
longing for any freedom.

With my number 2 pencil
I take notes
on our arts
the great writers, painters, and musicians
who have given us such great legacies.
Were they all white European men
because everyone else
was too oppressed
to create
or simply because
that’s all the writers
of our histories
managed to see?

With my number 2 pencil
I fill in the ovals
on standardized tests
that will be used
to appoint my place
in society,
and I long for God’s law
when we shall know the Lord
and be God’s people.

(Note: This poem was written in 2016 and presented at a Poetry Sunday, but was not posted on the blog until 2017. There are a few poems like this I hope to catch up on.)

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The Unexpected Rabbit

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year. Recently, I asked my friends what they thought I should resolve for the New Year. I am facing great uncertainty this coming year, especially around my spiritual journey and our political climate. Will 2017 be a breakout year, in some unexpected way?

Kim, Fiona, and I have gotten tickets to go see Amelie when it opens on Broadway. So last night, we watched the movie. Will this be the year that I find an old tin box full of childhood keepsakes? Will it be the year that I set off to help others in my own quirky way? Will it be the year that I build up enough courage to let something truly wonderful happen to me?

I already have a wonderful marriage, a wonderful family, and a wonderful life (to bring in a different movie title), but is this the year that something gets added to that, in terms of life ambitions, the spiritual journey and the work (much more than my job), that I am to do?

I didn’t get a lot of responses to my blog post asking for suggestions, but one that did stick with me was a reference to #OneLittleWord. The starting point for me in thinking about #OneLittleWord is a blog post by Deanna Mascle whom I met through a community of connected learners. Last July, she wrote Write Your Future in #OneLittleWord.

What is my one little word? Perhaps, it stays with the blog post I wrote at the beginning of last year. Unexpected. 2016 certainly had some unexpected twists. It looks like more of the same may be in store for 2017.

Let’s hope for some unexpected joy this year as we, like Amelie, find the courage to let something truly wonderful unexpectedly happen to us this year.

Watch Night, White Privilege

As a white man from the north
brought up in the twentieth century
I can only imagine
life on a plantation
with slaves.

It goes something like this:

Sometimes,
when I couldn’t sleep
I would sneak out of
the plantation house
and down to the slave quarters
where I would hear them talk
about great adventures
seeking some wonderful prize;
travelling through
dangerous swamps
like wise men
following a star;
not the star of Bethlehem
but the northern star.

They would stop
when they saw me
and Auntie
(she wasn’t really my aunt,
it’s just she took care of us
like a good aunt should
unlike my mom’s
older sister,
a widow
who lived with us
and was very strict
and stern
and worried
about uprisings
and wanted us
to keep the slaves
in their place);
Auntie would talk kindly to me
and take me back
to the plantation house.

I think mostly the slaves liked me
although I never really knew
if it was just Christian Charity
or deference
to their master’s son,
but I’d get frustrated
when they talked about
their concerns
and told me
I couldn’t understand
or help.

When I started noticing
how pretty
some of
the slave girls
my age
were
and flirting with them,
I hoped
they would like me
and not just smile
because
of my power
and prestige.
Then some of the slave boys
started getting meaner to me.

Then the war came.
They wanted their freedom.
I just wanted
our old way of life back.

Sure, my dad owned slaves,
but I never did.

A century and a half later
I read about
another black kid
killed
and the riots
and Black Lives Matter
and the black folks I know
tell me
I wouldn’t understand
because of my
white privilege
whatever that is.

The buildings
of the great institutions
where I studied
and worshiped
were built by slaves,
but I wasn’t involved.
I don’t have to
“have the talk”
before my kids
walked down the street
and the police
and doctors
and teachers
and others
all treat me justly.

I just want things
to go back
to how they used to be
before all this
racial tension.

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