The Shape Still Holds

For Caetlin

I found this in my suit pocket
One of Sunday’s palms saved from its fate
Delivered from becoming Wednesday’s ashes by the deft craftsmanship of a friend
Now, this empty cross
this leaf taken from its branch
It stands as a symbol
Of friendship
Of love
Of the grace that gives us the strength to even be here today
Though it no longer grows it lives on
Because the shape still holds

It refuses to wilt
Standing as a reminder of what it became
Not what it began life as
But what it was transformed into
This small token stands as a defiant reminder
That things do not fade away so easily
The shape still holds

And so it is with us
Or at least I hope so
Through our lives we are woven
Shaped and formed into something greater
Through the lessons we learn
The lessons we teach
The stories we share
The love that we have for one another
The great love shown to us
And we take a form
In the hearts and minds of those we meet
Each life we intersect with making one more fold
One more knot
One more movement towards this form that lasts

And so
We make each other remarkable
We give each other that new purpose
That second life
Beyond what we started as
Grace makes us into something new entirely
And in that grace we take the shape that was made for us

We continue on
Even when we stop growing
That shape still holds

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I Am Rooting For You, Opening Band

Dedicated to Shortly, a band from Detroit I did not know existed before last night but nevertheless am now hopelessly devoted to

I’m not on time for a lot of things. Most people know that about me by now, adding a few minutes on to whatever time I say I’m going to arrive to get a better picture of my involvement in an event. There’s only two things I’m incredibly punctual for.
The first is the airport, for obvious reasons. Your friends might forgive you for being a minute or twenty late to the party but the plane will absolutely leave without you and never give you a second thought.

The second is less apparent. If a concert ticket says doors at 6, show as 7 I will be there as soon as I can.

I will never miss an opening band.
I refuse.
Somewhere hidden at the top of the card might be the next band I pledge my life to.
Maybe it’s the old critic in me that constantly wants to find my next love, something that I can share with everyone I’ve ever met.
And that band that plays at 7 when the headliner isn’t going on until 9:30 might just be it. I’ll never know if I’m not there.
And even if it’s not, every band needs someone to cheer for them, to dance, to be a part of the collaborative work of performing.
I’ve dragged friends onto the dance floor to save a band from playing to no one
I’ve had my heart broken as I can see a band make the decision to play their closer a few songs early to get off the stage
And maybe that’s because I’ve been that band too.
I’ve played shows where more people helped us set up than attended, and those that did looked like they couldn’t wait to leave.
I still remember the vacant stares as we kicked into my favorite one of our songs.
It was as if each side of that stage existed in a dimension without the other.

So maybe that’s why I’ll always be there for you, Opening Band.
You’ve made something you love and have taken it on the road to share it with the world
You’re taking incredible risk to even get to this show, driving through the night without the accessories of success.
You’re showing up dead tired to play for people who have never heard of you
Who for the most part aren’t there because they want to hear your songs.
And you deserve better than the roar of an uninvested few.

And so I hope at every show you reach at least one person who won’t stop talking about what they just saw.
I hope you turn into the show people lie about having been to.
“Oh man I saw them when they opened for…
There were like 5 people there. I couldn’t believe it!”
Or at least get to the point where a cult following loudly declares to anyone who will listen that they bought tickets for you, not the headliner
I hope your live show gets even better and that the best songs you write are still to come
I am rooting for you, Opening Band. I hope you know that
And I don’t think I’m alone.

This is a God Dream

The following piece was written for and dedicated to the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

If we’re going to call it a quest we should probably think about what that means
Because our words have more to say than the images they conjure in our heads
A quest is more than a fantasy of figures in shining armor returning triumphantly, a hulking beast laid slain in their wake
It often comes with a lack of direction
A time spent wandering, searching for anything that would lead forward
It means that above all, what makes this special is the beginning that leads to an end
All quests have the same starting point; we are offered a task and a purpose from God that we are willing to see through no matter what the cost

So that’s where we have to begin

We must realize that what is asked of us is much more than retrieving a goblet and bringing it back to a trophy case
We are asked to be the ones that help transform the world
Our quest that we embark on is at its core a rescue operation
We are sent to hear the cries of those who know there has to be something more for them
We are sent to bring hope and justice to those who feel chains tightening around them.
Chains of poverty, racism, discrimination and exclusion, an emptiness of spirit

We are sent forth as the heralds of the good news, that through Christ a better world is possible
And we don’t have to wait for it, we can begin building it now

So, we ask God to deliver us serenity
Deliver us peace
Deliver us loving
This is what we need today

And so, let the gospel be our map, our guide, our bread for the journey
Let this be our God dream, our imagination soaring to the limitless possibilities
Because we follow in the footsteps of the one who conquered death
The one who bends the impossible into reality
May we not quit
May we not settle
May we pick each other up when it seems like we cannot continue

But most of all may we never be satisfied to leave things as they are until we can truly and confidently say it is on earth as it is in heaven
May we be restless in our pursuit of the Kingdom of God
May we dream together with God to create a new thing
God, send us out to dream

#TrustTheProcess

Sam Hinkie was innocent.
Or at least as innocent as someone with that much control over someone else’s livelihood can ever be
Imagine training your whole life to be good at this one particular thing
And the only person who wants you to use your gifts doesn’t want to actually do well with them
Hey pal, I’m trying to lose as much as possible to cheat the system and I think you’re our missing piece”
Do you take that deal?
Do you make the tacit admission that you’re better than most but among the best of the best you’ll only ever be a space filler?
At best the answer to a trivia question?
And yet Sam Hinkie asked over and over for people to say yes to this offer.
He told them to trust the process
To know that they must be bad so eventually someone can be good
It just might not be you.
It probably won’t be.
Sam Hinkie remains innocent because he never pretended to be anything else
But this is what the process demands
The churn of those who were never all that remarkable and who no one will remember

The worst day of my life came with a greeting card
It’s hard to really articulate this particular brand of misery
Of going to finally accomplish something for which you’ve been working for half your life
Of taking the last step to obtain something that you believed was your purpose, your reason for being, the means by which you got out of bed because you believed yourself remarkable
And then a small group of people in an ever shrinking room tell you you’re not special.
Not only are you not special, but you may as well be worthless
You were a fool to think that you belonged here.
You are made to endure the slings and arrows of those who have never met you for far too long
You leave that room broken. You might never recover.
And then you go home, wait a week or so, and check the mail
And those people who have told you that you are not good enough, that you have no value, have the audacity to send a card
A serene nature scene adorns the front, and on the inside is just the names of those who destroyed you, and a simple phrase
Trust The Process
As if that is supposed to bring comfort
Sure, you have fallen down the stairs, but you got to the bottom SO FAST
As if I needed to be torn up to become anything of value

Trust the Process
It is a cousin to the watchwords of the well-meaning but unhelpful
Everything happens for a reason
It’s all part of God’s plan
Trust The Process


It is hard to climb out once you have resigned yourself to being a part of the churn of the unremarkable
It is hard to see that you are not as broken as they said you are
It feels like defeat to attempt to join in the process that crushed yourself
It does not always get better.

But what I have learned from the bottom, I carry with me
If this is a process, it means this is not the end.
There are still things in motion
There is still hope that might be waiting
There might be brighter things coming
I reject the processes that aim to add to that great churn
But there must be a process by which we drag ourselves out of it
We will make something worth remembering
We will become remarkable
One step at a time.
That, I can trust

Aliens Exist

The government says they have alloys from another world

I have no clue what that means or what those would look like

They’re probably just something that seems a little different from what we’ve got already

But a little difference is all it takes for something to be “out of this world”

I hope that what it all means that it’s a little less weird for me to be convinced that aliens exist.

Because they have to, right?

How arrogant do you have to be to look at all there is, all this undiscovered, uncharted, unexplored space and say “No, actually, it’s just us. It always has been”

There’s no wonder to that, no longing to venture into the unknown to discover something that may have always been just out of reach

Or even better still, to meet that hand that has been stretching towards the infinite for God knows how long

To give it something to hold on to, a welcoming embrace

A chance to hear what it means to be something else entirely, and share our own existence in return

Maybe we don’t have to look all the way to the outer reaches of space to find that

Maybe it’s just comfort to believe that somewhere above that star-spangled blackness, someone is looking back

Maybe I look to the stars so when I feel small it can be by design

Secret Handshake

In high school I drove a purple Honda Odyssey

and I named it Ulysses, because that’s what the Romans called the hero of that story

and I told people that it was to see who was smart enough to be my friend.

And that joke was more than a little arrogant, looking back on it.

But in the mid-2000s I was the proud owner of an Odyssey and the knowledge that I’d never be cool

So I’d send up these flares, these light-up signals over Gotham to see if anyone would answer

and I never stopped

I still write messages from rappers into my sermons

and I call them poets, call them by their real names

and I recite them with the gentle prompting nudge of an elbow into the ribs of the person sitting next to you

and I can’t decide if I hope people get it or if I’m doing this for me

and it was never really about being smart enough or clever enough, was it?

It was about finding someone who would see these things left like post-apocalyptic graffiti and say: “Oh, I get it”

About finding someone who had devoted the same brain capacity to knowing these things so you can feel like you hadn’t wasted your life engaging with all of this stuff

To know that you’re not alone

We could share in the secret handshake that our lives had become, knowing that someone finally knew the other half

Like drawing half of a fish in the dirt and seeing who’d come along to finish it

 

“And We’ll One Day Tell Our Story”

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia a lot lately. Nostalgia, if Don Draper is to be believed, comes from a phrase meaning “the pain from an old wound.” It’s something that marks us, that can vividly transport us back to a moment, a place in time and space where we might have been different people. Sometimes that gets caught up in pop culture. We cherish these things that we’ve loved like holy relics because at one point in time, even just for ourselves, they were. There’s the feeling of understanding, of deep emotion, of a joy that needs to be chased down and (in its worst forms) protected at all costs.

That fanaticism is easily exploited, to the point where the powers that be might parade these things in front of us and expect us to love them in the same way simply because they are there. It is a constant ask to see these things that call back to our memories as if they were products and not stories. It’s an empty thing to see how we are expected to leap because we see something we recognize, not because those things are being used in service of a greater narrative. It’s such a cynical thing to pander to these old wounds without understanding the story of how those scars were etched into our bodies. There comes a time when it’s important to realize that the important thing that we are remembering is what stories those memories allow us to tell rather than the need to keep a flawless idea of the memory itself. The idea of new iterations “ruining our childhood” is continually upsetting. No one is taking those stories from us. They can’t.

The trap of nostalgia beyond empty repetition is that it keeps us focused on the wrong direction. We constantly look back, wanting to recreate those things we love with absolute perfection. We cannot stand the idea of things being different as if that somehow changes the essence of the thing. Instead, we should be looking forward, using what we’ve learned, what we’ve loved, to build a new story. We should look to how we use the familiar to change what we think is possible rather than running through another reboot that might not have the same heart as the first.

I say all of this nice stuff about looking forward rather than back as I get ready to mourn a building this evening. Union, the coffee shop and church that I both attended and worked for while I was in seminary, is closing the doors on its original location on Dyer Street in Dallas. And as much as I just talked about the physical thing being less important than the stories we use it to tell, it still hurts to lose a space that was such an important part of the last five years of my life. It’s a space where I can point to the table around which I met some of my best friends. It is a space in which I can stand on the stage where I learned how to tell better stories. It is a place where I saw an image of what the church could be as it was lovingly painted with each member of the community adding a little piece of themselves to make something new. It is the place where I always knew I could feel like I was at home, even after I had been away for a while.

I’ve joked with some friends over the past year that I feel like the Ghost of Union, someone that floats in and out unexpectedly, that some people know the lore behind and some don’t. Ghosts have anchors to places, and when that home on Dyer Street closes its doors it is hard not to think that I’m losing one of mine. But here’s a thing I’ve learned about Union: Union is made up of our stories. It is beyond a place, if we’ll let it be. So as Union starts a new chapter in a new place I will still mourn Dyer Street. But I know that they take those stories with them and they’ll make new ones that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.

“And we’ll one day tell our story/of how we made something of ourselves”~Lucius “Two of Us On The Run”

Thomas Rakowitz Gets Corrupted

I feel like I bring this up every time I write about a Thomas Rakowitz project, but what I love the most about what he does is the moods he creates. From the lonely, lost loops of “I’ll Find My Way Home” to his breakout work on Brian Altano’s Misanthrope, he adds the right color to anything he’s doing to paint something special. More than any technical proficiency (of which Rakowitz has plenty to spare, trust) this is what gets me excited to see what spaces he’s exploring each time he puts out something new.

So when I got around to his Future/Corrupted project, I was excited to see where the concept would take him. The five song EP is set in a post-robot apocalypse world and the music revels in the possibilities of the scene. Album opener “We Came From Fire and Flesh” alternates between sparse, bleak nothingness, possibly a symbol of what the world has become, and punishing heavy riffs, maybe a symbol of how it got there. Either way, Rakowitz’s guitar work shines bright here. The album has a few tricks up its sleeves as well. “Alpha/Omega Protocol (Directed Evolution)” has some vocal work on it that can only be described as unsettling in the best way. There’s an unease to the spoken words that continue to create this post-human landscape.

“Rise of the Machines” is the stand-out track. It’s a blistering 7 minute ride that gives everything you would expect from Thomas Rakowitz. Virtuosity mixed with a little bit of sludge, blasting drums, and a self contained little narrative that is a fitting bow on the project. I’m always thrilled to hear new work from Thomas and you should be too. Check out Future/Corrupted below.

Paraments: A Holy Saturday Meditation

No one else can see this.

Alone in the sanctuary I move from pulpit to altar to lectern

Exchanging bare wood for the white paraments of Easter.

The sanctuary is uneasy when it’s left unclothed

Maybe it’s because we only leave it that way once a year

On the day where we remember that God died

On the day the light goes out.

It doesn’t feel right. It shouldn’t feel right. But it’s reality

But  now, we can begin again.

The sanctuary refuses to stay bare forever.

It refuses to stay blank for long.

When the congregation files in tomorrow I hope they see something beautiful

Life returns to a place that desperately needs it.

The smells of creation filling this sanctuary as I drag in lilies that we had to hide on Friday.

And the cross, so recently a symbol of death and decay stands triumphantly empty, silhouetted by white blossoms and buds still waiting to bloom.

New life continues to grow

And so I keep moving from one place to another around the room, transforming a place that was left barren not a day ago into a place where life is found again.

I wonder if this is what God felt like

Working and preparing a display of new life in a place that had so recently been barren

No one else can see this

But we have to make ready anyway

Always Forward

Always Forward

Romans 12:1-12

I was watching Luke Cage on Netflix the other day and something really stuck out to me in those first few episodes. Luke Cage, if you aren’t familiar, is a TV series about a superhero that opens the show trying to live a normal life in Harlem. He didn’t want his powers; they were forced upon him in a failed experiment while he was in prison. So he attempts to live a quiet life, sweeping hair in a barbershop and not making too much noise. The shop is owned by a man known simply as “Pop” who serves as a role model, almost father figure not just to Luke but the whole neighborhood. His shop is a sanctuary away from the constant struggle of life in New York, a place where even the fiercest blood rivals can sit down for a moment of peace. Pop lives by a motto that stayed with me for the entirety of the show and I couldn’t get it out of my head when I sat down to write this. It’s these two simple words: “Always Forward.” He would go on to say it many times, sometimes making sure to add in a reminder to never go backwards but the emphasis is always on forward progress.  Continue reading “Always Forward”