Thursday, July 04, 2013

Rain Dances

Frantic plips pulse and fade
In confident puddles 
That will mud
That will crack
That will forget 
But not today

Insistent streams surge and swell 
In search of rest
That will irrigate
That will stagnate
That will evaporate
But not today 

Immersive rains quench and quell
In expectant thirsters
That will run
That will sweat
That will thirst again
But not today

Happy 4th of July

The emergence of the United States of America is a multi-faceted and complex social anomaly in history that has accumulated great power based on the vulnerable premise that there is no guarantee of self perpetuation. How America began could also be its own demise and because of this potential, there must be humility and generosity and the flight from tyranny at all costs. Accumulation of great powerr while maintaining an intentional flight from tyranny is perhaps the most challenging call to any social institution and at the same time is the only way to sustain it. Power, in its very best use, is leveraged for the benefit of as many as possible, not as few as possible. So long as America leverages its power for the benefit of the many and not the few, there is a bright future for this nation.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The nostalgic future of clock museums

Time lost track of me
Oh the blissful abduction of flow

Time flew by
And went looking for me
But I was here all along
Very here
So here
Extraordinarily here
More here 
Than time would have ever allowed

Hidden in plain sight
Cloaked in laughter
Covered in friendship
Clouded in love

Time tried to hunt me down
But I was too happy to be found 
And eternity went deep
Outside the radar
And free

And when time finally found me
It couldn't contain 
Memories pushed back
On the intended occupation 
For memories of the past
Pushed right through me
And became anticipation 

Time failed
Time jailed 
Time wailed

And I...
I remembered the future

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

Can You hear Me Now?


An anxious heart can be many things.


It can be a call to silence.

It can be a call to prayer.

It can be a call to creativity.

It can be a call to work.

It can be a call to come clean.

It can be a call to slow.

It can be a call to organize.

It can be a call to risk.

It can be a call to forgive.

 It can be a call to stand up for yourself.

It can be a call to humility.

It can be a call to surrender.

It can be a call to rise up.


Oh this anxious heart,

So honestly undone,

Speaks the way it knows,

Unignorable voice,

 Anxiety, like fire to the touch,

Communicates, talks, SCREAMS like Jagger

 And you cannot be the same,

 With a voice like that,

 Committed to you.


Try, try to quiet the voice,

Try to smother in mud,

Try to suffocate it with pill-ohs

 It will scream ever louder,

 Until you hear nothing else,


Oh anxious heart,

Never forsake or abandon,

For without you,

How would we know?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Parasails, Little Boats, and Submarines: Little faith - big ocean

The ocean is really big and filled with stuff. It moves in waves, currents, and tides. Waves can be little laps of water on a sandy shore or tsunamis that swallow cities. Currents can be invisible, but carry objects thousands of miles. Tides rise and fall and there is nothing that can stop them. Furthermore, there are creatures in the ocean that are either massive in size, countless in number, or dangerous in nature. The power of the ocean is unstoppable, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

At the same time, the ocean sustains us with food. It regulates air quality, weather patterns, the recycling of water. Even for people in Minnesota, where I grew up, the ocean is an essential part of life and is unavoidable. We cannot not engage the ocean We cannot survive in its absence. It is essential to all life.

The ocean gives life. The ocean takes life. We are certain that we need the ocean as we would all die without it, but at the same time, the ocean itself is uncertain in how it will treat us. We need it, but we cannot trust it. We live dependent on it, but we cannot put our faith in its care for us.

We must engage the ocean while having faith in something else.

Sometimes the ocean is fun and we para sail over it. High above the waves and currents and tides, there is quiet and calm, and we gently hover over the waters, seeing almost everything up so high. Although somewhat precarious being so high, we para sail in peace.

There are times of faith that feel like this. Confident and peace-filled. We see everything and it all makes sense. There is no sense that much is wrong in the world and we feel the joy of being above it all. These are good times of faith. We feel strong and mostly in control of things. Yes, we know that we could fall, but we don't fall.

But we don't always para sail. In fact, it is something we hardly ever do. Mostly we float on the ocean. Some people have nice yachts, but most people can't afford huge boats like that. We have our little boats. They float, but they are moved by waves and wind, by current and tide. Little boats on the ocean prevent us from having to tread water, but also shake when the ocean flinches.

There are times when our faith feels like being in a small boat in the huge ocean. It is a faith that keeps us afloat, but in such a way that we feel everything. Waves may splash over the side of he boat and get us wet. We could be carried away by a current. We rise and fall with the tide. Our little boat does not stop the ocean; instead, it helps us live in the presence of the ocean. Faith is not something that protects us from the world as much as it helps us live in the world. Faith is not an escape plan, it is a means of engagement. It is not a way to be unaffected, but rather a way to process the affect.

And sometimes we have to go under. We must get completely submerged into the ocean. Sometimes the ocean just wants to swallow us for a while and we have to go under. Of course this cannot be done by holding one's breath, at least not for long. We need to take extreme measures and climb into a submarine. Inside a submarine, so little can be seen. There is so much unknown and unseen being submerged.

There are times when faith is the only thing keeping us going, keeping us alive. Without it we would be drowned immediately. The submarine faith is powerful, protective, and persistent, but at the same time requires a lot of resources. In fact, it requires everything we've got in order to breathe. one small breach in the hull and there is absolute crisis. It must be strong. It must not fail.

Faith is dynamic and responsive to an ocean that is massively powerful and filled with creatures. Faith is going to look and feel differently depending on the situation. A strong faith is not deciding which situation to be in or what it feels like in that situation. A strong faith is one that addresses the situation, even if it feels like it is precarious. The strength of one's faith cannot be measured by the behavior of the ocean, but by the response of of the person.

Nurturing one's faith is making sure there are no tears in the para sail, leaks in the boat or breaches in the hull of the submarine. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More familiar than home (A theological hack imagines Heaven)

I got it. I got it. I finally got it. From this perspective it is hard to see how I could have missed it for so long. For my whole life, or what I thought was the entirety of my life. The answers, all of them, were right here in front of my face, but for whatever reason, they did not feel like answers. It was not that I did not have access to the answers all along, but instead, the answers were too great for me or I was too confused to know them for what they were. But now that I am here I see that the answers are here, ready for me to grab and taste and touch. Now that I am here I must learn these truths and understand them.

For so long I just didn’t know and never believed much was even knowable. But now I see clearly that all is knowable and always has been. Yes, I must pursue these answers.

What’s it like here? Well, one thing I can tell you is that the ringing in my ears has stopped. It is gone. I never realized how loud it was. I never realized how quiet life could be. What a relief. And yet, the ringing is not replaced by quiet, but rather the excited hum and buzz of masses of people anticipating something great. And yet, it doesn’t feel like masses of people. There is plenty of space in this city and no one is in a hurry. Yes, the ringing is gone and replaced with anticipation. I can hear it and see it and feel it – something great is going to happen.

What else did I notice here? That weight, that weight of ambiguity is absent. My God how heavy that was. What’s different? Oh, it is so clear to me now. There are no competing messages. This is a place absent of lies. Wow. There were so many lies. OK, I understand, when there are so many lies, truth can be difficult to see. It has always been right here, but the lies tried to look like truth. Now the lies are gone and the truth remains. THAT is why it is familiar here. I have always seen truth, but did not know to name it as such. I could never be completely sure of all truth, but now there is no other way to see it. I still have choice whether to believe this truth, but now the choice is so obvious.

What’s it like here? This is Heaven and there is no doubt about it. I feel relieved, safe and free.  But at the same time, it sure isn’t anything like what I thought it would be. No, it’s way better. However, naturally, I had some questions. Not that I was complaining, but I just wanted to know how I had gotten it so wrong in some of my expectations.

For example, there was always this part of Heaven that I sort of feared. It was the accounting of everything I had ever done wrong. And yet here I am in Heaven and no one asking me to explain anything. No one is explaining their sin. No one is groveling. I was so perplexed by this absence of this part of the Heaven experience that I asked about it.

“And where,” I asked someone, “where is the big video screen where I review all my sin?”

“Who told you that is what happens here? That’s what they do in Hell,” he said, “and you’re free to pay a visit there if you like, but don’t take too long, not much good happens there. There is a lot of explaining and justifying and arguing and, well, people can get really pathetic there. Hell is a sour and foul medicine that doesn’t work for an illness that doesn’t even exist.”

“Sin doesn’t exist?” I asked

“Either sin exists or Jesus exists, but not both.” 

“But I…”

“Shhhhhhhhh, believe me, Jesus exists,” he said.

That was all I was going to get out of him and he moved along pressing toward the greatly anticipated something – something that I still was not sure what it was.
I had another question about Heaven. I thought there would be all this singing of hymns. I didn’t hear any hymns. Where were they? Would we sing hymns at some point? Frankly, it wasn’t the part of Heaven I was looking forward to. I mean, Amazing Grace is, well, amazing, and Oh Thou Fount of Every Blessing is about as honest as it gets, and Just As I Am evokes a certain humility, but how was being in Heaven going to improve on what we already had going? And really, endless singing gets old, doesn’t i?. We had endless singing at the gospel meetings and Zoe Conferences, and well…

Anyway, instead of endless hymns, I heard waves of sounds of anticipation and excitement. Something great was about to happen. I did hear some songs, if hearing is what you want to call it. And what I heard certainly weren’t hymns. In fact, they weren’t even songs, really. They were like pure emotion that can be detected by all the senses. One person poured out the emotion of gratitude for being healed of AIDS. I could hear the feeling, but I could see it in full color and I could even smell it, like walking through a field of roses and honeysuckle, only way better.

Then there was another person, belting out her passion while playing guitar. The song had no words, only sounds, sounds so beautiful that I didn’t want to stop listening. I was terribly interested in what she was doing. The whole area had a bright orange glow to it with the smell of bread baking, a rich yeasty bread and my mouth watered. And then the meaning of the song came to me. She was no longer hungry and neither were her children. It was a song of praise, but not one that had even been written. It was being created as it was being performed. It was the perfect expression of her passion. It was a new song, a unique song, a song that only she could sing.

And then I recalled the church hymn, “They’ll sing in Heaven a New song.” I got it. It all came clear. We are not all singing one new song together, but rather each of us is singing a song so personal and so exact that no one else could even begin to sing it. It would not make sense performed, experienced, and expressed by anyone else. The singing in Heaven is not hymns written by other people, but rather it is the experience of expressing our deepest passions with no self-consciousness or shame. It is enjoying the privilege to really know someone else through their songs. It is the privilege of knowing everyone else for who they are.

In Heaven I am as me as I can get and that is the very thing that is desired. I am not coerced to be something I am not. I am not pressured to take on an agenda. I am not saddled with confused passions or inhibited by fear of judgment. I am me and that is best expressed in what I am calling a song for all the senses.

And then something else became clear to me. Everyone’s passion, though personal and pure was also in celebration and service of others or God or both. The person singing passionate gratitude for being AIDS-free highlighted everyone who walked with him through the shame and fear of the disease. The woman who had been hungry praised God for teaching her what it meant to want something more than anything else. It was the most honest and deep and beautiful redemption song. She understood the incomprehensible and thanked God for it.

And at that moment the songs of the masses began to swell. I could hear everyone’s song, see everyone’s song, taste and smell everyone’s song. I felt it all at once in my bones. Suddenly I was able to see everyone all at once. So many people. So many people that it could very well have been everyone. All singing. And the feeling of anticipation rose to such a height that I finally sang my song.

 And now I understood that my song was so perfectly me that I was not allowed to know it on my own. I could not know it on my own for being on my own isn’t being me – if that even makes any sense at all. Rather, I could only sing my song when God himself sang it through me. This added so much more meaning to being an image of God. I had always been an image of God in the world.  I am still in the world and I am still an image of God – but now without limits. God has ALWAYS desired to sing through me and now it is finally happening. I was finally doing what I was meant to do all along. Now I was singing something I felt like I had only fleeting glimpses of for so many decades. This was the greatly anticipated thing – that I, together with what seemed to be everyone, was finally freed to sing.

Heaven is not about going to a safe place to tell God how great he is. Rather, heaven is what God has been trying to do all along with me and everyone else – sing love into the world through us. The only difference is that we are no longer burdened with sorting out competing narratives.  Heaven, it appears, is Jesus singing through us expressing who he really is through the uniqueness of who we are and Hell is us trying to figure out who we are without Jesus.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Bible That Never Was

The Bible never was a
  • rule book
  • moral code
  • therapy manual
  • weapon
  • history book
  • work of fiction
  • lie
  • decent piece of literature
  • science textbook
  • reason to hate, oppress, torture and kill
  • exclusive esoteric document
  • allegory
  • proof
  • political platform
  • complete genealogy
  • philosophy
  • religious text
  • creative writing project
  • treatise on family values
  • how-to book for marriage
The Bible is a generative and progressive, multi-authored, multi-genred, creatively inspired account of a creator engaging a creation.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Buffered Belief

It all happened so fast. Jesus was dead and we were all hopeless. Saturday was the longest day of my life. I didn’t sleep very well Friday night and it felt like the sun rose early on Saturday and nearly refused to go down on Saturday. I didn’t do anything; I couldn’t do anything – it was the Sabbath. I wanted to work, to get busy, to make my mind think of anything else, but I was to rest.

 I could not rest, but I could not do anything either. So I took a walk and prayed, but it felt like a wasted effort. Why pray when your dreams have been crushed? I kicked rocks as I walked. When Jesus was here I knew for the first time what my life was all about. Before Jesus, I wondered a lot, I floundered a lot - I just kept my head above water, making it day to day. When I met Jesus, I began to see it for the first time. I began to believe that there was something worth something. I believed. I trusted. I let me heart get excited.

And then he died and all my meaning and purpose died with him. Yes, Saturday was a long day.

But then late Sunday night, some of my friends came to my house and told me that Jesus wasn’t dead. Of course I didn’t believe them; I saw him crucified. I saw the blood. I saw the last breath. I heard him say those dream killing words, “It is finished.” He was as dead as every other dead person. I tried in frustration and anger to remind them that he was dead and it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

But they wouldn’t let up about it. “He’s alive” they said.

“How do you know?” I asked not wanting to get my hopes up. I could not handle another disappointment.

“We saw him. We talked with him.” They said.

“I touched him,” said Martha. “I touched his hand where the nails were. It was Jesus.”

They seemed so sincere. They seemed really to believe this had happened. But I still didn’t believe them. I asked them to take me to go see him and we went and looked. We looked all over Jerusalem, in all the places we thought he might be, but we never found him. Everyone seemed to be passing on the rumors, however. I met so many people who say they believe Jesus had risen from the dead and a few people who claim to have seen him with their own eyes.

I wanted to believe them. I wanted it to be true. But at the same time, no one could find Jesus for me. A lot of people believing something was not going to override the truth that I saw Jesus die with my own eyes and dead people stay dead.

The excitement did not seem to go away. The rumors spread with more and more people believing, but I just went back home.

Then one day I went to the Temple. I went because it was Pentecost and I should go even thought I didn’t want to. I knew people would be talking about Jesus and I really didn’t want to hear about it anymore.

It was crowded as it usually is on special days. People from all over the place were here, more out of towners than usual, which meant I got hear people speak in over a dozen different languages.  It was crowded and busy that morning, but nothing unusual. Nothing unusual until a really strong wind blew in, like a storm, only there was no storm. Then there was lightning or fire or something that didn’t just flash – it lingered and seemed to hover over a few people’s head.

One of the main followers of Jesus, a man named Peter, hushed the crowd and began talking. He was one of the people the fiery light lingered over for a little while. He started to talk about Jesus. That was not the surprising part. I knew he would probably try to keep the rumor going. What was surprising is that people who did even know how to speak Greek seemed to be hearing and understanding everything he was saying.

Then more of his followers began to talk to portions of the huge crowd gathered. Like Peter, it didn’t matter what language they spoke in, everyone acted as though they heard it in their own language. I was confused and disoriented.

But Peter referred to scripture, he talked about the spirit being poured out, and eventually convinced me and whole lot of other people that it is possible that Jesus was raised from the dead. My heart could no longer resist and it hoped again. I was filled with emotion, but still disoriented. What did this mean? What should I do?

Everyone was asking the same questions about what to do. Well, we all got baptized. From that point forward, there was no turning back. Peter became a really important leader in what became known as the church. Later a man named, Saul became a follower of Jesus. No one expected this since he was one of the most outspoken opponents of Jesus. Saul traveled to many nations and made tremendous sacrifices, sometimes being terribly abused. But he never quit sharing about how Jesus rose from the dead and how he used to be a violent man, but Jesus loved him anyway.

I am old now, and it has been a long time since I saw Jesus die. I never saw him risen, not his actual flesh and blood. I do believe that he rose from the dead. At the same time, in another kind of way, I have seen him risen thousands of times. He is risen in the people who believe. He is risen in the gathering of the church. He is risen in how believers in him treat each other and how kind they are to people who do not believe. He is risen in that the hope that we will all rise and this drives us to be better versions of ourselves.

For me, he is risen in me in that my life has meant something.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Needful Interruptions

Running shoes at doorside,
Doglike whining,

Weekend washout,
Nestled; cornercouched,
Soulsighs and whispers,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rumors of the Messiah

           “When the Messiah comes, he will look like one of us,” said Martha as she plunged the shirt back down into the wash basin. She thought about the coming Messiah all the time, hoping he would come soon, hoping he would free the Jews from the tyranny of Rome.

            “Yes,” said Mordechi, “he will look like one of us, but he will be different.” He waved his finger in the air as though correcting Martha. “He will come in power, with an army. He will come like Judah Maccabees. We will know he is the true Messiah because the rebellion will be so great and so fierce that Caesar himself will beg for mercy.” Mordechi raised his fist in triumph.

            “Every time you talk about Caesar begging for mercy I know you have lost your mind,” shouted their brother, Lazarus, from the back room of the house. He entered the room where Martha and Mordechi were talking. “There will be no begging for mercy. There will be no rebellion. There will be no army. When are you ever going to learn? Every day there is new Messiah. And every day we get up our hopes. And every day we are disappointed. Are you really waiting for someone to come save us?” Lazarus said with both arms raised and hands spread wide in his rehearsed exasperation.

            “Yes, there are false Messiahs, sure, that is to be expected,” said Mordechi, “but when the true Messiah comes, he will not limp into Jerusalem like a beggar as some have said. No, he will ride in a chariot of iron and he will lead an army like a swarm of locusts.”

            Martha rolled her eyes and shook her head, her now expected response to Mordechi when he started talking about the military takeover by the Messiah. “Do you really think the Messiah will bring peace through war? Do you really believe he will bring comfort through fear?”

            “Yes,” said Mordechi, “He will bring peace to the Jews by waging war on Rome. He will bring comfort for the Jews by bringing fear to Rome. The Messiah, we all know, will be a Jew for all Jews and for Jews only. Do you deny the prophet Daniel?”

             Lazarus poured some wine and sighed. “The war you long to see fought in the streets of Jerusalem and even Rome will never happen. The war the prophets speak of is not a war out in the streets, but rather it is a war in your own heart. We must not wait for a Messiah that never comes, but we must be the Messiah we always hoped for. We are our only hope.” He took a drink of wine too quickly - it betrayed his own words.

            “Save ourselves?” Martha questioned as her tone focused, “not even the Greeks with all of their strange gods believe we can do such a thing. Are you a god that you could save yourself?”

            The room got quiet except for the sound of the water as Martha plunged another garment into the wash basin. Lazarus took another drink.

            “He could be one of us, you know,” said Martha. “He could be so common that we wouldn’t even know it until it was already happening?”

            “Until what was already happening?” asked Mordechi.

            “I don’t know,” said Martha, “whatever it is true Messiahs do, I suppose.”

            “They don’t do anything but get our hopes up and crush them,” said Lazarus, “that’s what they do. That is why we are weak. That is why we are occupied. That is why no one takes us seriously.” He poured a second glass of wine.

            “Looks like your messiah pours from a jar,” said Martha looking down into the wash basin.

            “Better to eat bread and drink wine than to wait for nothing,” said Lazarus, “I need something I can taste, something I can touch. Bread, I can break. Wine, I can drink. Messiahs that never come? What can I do with them?”

            Martha plunged the next garment into the basin with emphasis, splashing water onto the floor, “Well maybe a Messiah will come that you can touch and taste. I just hope that when He comes you be sober enough to notice. And you, Mordechi, I hope that you are not so bent on war that when the true Messiah of peace comes you do not miss him, devoured by your own lust for Roman blood. You never know, maybe he is just as much the Messiah of Rome as he is Jerusalem.”

            “Messiah of Rome?” Mordechi was perplexed. “Have you gone mad? Rome is the oppressor. From whom would a Messiah save Rome? Will Persia rise again?”

            “Some people need to be saved from themselves,” said Martha, “even Rome. No, especially Rome. What invisible, yet fatal wounds of the soul are waylayed on an oppressor.”

            “What are you talking about?” Now Lazarus was perplexed. “Oppressors are the wounders not wounded.”

            “Are they really?” Martha responded. “Are their soulwounds any different than our shame wounds? We all need a Messiah, not just the Jews. We will not be saved by fighting. What then, we become victors and then oppressors? We will not be saved by numbing ourselves in wine and philosophy. We must see God in flesh in order to know how to live in flesh.”

            Mordechi and Lazarus just stood and stared at Martha.

            Lazarus broke a uneasy silence. “When are you going to be done washing my clothes?”  

            "Here you go," said Martha, "washed in the water and white as snow. All you have to do is put it on.




Monday, April 15, 2013

In Ghana...

·         I drank water from a bag

·         I got my hair cut for 2 Cedis (1 dollar) in a Ghanaian  fishing village

·         I ate “Red Red” and liked it

·         I walked through 6 villages on Lake Bosomtwe

·         I met a village boy named Elvis

·         I was called, “Abruni,” about 500 times (it means “white person”

·         I met the Queen Mother of the region

·         I drank 5 liters of water before going to the bathroom – because in Ghana, you’re going to sweat A LOT!!!

·         I bought fabric in a Ghanaian market

·         I was accosted by street vendors in Accra and bought NOTHING (you have no idea how hard that was)

·         I rinsed bugs out of the shower every morning before showering

·         I made my peace with frequent power outages

·         I wept when the children sang

·         I danced around a bamboo bonfire

·         I lay under a rainless lightning storm

·         I got into a massive powder paint fight with 47 Ghanaian children

·         I met the governor of the Ashanti region

·         I rode in a van on the worst road in the known universe

·         I made some amazing friends

·         I flew Starbow airlines

·         I ate Ghanaian chocolate (yummy)

·         I bought a shirt from a Ghanaian named Bismark

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweeter: A Pardoy of Gavin Degraw

You don’t know how hungry you are
Isn’t that your third Snicker Bar?
... And soon enough you’ll have Dippin’ Dots

Once you eat that meat from a can
Doesn’t make you more of a man
You’re just eating something you like
Woo hoo

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

Gordon Ramsey told you you’re dumb
Spent too much time chewing gum
But Willy Wonka thinks you’re the bomb

Now you’re eating some angel
Next you’ll be eating some Devil
I wanna bake you something
If you promise that you won’t tell
Woo hoo

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

I’ma recommend
You take that pound cake to the other end
I really like it but I’d never end
Not with this mouth of mine

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

Monday, April 08, 2013

50 Shades of Abruni

I learned a new word in Ghana: Abruni (ah-BROO-nee). I learned over time that it could have many meanings. Here are a list of some of the potential meanings of the word, "Abruni."

DESCRIPTIVE: In short, it is the term  for "White person." I took it at face value at first. It was neutral and benignly descriptive. It was no different than describing someone as tall or quiet.

GRACIOUS: "Abrunis can't make mistakes." It is a Ghanaian saying about white people who visit Ghana. It is an interesting statement and takes a while to fully understand. At first I thought it was an exaggerated form of praise, like white people were in some way super amazing and were incapable of mistakes - an over the top compliment that smacked of flattery.

Then it hit me. It was not that Abrunis were incapable of mistakes, but rather that they were bound to make many mistakes, be unintentionally offensive, and stumble through endless faux paus. It was a gracious understanding that the series of mistakes the white people were about to make were unintended.

GROUND LEVELING: I then learned it was even more complex than the graciousness of the Ghanaian people. It was not exactly letting white people off the hook. In a conversation with a local Ghanaian, Kofi, I learned that it is more like an understanding. I told Kofi that I felt like it was as though the meaning of the term, Abruni, meant that the white person was identified as a welcomed outsider who must come to understand that they do not know anything, must know they are going to make mistakes and that the Ghanaians will be gracious forgive the mistakes. Kofi gave me a huge smile and two thumbs up as if to say, "Nailed it!"

EXPECTANT: When a group of us Abrunis took a guided walk through several villages around lake Bosomtwe, we were called, "Abrunis" a lot. There was a new meaning as we were constantly asked for money and water bottles. It started to feel like Abruni meant, "Give me something."

CONTEMPT: One time while walking through the villages, a child said, "Give us money." I said, "No, I am sorry, we have no money for you." Then he said, "Abruni." It sounded like he said, "Jackass," there was so much contempt in his voice. It was as though I had owed him money and refused to pay up.

That one made me pause. It was at that moment I felt like I was a Poverty Tourist, mining pictures of villagers for free. I felt like I might be perpetuating a form of exploitation that has been such a part of the history of this country. As much as I felt that the direct contempt for me personally was unwarranted, I also felt like what I represented deserved no small amount of contempt.

AFFECTION:  Ending on a positive note, the most common meaning of the term was that of affection. Most of the time I felt like being called an Abruni meant, "The lovable American." It was supported with high fives that end in finger snaps or hugs or big smiles and laughter. The dominant feeling I had between me and Ghanaians in general was affection and mutual appreciation.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Joining The Star & Cheese Pizza Fellowship

They all sat in the upper room of the Paradise Hotel, sweating it out like a Finnish sauna, laughing and talking and learning more about each other. It was another long day of work and they let down here, no matter how hot it was. Bottles of warm Star populated the tables with cheese pizzas, one by one, making their way too slow to their hungry stomachs.

The room was packed with talent. Best selling authors, video producers, videographers, sound people, TV designers and builders, mental health professionals, executive directors, generous donors along with a few teenagers and a few children. It was the kind of collective talent that could intimidate a newcomer into the group. I was the newcomer, but there wasn't an ego to be found. All were welcomed. All were equal. Everyone I met greeted me with the kind of warmth that said, "I have always liked you and now we meet." It was humbling.

And the night lingered with friendships forming fast, marinating in stories and quickly becoming delicious. My introverted nature was subverted by generous inclusion and from that moment, I didn't want to miss a thing. In the goodness of being together, in the afterglow of a shared mission, in the shelter of each other, we communed with beer and pizza like bread and wine.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Obliviousness and Chocolate

In my trip to Ghana back in March, my eyes were opened to a few things. I learned about forced labor and human trafficking from meeting children who were in forced labor, some of them for years, before being rescued. I looked them in they eye, hugged them, spoke with them, and cried as they sang, “I will not go back to the lake; I will not go back to the traffic.”

It is one thing to read about human trafficking, but it is another thing to meet humans who have been trafficked. To be baptized into a different culture, a place where on the one hand trafficking is illegal, but on the other hand it is widely practiced, shook me (also rattles me to know that this descriptions fits both Ghana and the US). I could not see what I saw and remain oblivious.

And there is that word, oblivious. One of my University of Minnesota professors, Paul Rosenblatt, first introduced me to a new twist on obliviousness. I had always considered that individuals were oblivious to this or that, which certainly remains true. But Dr. Rosenblatt saw more complexity and nuance to obliviousness. He saw it as a shared experience. Individuals interact with one another in relationships and social systems in ways that maintain each other’s obliviousness. It is as though people within a social system collude to keep that which is unknown, forever unknown – even if it is perfectly well known.

OK, so when I reflected on what I witnessed in Ghana, I asked myself this question, “What are the forces at work in my regular life that keep me from knowing about the oppression, abuse, and evil in this world?” It is one thing to be oblivious, but it is another thing to try to understand what processes are at work to maintain the obliviousness.

What captures my attention?

How are things issued a level of importance?

Who must I satisfy and with how much effort?

The more I dig into the questions the more unsettling my comfortable culture becomes, the more duped I feel by the “normal” I have come to depend on, and the more the mundane seems sinister and quietly dangerous.

It hit me swiftly between the eyes when Gail and I were at Kroger on Saturday buying Easter candy.

“How can we know the chocolate we buy was not harvested with child slaves?” Gail asked. Ouch. The cocoa industry, most of which originated in Ghana and Ivory Coast, is rife with forced labor of children. I didn’t know how to tell which chocolate was slave chocolate. Maybe all of it was.

In that moment I felt more distance between me and M&M’s than I have ever felt in my life – and Snickers and Kit Kat and Whoppers and Milk Duds and and and, cripes, I eat way too much chocolate. But more so, I have never even given a single thought to where my chocolate comes from. Who sweats for my chocolate binges? What corruption and oppression is required in order to satisfy my chocolate fix?

The whole Easter candy thing really began to bother me. It was much easier when I was oblivious to the whole thing.

We went to the Fair Trade chocolate section, you know the section, where there are extremely limited selections of chocolate that tastes like crap. Yes, the I’m-better-than-you section where the shelves drip with more over-priced self-righteousness than bad church on Sunday. In other words, I was in chocolate Hell, but where else could I go? I saw faces in my head of children that were so easy to love. There are more children in forced labor in the cocoa harvest just like the children I met. Just as beautiful. Just as smart. Just as lovable.

We bought the fair trade chocolate for Easter, bitter and expensive, and left Kroger. I did not feel self-righteous. I was annoyed nine ways to Sunday. I had left the comfort of my obliviousness which meant I had to act.

Leaving obliviousness always requires something. This visit to Kroger meant no cheap and tasty chocolate. What will it mean over the long haul? It wouldn’t hurt me to just unload chocolate from my food intake – I mean outside of the pain of never having another Kit Kat. I could finally confront my chocolate entitlement. I want to start leaning toward becoming more responsible with my consumption.

Now, where is all that cotton I wear coming from?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

7 Years of Missing My Dad - Easter

How do seven years pass so rapidly?
Where does time go?
Is there a place it is stored after it is used up?
Could we stop it for a while?
Sort through used time for a while?
Must time always be new and ever moving?

I wish I could have him back,
Just for a day,
Just for an hour,
Wouldn't he be so proud of his grandkids?
Would he relish the stories of Africa?
Wouldn't  he have some advice that makes me say,
"How the Hell do you even know that?" or
"How long you been holding on to that nugget of wisdom?"

In that moment together,
We would go for a drive;
We would talk about life;
We would eat pizza;
We would laugh;
We would live out some more of our reconciled relationship;

We would look at each other with faces that say,
"All is forgiven"
"I love you"
"I am proud of you"
And we would not need words.

Seven years ago today I buried my father;
Seven years ago today was the last time I saw his face;
Seven years ago today
Marked me;
Changed me;
Emptied me.

My soul is stretched thin between heaven and earth,
As part of me went with him,

And yet there is a promise,
The Easter promise,
The promise that death,
With its bluster and fury,
With its hate and rage,
With its smugness and certainty,
Does not have the last word,
Like it thinks it does.

I cannot see my father;
I cannot hold my father;
I cannot hear his voice...

But I will
And when I see him I will run to him
And he will run to me
We will trample death on the way to each other


Friday, March 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Lakes: Drawn From The Water

The driving drum beat moved the boys to dance in a circle in front of everyone seated in the shade under the palm trees. Only no one was still seated. We sang. We clapped. We pulsed as the music kept calling us deeper into something. A teenage girl, with perfect hand clap rhythm and an ethereal smile, led this Sunday morning worship, and she took us to a place none of us could get to on our own. One song poured into the next like milk into coffee, becoming one. The brand new, brighter-than-bleach t-shirt that sway against her cocoa dark Ghanaian skin was its own story of beauty and contrast. Behind her the lush green lawn of the hotel sloped down into the shimmering sun-dance lake, hazy mountains framed the water on the horizon, and a perfect blue sky served as a backdrop.

When the music came to an end, the in-country director of Touch a Life, Garret, stood to share how today was special – it was baptism Sunday. Sixteen of the children had studied about baptism and would be baptized today in Lake Bosomtwe. I only knew of single baptisms that trickled out one at a time with weeks or even months between them, controlled and manageable. Sixteen in one day felt like a river spilling it banks, too much unmanageable goodness all at once.

It also felt loaded with meaning in a way that was different than the already pregnant-with-meaning feeling of any baptism. I walked in silence toward the lake as everyone else made their chit-chat way in the same direction. Pressure built inside my heart - an emotion wanted to come out, but at the same time refused to declare its identity. I had to go looking for it. I found myself playing a game of hide and seek with an emotion and it was beating me. I heard it breathing and felt the weight of its nearness, but could not look it in the eye. “Come out, come out wherever you are,” I called, but it was more interested in teasing me than being exposed. And that is how it is with me and weighty emotions: I know first of their presence, next of their size, and in short order of their importance, but nothing of their nature. They all feel the same at first, like an unnamed pressure building up inside to announce it presence, but then stops right there, leaving me to wonder whether this is an attack, a game, a flirt or whatever. I vaguely even know whether the feeling is good or bad. At once I am aware of it presence and at the very same time oblivious to it meaning. And I never learn how to get access to it with any greater efficiency. Emotions outflank me every single time. Sometimes the feeling finally filters out into my awareness and I can name it and sometimes I have to track it through the jungle. This time I had to work to find it.

The emotion this time was big. Approaching the lake with this band of people, most of whom I did not even know their names, to engage in a Christian ritual so consequential and transforming pushed me to wonder whether I even deserved to be here and to witness this. I would wonder this many times over the week that followed. The emotion was not only big, it was growing.

We arrived at the lake’s edge. Some stayed on the grassy lawn while others made their way further to the water’s edge onto the mud flat where the lake was low. Rainy season would engage any day and the locals eagerly awaited the skies to make up for lost life giving rains. But today the sun shone bright and hot and the lake was low. Anticipation saturated the moment. At the edge of the grassy lawn under the palm trees, Pam Cope anointed each child with oil, one by one, holding each of them with the love of a mother, praying over each of them with the authority of a prophet, and then releasing each of them toward the water with the hopeful passion of woman whose been swept up into a mission bigger than she is.

No child walked to the water alone. One by one, each getting special attention from people who loved them, the children were escorted, some holding hands and others with arms over shoulders, into the water and were met by Garret the baptizer at water’s edge. Garret then took then into the water, with gentle hands, with loving hands – unforced. They went waist deep.

That pressure inside me intensified as I watched each child enter the water with Garret, stand with him, nod in agreement that they were giving their lives to Jesus, and then at the hand of a powerful man willingly be put under the water.

What does it mean for these children to be under water?

When was the last time they were under water?

What thoughts come to their minds when they went down into the water?

How does it feel to go under water at the hands of a powerful man?

Questions flooded my mind like the relentless beat of the drums. The imposing and yet elusive emotion pressing me from the inside out hit a climax and I wanted to cry just to see if that would help identify what the feeling was, but I couldn’t. It was almost rainy season, but not yet. The moment was too much to grasp as one by one, each child was plunged into the waters of baptism and reborn into a new life – freed again. I wanted to hold this moment, to capture it, to contain it, but I cannot catch the ocean with a thimble.

Then my mind went to a place I have never seen, but only imagined – Lake Volta. Every last one of these children endured forced labor on that lake. Every single day they endured exhaustingly long hours of dangerous and life threatening labor and were subject to the life draining soul violence of objectification. At the hands of their powerful master, they were plunged into the murky waters of Lake Volta to loosen fishing nets from underwater branches and logs. Under the water, they risked their lives because if they did not, they would be beaten within an inch of their lives. Death haunts everywhere on Lake Volta and is eager to feed. Most of the children saw other children go under the water and never saw them again, swallowed whole by the lake. They witnessed death by drowning and then had to go into the water hoping they loosen enough nets and hold their breath long enough for their master. Death haunts in every direction.

At the edge of Lake Bosomtwe, I stood next to one of the older boys who had been rescued 4 fours years prior. He is an intelligent, strong, and wise young man - a sixteen year old. I drummed up the courage to ask him a question.

“When do you think was the last time these children have been under water?”

He was silent and somewhat stone faced. “Long time,” he said conserving words.

Suddenly, as though I had forgotten for a while, I remembered I was a therapist, a mental health expert. My whole purpose for being here was to observe the children and the context and to make suggestions and recommendations pertaining to mental health. I wondered how traumatizing Lake Volta had been for these children.

What are they doing with their post-traumatic stress?

Does it reach the threshold of a disorder for any of them?

What are they doing with their memories?

Do they have nightmares?

Do they story their pain?

Again the questions rushed my mind. And in the flurry of questions it struck me with profound clarity – theology and psychology are merging at the waters of Lake Bosomtwe. Treatment for post-traumatic stress involves both exposure and narrative. Exposure therapy situates the traumatized individual into a similar situation as the trauma either through memory, performance, or location, but instead of the similar situation being dangerous, this time it is safe. Narrative therapy is the storying and restorying the events such that the assigned meaning changes and is redeemed. The story is eventually owned no longer by the perpetrator, but by the survivor.

Baptism in Lake Bosomtwe was the most beautiful Narrative Exposure Therapy for the trauma experienced in Lake Volta. At both lakes, these children went under water at the hands of a powerful man, but the meaning of each plunge under the water could not be more polar. The slave story of the masters of Lake Volta were being subverted sixteen times over by the redemption story of Jesus in Lake Bosomtwe. And now the story belongs in the hands of the children. Going under water does not only mean death anymore, it means resurrection, it means life, it means freedom!

And that is when the mystery of the mounting pressure of the elusive emotion inside finally resolved. It came out into the light to reveal itself. The feeling: awe. Moses felt this at the burning bush. Isaiah felt this when he saw God. The woman who touched the robe of Jesus and was healed felt this. It is proper feeling to have when God comes near.

As the poetry was performed in sixteen beautiful stanzas in Lake Bosomtwe, I stood in awe, at water’s edge, grateful and humbled to witness how the divine moves among people.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I Am Ruined

“You okay?” Asked Rachel. She saw the tears streaming down like rain on a window. She saw the resolute, but ambiguous stare forward through the windshield of the Touch A Life transport van. She saw a silent cry, the kind that doesn’t reveal much besides something weighty is going on in there. We sat close, me in the middle between she and the driver. We had long given up on the idea of personal space as everyone on this trip had gotten used to packing tight into vehicles - my right leg rest against her left leg, my left knee always in the way of the gear shift, and my shoulders scrunched with arms slung over the too large computer bag on my lap looking like I was trying to become small and failing badly at it. I would have been perfectly still had the road been in any way forgiving. Rather, I bounced around in this cramped seating arrangement like a theme park ride I had ridden one too many times.

This was the end of the stay in Ghana, the last time down these roads for who knows how long? I was headed back to air conditioning, smooth roads, and trustworthy tap water; the children remained there at the care center, and my heart already stretching thin between the two.

Rachel’s light blue eyes and strong gaze are next to impossible to ignore. She can command attention with a stare. Not this time. I stared straight ahead at nothing. Nothing. It seemed as though Nothing in and of itself had some profound meaning, like how absence is unseen and yet potent. I was in a staring contest with Nothing and it was winning. What was it? There was plenty to look at on the way to the Kumasi airport. Street vendors, ramshackle market booths, women walking along the wounded and potholed roadside carrying impossibly huge loads on their heads – how could there be Nothing? I’d seen these images all week. No, this time, even though it was all there, I was staring at Nothing and it put me to tears.

Everywhere I have ever been in my life I have seen myself there. I have always found enough familiar in it for me to see me. Canada, inner city Houston, and even Matamoros, Mexico offered some sense of myself. I looked for myself in Ghana and didn’t find anything. I found Nothing. Yes, I was Nothing. Oh my God, I was not in a staring contest with Nothing, I was in a staring contest with myself. The Nothing I saw was me.

And yet in Nothingness, there was feeling, there was passion, there was the sort of raw ache that insists upon a re-genesis of identity. It was not that I was Nothing, but rather that I could no longer be myself as defined by previous standards. It was not that I did not see myself in Ghana, it was that I did not see my old self in Ghana. My soul was stretched tight like a canvas, whitewashed, and then rapid splash painted with the images, experiences, and relationships that came on faster than an African thunderstorm.

“To answer your question,” I responded to Rachel, “no, I am not okay.” It was all I could say without my silent cry erupting into a full on ugly cry. I wanted to tell her I was ruined because of all this. I wanted to tell her I will never be the same again. I wanted to tell her I cannot unsee what I have seen and cannot unhear what I have heard. I wanted to tell her that I will never be able to piece my life back together like it was. Whatever I could remake of this undoing wasn’t going to be the same old me I had always known. I couldn’t speak about it. Words were a poor cart to carry the meaning.

At once I saw the past lives of the children at the Touch A Life Care Facility. I felt their past as though it were my own. I heard the lap of the water of Lake Volta on the side of the fishing boat, felt the whack of a paddle across my rib cage, and held my breath under water as long as I could while looking up in desperation as I was still far from water’s surface – and it was too much to bear. I had to flee the thought. But then I saw Lake Volta, all at once, and counted children scattered across the lake who knew their lives would never be anything different than this – hoping they wouldn’t die today, but having nothing to live for. Their eyes were windows to gasping souls. Days lined up forever with their dark hoods and boney fingers pointing down into the murky water. More children will die on that lake than will be rescued. It was too much to bear. I had to flee the thought. But everything kept coming at me and there was no escape.

In coming to know the children at Touch A Life, there is now only 1 degree of separation between me and Hell. Hearing one boy tell his story sounded like dispatches from Hades, like field notes from Hell. It was terrifying. And yet knowing he felt safe enough to tell his story and knowing desires to grow up and do something about child trafficking with his life is inspiring. Seeing the resilience, the courage, and the hope, there is now only 1 degree of separation between me and Heaven.

All at once I knew more pain than I had ever known and more joy than I had ever known. I felt everything all at once – and it was too much to bear. I couldn’t flee the thoughts, not all of them. And there was little more to do than cry that moment. No, I wasn’t okay, and it would have been wrong to be okay. Furthermore, I had it coming. I asked for such an experience the day I left for Ghana as I penned the following:

A Prayer Before Departure

I go to carry you with me;

I go to find you;

I go to find me;

I go to serve you.

Layers upon layers

Of toil

Of stress

Of complications

Of manic pace

Cover my heart

Numb my soul

Consume my intellect and

Tamp down my passion,

But I seek an uncovered heart

A sensitive soul

A freed intellect

And an emerging passion

To give the best of me

To the best of you

To serve the most beautiful of creatures

The world will ever witness

The young images of God

Those whose image has been attacked

Your image in their eyes, assaulted

They are free and they shall forever be


May their hearts be freed

Like their bodies are now freed

May their souls be freed

Like their bodies are free

May their minds be freed

Like their bodies are free.

Free me to free them

Free them to free me.

I beg for freedom

For healing

For hope

For peace

I beg for love to be born of wounds

For hope to be born of despair

For goodness to be born of evil

For freedom to be born of slavery.

Let us all be free

Friday, March 15, 2013

A prayer before departure

I go to carry you with me;
I go to find you;
I go to find me;
I go to serve you.

Layers upon layers
Of toil
Of stress
Of complications
Of manic pace
Cover my heart
Numb my soul
Consume my intellect and
Tamp down my passion,

But I seek an uncovered heart
A sensitive soul
A freed intellect
And an emerging passion

To give the best of me
To the best of you
To serve the most beautiful of creatures
The world will ever witness
The young images of God

Those whose image has been attacked
By the evil of launching such an assault
On the young images

They are free and they shall forever be
May their hearts be freed
Like their bodies are now freed
May their souls be freed
Like their bodies are free
May their minds be freed
Like their bodies are free.

Free me to free them
Free them to free me.

I beg for freedom
For healing
For hope
For peace

I beg for love to be born of wounds
For hope to be born of despair
For goodness to be born of evil
For freedom to be born of slavery.

Let us all be free

Monday, March 11, 2013

Ghana by Week’s End

Friday I step onto an airplane and head to NY to catch my flight to Accra, Ghana. I will then catch a flight on Starbow Airlines to Kumasi, my destination.

Map picture

I will spend a week in Kumasi with two amazing organizations - Touch a Life and Connor’s Song. My role is mental health consultation for the children housed at the care facility.

In short, the children at the care facility have experienced significant trauma. First they have been traumatized by stifling poverty. Second, most of these children were traumatized by being sold into slavery. Third, they have been traumatized by slavery itself. Finally, they were rescued.

These children have had multiple transitions outside of their own control. They are well cared for and loved at the care facility, but they all carry a history of trauma.

Mental health care for many of these children is going to be a part of their healing and development. I will be working with an amazing Play Therapist and Art Therapist on site. Our plan is to assess the need of the children, assess the capacity of the context, and make recommendations for acute care as well as a model for long term care.

I will also be strategizing for ongoing connection between Touch A Life, Connor’s Song, and masters level Marriage and Family Therapy students. My great desire is to expose students to this opportunity and perhaps one or more will make it their mission to move to Ghana and work full time with these children.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Psalm 51 Reloaded

Oh God, I’m begging for help;

You’re endlessly good;

Your love is bigger than the universe itself;

I blew it!

I blew it big time and it is bigger than I am;

Your love is the only thing bigger than my sin;

I need a do-over;

It keeps replaying in my mind over and over again;

It’s all I can think about.


I betrayed you. I embarrassed you. I made you look bad.

I deserve whatever revenge you can imagine,

And it still would not make things right;

This guilt hurts so bad it feel like I have always been bad;

Like I was born this way – evil;

The opposite of your desires.


I need to be scrubbed from head to toe;

From heart to soul;

I am filthy;

I am infected;

Clean me;

Heal me;

Restore me.


Could I never be happy again?

It seems impossible.

Could I ever look in the mirror again?

Seems hopeless.

But maybe? Could I?


Oh God, don’t look at me – I’m hideous.

Maybe you could just rip out the bad parts and leave the rest;

Maybe there would be something left.

Maybe just start over.

Create me a second time. Fresh. New.

I feel so torn.

I do not want to be far from you,

But I can’t stand to be with you when I am like this.


I used to have hope,

But that was before I ruined it;

Could I have this hope again?

Oh God, don’t leave me, not now, not in this time of crisis.


I promise I will never forget what I have done.

I will warn others about this.

It is my mission.


I will tell everyone how kind you are;

How filled with compassion you are;

How you ignored revenge and loved me instead.

I will tell how you did not require payment;

You did not exact a pound of flesh.


Let the goodness that I now know in you be for everyone;

I am certain that if everyone knew you this way,

There would be more joy in this world.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Winter Rations

I could hold these meager Tennessee snow rations,

That try to pass as Winter,

In contempt of the entire season,

And I would have every right to do,

So little as they are,

Not even topping blades of grass,

Gone in 24 hours like fog,

Colonies of dwarf snowmen,


Yes, I could hold it all in contempt,

And it may be my obligation to do so,

Being a Minnesotan,

Having shoveled feet of snow,

Having chipped inches of ice,

Having only heard of snow days,

            But rarely gotten one,

Having the annual span of months,

With frozen jeans,

With frozen boogers,

With frozen socks,

With frozen face. 

It may be my obligation,

As we both say, “Winter,”

As shared word, with unshared meaning.


I could hold these meager snow rations,

Rounded up to an inch,

Ephemeral like mist,

Cowering from the sun,

In such a hurry to melt away,

In contempt.


I could,

I should,

I will not.


For snow, even in meager rations,

Is good medicine –

How it tops the wood pile in the back yard,

How it wisps off rooftops in the wind,

            and glistens in the sun,

How it tells by driveways’ tracks,

            who has left their home and who hasn't,

How it forgives the brown and black deadness of winter,

How it stretches the light of the sun to make the world brighter.

How it whispers

            to my soul

                        “you are remembered”


So I lay my contempt to rest,

Under a thin blanket of snow,

And smile,

As the white disappears in the sun,

And my contempt with it,

As everyone has “endured the winter”

I will revel in my little morsel,

My meager rations,

Savor its taste,

Close my eyes into a blizzard of memories,

And smile.