Wednesday, February 22, 2017

get back to where you once belonged...

My life has been blessed. At nearly 65 years of age I still have loving contact with friends from middle school. That's fifty three years of knowing and being known: not always profoundly, of course, and often with some huge gaps and silences, too - but still knowing and being known. In this age of disposable everything, where the idol of busyness for business rules supreme, I cherish these relationships - honor them in my heart, pray about them with gratitude - and seek to nourish and give as good as I have been given. Mary Oliver gets it right in this wee poem she calls "To Live in the World."

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

In the last three weeks I have had two moving conversations with two of my oldest friends. One was an extensive phone chat that filled my heart full to overflowing. The other was a field trip to a local luthier to repair a 47 year old Martin guitar that we played back in the day. While wildly different, each led me to holy ground in the middle of my ordinary life and left me feeling renewed and deeply loved. What's more, right here in the middle of my current world new musical and creative possibilities are flowing once again. Another Mary Oliver poem, "Tell Me About It" comes to mind:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Each of my old buddies have been on a journey - very different paths - that have taken us into unique albeit related encounters with darkness, joy, pain, betrayal, confusion, beauty, love and anger. And now, for reasons greater than us all, these discrete crossings are coming together again. What once joined us is once again revealing new/old ways we can share the sweetness of whatever time remains. What an incredible and sacred gift to receive at this stage of life. "You can have the other words - chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I'll take grace. I don't know what it is exactly, but I'll take it. ”  (Mary Oliver)

Yes, yes, I know that old guys in the last quarter of their lives often get sentimental and even maudlin. Been there, done that and will probably do so again, too. But this feels deeper than just the approaching of our 50th high school reunion in three years (not that there's anything wrong with such a celebration.) No, this is more about trust and love in a harsh time. It is about honoring what we've learned to be profoundly life-giving. It is about cultivating beauty, music, art, poetry and friendship in the hope of passing it on. It is what I heard Bonhoeffer speaking of in his Letters and Papers from Prison: living and loving as people dedicated to others.

So many today experience despair. There is a palpable sense that we are careening towards an inevitable cultural and political train wreck that we are powerless to avoid. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite recently referenced this truth from the works of the late Dorothee Soelle in, The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity.  

As a German, Soelle knew well that the most ghastly corruptions of a society can occur when massive intolerance for the sheer existence of other people takes hold in law and custom. Often, however, violation after violations is "tolerated" because, after all, "what can we do about it?" Against this counsel of despair, Soelle argues for a "militant" Christianity that cannot help but keep comparing this world with its rampant injustices to the Kingdom of God. And this Christianity will not surrender one wit to the hell on earth that is the life and death of so many. "If we love heaven, we find ourselves less and less able to tolerate hell." You might think that "hell" is too strong a term for what such intolerance means (at this moment in time). It is not. Hell is obliteration, the opposite, in face of creation. 

Over and again, as I move through the day I discern people of all types aching for trust and hope, but uncertain how to move through their grief. Is it safe to do any thing some wonder? Others carry a weary resignation that our deepest values are being systematically derailed and all we can do is shoulder the burden in silence. Still more are vocal, outraged and angry but nevertheless impotent when it comes to bringing to birth new hope amidst all the fear and loathing.

Perhaps this is why I find my reconnection with my oldest friends to be so compelling. We've been playing/making music together and apart for 50 years. We hold the same roots and influences in common. We respect where we've gone our separate ways and know that this diversity enriches being together again. As for me, I also believe that the Spirit (however you understand it) has encouraged these reunions so that ever more creativity might be unleashed in future collaborations. As one friend said to me in a way that sang within my heart, "I have always believed that somehow our lives have been destined to be intertwined." Makes me think of this invitation...

Let's face it: we are all past the point of fretting over our previous sins and failures. In my lingo, it feels as if now is the time to truly "seek ye first the kingdom of God..."The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” (Mary Oliver - again, yes I know - but the last one I promise!) Call it the revenge and/or return of unrepentant hippies - or the resonance of Mako Fujimura's "Culture Care" - or both: something is brewing and simmering here that is a joy to behold. Mako's analysis warrants a hearing:

An industrial map in the mid-twentieth century colored New York’s Hudson River black. The mapmakers considered a black river a good thing—full of industry! The more factory outputs, the more progress. When that map was made, “nature” was widely seen as a resource to be exploited. Few people considered the consequences of careless disposal of industrial waste. The culture has shifted dramatically over the last fifty years. When I share this story today, most people shudder and ask how anyone could think of a polluted river as good. But today we are doing the same thing with the river of culture. Think of the arts and other cultural enterprises as rivers that water the soil of culture. We are painting this cultural river black—full of industry, dominated by commercial interests, careless of toxic byproducts—and there are still cultural mapmakers who claim that this is a good thing. The pollution makes it difficult to for us to breathe, difficult for artists to create, difficult for any of us to see beauty through the murk.

So whatever is taking place, let me say today that I LOVE being an old dude at this moment in time - especially given the blessings and 
possibilities that are stirring with my old mates - I'll keep you posted as this story ripens.

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