When we adopted our son, we gained a sudden sensitivity to the well-intentioned words that manage to nonetheless sucker punch a parent's heart. Things like, "So that one's adopted, and these are your own?"
In the wake of a miscarriage or divorce, you heard things like, "Well, at least you're young...you can always try again...".
Other times you weren't the one in the difficult shoes, but you were close enough to feel what another human felt when he/she was dismissed, overlooked, humiliated or rebuked, and suddenly you're appalled at all the missing-the-mark things that have come out of your own mouth.
The antidote isn't to stop trying, but to keep coming close and straining your heart & mind toward that of your fellow humans, to really listen, to make small steps toward understanding. Straining to see & hear God together.
THAT is what it means to love your neighbor.
Love is a pilgrimage through sunlit hills and dreary forests and across roadless deserts, with companions who carry vastly different kinds of luggage and often can't even agree on where to the pitch the tent.
Some of my favorite traveling companions are skeptics, wounded faithful, and unbelievers (cue "All My Favorite People" by Over the Rhine), and right now coming close to them means taking a look around from their vantage point for awhile. I want to hear them out, and I also want to understand my own perspective in truer context. So that's what my brain is doing these days, and you know what? I'm experiencing some frustration. Spoiler alert: that will likely come out in my poetry, songs, and conversations from time to time.
Sometimes you have to pry yourself out of whatever emotional/intellectual/theological armchair you've gotten so comfy in, if only to cross the room and put your arm around someone you love.
the trouble of listening
I sit in the parked car and listen to the voice of my inner man,
Louder than wind whipping the glass
Louder than the spinning wheels of suburban traffic
More brutal than the signage of strip mall storefronts
So bassy and persistent I can hardly believe passersby aren’t rubbernecking
Wondering at the ruckus
And the lady behind the wheel, still and staring.
Some days I am prisoner and warden,
The man in striped pajamas climbing barbed fences
And the armed guard yanking him back down by the waist of his pants.
Is it okay to admit it? That I sometimes want out?
That I want all mouths, including mine – mostly mine – to shut?
That if I could, I’d take what’s “mine” and leave the rest?
Would it be alright with you if – just for an hour or so - we
Box up the trending phrases and memes
Discard assumptions and studied answers -
Quietly walk by the tracks like we used to do
Knowing they lead
But having no earthly idea where
And not even thinking to ask
We were there
We were really there
And the grass was dead, the trees leafless
We had no phones or cameras or soundtracks
Only cold Virginia wind
Our own shivered breath
As we killed time,
In the singular, unremarkable moment
Now there is duty
And the backspace button
As if all the world’s salvation hinges
Not on his God-ness
But our goodness.
Not the sound of his voice
As if my humanity may accidentally, irresponsibly,
Remind you of your own.
I’m talking to myself, of course,
The weirdo at the wheel.
I’m neither cynic nor melancholic
But today I hear our chatter through my skeptic brother’s mind
And see through the heavy-lidded eyes of my grieving sister.
What I see are filtered photos and
Smiling pairs of eyes that subtly avoid contact
What I hear are framable arrangements of words
Around well-set tables, with no open chairs
At the moment what I know best is that we know less than we think we do
And may be more terrified of uncertainty than of hell
And that sometimes certainty saves us the trouble of listening.