Sunday, February 7, 2010

the aftermath

i come to you, foolishly, wisely
asking for change.

you drop a silver coin in my hand, saying
"such as this you will become."

and the tremors begin.

i want to be brave. to be righteous.
to be untainted, to be free.

to love, to know and be known.

to mingle my soul with yours.

but it seems that the hellish traces of my fractured self
can only be burned away and consumed
by the most harrowing of fires
with a gravity and smoke
that crushes the spirit
at least for 24 hours

and it starts now.

i've dragged the blackness into my lungs
and tumbled far beyond any normal human's reach.

i've marred myself
and you in the process.

and still here,
in a tangled heap
where tears melt and freeze
in disconcerting polarization
i crack under the pressure

a faint draft cools my tongue
a whisper, a sliver of hope rushes forth
and i see the muddied stars crashing and birthing and exploding overhead
and i think i trust you through the process.

i want you to brush the hair out of my eyes
and peer beyond the mortared defenses
and deep into my shame and wounds
with clarity and grace.

i want to feel your arms enfolding my neck
and the small of my back
while our breath mixes and blends
in silent intimacy
and you,

never loosening your grip on me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the vegetarian chronicles

I am chronicling the switch.

I've slowly been easing myself into it. My interest was first seriously piqued on the night of Obama's election in 2008. A friend of a friend (who now works for PETA) started sharing with me why he was a vegetarian and urged me to consider it for health and spiritual reasons. I sort of was intrigued and ended up reading a lot of the literature he gave me, but at the end of the day, a filet mignon or a pulled pork sandwich (plus sweet tea!) sounded just too good to pass up. I also had recently read Skinny Bitch and was appalled at the amount of antibiotics apparently pumped into the animals that I was later eating, and also just the general treatment of animals. I even had a dream about being surrounded by piles of meat and had no desire to eat it. I seriously considered switching to vegetarianism, even tried it for a couple of days, to no avail.

For Lent in 2009, I at least gave up red meat for 40 days, which made my backpacking trip throughout Australia, the land of cattle and shrimp on the barbies, a little bit of a challenge. I survived. I even found one vegan burger and fries in Melbourne (which I can't remember the name of anymore, sadly enough) that I found to be just as tasty as anything from Five Guys, my fave hamburger joint. Halfway through the trip though, Lent ended and I was back to eating hamburgers and chips and amazing chicken pad Thai and fish and chips, the Aussie way.

Toward the end of my stay in Australia, I finally learned how to grill. The couple we were renting a room in a flat from had a gorgeous gas grill on a terrace overlooking the neighborhood south of downtown Sydney, and I was thrilled that I had finally learned how to perfectly grill chicken or steak. This love for grilling followed me home back to the States, where I was reuinted with the ChickFila sandwiches, Chipotle carnitas burrito bowls and Longhorn filet mignon that I loved (and had missed so dearly while I was in Australia).

Follow me through Thanksgiving of 2009, where I enjoyed a perfectly cooked turkey (recipe courtesy of Giada di Laurentis). Christmas dinner consisted of the traditional lechon (pork cooked Cubano style, for the uninitiated) and piles of fried shrimp and chicken parmesan. I would feel a pang of remorse when I thought about how I had wrestled with becoming vegetarian prior going to Australia. The aforementioned PETA friend (the one from Obama's election night) would post links and articles on facebook about cruelty to animals and I would read them, and immediately regret reading it, knowing I was accountable for the information I had just read....

This new year, however, my friend Jeanne recommended I watch the documentary Food, Inc. (Visit her blog for more info). This sparked the old flame of responsibility and health and environment-conscious living. I became frustrated at large corporations for manipulating virtually most of what gets funneled down into grocery stores and restaurants. This was only fueled further when I sat down in Borders one afternoon and began to thumb through Fast Food Nation, which chronicles how a combination of socio-economic conditions led to the development of the fast food industry and largely influenced the way meat was produced. I began to remember (and actually believe) that I have a daily responsibility to care for the environment and live compassionately.

So over the past few weeks, I've been trying it out, easing myself into it. Eating meat 2-3 times a week, rather than 2-3 times a day. But this past week, I finally made the general switch (and commitment) to at least be vegetarian for three months.

I'll let you know how it goes. I'm not craving meat today in anyway so at least that's a good sign. Also, if you have any help or advice, please let me know. I went grocery shopping today for the first time with specifically no meat in mind and it wasn't as hard or as tempting as I thought. I do think eating out is going to be difficult...

But we shall see.

you have used 3 continues.

Lately, I feel like I have been increasingly put in scenarios where I am forced to be direct and not apologize afterward for being direct. Conflict resolution. Honesty. Confrontation. Accountability. Character growth.

All of these have been colliding into my life in various relationships, at an exponentially growing rate within the past 2-3 months. I told a good friend of mine recently, it's almost to the point where it feels like a game. A continuous quest or RPG where I am completing various objectives and puzzles and growing stronger and dying and being reborn, gaining coins and lifes (1 ups?) and propeller hats along the way. Every now and then I'll beat the castle and savour the moment of triumph, only to have the princess whisked off to another world.

And so the quest continues.

I'm slowly learning that I often apologize for things when I am not responsible, and don't apologize and get defensive when it IS my responsibility.

Diplomatic, peace-making Mel is learning the ropes of this honesty business and it's none too fun. How do I grow without being reactionary and pendulum swinging to the opposite extreme?

But I am starting to see the patterns a bit clearer. And feeling the growing pains again. It's good but it's hard. And not nearly as fun as Super Mario world.

But it IS almost getting to the point where it is happening so often, that it is comical.

I started to laugh about it today and it felt pretty good.

Friday, January 22, 2010

portrait of an artist by a landscape.

She knelt on the shore, tracing the shadows of the clouds upon the grains of sand. It was as if the sky and sea all appeared to conspire to draw her here, if only to sympathize with her restlessness under the unforgiving sun.

It had been awhile since it had even occurred to her to come here, but last night's dreams left her unconstant and unsettled. She had never felt an ounce of regret--ends justifies the means?--but recent events made her realize how so much of her current laceration had spiraled back from this moment. Conversations, hesitations, silences all seemed tethered to this singular constant in time.

She longed to whip out a pair of scissors, slash through and watch them float up through the atmosphere, but they were so entangled and intertwined, she wouldn't know where to begin. She had dedicated her life to accumulation and it would feel so damn good to let it all go.

Every look, a chasm.

Every breath, an ocean between them.

I heard the fatigue in your voice, she thinks. And I get it.

She wonders if she has tortured herself enough, concludes she hasn't, but then relentlessly lets herself off the hook one more time. And always for the wrong reasons.

Sure, grace is amazing.

But not when we're holding Her hostage.

Monday, January 18, 2010

dismantle, repair.

trying to pull together thoughts from tonight.

earlier today, i was consumed earlier with a piece of melodrama inside my own head.

this week, ironically, has been great. i've had a wonderfully full week of catching up with friends, having sparkling conversation over lunch or coffee, depending on the day of the week. i've melted into jovial circles of people enjoying the taste of beer or the smoke of a pipe as we said our farewells to friends bound for foreign countries. i've laughed over romantic comedies; i've jostled other people over video game controllers as we try to rescue the princess once again; i've enjoyed multiple glasses of wine and good food and good conversation; i've created and strummed and sung and had emotional catharsis; i've been reunited with jack, my favorite terrorist killer from one of my favorite television shows. if anything, this past week has been a microcosm of the spectacularly unbelievable grace of which i've been a recipient.

i've felt grateful, joyful and unbelievably content this entire week.

despite all my past involvement with missions and orphans and street kids, for some reason, i didn't let the news of the earthquake sink into my awareness in any way. i've tweeted about it, i've emailed friends who are involved with mission work in haiti, i've donated some funds, i've acknowledged the suffering, and shaken my head sympathetically at the horror and tragedy.

but it still seemed like statistics. i've felt removed and disconnected from the emotional reality of it.

that all changed tonight.

at status tonight, two young men spoke about their experiences in haiti since this past tuesday. they were working in an orphanage outside of port-au-prince when the earthquake hit. they stood on the stage and told their story. and slowly, the reality of what had happened in haiti started to unravel before my eyes. i could smell the stench of death as they described driving through port-au-prince, surrounded by stacks of dead bodies. i could feel the terror and confusion and shock in the tears of young orphans and street children. i could see the emptiness in the shocked, listless stares of the people trying to make sense of the destruction. the pain became real to me, not just hypothetical.

the piece of melodrama inside my head seemed to vaporize, swallowed up by the immense suffering of a million voices crying out to jesus for help, for aid, for anything.

this is a time for prayer, for listening, for action, for compassion. i am sick and tired of allowing apathy and inaction and indecisiveness and self-absorption and overanalysis to dictate the rhythms of my day-to-day. i realize sanctification is a lifelong process but i am recognizing more and more that i am being drawn into the fray, into the action and i can no longer ignore the throbbing, the fire that has been burning for quite sometime now. i feel God increasingly dismantling me, exponentially over the past few months and i am scared to death and excited and lately it feels like life is constantly spinning out of control but that's because it IS, but it's my control that it's spinning out of and it ought to. because God is ultimately the one in control.

tonight, i remembered a scene from elie wiesel's haunting novel "night." wiesel witnesses the evil of innocent people being mass murdered, most horrifically on the gallows. upon seeing innocent people swinging from the gallows, a bitter voice cries out in anguish "where is god?" and someone replies, "he is there. on the gallows."

for some, i know they think god is dead. or at least indifferent or powerless. or maybe even a monster.

but for me, that scene has always meant that god is indeed on the gallows, but only because he is suffering right along with the people. i believe that christ is never more real and more present than among people that are suffering deep and unspeakable pain.

i have no answers; i don't think anybody does.

but for now, i want to pray and listen and be ready to act at any given moment.

Isaiah 61

 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
       because the LORD has anointed me
       to preach good news to the poor.
       He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
       to proclaim freedom for the captives
       and release from darkness for the prisoners, [a]
 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness 
instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins 
and restore the places long devastated; 
they will renew the ruined cities 
that have been devastated for generations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

stardust, sex god and satan.

I'm sitting in Stardust Coffee and Video, this indie trendy coffeeshop in Orlando. There are shelves and shelves of old VHS and DVDs lining the walls. The room is set up sort of like a school cafeteria with long metal tables and functional white plastic chairs to match. Kate is entertaining house guests from Virginia and suggested we come join them today. I normally have my weekly meetings with Mitch at Starbucks, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind changing it up this week and meeting here.

The day started off with breakfast with Jeanne at Cracker Barrel. And also her telling off some shady adjuster on the phone from the unnamed insurance company she works for. Kate kept coming to the front porch, alternating between eavesdropping and giving me a play-by-play commentary of Jeanne's smack down.

We're both so proud.

Still sitting in the coffeeshop and waiting for Mitch to get here, I just finished reading Sex God by Rob Bell. My friends Josh and Jeanne have been telling me forever about how great this book was, but every time they tried to explain the gist to me, the gist always sounded weird. "Endless connections between God and sexuality" seemed a bit scandalous.

But it's good. And it got me thinking a lot. About relationships. And freedom. I'm journaling, watching the people around me, sipping too-sweet earl grey tea.

For some unknown reason, my Bible flopped open to I Chronicles 21. The first words I read were "Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel."

This sentence struck me as a little weird. Why is David keeping tabs on how many soldiers had suddenly being labeled as satanic activity? Seems a bit heavy handed.

After all, David is warrior king over all of Israel. He is commander-in-chief, famous for leading a special fighting force of "mighty men," defeating Philistines and other neighboring warring nations. It seemed natural (and shrewd, even) for David to keep a running count of how many men he had. It's just keeping inventory. It's just smart.

The problem is, lately I have been realizing how playing the comparison game can be incredibly destructive.

And we all play it.

Somehow, what begins as harmless observation can slowly but insidiously begin to play upon our weaknesses and insecurities.

"She's more ... than I am." "Look at how much .... he has." "Why does everybody else seem to...?" "I wish I were married." "I wish I were single."

On and on. It's difficult, if not impossible, not to compare ourselves to other people, to complete strangers, to our friends, to our families. Either we are aching for that which we do not have, or we are finding our identity and security in how much we have in comparison to other people. We allow comparison to shape our choices, influence our relationships and give us a sense of validation.

We invite in the hierarchy and it destroys us.

In Chronicles, the story goes onto say how David ordered his right-hand man Joab to take the census. Joab protested, but he was overruled by David. So Joab went throughout Israel, counted the troops and reported back to David. Somehow (the Scripture doesn't say how exactly), David had a moment of realization that this was probably a bad idea. He acknowledges this, then God gives him three options for his punishment. And all three options (famine, sword or divine plague) involve a lot of death. David opts for something that doesn't involve an outside party coming in, so the Lord sends a plague to Israel. 70,000 people are slaughtered. And then on top of that, God sends in an angel to destroy the entire city of Jerusalem. As the angel was apparently about to wipe out the entire city, God suddenly called the whole thing off. But not before 70,000 men are killed and who knows how many families completely devastated from this loss.

Why all the destruction? It seems a bit extreme or irrational of God, perhaps. Crazy, even.

The truth is, I think God knows how comparison distorts our perspective. It destroys us. So in a very tragic way, maybe the destruction somehow equaled the magnitude of David's offense, not only against God but against himself.

David rose up from the obscurity of being a shepherd to being king over all of Israel. He defeated the giant Goliath, the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Arameans, the Edomites in a series of swift, merciless battles. He began to amass an enormous army as thousands began to rally behind him. And at every turn, he acknowledged God as the source of his victory, even bringing the ark of the covenant into the city as a recognition of God's glory and presence being the reason for every triumph. He always understood that his strength and identity was in God.

When David decided to take a census, however, something very subtle was changing within him. He began to shift his trust away from God and toward himself. Toward comparison. There's nothing inherently wrong with being wise and shrewd, but his actions revealed the truth of his motives. His identity was no longer in Yahweh-Nissi; it was in the strength of his own army.

I often wonder how often I take census in my own life. When I compare my abilities, the strength of my relationships, experiences and it either leaves me with an insufferable sense of pride or an self-destructive sense of inadequacy. Abilities, relationships and experiences are good things, but it's so subtle and destructive, how often embracing them can so quickly replace gratitude and humility with a sense of fear, pride, insecurity and inadequacy. I am struggling to relinquish my tendency to compare.

And this is one of the many reasons I really do adore God. He destroys the hierarchy. In Christ, there is ultimate inclusivity. And security. A constant invitation to simply draw from His infinite love and grace where there are no conditions, no fear of abandonment. The invitation to know God, and for Him to know us, every messy, human inch of us, and be loved unconditionally. That height and depth and width of the kind of love astounds me. It's unheard of.

Yahweh-Nissi. God is my victory. Through Christ, He is my strength, my source, my identity, my security and I don't need to compare myself to anyone.

And neither do you.