Respecting the awesome power of words!

Posts tagged “self-examination

Be

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Esse quam videri –
 literally, “To be,
rather than to seem.”
is the North Carolina state motto.

It has also been translated,
“Be who you are.”

If ever there was
a “be and not just seem” one,
it was God-with-skin-on
from Nazareth,
whose parents named him “Jesus.”

I spent most
(okay, pretty much ALL)
of my first 30 years focused
on proving other people wrong.

That is, when someone said,
“You can’t/don’t know
how to do that.”
(because you’re left-handed,
too small/weak, young,
from a small town,
not educated enough, etc.),
I set out to prove them wrong.

Even though I became
quite adept at this,
one day, I realized
my life choices were based,
not on any inner sense
of purpose or drive,
but merely on competing
against the expectations of others.

I’ve spent the last 28+ years
learning to let go
of that need to prove
my enoughness to anyone,
including myself.

Wilderness, whether it’s mountains,
lakes, desert, or somewhere else,
is a place where the taunting voices
can most fully be shed,

giving me ears to hear
and heart to focus
on my own breath,

and helping me recognize
where and how my own worth
is validated, not in
the meeting or defeating
of others’ expectations,

but through the defining
and developing of self
in mutually healthful
service to the world.

Thanks be to God!

© 2018 Todd Jenkins
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Yes and No

IMG_8937Photo by Ashley Goad

Let your word be 
‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; 
anything more than this 
comes from the evil one. 
(Matthew 5:37)

Say yes to the rhythm
of your marrow;
yes to walking deliberately;
yes to listening attentively;

yes to considering prayerfully;
yes to speaking gently;
yes to acting compassionately;
yes to holding tenderly;

and as these yeses unfold
into the world,
you will find the wisdom,
strength, and courage
to say no;

no to division;
no to fear;
no to othering;
no to assuming;
no to hoarding;
no to hurrying;
no to spontaneously reacting;
no to violence;
no to abusing;
no to anesthetizing.

Learn the way of yes,
and the way of no
will follow close behind.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


Commitment

commitment

Photo by DeEtta Harris Jenkins

 

    I’d offer you a fluffy basketful
   of thoughts and prayers,
  but I’m pretty sure
 you’ve had a bate
of shallow nothingness.

     I’d offer you
    unfettered second amendment
   and total gun confiscation,
  but I can tell
 we’ve all suffered enough
from artificial binary limitations.

     I’d offer you
    religious extremism
   and mental illness,
  but it seems like
 there’s already a glut
of selective blame and projection.

  In digging through
 the closet, in search
of something else to offer,

   there, at the back,
  I find an old table
 and lots of chairs,
all covered with cobwebs.

  Let’s take them out,
 dust them off,
and all pull up a seat.

   Let’s leave the bank accounts
  and the campaign contributions
 at home,
and have a genuine discussion

     about who needs what
    and how to make changes
   that’ll significantly slow down
  the filling up of cemeteries
 with the bullet-riddled bodies
of our loved ones.

    Let’s let everyone
   have a say,
  and then commit ourselves
 to making this a safer place
to live together.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


Reflexive

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(when Psalm 22 stares back at you from the mirror)

 

"My sons and daughters,
why have you forsaken them?
Why are you so far from responding
to the their cries and groanings?

They beseech you in daylight,
wailing at the wall you’ve constructed
to separate their lives
from your comfort and security.

By night, their pleas waft
on smoldering embers
of their deconstruction."

The victors have constructed
a lovely narrative of deliverance;
their cry, God’s response;
like a sacred vending machine,
fed with the coin of deserving.

But what of those who are judged
to be subpar, those whose DNA,
language, or faith heritage
come from beyond
the 23&me dream package?

What of those who showed up
for work or school or worship,
oblivious to the call to pack heat
for self-preservation;
those who trusted that
the least of these, the lambs,
would be protected
by the Great Shepherd’s shepherds?

They counted on us to carry them;
to be there, not just in the delivery room,
but at the grocery store checkout,
the public library, the classroom,
the youth group meeting, the job fair.

Is our absence because
we don’t really care, or because
we’re actually the carnivores
circling ‘round them?

Their tongues glue to the roof
of their mouths, like jerky
dried for consumption,
salted with the tears of their anguish.

Their skin taut, revealing
a cadaverous collection of bones.

The coyotes circle,
yipping and nipping,
casting lots for what little remains.

The dream we sold them
promised they’d have a shot;
guaranteed dignity, respect,
even opportunity;
but the fine print and disclaimer
excluded them for myriad reasons,
mostly because we feared
that including them
would cost us too much.

We are slow to catch on, O Lord;
blind and deaf and too scared
to realize that tossing them
to the curb is infinitely more costly
than we ever dreamed,
because it has cost us our very souls.

Is there still time, still hope,
still opportunity to pull
more chairs ‘round the table?

If we feed those who’ve been starved,
welcome those who’ve been exiled,
humble ourselves before you and pray,
will you make your light shine 
upon us all, once again?

We wrap ourselves
with the sackcloth of confession,
and dust ourselves
with the ash of contrition,
O holy one, in hopes
that our forsaking
will not become our forsakenness.

Deliver us, we pray,
that we may live
to proclaim your story
to generations yet to come.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


Out of Darkness

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We use the word holy
to name that which
we know primarily as pure,
powerful, and other;

mystery, to describe
that which hasn't yet
revealed itself to us;

and sacred, to define
experiences in which
we've been so close
to the holy and mysterious
that we've felt
breath on our necks.

Do we ever experience
any of these anywhere
other than in the dark?

Try to help me remember this
the next time clouds obscure
the moon and stars,
and my knees begin to knock.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


Vintage

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When I see them appear
in the corner of an eye,
it makes me wonder
what year they’re from;

what story is long buried
beneath the surface,
in the attic or the basement
or the back of a huge wardrobe,

where someone thought
they’d never be found;
but something happens;

a series of seemingly
unrelated events:

a song sung in just
the way you remembered;

or the wafting essence
of bread being baked
or the scent a favorite cuisine
you haven’t had in years;

or the way the light comes
through the trees;
or some other dormant trigger.

There we find ourselves,
tears flowing like
an artesian well,

conjuring up emotional baggage
from eons ago,

begging us to uncork
vintage love, pain, and grief,
and sip our way
through a story
of healing,
if not resurrection.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

Sutherland Springs

sutherlandPhoto by Owen Jenkins

 

“Thoughts and prayers” screech
in my ears like fingernails
across a chalkboard,
regurgitate into my throat
like the most heinous of tastes
come back to haunt me,
a platitudinous chaff
of phraseology.

   In the motionless void
   that follows, my eardrums
   are pierced by the echo
   of gunfire;

      another mass shooting,
      further propelling
      the land of the free
      to an insurmountable lead
      in the gold medal chase
      for death by firearms.

   We cry “terror!”
   when we see difference,
   and “mental illness!”
   or “lone wolf”
   when familiarity surfaces,
   all the while
   doubling down on weaponization,
   as if terminal violence
   were the antidote to rage.

Is there a tipping point
where the right to die
of some other cause
rises to the level
of the right to bear arms?

   Or should we bury hope
   next to the latest
   bullet-riddled victims,
   shrugging our shoulders
   in surrender
   as the second amendment
   rises to the throne
   of supreme deity?

Lord, have mercy,
because we have
completely lost the capacity
to birth it ourselves!

   © 2017 Todd Jenkins

Church Whisperer?

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There’s a certain range
of sociocultural behavior
and interaction that’s healthy.
Venturing too far from it
risks isolation and estrangement.

Growl at or feel threatened by guests?
Bark at every unexpected sound,
cowering in fear behind
a facade of bravado,
biting even the hand
that feeds you
when you’re surprised?
Constantly and inappropriately
marking territory?

Three questions,
regularly whispered
on the linear plane,
help identify areas
for examination:
What are we (not) doing?
Why are we (not) doing it?
How’s that working out for us?

The foundational whispers,
however, are neither
horizontal, nor sounded
across human vocal chords;
but vertical, and received
into human hearts:

Why were you placed
into this time and space?
Toward what and whom
are you being called
by love and grace?

We are created, then,
less as church whisperers,
than those to and through whom
the divine whispers.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

 


Let Freedom Ring

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They didn’t and don’t put
their lives on the line
to save a flag or
to demand we all stand
or revere a song;

but to give citizens of their nation —
all citizens — the chance
to enjoy lives of dignity,
respect, and opportunity.

When forces within a national culture,
economy, and infrastructure
thwart such freedom for some,
pushing them to call attention
to such incongruity by the exercise
of a first amendment right,
it’s not flag or nation being disrespected,
but the notion that one experience
is the only one that’s normative.

Waving patriotism, nationalism,
or soldiers’ service and sacrifice
as objection to the objection,
are red herrings, as is the suggestion
that there are less offensive methods,
since acceptability is a big part
of what renders outcry ineffective.

Instead of attempting to  
to force all into lockstep,
may our discomfort drive us
toward the recognition
of systemic injustice,
and to a table where ears lean in
to understand, rather than recoil
to fashion argument and disagreement.

Dismissing and refusing to listen
to the stories of protesters
is the surest way to escalate
refraction of their experience
while delegitimizing their lives.

To object to dissent is to miss
the whole point of freedom.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins

 


weR1

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Throughout history, people
have cordoned themselves off
by self-identification in layers,
climbing and clamoring to stand
on top of something or someone –
anyone or anything – just as long
as they do not believe
they are at the bottom.

In so doing, the bodies beneath
their feet are eventually construed
to be less than human.

The hardest lesson of all,
and one that upends
the whole fragile pile,
unfolds when we wake up
and realize that dehumanizing itself
is what sentences dehumanizers
to their own judgment;

and those whose hope, 
no matter how fragile and
compressed by the vitriol,
has held through the storm,
are the only ones who can lift us
all toward the sacred purpose
of our shared humanity.

© 2017 Todd Jenkins