Why must we wait

Why must we wait
Until our bloodstreams merge
On sidewalks and pavements
In hallways and classrooms
In the streets of pulverized cities
To see that all thse streams are the same

Why can we only flow together
Into puddles and gutters
Spattered across walls
Soaked into clothing
Filling up bathtubs
Circling the drains of tiled rooms

Why must we be shattered
Before we can be swept up together
Why must we decay
In the unmarked mass grave
Before we can greet the sun
As fields of flowers

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THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: LOVE WILL DO THAT

I was 40000 or so feet above the North Atlantic a few days ago, on my way back to the States after nearly a year away. I was speaking with my seatmate, a young German grad student in economics, who was traveling to Canada to visit his Colombian girlfriend, who’s at university near Toronto. Having met at a hostel in Thailand a year and a half ago, they’ve been maintaining a trans-Atlantic relationship ever since – but now he’s planning a move to Canada. “It’s been difficult, of course – and expensive,” he was saying. “But we know it’ll be worth it.”

I am thinking of the hostel where I stayed for a few days before leaving Belgrade – where one of the Serbian managers was having a tempestuous relationship with one of the guests, a refugee from Iran I believe. I couldn’t help but overhear as they had long and intense conversations out on the balcony of the large shared room where I slept. (English was their meeting ground!) Bit by bit, step by faltering step, they tried to negotiate the tricky, perilous spaces that culture and conditioning had set up between them, trying to reconcile what their hearts were telling them with the harsh realities of the world outside.  And I prayed for them, that they would find a way to build the bridges that would help them share their lives, and I thought of the song by Bruce Cockburn:

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time,
Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime.
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

This is more than wistful romanticism, though.

Think of cultures as tectonic plates – slowly drifting, colliding, sometimes scraping against each other. The interesting stuff happens in the places where they touch, where boundaries start to break, where new possibilities can emerge. In the middle, far away from these edges, the integrity of the whole is not usually threatened… if these collisions happen in the right way. If there is resistance, though… if unresolved tensions are allowed to build up along fault lines… if there is only pushing, and no yielding… if there is nothing to ameliorate the friction… that’s when earthquakes happen.   

Sometimes that amelioration is driven by commerce, sometimes by expedience. Sometimes it is driven by love.

We can’t merge, after all, without melting a little.

This was one of the things that I saw during my trip that gave me great hope for the future – to see young people from all over the world meeting and interacting with each other, finding common ground and common humanity, exploring how to transcend the limitations of nationalism and isolationism, laying the groundwork for entirely new ways of not only coexisting but flourishing together.

Because of course love will do that.

That’s what love does.

I’ll tell you more next month.

 

Long Distance Relationship

I’m gonna take all my dreams
Pack them in some boxes
Ship them across the ocean
To you

And then you can take them out
And keep them in your pockets
Till I come back to share them
With you

I’m gonna upload my heart
Put it in the cloud
Gigabytes of love
For you

And I’ll give you the key
So access is allowed
For nobody else
But you

(bridge)
Kilometers won’t kill our love
As long as I can see your smiles
I don’t care about the miles (2x)

I’m gonna livestream my tears
Of joy so you can kiss them
Until I am next
To you

And the lonely times
I know we’ll never miss them
Once we are together
We two
When once again I am one
With you

Favorite Love Songs

In response to a question from a recent conversation, I went back and looked through my post listing some of my favorite songs… and I was quite surprised to notice that with the possible exception of “The Story in Your Eyes” by the Moody Blues, I didn’t really have any love songs on the list.

So let me fix that omission right away!

As with the previous list, I’m just jotting these down as they occur to me, no particular order of preference yet…

  1. “Isn’t Life Strange,” Moody Blues
  2. “Love and Affection,” Joan Armatrading
  3. “In Your Eyes,” Peter Gabriel
  4. “What is Life,” George Harrison
  5. “Lay Lady Lay,” Bob Dylan
  6. “Heartbeat,” King Crimson
  7. “Come to Me,” Bjork
  8. “Follow Me Follow You,” Genesis
  9. “How Can I Tell You,” Cat Stevens

DEMOLITION CREWS

DEMOLITION CREWS
An Observation by Blind Peanut Nicholson

Mrs. Morgan just passed away
I think it was last Saturday
Today they came to clean out all her stuff
All her bric-a-brac, and her knick-a-knacks
Her collection of ceramic cats
She used to say she could never had enough

Demolition crews
They don’t stop to pick and choose
They just tear it out and haul it all away
All the things that you used to use
That you were so afraid to lose
That never more will see the light of day

A bunch of magazines from the 70s
That she’d kept around “for the recipes”
But I don’t believe she ever really cooked
Candle stands and praying hands
A talking fish, some jars of sand
I don’t know what else, I never really looked

Demolition crew
They’ve got no time to lose
They’ve got to do their job and do it fast
Memories and souvenirs
Leftovers from your younger years
Just like you, you know they’ll never last

Yes, they cleaned it to the walls
And put it all in a pile in the hall
That’s where it was when I came walking by
And I made myself a solemn vow
Which I suggest you take right now
To clean up all your crap before you die

‘Cause demolition crews
They won’t take an excuse
From someone who is not there anymore
Take a look at all your stuff
And figure out just what’s enough
And let the rest just move on out the door

PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler is wrapping up a year of travel in Europe, and is returning to the States in January.)

Survival is not enough. – Emily St. John Mandel, STATION ELEVEN

Let me share three data points:

  1. I met a Syrian visual artist not long ago. His life’s works had all been destroyed by Islamic State personnel, who controlled his city for a while. He fled towards Europe. Now, after years of displacement and uncertainty, he has found his way to safety, and hopefully to a new life… but he has not yet been able to create new work. His creative spirit, unsurprisingly, is still recovering from the trauma he experienced.
  2. On my way back from Serbia to Germany, I spent a few days in the city of Tuzla, in Bosnia. I happened to be there during their International Film Festival, and before one of the public screening sessions I met a young Bosnian-American filmmaker and choreographer. He talked about how difficult he had found it to get his fellow Bosnians interested in the arts again, following the tragedies of the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s. He was guardedly optimistic, though. He felt that the tide was just now starting to turn – that more than twenty years since the Dayton Accords ended the conflict, some kind of cultural thaw might finally be underway.
  3. Last month I had the privilege of attending the Köln premiere of one of the most extraordinary films I have ever seen: the documentary HUMAN FLOW, directed by Chinese conceptual artist Ai Wei Wei. In this immensely powerful and deeply compassionate work, Ai takes us along with him as he journeys with a group of refugees through Northern Greece, and visits camps and war zones throughout the Middle East, including Gaza. He also unflinchingly shows us the scope of the refugee crisis around the world – from the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, to the Sudan, to the US-Mexico border. This relentless survey of suffering is punctuated with interviews with humanitarian workers and international experts, who point out that the impact of the present situation will be felt for decades if not generations to come, and that countries who try to “protect” themselves by reinforcing their borders and brutally repelling migrants are in fact making their futures less secure. Furthermore, it is vitally important that the psychological and, yes, spiritual needs of displaced populations be met, not just the physical ones.

The arts – and artists – are crucial to our retaining our humanness in the face of increasingly dire circumstances, and equally crucial to recovering that humanness in their aftermath. But war, displacement, deprivation, and repression do not only wound, cripple, and kill bodies, but spirits as well. Even the brightest lights may be dimmed, if not extinguished altogether, if not given what they need to heal. And they must heal if they are to help their societies to heal.

So this holiday season, I would call on us to make an especially joyful noise… to actively reaffirm the power of imagination and festivity, to insist on the possibility of transcendent beauty, to seek out the flowers hidden in the ruins… because, as the quote at the top of the column says, survival is not enough.

(PS: One project I’d like to take on when I get back is arranging a showing of HUMAN FLOW in our area. Let me know if you’d like to help.)

(PPS: Dear Reader, I’ve left you a Christmas present… on my YouTube account. It’s a song called “Let It Be a Quiet Christmas.” It’s not exactly joyful, but I hope you enjoy it.)

Let It Be A Quiet Christmas

In the North the snow is falling
Soon it will be Christmas Day
But the news is so appalling
There’s only one thing I pray

Let it be a quiet Christmas
Let all the guns be still
Let it be a quiet Christmas
Lord, if it be Thy will
Please let it be Thy will

Frm the frozen streets of cities
To the deserts’ burning sands
Let hearts be moved with pity
For those who suffer in every land

Let it be a quiet Christmas
Bid the bombers all stand down
Let it be a quiet Christmas
In every village and town
In every village and town

In every camp and prison
At the borders all held fast
Bring an end to our divisions
Let the wars be done at last

Let it be a quiet Christmas
So the cries of pain may cease
Let it be a quiet Christmas
So the world may know some peace
Lord, let us know some peace