Category Archives: creation

playtime communion

I wrote this for a WMF update letter a few months ago:

His eyes bear the weight of a lifetime: a lifetime of neglect and of abuse and of a million unmet longings to be noticed.  My eyes are fixed on his bony, 11-year-old body as he bounds toward me, his crooked smile bringing the slightest relief to those tired eyes.  He holds out his hand, long and skinny, in greeting, and we rehearse the handshake he’s taught me so many times—the one I can’t ever seem to get right.  At least today he laughs at me.

It is late May, and the children are restless.  The climbing temperatures and promises of summer vacation make homework time impossible, and so we go outside to play.  Alex*, the one whose eyes call out to me, grabs a tennis ball and tosses it in the air.  We play catch for a few minutes until we see another group of kids forming a circle for volleyball.  I ask him if he wants to play with the others, and he nods, but in a strangely reluctant way.  We hit the ball around for a minute until it is sent in Alex’s direction for the first time.  He looks up, sees it coming and then hesitates—long enough for the ball to nail him right in the face.  The other kids, like the normal kids they are, immediately start laughing and throwing arrows with their words right into his chest.  He turns and runs.  I follow.  I call his name, and he momentarily looks over his shoulder, tears streaming out of those sad eyes.  I pause, and he dashes behind the school building, fleeing from all of the things that hurt inside of him: the words of the other children, yes, but also all of those years of neglect.  Those years of never knowing that he is loved.

In a few minutes Alex reappears on the other side of the school and takes a seat on the steps.  His eyes are dry and sagging and stuck to the asphalt.  I try in vain to start a conversation with him, realizing quickly that he needs space.  There are several pieces of chalk on the steps, and he takes one, slowly rubbing it between those long fingers.

And I remember that he loves to draw.  I remember the way, just a few days ago, he excitedly showed me the notebook where he keeps all his sketches: his dreams and feelings and hopes for what could be.  I remember the way he gave me one of those drawings, the way he wanted me to have something created just by him.  And now he grasps the chalk more firmly and leans that bony frame of his toward the ground.  I am silent.

He begins slowly, a line here and there as his feelings begin to take shape.  I am not sure what he is drawing at first, and when I finally ask, his first words since being hit with the ball, formed quite matter-of-factly, are “a home.”

I am struck by the simplicity of his longing and suddenly find myself in Alex’s pain.  Isn’t that what we all hope for?  A home.  A place of security, of love, of stability.  A place where we know we won’t be abandoned, where we know that we are accepted as we are.  Home is a place where we can completely miss a volleyball pass and then turn cartwheels because it doesn’t matter.

Since that day in May I have grown closer to Alex.  Sometimes we play and enjoy each other and are free.  Other times we are angry and violent and completely out of control.  These wounds are not easily healed.  But I continue to choose to be present to him, to see him as he is and to pray.  And maybe he can see me as I am, too.  I realize that we are on this journey toward home together, two people whose dignity got a little bruised along the way.  And as we slowly learn to make our bruises visible to each other, whether they’re from the smack of a playground ball or the hell of abandonment, we find ourselves in this playtime communion becoming more and more human.

*Alex’s name has been changed for his protection.


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about a suit

I’ve been thinking lately about how much I like to write and about the release and healing I experience after just a few hours of unloading the week’s experiences on paper.  How many Saturday mornings have I spent in pajamas buzzing on my third cup of coffee, bathing in a Mahler symphony and carefully shaping thoughts and memories and ideas with my fingers?  I keep most of my writing hidden away in my computer in a folder called “personal,” but I am becoming aware that I won’t grow as a writer until I start taking risks and getting some of my stuff out there.  So here is my first offering, some thoughts that I wrote on March 7, 2010.  The context of this piece is a modern shopping mall in Chisinau called Malldova where I was searching for a suit to wear to my friend Andrew’s wedding, a suit which I did eventually purchase, which I did wear to his wedding and which I will also wear to a certain special event that will take place in just 76 days….

Walking around Malldova last night was a strangely humanizing and yet unusually disturbing experience.  There were hundreds of people out for a good time, perusing the designer clothing stores, enjoying a game of bowling or pool, sitting down with a book at Diverta or enjoying Japanese cuisine with two chopsticks in hand.  It felt so surprisingly normal: the cleanliness, the expensive and desirable clothing, the families out together on a Saturday night.  An echo from my past, these surroundings offered a peculiarly welcoming sense of comfort.  Browsing the Apple store—a replica of the Apple store in Nashville–felt so familiar, so ordinary.

But in the back of my mind were haunting images.  The children we met on Wednesday in a village outside of Chisinau are just a few kilometers away, living in devastating poverty, not knowing what the future holds for them.  While the wealthy peruse the shelves of Fourschette supermarket and choose a pair of designer Levi’s, these children cry out for justice, for an ear to hear them, for an embrace to assure them that they are not forgotten.

In that moment it was so easy to be overwhelmed by the disparity in Moldova, by the richest of the rich living next to and among the poorest of the poor.  The contrast seemed too great, too vast to reconcile.  But then I realized that our world really is so small.  Is the distance of 30 kilometers that separates Malldova from the village we visited Wednesday so much less than the distance that separates Cool Springs, Tennessee from a village with no clean water in Africa?  We’re all so interconnected, aren’t we?

I realized again yesterday that I am wealthy, that I like nice things and that I experience a consoling familiarity when I am among the rich.  I love drowning in the scent of a coffee shop and sporting nice clothing and losing myself for hours in any bookstore.  But this familiarity that embraces me is also agonizing and particularly disturbing.  I barely slept last night as I thought about the $300 I intend to spend on an Italian suit.  I say that I want to live in solidarity with the poor, and yet I sincerely think that I am just kidding myself.

Sure, I have made concrete changes in my life recently in my pursuit of simplicity.  I don’t have a car, I strictly limit my monthly food budget and my salary is only a tiny fraction of what it used to be.  But I still have a US passport, a credit card and a support account that allows me to reimburse such “necessities” as books and a laptop computer and international plane tickets.

As always, I return again to the ideals of justice and equality.  Is it wrong to eat at a nice restaurant or to own a $300 suit?  No, not necessarily.  But how do I make these kinds of decisions with the knowledge that there are literally thousands of people who will die today because they have no access to clean water or to basic medical care?  Why is it that an hour in a coffee shop or browsing a mall seems so life-giving to me?  Will I ever be found among the poor, in solidarity?  Or will I always be the oppressor?  Can I buy this suit with the full knowledge that the poor are in our midst, right here, crying out for justice?  What is my response to their cry?  What am I doing to fight for equality and peace and new creation?  Or am I just perpetuating the brokenness of the world into which I was born?

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