England’s first gift

When I was small, there was one book in my collection that I loved best of all: “The Little White Horse,” by Elizabeth Goudge. It tells the story of a girl who loses her London family and moves to the English countryside, where she restores balance to her community and heals a longstanding rift between relatives, in addition to, of course, defeating evil. Suffice it to say, I found her most inspirational. And against the backdrop of all her victories, adventures and thrilling close shaves, a little white horse who is sometimes there and sometimes not stands watch over human upheaval from the silvery shadows of the wood.

I am in England now, as an adult, in one of real life’s beautiful adventures. This morning, as I rose from sleep to wander the lofty spaces of the country manor that has become my temporary home, I found myself in a drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on the morning mist.

If you have never seen the English countryside, trust me when I say that there is something about adding your eyes to the countless many who have gazed on England’s trees and fields and valleys, land that has been lived on and loved for thousands of years. As the sun began to rise and burn off the mist, I watched gently rolling pastures and split-rail fences come into view. And there, away off at the edge of the fields and the wood, stood a single little white horse.

In that moment, it was as if the magic of my childhood superimposed itself quite viscerally on the reality of my present. In a foreign country, in a period of post-graduate doubt and ambiguity, even amidst the general fog of jet lag and early morning, I felt completely at home.

I have no words of wisdom or groundbreaking insights. I only know that today I was reminded of something I had forgotten for a very long time: that the dreams we have as children, the books that shine like sunlight on the seeds of our infant imaginations—these are still lovely and still important.

Many dreams do not come to be. Other dreams, once realized, shape themselves around the fact of our collective mess, our imperfect reality. But there are perfect moments, and memories of perfect dreams. They run out of light and fade back into evening, hoof beats pounding the Earth, just out of reach, a fleet of little white horses.

“…The raised hoof, the proud poised head, the flowing mane,
The supreme moment of stillness before the flight,
The moment of farewell, of wordless pleading
For remembrance of things lost to earthly sight…
Then the half-turn under the trees, a motion
Fluid as the movement of light on water . . .
Stay, oh stay in the forest, little white horse! . . .
He is lost and gone and now I do not know
If it was a little white horse that I saw,
Or only a moonbeam astray in the silver night.”

A Note to Angry Preachers

To the guy in front of Cooper Hall, disturbing the peace after class.

Eyes and ears seize you

Branding my baby Earth with your gospel of hate.

God sends rain

But you,

Self-elected emissary of some Satan in the sky,

You cremate

The dead bodies of love, of mercy

They languish on the ground as I pass

by–

Yes, goodbye!

By the sickening slick of your own poison

You will die.

Whom shall you convince?

Scorching heat of your stunted spirit

To think that I would dream of coming near it.

Festering sores

“GOD HATES YOU AND YOURS”

Hey, mister

Oh-so-sinister so untrue

Every day, with

Every Damn Thing I Say,

I triumph over you.

I will be the anti-hate

Breathe life into the love

You suffocate.

I am the rain, and you are a liar.

Watch me vanquish fire.

The Night Walk

There are a few things you learn during a walk in the nighttime. You learn that living among the clouds isn’t a fairytale, and you’re not a princess, and there isn’t a castle. It’s actually just fog. And it swirls around and curls your hair with the humid disappointment of just-missed desire.

Orange, usually, as the steam thwarts streetlights with thick vapor determined to undo identity. Even a known name as basic as color is too much, too nice, too today…it belongs to the sun world where shadow people sleep and bide awhile, waiting, for the fog that removes both why you walked and where you are going.

It might be different if you didn’t walk alone. But you’ll never know, because if you had a companion you wouldn’t be seeking the night walk in the first place. You wouldn’t be trying to find the point, the corner, the exact number of steps at which your missed ship becomes just another droplet in the hanging vapor, where the ship that never came in blends into the millions of molecules sent to earth for the night as punishment. Solitary confinement for clouds.

You learn to keep company with the misbehaved cumulonimbus forced to listen to gravity in the same way that you’ll never free your feet from the ground. You may fly for awhile, in a plane, or in a man’s arms, if you’re lucky, but eventually you’ll realize you won’t find the way to stay afloat. At least not now, and especially not on the night walk.

When you return, which you will have to do, you may face any number of things.  Sorrow, or someone saying sorry. And all of a sudden your resolution will be gone. You will feel the moment of resistance tantalize you for a heartbeat, maybe two, before it passes you by, on the way to rejoin its stronger-willed brothers in the march toward dawn.

An apology is like a paycheck. A dividend, a refund for wrongs, even if the crime wasn’t financial and the damage is actually a deep, deep crevice in the rock face where your spirit hides when it stops trying to climb. Sorry tumbles down the side of a cliff.

Maybe it’s the human condition, maybe it’s money. But you are conditioned to accept cash or check and you will. Even if it’s trading love for a line of bad credit, apologetic.

A walk in the nighttime doesn’t bring you what you want or what you needed. And yet some small part of your pain gets stolen by the fog.

It dissipates, just like rain.

Drink Deep, and Don’t Stop Dreaming

There is probably little to no prior record of an all-nighter spent in a campus library producing goodwill toward anyone or anything. But this morning, as November brings a chill to even the Florida sunrise, there is hope.

Below is a list of things I have experienced that remind me what life is actually for. It’s for you, too: an exhortation to shake yourself out of your exhaustion and your disillusionment and thank today for coming to greet you.

Today, you have the chance:

To walk into the night under a foreign sky with familiar stars

To jump off a cliff head first and feel the world rush up to meet you

To know a name on every continent and “friend” in fifteen languages

To work hard and feel the realized ambition raise you up

To leave behind lovers, and friends, and family, who never really leave you at all

But surround you in the cocoon of a phone call

To sit on evening porches and talk about life and philosophy and thought and all the ideas

And dreamers who went before you

To see that we dream the same dreams and that they can still

Take you places

To laugh in the face of fear when

You don’t understand at all, what the hell is going on here

To smile and shout from a thousand feet up

To feel the pressure of the ocean when you swim deep below

To be swept away in a passion so exquisite and painful it leaves you at the precipice of

Finality and contentment

To feel the chasm of grief and loss and hang on to belief and be

Free.

To look back on your life and see that it was all poetry

And there will always be another human being, a God to understand

This elusive “me”

To jump from planes and sit in strange cafes and alleyways and see

Your soul in a painting made by a man years before you breathed

To cry in anguish into the night and then watch the sun rise

To shine like light itself when a child reaches up to your face

To know what it took to get you here

To remember and hold the universe inside your heart

To cherish every quiet shrieking resounding wavering solid yes and no

To hold and let go

To be left breathless.

Drink deep.

Where Mess and Masterpiece Meet

His name is Banksy.

For years, nobody actually knew who he was. There was only his graffiti to go by, artfully profaning the buildings, streets and subway systems of Britain.

One of modern history‘s most talented and incognito insurgents, Banksy’s is a legacy of revolution and fearlessness, of upheaval and political oppression, of normativity and why we should question it.

Nobody actually knows who Banksy is. But according to the most recent and in-depth investigations, he was, by all accounts, a product of public school and middle-class suburbia.

He was probably something like you.

He was another boy in the rank-and-file of British social assent, and he left it all behind.

Celebrities like Gwen Stefani and Brad Pitt now fork over millions of dollars for his paintings. Britain itself bears the marks of his revolt against conformity and oppression.

The frenzied search goes on for concrete confirmation of Banksy’s identity.

But Banksy’s entire artistic career turns on a determination to keep his “real” identity hidden. Why, then, are we so intent on ferreting out his personal information? Why are his “real” name and his schooling and his parentage so much more important than the art itself?

The fault lies not with Banksy, but with us. Banksy sacrificed his claim to renown so that another identity might be made clear: that of a revolutionary prepared for combat with his native culture. For so many years, we have missed the point. 

Banksy took himself out of the picture so that his art might be the focus. He doesn’t need you to know his name. A name is just a name.

An identity is what you make of your life.

Spoken Word Salvation

His name is Propaganda.

His mission is simple: Take the message of Jesus Christ to the streets.

A far cry from the “frozen chosen” stereotype of the Protestant church, Propaganda (real name Jason Petty) spits spiritual rhymes worthy of the spoken word elite. In Petty’s mixtapes, theology and musical theory combine to produce songs at once jammable and profound.

White-collar denizens of the conservative religious hierarchy may well balk at this unconventional method of proclaiming the gospel. Truth be told, however, Petty’s music is reaching an audience too long excluded from the love of God.

Who did Jesus himself hang out with?

Page after page of the Bible reveals Him spending time with sinners, with tax collectors, beggars and prostitutes. With the very people who, in today’s society, would be least likely to listen to the mediocre white-bread soft rock clogging Christian radio’s airwaves.

Petty’s raps put the language of Jesus Christ into the language of the people who need Him most.

Culture clash? Yes. Does it work?

You bet.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: 

TALK to the people in your community and your church

VOLUNTEER at a local shelter or soup kitchen

LISTEN to Propaganda’s music and follow his blog at http://www.myspace.com/propaganda